The World Junior Championship Evaluation Camp in Plymouth, Mich. is starting to give a good glimpse of what we will see at the 2017 World Junior Championship this winter. Teams have gone from split squads to a single unit, and some cuts have been made.
Wednesday, the early game pitted Canada against Finland, who has struggled so far in Michigan. They’re down a couple players, in addition to being the youngest team in the tournament. But that didn’t stop them from upsetting Canada on the back of a late third-period goal and a goal on the first shot of overtime.
Though it’s just a single exhibition, here’s a look at who stood out in Wednesday’s match.
Veini Vehvilainen, G, Finland
Canada outshot Finland 35-23, and it actually looked worse than that. Canada dominated throughout most of the game and though Vehvilainen wasn’t forced to be outstanding, he made a few good saves and played positionally sound. He’s the reason Finland was able to push a comeback late in the game.
He made one outstanding save in the second, but was fighting off the puck at times and would probably like to have the goal back that he did let in. He was good and it seems likely that he’s back in net at World Juniors for the Finns this year, after starting the 2016 tournament as the starter before he ceded the net to Minnesota Wild prospect Kaapo Kahkonen.
Travis Konecny, RW, Canada
Playing on a line with Lawson Crouse and Tyson Jost, Konecny helped Canada to dominate the possession battle. He was the best player on the ice for either team, and that’s not because he scored the lone Team Canada goal.
Konecny was showing off speed and intelligence throughout the game. The Canadian power play was lifeless, and, this side of Thomas Chabot, Konecny was one of the only players who had any life on the man advantage. He was skating circles around teammates and his agitating play drew a penalty late in the game. Though true to form for the afternoon, Canada couldn’t capitalize on the resulting power play.
— David Malandra Jr (@djmjr788) August 3, 2016
Lawson Crouse, LW, Canada
The 6-foot-4 winger was strong in the corners, showed a quick release and created quite a bit of offense for the Canadians. He was also a bit of a utility knife, playing in all situations. With his talent and size, he could be playing some games in the NHL this season. Team Canada should hope it doesn’t stick or that he’s loaned to the national team in December. He’ll be a big asset for them as they try to win gold on home ice.
Jakob Chychrun, D, Canada
Paired with Connor Hobbs, Chychrun was one of the best defenders on the ice. He moved the puck well and wasn’t scared to get up into the offensive zone, activating from the blue line. Though, he was always smart about it, recognizing moments when he could inject some life into the forecheck. His intelligence and ability to see the play develop before it happened stood out (with the obvious exception of getting burned by Arttu Ruotsalainen on the final play of the game).
Arttu Ruotsalainen, C, Finland
Speaking of the game-winning goal, Ruotsalainen beat both Chychrun and Hobbs to the net to tap home a one-timer from Penguins prospect Kaspar Bjorkqvist. But Ruotsalainen was tagged for this list even before that goal. He showed speed, hands and made a nice play to set up Finland’s first goal by Eeli Tolvanen.
Throughout the game, when Finland was able to counter Canada’s momentum, Ruotslainen was there, using his speed to make space. Though he’s a smaller forward at just 5-foot-8, he’s dynamic and on a depleted Finnish team, he could make his World Juniors debut at age 19.
Kristian Vesalainen, W, Finland
The 6-foot-3 17-year-old forward didn’t jump out at you with an outstanding game, but he played to his strengths. His speed and stickhandling talent were apparent, and he showed flashes of the ability to kick it into another gear. It wasn’t a highlight-reel performance, but despite being younger than most of his opponents he held his own, even if a bad tripping call with 10 minutes left in the game killed Finland’s momentum. If they hadn’t scored a late goal, that might have loomed large.
Thomas Chabot, D, Canada
Like Chychrun, Chabot looked a step above the other defensemen on both sides of the rink. He was the team’s best defenseman on the power play, putting shots toward the net and playing with some urgency in the third period.
He’s a confident player. Even late in the game, with the score tied up, he didn’t play overly cautious and was willing to jump up into the attack without hesitating. It made him an impact player, even if those actions weren’t enough to counter the late Finnish attack.
Eeli Tolvanen ties the game for Finland. pic.twitter.com/v0mRZEh4px
— Marc Dumont (@MarcPDumont) August 3, 2016
Other players of note: Kaspar Bjorkqvist, Eeli Tolvanen, Mathieu Joseph, Anthony Beauvillier
Dustin Nelson writes about news and the Minnesota Wild for The Hockey Writers.