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World Junior Championships Roundup: Flyers Prospects Shining

by Bill Meltzer @BillMeltzer / philadelphiaflyers.com

The preliminary round phase of the 2020-21 IIHF Under-20 World Championship (World Junior Championships) will come to a close on New Year's Eve with marquee matchups pitting Canada against Finland in Group A and Team USA against Sweden in Group B. Those games will determine seedings for the single-elimination medal round, which begins on Saturday.

Before that, however, the Swedes will put their 54-game preliminary round winning streak on the line against the Russians on Wednesday. After downing Team USA, 5-3, in the tournament opener on Christmas, Russia suffered a 2-0 setback against the Czech Republic before rebounding with a 7-1 win against Austria.

Any team among the Russians, Swedes or Americans can still finish in the top spot in their pool depending on the results of the next two days. The fourth-place team, which is likely to be the Czechs, will play the first-place team in Group A (Canada or Finland) in the medal round quarterfinal. Note: the Finns will have to beat Slovakia in regulation on Wednesday to set up a showdown for first-place against Canada the following day.

The Flyers are represented in the tournament by three prospects: 2019 first-round pick Cam York (defenseman, Team USA), 2019 second-round pick Bobby Brink (left wing, Team USA), and 2020 second-round pick Emil Andrae (defenseman, Team Sweden). Here's a look at how all three have fared.

CAM YORK

York was named captain of Team USA shortly before the start of the tournament. The lone returning defenseman on the American side this year, York received extremely limited ice time in last year's WJC but is playing a greatly expanded role as a 19-year-old, including top power play unit duties and a top-pairing role at even strength. 

In a losing cause, York was named Team USA's Player of the Game in the 5-3 loss to Russia in the tournament opener. York scored a first period goal to tie the game at 1-1 and, in the third period, made a crisp pass to Trevor Zegras that resulted in a goal that narrowed the gap to 4-3. York skated 30 shifts and logged 22:49 of ice time overall. 

York's goal was scored from center point and appeared to be partially deflected. The official scoring on the play was changed twice. Initially credited to York, the goal was changed to credit Matthew Boldy. However, during the first intermission, the scoring was altered a second time to restore credit to York. Either which way, it was a 1-1 game at the time.

Not all was rosy for York in the opener. On Russia's second goal, Zakhar Bardakov got behind York and scored on Knight. Shortly before that play, Flyers 2019 second-round pick Bobby Brink was unable to finish off a point-blank scoring chance that could have tied the game at 2-2. Later, on Russia's empty net goal, York came up empty as he tried a desperation stick check on goal-scorer Yegor Chinakhov.

In Team USA's second game, the Americans crushed Austria, 11-0. Late in the second period, during a Team USA power play, York assisted on the second of teammate Matthew Boldy's three goals in the game. Boldy, unsurprisingly, received Player of the Game honors for the Americans. With the score out of hand before the third period even started, ice time was distributed evenly. York finished with 18:10 of ice time across 22 shifts.

The Americans never took their foot off the gas pedal in the Austria game. In Tuesday's game against the Czechs, Team USA faced a much more significant challenge despite the 7-0 final score. The game was scoreless after the first period, and the Americans were outshot, 10-8.

Two goals in the second period by Bobby Brink (more details below) turned the game in the Americans' favor, as Team USA took a 3-0 lead into the final frame. The game turned into a rout in the third period -- basically the same pattern as the Czechs' tournament opening loss to the Swedes when the game was fairly even for 30 minutes and then the Junior Crowns dominated the rest of the way. 

In the third period, York picked up assists on goals by Trevor Zegras, Arthur Kaliyev and Cole Caufield. In the span of less than 4:30 of game play, York went from a pointless afternoon to a three-point game. More importantly, he played a strong two-way game, using his quick defensive stick to strong effect, and logged a team-high 22:38 of ice time.

Overall, through the first three games, York has posted six points (1g, 5a). That is tops among all defensemen in the tournament and sixth among all players.

BOBBY BRINK

Brink was a bit of a hard-luck player for Team USA in the Americans' first two games. He had quite a few prime opportunities to collect points, either on the set-up end or the goal-scoring opportunity side, but had only one secondary assist to show for it.

Nonetheless, Brink was an effective player for the Americans in all three games. Playing on the third line (centered by John Farinacci), Brink forechecked tenaciously and showed his elusiveness and creativity in generating offensive zone entries. He may not the prettiest skater or have blazing speed, but Brink has shown quickness and hockey sense. 

On the second Team USA goal of the opening 5-3 loss to Russia, Brink earned a secondary assist with a nice pass from the side boards. Defenseman Drew Helleson wristed a shot on net, and Farinacci scored on the rebound. 

In the team's next outing, the 11-0 battering of Austria, Brink was one of four Team USA position players who did not record a point. The others were Caufield, Landon Slaggert and defenseman Henry Thrun . However, Brink was robbed twice by Austrian goalie Sabastian Wraneschitz, who actually played a good game and took Player of the Game honors for his side despite giving up nine goals. Unfortunately, Wranerschitz got injured on the latter chance for Brink, stretching out with his pad as he moved laterally and either pulling a muscle or cramping up. The Austrian starter exited the game.

Game 3 for the Americans saw Brink finally break through in the goal-scoring column. It came at a crucial time, too. The game was scoreless for 25-plus minutes, with the Czech Republic giving Team USA all it could handle. 

At the 5:33 mark of the second period, Brink gave Team USA a 1-0 lead. It wasn't a pretty goal but it was one that showed character. Despite being one of the smallest players on either team (along with Caufield), Brink battled to get to the "greasy" area around the net and was rewarded when he potted a Brett Berard rebound for a 1-0 lead.

Later, at the 15:56 mark of the middle frame, Brink struck again. Once again, he got himself to the net. This time, it was a simple re-direct that did the trick as he tipped home the puck after Matthew Beniers put it at the net.

The two Brink goals, sandwiched around a Zegras goal into a yawning cage at 13:30, seemed to cut the heart out of the Czech team. The rest of the game was lopsided. Although Brink's two goals came right from the doorstep and were his only two shots on goal of the game, his impact was enormous on the match. At the end of the game, Brink received Team USA Player of the Game honors. 

Overall, Brink has three points (2g, 1a) through the three games heading into Thursday's clash with Sweden.

EMIL ANDRAE

The tournament got off to an inauspicious start for the 18-year-old Andrae, who will be eligible again next year. In Team Sweden's opener against the Czechs, Andrae dressed as the Swedes' seventh defenseman. He only received two shifts in the first period; the first at even strength and the second on the penalty kill.

On the PK shift, Andrae was partially to blame on a coverage breakdown. He was a little too aggressive in going at the puck carrier and the puck was slipped past him by Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (OHL) forward Jaromir Pytlik to Jan Mysik, who scored to give the Czechs an early 1-0 lead. 

Andrae skated only four shifts and played a total of 1:28 through two periods. However, as the Swedes took over the game and eventually went on to win, 7-1, the Swedish fourth-line forwards and lower portion of their starting blueline started to see extended time. 

Roughly five minutes of the 6:30 that Andrae played for the game came in the third period. He used the time well, settling in and playing effectively with and without the puck.

Andrae did not get an assist on the play but he was part of an extended puck movement sequence that resulted in an Oscar Bjerselius goal that made it a 6-1 score. Later, Andrae landed a big hit in the neutral zone, showing that he competes physically no matter the score. Although he is on the smaller side height-wise, Andrae has a sturdy frame and low center of gravity that makes him deceptively strong. 

On Monday, Sweden relentlessly dominated puck possession in a 4-0 shutout win over Austria. The score was less indicative of the lopsided nature of the game than the final shot disparity of 65-6 (not a misprint) in the Junior Crowns' favor. 

This time around, Andrae saw the ice much more frequently throughout the game; at least partially as a reward to see if he could build off his strong third period in the opener. He
played a strong two-way game. skated 21:17 over 26 shifts.

Carolina Hurricanes 2020 second-round pick Noel Gunler, who is in his second full (third partial) season at Sweden's SHL level with Luleå HF, scored power play and even strength goals for the Junior Crowns. Red Wings 2020 first-round pick Lucas Raymond (Frölunda) notched a goal and an assist and Red Wings 2020 second-round pick Theodor Niederbach (also a Frölunda forward) tallied a power play goal. Hugo Ahlnefelt (Tampa Bay 2019 third-round pick, HV71) earned the easy shutout on six saves.

Once again, as he was against Team USA, Austrian goalie Sebastian Wraneschitz was his team's best player during the game. Strong goaltending was all that prevented the game from being a blowout.

Team Sweden was idle on Tuesday. Their 54-game preliminary round winning streak will be on the line, along with first place in Group B, when they face Russia on Wednesday and Team USA on Thursday.

It remains to be seen how much ice time Andrae will receive over the remainder of the tournament. He'll get more than he did against the Czechs if he at least bumps up into the top six, so that he'll be part of the regular rotation of three pairs. The effectiveness of his play over his team's last four periods suggest that adjustment may be forthcoming.

However, regardless of the role that he plays over the remainder of this tourney, Andrae is almost a lock (barring injury) to play a central role, including power play time, for the Swedes in next year's tournament. He's already a regular starter at the SHL level and, internationally, was the captain of Sweden's national under-18 team. There's plenty that Andrae can contribute during the remainder of the WJC this year, but look for him to play more of a lead role than a supporting cast spot for the U20 national team moving forward.
That was the same path York took, as do many talented WJC players who earn WJC roster spots before age 19.

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