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Golden Knights Staff Checks In From The World Juniors

USA-Canada, Denmark and the prospect of hidden gems have caught Vegas' attention

by Dan Marrazza @GoldenKnights / VegasGoldenKnights.com

Vegas is a city known for its New Year's celebrations.

Despite it being the Golden Knights' first year in town, the team's hockey operations department won't be celebrating.

With the World Juniors underway in Toronto and Montreal, seven members of the Golden Knights' hockey operations staff are in attendance. In a year where the organization will have to entirely stock its depth chart at the NHL, minor league and prospect levels, this year's tournament is especially important to the team.

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"Our dynamic's been a little different because we're a new team, and we're trying to get some handle on all the players," Assistant Director of Player Personnel Bob Lowes said. "It isn't just the draft eligible players. It's other team's drafts, guys that are already picked. I think it's a really good tournament for our staff to see both of those groups of players, and to get a good handle on it going forward for our organization."

With the tournament's round robin schedule finishing on December 31, a single-elimination playoff round will begin on January 2.

From there, eight of the tournament's 10 teams will play until only one team is left standing on January 5.

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At this critical juncture of the tournament, here are the three impressions that the tournament has left with the Golden Knights staff, as relayed by Bob Lowes.

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1. U.S. vs. Canada Should Be Memorable

 

 

Canada is undefeated, the United States is undefeated.

The North American rivals have been dominant early in the tournament, with each having routed the competition through its first three games.

Although both have secured the first and second seeds in Group B and have clinched spots in the playoff round, the teams' tilt on New Year's Eve will decide the Group B champion.

As well as a whole lot of bragging rights.

"If you're from Canada, you like to think that it's your game," Lowes said. "Watching it over the past few years here, USA is really coming on here. There's a lot of bragging rights on the line and a lot of pride.

"I think what's happened is, USA hockey has really, really improved. In lots of areas where the NHL has been and is, you've seen kids where they come from California, Florida and even some kids from Vegas playing hockey, it's going to make a big impact.

"The U.S. now has a stake in hockey being their game."

USA vs. Canada gets underway at 12:30 PST on December 31 on NHL Network.

RELATED: U.S. upsets of Canada top memorable World Junior moments

 

2. Those Great Danes

 

 

That teams like the U.S., Canada and Sweden have all won their first three games is not much of a surprise.

But what has been surprising is the performance of Denmark.

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Only the 13th ranked country in the world in the IIHF rankings, Denmark qualified for the World Juniors based on the performances of their next generation, which has lifted this country from hockey obscurity to relevance over the past decade.

Although Denmark still wasn't expected to make any noise in this tournament, it has surprisingly won two of its first four games over the Czech Republic and Finland.

"It makes you take notice of who's playing the important minutes and in the important situations," Lowes said. "Obviously, they're having some success, so it makes you take notice a little bit more. It makes you look at a guy that's maybe slipped through the draft, if he's draft eligible, and saying: 'this kid's doing it on the world stage against some of the best competition in the world.'

Denmark, Sweden, Switzerland and the Czech Republic are guaranteed to advance from Group A, while defending champion Finland is winless and will be going home early.

Canada, Russia, Slovakia and the U.S. will be advancing from Group B, while Latvia is already eliminated.

 

3. Pay Attention To The Underdogs

 

For the public, games between the elite teams, for obvious reasons, steal most of the World Junior headlines.

But for NHL teams, it's more often the games between the lesser known countries that are most interesting.

"I think what it is, for the countries, the smaller countries that are not real strong….you look back at a Nino Niederreiter, who played for Switzerland a few years ago," Lowes said. "The World Juniors that he had, and what it did for his draft status and confidence. He's a good example of a kid that broke out in his years playing in the tournament.

 

 

"Another one would be (Oliver) Bjorkstrand. He played for Denmark a couple years ago. Both of those kids… the World Juniors that they had, what it did for their confidence, and propelling them to that next level. They had really good World Juniors as draft eligible guys."

Niederreiter scored six goals and four assists in seven games in the 2010 World Juniors, and was selected sixth overall by the New York Islanders in that spring's NHL Draft. He now plays for the Minnesota Wild, with whom he's been a leading scorer on a team riding a 12-game winning streak.

Bjorkstrand notched four goals and an assist in five games in 2015. He's now a top prospect of the Columbus Blue Jackets.

The success of players like Niederreiter and Bjorkstrand in recent years suggest that at least a few unheralded players currently starring in this year's tournament will go on to have professional success.

"Performance here goes into a player's overall profile," Lowes said. You wouldn't just base it on this tournament, but it is an important part of the development of a player. It's just a really good snapshot of the possible potential of that player."

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