Finland bottoming out excepted, the World Juniors quarterfinals passed without significant surprises. The four teams advancing are a part of the big five.
It was a round where big players played big and showed why they’re highly regarded. And, even with no upsets, there was plenty of drama beyond worries about Canadian hockey attendance. The Swiss took the Americans down to the wire and the Czechs exposed Canada’s mediocre goaltending by keeping the game close though they were badly outplayed.
Here are 10 outstanding individual performances from Monday’s quarterfinal that saw the U.S., Canada, Russia and Sweden advance to the semifinal stage, guaranteeing all four nations will play for a medal.
Rasmus Asplund, Sweden
Asplund hasn’t been on fire in the tournament, but he’s played well, even if he’s overshadowed by the accomplishments of Joel Eriksson Ek (two goals, team-leading six shots in quarterfinal) and Alexander Nylander (one goal, one assist in quarterfinal). He entered the quarterfinals with three points in four games.
But with four assists (two primary) against Slovakia, he was making plays and showed the entire top line for Sweden is a force that could drive the Swedes to end their gold medal drought. He’s now tied for sixth in total points.
— TSN (@TSN_Sports) January 2, 2017
Kale Clague, Canada
Behind an outstanding tournament for Thomas Chabot, most Canadian defensemen are getting ignored. Clague has been good and is getting ice time accordingly. He’s consistently seeing more ice than just about everyone this side of Chabot and he’s producing offensively as well. He chipped in a pair of assists and a pair of shots during Canada’s quarterfinal victory over the Czechs.
Nico Hischier, Switzerland
Even with the Swiss eliminated, Hischier helped his draft stock quite a bit during the tournament. The quarterfinal match against the U.S. was emblematic of what he’s been doing. He was everywhere, creating plays, breaking up rushes and playing with more drive than almost anyone in the building.
His third-period goal to knot things at two was outstanding. A scrum broke out in front of the net with four U.S. players and a goaltender inside the crease. The Swiss players jammed at the puck until Hischier got creative and quickly moved behind the net to take advantage of what little space was available with that many players scrambling in the crease. He’s intelligent and plays above his age.
— TSN (@TSN_Sports) January 2, 2017
Kirill Kaprizov, Russia
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Kaprizov is having an outstanding tournament. He tied for the team lead with four shots in Russia’s quarterfinal shutout of the Danes and ranks near the top in total shots tournament-wide. Though Alexander Polunin wound up with the game-winner, Kaprizov scored half of Russia’s goals in the 4-0 win Monday.
There’s little doubt at this point that Kaprizov was robbery as a fifth-round pick. He’s easily been one of the best players in the tournament. He leads the tournament with seven goals in five games and ranks second with 10 total points.
— Молодежная Хоккейная Лига (@MHL_rus) January 2, 2017
Luke Kunin, United States
The captain played 21:36 Monday. That was tied for the most ice time of any American skater. The next highest forward was Joey Anderson at 17:16. That gives you an idea of the kind of responsibility Kunin is shouldering and the faith coach Bob Motzko has in the Badger.
The U.S. parade to the penalty box in the third period had the Americans risking elimination. In the end, their penalty kill was far from perfect, but Kunin took a lot of responsibility during the third and thrived. His first-period goal also proved to be an important one as the Swiss rallied late.
Tyler Parsons, United States
While most assumed the U.S. would be able to handle the Swiss more easily than they did, they wouldn’t have pulled out the win without an excellent performance from Parsons. More than once in the third period, Parsons came up with a big save to keep the U.S. in control, including a great pad save against Swiss defender Jonas Siegenthaler while Switzerland was on the power play. He also made a huge save on Hischier with just 4:09 left.
— Andy Cole (@AndyCole84) January 3, 2017
Elias Petterson, Sweden
How about a player who didn’t put up a ton of points in the quarterfinals? Petterson finished with no points, but his five shots were second only to Sweden’s Joel Eriksson Ek. Petterson’s footwork and creativity were on display in the quarterfinals. He’s shifty and though there’s no stat for what he did Monday, his hard work resulted in offense for the Swedes.
As the video below highlights, his hard work drew penalties and otherwise kept the ice tilted in favor of the Swedes.
Jakub Skarek, Czech Republic
The final tally doesn’t look great. He allowed five goals and carried an .878 save percentage. None of that screams standout. The wheels fell off the bus a bit at the end, but Skarek was consistently facing high-quality shots and plenty of them. Importantly, he kept his team in the game early when some fortunate bounces and a breakaway had the Czechs far closer than they had any business being.
In the first two periods, the Czechs managed just nine total shots but exited the second period down 3-2 with Skarek stopping 24 of 27 Canadian shots. The Canadians would put 41 pucks on net by night’s end. Skarek never hit Denis Godla levels of dragging an entire team up a hill, but he absolutely earned recognition for what he accomplished.
Mitchell Stephens, Canada
How can you not pick him? He returned from injury and when the game was at its most frustrating for Canada, Stephens routinely tossed the team on his back and made plays happen. Canada entered the second period down 1-0 and Stephens roared into the second, scoring a goal and grabbing the primary assist on two others.
It was an impressive offensive haul for someone who played only 11:58 in the entire game.
— Shayne Pasquino (@shaynepasquino) January 3, 2017
Mikhail Vorobyov, Russia
Playing alongside Kaprizov and Polunin, it’s easy to overlook how well Vorobyov has performed. In a year when many top prospects have underwhelmed, Vorobyov has been a pleasant surprise. After contributing a pair of assists Monday, he exits the quarterfinal ranked third overall in points (8) and first in assists (8).
Dustin Nelson writes about news and the Minnesota Wild for The Hockey Writers.