(Photo Credit: Rena Laverty: Rena Laverty Photography & Design)
By Mike Cratty Twitter: @Mike_Cratty
The 2018 U20 World Junior Championship will get underway starting Monday, Dec. 26 in Buffalo, New York. Team USA won the tournament last year in dramatic fashion over team Canada in a shootout. The World Junior Championship is a great tournament every year – one that is worth gluing your eyes too as you watch some young, highly-touted players showcase their skills. The two groups in the tournament are comprised of five teams. Those groups, as well as the schedule for the whole tournament, can be found below.
Group A: USA, Canada, Denmark, Slovakia, Finland.
Group B: Russia, Sweden, Czech Republic, Switzerland, Belarus.
Six Boston Bruins prospects will be in action throughout the tournament and will all be worth watching. These prospects are featured three of the 10 teams; USA with Trent Frederic, Ryan Lindgren, and Jeremy Swayman, Finland with Urho Vaakanainen and Joona Koppanen, and Sweden with Oskar Steen.
USA: Trent Frederic
The 29th overall pick in 2016, Trent Frederic is having yet another solid season at Wisconsin, this time as a sophomore assistant captain. Frederic’s 16 points in 21 games have him in second place on the Wisconsin Badgers, two points behind senior forward Ryan Wagner.
Something very noticeable about Frederic’s game is his composure and maturity on the ice. His calm, intelligent hockey mind allows him to make smart plays with smoothness in his stride, making things happen in all three zones. In his first go-around in the world juniors, Frederic will be looked to in order to help secure back-to-back tournament victories for the United States.
USA: Ryan Lindgren
At 49th overall in 2016, 20 picks after Frederic came Ryan Lindgren, who will wear an “A” on his sweater throughout the tournament, as he does at the University of Minnesota. Through the first 20 games of his sophomore season at Minnesota, Lindgren has scored two goals and added two assists. This will mark Lindgren’s second world junior tournament with team USA. Last year, he tallied an assist in seven games en route to a shiny gold medal,
Although he isn’t known to put up prolific offensive stats, Lindgren boasts a rigidly defensive game, awareness with and without the puck, and solid skating ability. The United States goaltenders have comfort in knowing Lindgren will be there to clear opponents out of their faces.
USA: Jeremy Swayman
The third Bruins prospect on Team USA is Jeremy Swayman. Drafted just this past summer, 111th overall, Swayman has already taken the role of starting goaltender at the University of Maine of Hockey East in the NCAA. A good friend of the Black N’ Gold team, Drew Johnson of the Hockey Writers, has been all over it when it comes to Jeremy Swayman. Just a glimpse of Drew’s praise for the young goaltender is given when talking about an incredible weekend Swayman put together earlier in the month.
With Jake Oettinger and Joe Woll in the goaltending mix as returners to the team, it is uncertain how much playing time Swayman will receive. Regardless, learning from fellow talented Hockey East goaltenders in Oettinger (BU) and Woll (BC). Swayman carries a 7-3-1 record with a 2.58 GAA and .927 save percentage for the Maine Black Bears heading into Christmas. It’s worth noting that Swayman holds the nation’s eighth-best save percentage, amongst goalies who have played at least 33 percent of their team’s total minutes. Pretty impressive for a freshman.
Finland: Urho Vaakanainen
The most recent of Don Sweeney’s first-round pick’s, specifically 18th overall in 2017, will return for his second World Junior Championship. Likened to that of Scott Niedermayer, Vaakanainen is an excellent skater who makes smart decisions with the puck. Spending his first season with SaiPa of the Liiga, Urho has a goal and three assists in 23 games. Like Ryan Lindgren, he’s not a defenseman who will be leaned on to produce offensively, but rather jump start chances with their skating ability and vision.
In his last go-around in the World Juniors, Urho had a goal in six games on a surprising struggling Finnish squad one year removed from taking gold in 2016 on a wheelhouse Finnish team. Finland will boast an experienced blueline this year including five first-round picks on it (Vaakanainen, Juolevi, Heiskanen, Jokiharju, Valimaki). Vaakanainen will be relied on heavily to make Finland a powerful force in the tournament again.
Finland: Joona Koppanen
Joona Koppanen is off to a weird start to his season playing for Ilves Tampere in the Liiga. Moving up a level from playing for Ilves in juniors to playing for the big club has proven to make things tougher for Joona scoring wise. Playing juniors last year, Joona tallied 23 goals, 31 assists and 54 points in just 38 games. Since being loaned from his junior team to the big club, he has yet to tally a goal but has eight assists in 24 games. The stats show that this may be an adjustment year for the young Finn, which isn’t a bad thing for his development in the long run.
Craziness aside, Joona is an intriguing late-round prospect, 135th overall in 2016, with a daunting 6-foot-5 frame. He skates well for someone of his size, uses his frame effectively and has solid offensive tools. A big guy like him playing amongst a talented Finnish team could produce more great results for Joona in his first go-around in the U20 tournament.
Sweden: Oskar Steen
Oskar Steen, drafted 165th in 2016, boasts some of the best speed and acceleration in the Bruins’ prospect core. An undersized player who can play center and wing that turned some heads at Bruins prospect development camp this summer.
Oskar is adjusting to new surroundings in his first SHL season for Färjestad BK this year. In 28 games, he has scored three goals and added two assists in a year that will be a feeling out process where he’ll have to earn his keep. Tons of points shouldn’t always be expected in those types of years. Not only does Steen show great speed and acceleration, he shows a great desire to have the puck on his stick often, as well as a pretty decent wrist shot. His speed and offensive mind will certainly help within a dynamic, highly skilled Swedish U20 team.
The World Juniors come the day after Christmas so the gifts just keep on giving. Keep an eye on some Bruins prospects playing important roles and enjoy this fantastic tournament. Happy holidays.