GLENDALE – Win or lose, Coyotes prospects are expected to gain valuable experience and confidence at the upcoming 2016 IIHF World Junior Championship.
“Any time a young player gets exposed to the environment at the World Junior it’s very positive for their development,” Coyotes General Manager Don Maloney said.
Final rosters for the tournament, which runs from Dec. 26 – Jan. 5 in Helsinki, Finland, are set and seven Coyotes prospects will participate. They are forwards Brendan Perlini and Dylan Strome for Canada; forwards Christian Dvorak and Ryan MacInnis for USA; and goalie Erik Kallgren and forwards Anton Karlsson and Jens Looke for Sweden.
No other NHL team has more prospects competing than Arizona.
“There is a certain pride that comes to an organization with having a lot of players involved in this tournament,” Maloney said. “I believe it reflects the depth of your organization’s talent and your prospect list, and that it’s reflective of solid drafting and the initial phase of development after the Draft. We’re happy and proud that we have seven players playing at this level. It’s really the premiere event for young players, and it’s such a valuable tool because you get to see how these players perform on such an important stage.”
Ten nations are competing in the tournament and the consensus is there is no clear-cut favorite to win. Canada is the defending champion, but the USA, Sweden and Finland all are considered potential gold medalists, too.
Maloney, Assistant General Manager Darcy Regier and several of the Coyotes scouts are planning to attend the tournament to see for themselves how Arizona’s prospects perform. All eyes, of course, will be on Strome, whom Arizona drafted third overall this year.
“Part of his development is playing in this tournament and hopefully performing well,” Maloney said. “Generally speaking, I’ve always felt the players who perform the best in this tournament can play in the NHL and soon. In Dylan’s case, he and Mitch Marner will be leaned on heavily by Team Canada so he’ll get all the hard matchups and all the big ice time when it comes to offense. If he can go in and have a good tournament it’s just another check mark on his resume as we look down the road for us, perhaps as early as next September. We hope we’ll be able to say he did well there, just like Max Domi and Anthony Duclair did last year. When they played the way they did a year ago it didn’t take a nuclear physicist to realize that they might be able to play for us.”
Domi and Duclair helped Team Canada win the gold medal last year on home soil.
“It was such a great experience,” Duclair said. “Obviously we topped it off by winning the gold medal, but just being able to play against the best young players in the world was great because you get to see where you stand on a personal level.”
Both Duclair and Domi said playing in the World Junior helped prepare them for playing in the NHL soon after.
“It’s very demanding,” Duclair said. “You play almost everyday and every game means so much. Everything is on the line so you have to be so focused and very prepared for each game.”
Domi liked the pressure of playing in such a prestigious, high-profile event.
“It’s pretty tiring but it’s like you’re playing in Game 7 of a league final every night, and everyone in the country supports you so you rally around that,” Domi said.
Like Domi and Duclair, Coyotes defenseman Connor Murphy won a gold medal at the World Junior Championship playing for Team USA in 2013.
“It’s such a cool and different event because it’s a bunch of random guys put together to play like 10 games, and there is so much pride involved in playing in that tournament for the individuals and for the teams,” Murphy said. “It’s so different from other playoff series because anything can happen; once you get into the medal rounds it’s single elimination.”
Coyotes defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson remembers having a great time making friends and winning a bronze medal with Team Sweden in 2010. He advises the Coyotes prospects to enjoy the once-in-a-lifetime experience.
“I wanted to show everybody I was a good hockey player but I also tried to have fun every time I stepped on the ice,” Ekman-Larsson said. “That’s my advice – don’t think too much, just have fun.”
NOTE: Fans wanting to follow the Coyotes prospects at the 2016 IIHF World Junior Championship can do so by watching games on NHL Network. Click here to see the schedule.