World Junior Championship: Highlights of NHL prospects, scores, quarterfinal preview
Here's what you need to know from the preliminary round as the tournament heads into the medal stage
The preliminary round at the 2018 World Junior Championship in Buffalo came to a close on Sunday, and now the real fun begins.
The tables have been set with Canada and Sweden grabbing top spots in their respective groups. The United States finished just behind Canada in Group A and will have a tougher road to the gold medal game if they hope to repeat as champions at the annual U-20 tournament. That road begins with a quarterfinal matchup against Russia on Tuesday night.
If you missed any or all of the action from the opening round, don't worry -- we've got you covered. Now is a great time to jump onboard for one of the most fun hockey events of the year, but here's what you need to know from the preliminary round that was.
How did the teams finish the preliminary round?
(Records are displayed in this format: W-OTW-OTL-L)
- Canada, 3-0-1-0
- United States, 2-1-0-1
- Finland, 2-0-0-2
- Slovakia, 2-0-0-2
- Denmark, 0-0-0-4
- Sweden, 3-1-0-0
- Czech Republic, 3-0-0-1
- Russia, 2-0-1-1
- Switzerland, 1-0-0-3
- Belarus, 0-0-0-4
Which NHL prospects came up big in the prelims?
USA forward Casey Mittelstadt (Buffalo Sabres) was the best player in the opening round of the tournament, leading all players with nine points (four goals, five assists) in the four preliminary games. The Americans' forward group was a little shaky as a whole, but they were carried by strong performances from their stars, and no star was brighter than Mittelstadt.
The 19-year-old Mittelstadt has excellent vision and creativity with the puck on his stick and he's great at creating space to help facilitate offense. Every now and then he can do it all by himself, too.
Also impressive in the preliminary round were American forwards Brady Tkachuk (2018 eligible) and Kieffer Bellows (New York Islanders). Tkachuk had six points (two goals, four assists) and was an undeniable presence on the ice. He's got a very high motor and fiercely competes on every shift. He's got a great combination of skill, speed, size and toughness that will make him a top pick in this summer's NHL Draft.
It'd be impossible to have a list of impressive forwards without Sweden's Elias Pettersson (Vancouver Canucks), who had four goals and six points in the preliminary round. He also had arguably the most memorable highlight of the opening round with this sick display against Switzerland.
The 19-year-old Pettersson has an impressive offensive game already and is one of those players who looks to be dangerous from just about anywhere on the ice. He's got excellent finishing ability and has been a weapon for Sweden.
Sweden had several players come up big for them at points during the opening round, including Lias Andersson (New York Rangers), who led all players with five goals in the prelims. Alex Nylander (Buffalo Sabres) only had one goal, but he did record six assists. Plus, his one goal was a beauty.
On Sweden's defensive end, they got great performances from their blue line stud in Rasmus Dahlin (2018 eligible). The 17-year-old Dahlin, who is expected to be the top pick in this summer's draft, had five assists and might have been the best defenseman in the preliminary round. Also impressive on Sweden's great blue line unit were Timothy Liljegren (Toronto Maple Leafs) and Erik Brannstrom (Vegas Golden Knights).
Klim Kostin (St. Louis Blues) was the standout for Russia in the preliminary round. He's showed excellent ability and creativity in the offensive end and netted four goals. Kostin was selected with the first-round pick that the Penguins traded as part of their package to acquire Ryan Reaves last summer.
Russia also got a very good opening round from Andrei Svechnikov (2018 eligible), who recorded five assists through the first four games.
For the Czech Republic, both Martin Necas (Carolina Hurricanes) and Filip Zadina (2018 eligible) were great playing alongside each other in the opening round. Necas really showcased his vision and creativity as a playmaker, and Zadina has pretty great at creating chances for himself and finishing on those opportunities. He had three goals in the opening round.
I'd be remiss if I didn't mention this very disrespectful goal from Canada's Jordan Kyrou (St. Louis Blues).
Canada got solid performances from several players in the prelims -- including Victor Mete (Montreal Canadiens), Dillon Dube (Calgary Flames), Sam Steel (Anaheim Ducks) and Cale Makar (Colorado Avalanche) -- but their true standout may have honestly been goaltender Carter Hart (Philadelphia Flyers). The 19-year-old had a .940 save-percentage through three starts. He wasn't able to steal a game in the shootout loss to the United States, but Hart managed to keep his team in the game as the Americans stormed back late. He may not be super flashy, but he's technically sound and seems to keep his composure in high-pressure situations and that's what you like to see from a young goalie.
What happens next in the World Juniors?
The medal round (and relegation portion) kicks off on Tuesday in Buffalo. The United States will have a tough road (one that could possibly include Russia, Sweden and Canada) if they hope to repeat as gold medalists for the first time in program history, so now is when the real test begins.
The 2018 World Juniors medal round runs through this week, with the tournament concluding with medal games on Friday. Here's a complete rundown of the next wave of games:
Tuesday, Jan. 2 (Quarterfinals)
- Finland vs. Czech Republic, 12 p.m. (NHL Network, TSN 1/3/4/5)
- Denmark vs. Belarus, 2 p.m. (Relegation)
- Canada vs. Switzerland, 4 p.m. (NHL Network, TSN 1/4/5)
- Sweden vs. Slovakia, 6 p.m. (TSN3)
- United States vs. Russia, 8 p.m. (NHL Network, TSN1/4/5)
Thursday, Jan. 4 (Semifinals)
- Denmark vs. Belarus, 12 p.m. (Relegation)
- TBD vs. TBD, 4 p.m.
- TBD vs. TBD, 8 p.m.
Friday, Jan. 5 (Finals)
- Denmark vs. Belarus, 12 p.m. (Relegation)
- Bronze medal game: TBD vs. TBD, 4 p.m.
- Gold medal game: TBD vs. TBD, 8 p.m.
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