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World Juniors

10 things learned from World Junior Championship

Lafreniere, projected No. 1 pick of 2020 NHL Draft, leads Canada to gold

by Mike. G. Morreale @mikemorrealeNHL / Staff Writer

Canada celebrated its 18th championship after a 4-3 win against Russia to conclude a memorable 2020 IIHF World Junior Championship at Ostravar Arena in Czech Republic on Sunday.

It was Canada's first championship since 2018 and the first when the tournament was held outside North America since the 2008 WJC, which was held in the Czech Republic.

Canada forward Alexis Lafreniere, the projected No. 1 pick in the 2020 NHL Draft, was named the tournament's most valuable player and its top forward. Lafreniere had 10 points (four goals, six assists) in five games. It's the first time in three years a player not from the United States was named tournament MVP, after Ryan Poehling (Montreal Canadiens) in 2019 and Casey Mittelstadt (Buffalo Sabres) in 2018.

The WJC Media All-Star Team included Canada goalie Joel Hofer (St. Louis Blues), Russia defensemen Alexander Romanov (Montreal Canadiens), Sweden defenseman Rasmus Sandin (Toronto Maple Leafs), Sweden forward Samuel Fagemo (Los Angeles Kings), Canada forward Barrett Hayton (Arizona Coyotes) and Lafreniere.

Here are 10 other things learned at the tournament:


Lafreniere perseveres

Lafreniere showed plenty of determination and played a huge role in Canada's first-place finish. 

He missed two games with an injury to his left knee but still led all 2020 Draft-eligible players in the tournament with 10 points (four goals, six assists) in five games. He had 18 shots on goal, averaged 15:58 of ice time while playing left wing on Canada's top line and had six points (three goals, three assists) in three games after his return.

"While the top prospects of this draft class continue to distinguish themselves, Lafreniere has actually elevated his level of play to separate himself as the top prospect for the 2020 NHL Draft," Director of NHL Central Scouting Dan Marr said. "Injuries are part of the game and thankfully this one was not as serious as it looked."


Thomas comes through

Canada forward Akil Thomas (Los Angeles Kings) made up for lost time in the biggest moment of his hockey career.

As the oldest player in the tournament (20 years, three days), Thomas moved to the top line from the fourth line late in the third period and scored the game-winning goal with 3:58 left to give his team a 4-3 victory against Russia in the championship game.

It was the first goal of the tournament for Thomas, who played 5:23 on nine shifts.

"It was in the third period, I was being patient and hoping my time would come," Thomas said. "It doesn't feel real. This group has obviously been together for a month now and I look at these guys like I've been with them for years. I just wanted to do as much as I could to help the boys. I was just trying to stay patient, and my time came."


Russia finishes second

Russia had its 23rd top-three finish at the WJC, including finishing second for the 10th time. It has finished in the top three at the WJC in nine of the past 10 tournaments but last won the event at the 2011 WJC.

Canada and Russia were playing in the WJC championship game for the eighth time since the current format was adopted in 1996. Each team has won four times, but Canada now has won two straight, 2020 and a 5-4 win in the 2015 WJC. Russia last won against Canada in the championship game in 2011.

Romanov, who had eight points (three goals, five assists) in seven games, was named to the WJC media All-Star Team for the second straight year.


Canada's Hofer makes statement

Hofer never had represented Canada at an international event prior to playing in the 2020 WJC, but he'll be viewed a bit differently after being named the best goalie of the tournament.

He never looked back after replacing Nicolas Daws (2020 Draft eligible) at 2:18 of the second period of a 6-0 loss against Russia on Dec. 28. He made 20 saves on 22 shots in relief that game and finished the tournament with a 1.60 goals-against average, a .939 save percentage and one shutout in six games.

"As a kid you watch every tournament," Hofer said. "For me to make the team, not knowing whether I was going start any games or not and luckily got the chance, is something I won't forget. Our team was playing pretty good since the Russia (loss) and to finish it off with a gold medal is just unbelievable."

Hofer is one of the best goalies in the Western Hockey League with Portland; he has 20 wins, a 1.81 GAA and .937 save percentage in 20 games.


Sweden finishes third

Sweden finished in the top three at the WJC for the 19th time after a 3-2 win against Finland in the consolation game. Sweden last won the WJC in 2012 and rebounded after finishing fifth in 2019.

Sweden went unbeaten in the preliminary round for the 13th straight year, running its winning streak to 52 games; 45 wins have come in regulation, three in overtime, four in a shootout. Sweden's last loss in the preliminary round was 3-2 in overtime against the United States on Dec. 31, 2006.

However Sweden has won one tournament during their streak, in 2012. Their championship hopes in 2020 ended in a 5-4 overtime loss agianst Russia in the semifinals Saturday. 


Kings prospect top scorer

Samuel Fagemo, chosen by the Los Angeles Kings in the second round (No. 50) of the 2019 NHL Draft, led the tournament with eight goals and 13 points in seven games for Sweden.

The 5-foot-11, 190-pound left wing played more of a shutdown role at the 2019 WJC and had one assist in five games. This year, Fagemo thrived in a top-line role with Nils Hoglander (Vancouver Canucks) and David Gustafsson (Winnipeg Jets).

"He does everything 100 percent," Sweden coach Tomas Monten said. "Doesn't matter what it is, practice, a shooting drill, a skating drill, forecheck, backcheck, a game. He gives 100 percent. He wants to be a producing player, but I think it's most important to him that he works hard every shift. And if he does that, he knows the offense will fall into place and the opportunities will open up for him."

Fagemo had a goal and an assist in a 3-2 win against Finland in the consolation game.


United States finishes sixth

The United States missed an opportunity to finish among the top three for a fifth straight WJC after a 1-0 loss against Finland in the quarterfinals and placed sixth this year.

It lost 3-2 against Finland in the championship game at the 2019 WJC after finishing third in 2018 and 2016 and first in 2017.

Prior to this run, the U.S. had consecutive top-three finishes at the WJC once before, in 2010 (first) and 2011 (third).

The best three players of the tournament for the United States, as selected by the staff, were forwards Trevor Zegras (Anaheim Ducks) and Shane Pinto (Ottawa Senators), and goalie Spencer Knight (Florida Panthers).

Pinto and forward Arthur Kaliyev (Los Angeles Kings) tied for the U.S. lead with four goals. Pinto had seven points (four goals, three assists), second on the United States to Zegras. Knight had two wins, a 2.49 GAA and .913 save percentage in four games.


NHL Draft evaluations

Lafreniere wasn't the only 2020 Draft-eligible prospect to make an impression.

Germany had three players among the top five in scoring among 2020 Draft-eligible players. Forwards John-Jason Peterka (four goals, two assists) and Lukas Reichel (three goals, two assists), each a B-rated skater in NHL Central Scouting's preliminary players to watch list for the 2020 Draft, and Tim Stuetzle (five assists, 18:43 average ice time in five games), an A-rated skater, were productive in Germany's return to the top division of the tournament for the first time since 2015.

Sweden A-rated forwards Alexander Holtz (three goals, two assists) and Lucas Raymond (two goals, two assists) performed well and averaged more than 11 minutes each in ice time.

Canada A-rated defenseman Jamie Drysdale had one goal, two assists and plus-3 rating and averaged 11:38 of ice time in seven games.

Czech Republic C-rated defenseman Simon Kubicek (one goal, two assists) averaged 23:34 of ice time in five games.


IIHF happy with approach to WJC groupings

Martin Urban, a member of the International Ice Hockey Federation competition committee, said the IIHF will continue to place countries in groups based on the ranking from the previous year's results.

There were a few media members inquiring about the possibility of establishing a world ranking for junior hockey based on results of the previous four years to present a more balanced WJC format.

Canada and Russia, which were in Group B of this year's tournament, played in the WJC final.

"The seeding is strictly written in the sport regulations to be fairly based on the result one year before," Urban said. "In junior hockey the teams are always quite different each year. That's why we have stuck to the current system."

The 2021 WJC setup in Edmonton and Red Deer, Alberta:

Group A (Edmonton) - Canada, Finland, Switzerland, Germany, Slovakia

Group B (Red Deer) - United States, Russia, Sweden, Czech Republic, Austria


Germany to play in 2021 WJC

Germany won a best-of-3 rseries against Kazakhstan in the relegation round and will return for the 2021 WJC.

Kazakhstan will play in the 2021 WJC Division I, Group A tournament. Austria, which won the WJC Division IA in December, will replace Kazakhstan in the top tournament.

Forward Dominik Bokk (St. Louis Blues) led Germany with eight points (six goals, two assists) in seven games.

"It was just important to give the opportunity to guys to come next year to play in the top division," said Germany defenseman Moritz Seider (Detroit Red Wings), who had six assists in seven games.

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