United States center Auston Matthews, who is projected to be the No. 1 pick in the 2016 NHL Draft, keyed an offensive outburst Wednesday with two goals and two assists to lead the U.S. to a 10-1 victory against Switzerland in a Group A preliminary-round game of the 2016 IIHF World Junior Championship at Helsinki Ice Hall in Finland.
The Americans rebounded from a 1-0 loss against Sweden on Monday with their biggest offensive showing in four years at the tournament to solidify a spot in the quarterfinal round. The last time the United States scored as many as 10 goals came against Latvia in a 12-2 victory at the 2012 WJC in Calgary.
The U.S. played without top-line right wing Alexander DeBrincat, who is day-to-day because of an upper-body injury. DeBrincat, who stars for Erie in the Ontario Hockey League, is an A-rated skater on NHL Central Scouting's November players to watch list.
Colin White, selected in the first round of the 2015 NHL Draft by the Ottawa Senators, replaced DeBrincat on the top line alongside Matthews and left wing Matthew Tkachuk, also an A-rated skater on Central Scouting's November list.
The Tkachuk-Matthews-White line combined for five goals and 10 points in the victory. Matthews, who leads the U.S. with six points in three games, was named the player of the game for the U.S. Tkachuk had two goals and one assist and White one goal and two assists.
"Everybody contributed so that was nice to see," Matthews told NHL Network. "And as far as [Tkachuk] goes, he's a great player. Colin White did a great job as well so we meshed really well [Wednesday] and scored some goals. Last year was pretty disappointing [finishing fifth at the 2015 WJC]. So this year we want a different result. So far I think we've played pretty well."
U.S. defenseman Zachary Werenski (Columbus Blue Jackets) had one goal and two assists. Werenski, who is the U.S. captain, leads all defensemen in the tournament with five points (two goals, three assists).
The victory moved the United States into second place in Group A with six points. Sweden is first with nine points. The U.S. will play fourth-place Denmark on Thursday (9 a.m. ET; NHLN) to complete their preliminary-round schedule.
"The game [against Denmark] doesn't mean anything to either team but we do want to finish ahead of Canada," U.S. coach Ron Wilson said. "So I suggest to our team we have to win the game."
There were three other games Wednesday: Czech Republic defeated Belarus 5-3; Sweden defeated Denmark 5-0; and Finland defeated Slovakia 8-3.
Here are five things we learned on the fifth day of action in the World Junior Championship:
Top-line takeover in Finland: Finland's line top 2016 draft prospects Jesse Puljujarvi and Patrik Laine, each an A-rated skater on NHL Central Scouting's November players to watch list, and center Sebastian Aho (Carolina Hurricanes), has been tough to contain in the WJC.
They combined for four goals and six assists in the victory against Slovakia at Hartwall Arena in Group B play Wednesday. Puljujarvi led the way with one goal and three assists. The 6-foot-3, 203-pound forward has three goals and seven assists in three games, and his 10 points leads all players. Laine and Aho are tied for second with seven points apiece.
"It's unbelievable to watch those guys play," Finland captain Mikko Rantanen (Colorado Avalanche) told the IIHF website. "It's a very good line. I think after three games it's the best line in the tournament."
Sweden remains unbeaten: Despite the absence of injured forward William Nylander (Toronto Maple Leafs), Sweden continues to persevere behind strong defensive play and timely goals. In a Group A victory against Denmark at Helsinki Ice Hall on Wednesday, goaltender Felix Sandstrom (Philadelphia Flyers) needed nine saves for a shutout in his first start of the tournament.
Left wing Alexander Nylander, the younger brother of William Nylander, scored his second goal of the tournament against Denmark and leads Sweden with six points in three games. Alexander, who plays for Mississauga in the Ontario Hockey League, is an A-rated skater on NHL Central Scouting's November players to watch list for the 2016 draft.
Center Adrian Kempe (Los Angeles Kings), left wing Oskar Lindblom (Philadelphia Flyers) and defensemen Gustav Forsling (Chicago Blackhawks) and William Lagesson (Edmonton Oilers) also scored for Sweden, which plays Canada in the final preliminary-round game in Group A on Thursday (3:30 p.m. ET, NHLN).
William Nylander will not play against Canada because of an upper-body injury and will miss his third straight game, according to Sportsnet. Nylander was injured when he was checked in the head late in the first period of Sweden's 8-3 win against Switzerland on Saturday and did not return.
Sweden doctor Per Adolf Bergsten told TSN that Nylander would need to go through one full practice with contact before playing again.
Said Alexander Nylander when asked about his brother: "He's been biking at the hotel and feeling good. He might be back soon."
Czechs are charging: The Czech Republic received some clutch performances from several 2016 draft-eligible forwards in a victory against Belarus on Wednesday at Hartwall Arena in a Group B game.
Left wing Simon Stransky, an A-rated skater on Central Scouting's November players to watch list, scored his first goal of the tournament, finishing a 2-on-1 break to give Czech Republic a 1-0 lead 15:39 into the first.
The 5-foot-11, 171-pound forward is in his second season with Prince Albert in the Western Hockey League. He has 11 goals and 31 points in 30 games.
Defenseman Filip Hronek (6-foot, 163), a B-rated skater on the November players to watch list, had one assist, four shots on goal and a plus-3 rating. Left wing Dominik Lakatos (B-rated) scored his second goal of the tournament and had four shots on goal.
Lakatos (6-foot, 178), who plays for Liberec in the top Czech professional league, is gaining valuable experience on a line with David Pastrnak (Boston Bruins) and David Kase (Philadelphia Flyers).
The victory marks the first time since the 2013 WJC that the Czech Republic has at least two regulation wins during the preliminary round. They're second in Group B with seven points, one behind first-place Russia. Finland, the Czech Republic's opponent Thursday, is third with six points.
Marner wants more: Canada right wing Mitchell Marner, taken by the Toronto Maple Leafs with the fourth pick of the 2015 draft, believes he has much more to offer than the one goal and two assists he has in three games so far.
The 5-11, 160-pound forward is expected to be a key offensive force for Canada, which is third in Group A heading into its game Thursday against first-place Sweden at Helsinki Ice Arena.
Marner, who has 22 goals and 58 points in 25 games as captain for London in the OHL, was asked why he felt he has gotten off to a slow start at the tournament.
"It feels like I'm not preparing my body right for the games," he told TSN. "I'm just trying to get used to the napping time and stuff like that. I don't think I'm playing to my capabilities. I am just trying to play my game but I think I can play a lot better."
Canada coach Dave Lowry said Marner is contributing. He was at right wing with Rourke Chartier (San Jose Sharks) and center Brayden Point (Tampa Bay Lightning) at practice Wednesday.
"The one thing we want him to understand is we'll win as a group, we'll score by committee," Lowry said. "He just has to play responsible."
Canada will be playing with heavy hearts after the passing of Jacques Ducharme, the father of Canada assistant coach Dominique Ducharme. Ducharme learned of his father's death following a 3-2 shootout win against Switzerland on Tuesday. Ducharme, head coach of Halifax in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, said he will remain with Canada for the duration of the tournament.
"That just shows you what this [tournament] means to him," Lowry told Canadian Press. "I know he had a very strong relationship with his dad."
Relegation round: Switzerland and Belarus will play in the best-of-3 relegation-round series that begins Saturday. Switzerland is in the relegation round for the second straight tournament. They had consecutive 5-2 victories against Germany at Air Canada Centre in Toronto at the 2015 WJC to stay in the top level of the WJC.
The winner of the relegation round will play in the 2017 WJC in Montreal and Toronto. The loser is relegated to the Division I-A tournament.
Switzerland had three regulation losses and one shootout loss to finish fifth in Group A. Belarus lost four games in regulation to finish fifth in Group B.
"We didn't have the right mindset [against the United States] and now we just have to get ready for the relegation round," Switzerland captain Timo Meier (San Jose Sharks) told the IIHF website. "We played against Belarus [in a pre-tournament game] and we know it's a good team. We want to pull ourselves together. It's not easy but we'll be playing for Swiss hockey to stay in the top division."