World Juniors players eager for Prospects Game stage

Thursday, 01.28.2016 / 10:19 AM
Mike G. Morreale  - Staff Writer

VANCOUVER -- Defenseman Olli Juolevi called winning a gold medal for Finland at the 2016 IIHF World Junior Championship in his home country the most memorable experience of his hockey career.

Juolevi, who plays for London of the Ontario Hockey League, is hoping for another standout performance when he's on the big stage Thursday at the 2016 BMO CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game at Pacific Coliseum (9 p.m. ET; NHLN, SN, TVA Sports).

"I worked hard this season and I wanted to be great in those World Junior Championships. But there was really good guys on our team and it was fun to play with those guys," Juolevi said. "They helped me and I hope I helped them."

Juolevi is one of six players participating in the game who also played in the 2016 WJC.

Joining Juolevi on Team Bobby Orr are forwards Matthew Tkachuk (London) of the United States, Alexander Nylander (Mississauga, OHL) of Sweden and Simon Stransky (Prince Albert, Western Hockey League) of the Czech Republic.

Forwards Alexander DeBrincat (Erie, OHL) of the United States and Julien Gauthier (Val-d'Or, Quebec Major Junior Hockey League) of Canada will play for Team Don Cherry.

"It was a fantastic World Junior Championship and it's too bad any one of the four teams in the semifinals had to lose," said Dan Marr, NHL Director of Central Scouting. "What was different from the past was that the draft-eligible players, typically the youngest players on the team, received quality ice time and they were key players on the team. That doesn't happen too often. They started the year with their league teams the same way, as impact players, so the fact they got that opportunity and were able to take advantage of it [at WJC] confirms to all the scouts that these are the best elite players for the draft."

Four of the six players from the World Juniors are ranked among the top five players in NHL Central Scouting's midterm list of North American skaters; Tkachuk is No. 1, followed by Nylander (No. 3), Gauthier (No. 4) and Juolevi (No. 5). DeBrincat is No. 20 and Stransky is No. 25.

"It was such an honor for me," Stransky said. "It was a great experience and I was really happy when I made the team and I really enjoyed my time at the World Juniors. It's different hockey because the ice was wider. Every team played with good structure and everyone was focused. It was high-level."

DeBrincat said he didn't have the tournament he had hoped for after he missed two games because of an upper-body injury.

"I had a great time there but it wasn't really how I wanted my tournament to go," he said. "Not everyone has a perfect career so you're going to have to fight some adversity sooner or later. And I think at the end of the day it will make me a better player.

"You're not always going to be the go-to guy so you have to kind of keep your head up and cheer on the team, be behind your teammates, because it's not always about you. It's more about the team."

The players found their experience at the WJC to be immeasurable. Now to have a chance to showcase their ability with and against some of the top 2016 NHL Draft-eligible players in the Canadian Hockey League will provide another opportunity for them to bolster their hockey resume.

Nylander led Sweden with four goals and nine points in seven games.

"I'm playing against the best players in each country and it was an amazing experience and a lot of fun though my brother [William Nylander] got hurt," Nylander said. "Our team was playing good but unfortunately we lost the [bronze-medal game] to the United States. It was a fun tournament and I brought back with me a good work ethic; just play my game and play hard."

Tkachuk had four goals and seven assists to help the United States win the bronze, and he finished tied with Auston Matthews, No. 1 on NHL Central Scouting's midterm list of international skaters, for the U.S. lead with 11 points.

"I looked at that WJC as one of those stepping stones to the NHL; there were so many great players in the WJC," Tkachuk said. "It's one of those things where as a country we did almost all we could have to win gold and that's the disappointing part. We came close but we need to be that much better to win it all. Now in London I feel like I can bring some leadership qualities after playing in that tournament."

Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mikemorrealeNHL

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