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World Juniors

Matthew Tkachuk made most of U.S. camp on sidelines

Flames prospect staying off ice; Blues forward Tage Thompson impressing

by Adam Kimelman @NHLAdamK / Deputy Managing Editor

PLYMOUTH, Mich. -- After playing the longest season of his hockey life, United States forward and Calgary Flames draft pick Matthew Tkachuk is enjoying some well-earned time off.

Tkachuk, the No. 6 pick of the 2016 NHL Draft, spent three days here for National Junior Evaluation Camp solely to get to know U.S. coach Bob Motzko, his staff and potential teammates for the 2017 IIHF World Junior Championship. He left Tuesday to continue his offseason training in Toronto. He likely still will make the team if he isn't playing for the Flames.

"Definitely fun to be here and getting to know the coaching staff," Tkachuk said Monday. "Never met any of those coaches or worked with them before. Great to see some of the players that I've never played with or met before. And it's awesome to see the guys I played with before. They're still some of my best friends."

It's the longest Tkachuk has been off the ice in more than a year, starting with the 2016 National Junior Evaluation camp in Lake Placid, N.Y., last August, through his season with London of the Ontario Hockey League, the 2016 WJC, the OHL playoffs and the Memorial Cup, which extended his season through late May. Then came the NHL Scouting Combine in Buffalo, a trip to San Jose for Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final, a return to Buffalo for the draft and Flames development camp early last month.

"I'd love to be out there playing but there's no need for me to be out there playing with the long season I had," Tkachuk said. "And rest is probably the best thing for me at this point. … Talking with [U.S. WJC general manager] Jim Johansson about it, he was completely understanding about it. He wanted the same for me. We all know that when I come back, if I have the chance to represent this team at Christmastime, I want to be a leader and want to be looked upon as a leader."

Video: Highlights from the National Junior Evaluation Camp

Tkachuk excelled at every stop during his long season. He was fifth in the OHL with 107 points in 57 games; tied for the U.S. scoring lead at the 2016 WJC with 11 points in seven games; led the OHL playoffs with 20 goals in 20 games; and scored the game-winning goal in the Memorial Cup championship game playing on an injured ankle.

He's healthy now, evidenced by his full participation at Flames development camp last month. The key now is for him to rest and be ready for the start of the NHL season in Calgary, and if possible a chance to play for the United States at the 2017 WJC.

"I'm so excited to hopefully have the chance to represent my country at Christmas again and be a leader," he said. "It's my second year, show the guys what it takes to be successful at that tournament. It's a short tournament, lots of games in not so many nights. It would be special to be a mentor."

Thompson turning heads: St. Louis Blues general manager Doug Armstrong couldn't control himself. When Tage Thompson, the Blues' 2016 first-round pick (No. 26), scored the game-winning goal for USA Blue in a 6-4 victory against Sweden at USA Hockey Arena, he jumped out of his seat and flashed a big smile.

Tweet from @USAHockeyScores: FINAL: USA Blue defeats Sweden, 6-4. #NJECTage Thompson scored the game-winning goal with 6:17 to play.

"That was a beautiful goal," Armstrong said. "Cut inside there, made a really nice play."

Thompson got the puck on the right side of the Sweden zone, powered around defenseman David Bernhardt (Philadelphia Flyers) and beat goalie Adam Werner.

"[Brendan] Warren (Arizona Coyotes) hit me with a great pass," Thompson said. "Kind of saw I was getting angled off by the defenseman, so saw his stick was in front of me so I tried to sip it under it, saw I had the goalie beat low glove and I tried to put it there as quick as possible."

It was Thompson's fourth goal in two games; he had a hat trick in an 8-1 win against Finland on Sunday.

"I just want to enjoy the experience," Thompson said. "This is something new for me. I've been training for a while for it. Just put in the work and the rest takes care of itself."

Armstrong said he's looking forward to more excitement from Thompson during the duration of camp.

"It's been nice to see him play well in this first couple games and hopefully he'll get the chance to play later in the week," Armstrong said. "It's a great learning experience. The more you play against elite players, the better you become."

Keller, Bellows renew partnership: Clayton Keller (Arizona Coyotes) and Kieffer Bellows (New York Islanders) have nearly a decade of experience playing together, so it's no surprise the linemates combined for three goals and five assists in USA White's 8-2 win against Finland.

Trailing 2-0, Bellows scored at 18:00 of the first period and then assisted on the first three goals of the second period. One of those was the game-winner scored by Keller.

"Just me and him work really good together," Keller said. "I'm a passer and he's a shooter. He's good at getting open and I'm usually able to find him."

Keller has been finding Bellows since they were 10 years old and played together for the first time at a Bauer Selects tournament in St. Petersburg, Russia. Forwards Logan Brown (Ottawa Senators) and Trent Frederic (Boston Bruins), and goaltender Joseph Woll (Toronto Maple Leafs) also were on the team, which was coached by Jeff Brown, Logan's father, and Brian Bellows, Kieffer's father.

"We flew to Sweden, had about a five-hour layover there, had some time to hang out," Bellows said. "We were just kids then, didn't think we'd ever be playing with each other at a USA Hockey national junior camp."

Keller and Bellows have excelled as linemates during the past few seasons. In 2015-16, Keller led USA Hockey's National Team Development Program under-18 team with 107 points, and Bellows led with 50 goals.

"Just playing with each other the whole year, we know where each other is going to be, we know where we like the puck, we know where we like each other on the ice," Bellows said. "Just works out really well."

They'd love to reprise those roles at the 2017 WJC.

"It would be unbelievable," Keller said. "Everyone wants to make the World Juniors. Something that you really look forward to. To be able to play with him would be really special."

Finland finding its legs: Finland arrived on Saturday, and coach Jukka Rautakorpi said his players look like they're feeling some jet lag.

Julius Nattinen (Anaheim Ducks) and Eeli Tolvanen, a top 2017 NHL Draft prospect, scored in the first 14:21 of the first period Monday, but USA White scored the next eight goals.

On Sunday, Finland scored the first goal against USA Blue but lost 8-1.

"We played many players that played good hockey in the first period and hit a little bit [of a wall] during the second period," Rautakorpi said. "And that's why you have to play [the] full 60 minutes same way you play the first period. But I think the boys they … of course little bit of a time difference. We came here two days ago, everybody's a little tired. But those are excuses."

Finland is scheduled to practice Tuesday, but Rautakorpi said he was unsure if he would put his players on the ice. They play Wednesday against Canada (1 p.m. ET; NHLN, TSN).

"We need more effort to play Wednesday," Rautakorpi said. "Just like we saw today, first period we had legs and we played smart hockey and we had the puck more and we had chances to score. But little bit accident on their first goal (Kieffer Bellows' at 18:00 of the first), and with a young team, it was, 'Oh boy, what happened?' … But good experience for our team. Next game is next step."

Sweden's youngsters finding the pace -- Two top prospects for the 2017 draft, Marcus Davidsson and Lias Andersson, are among the key players for Sweden at the junior evaluation camp.

Neither of the 17-year-old forwards had a point in Sweden's 6-4 loss to USA Blue on Monday. Andersson had an assist in a 6-3 defeat of USA White on Sunday but Davidsson didn't play in that game.

Andersson a 5-11, 198-pound forward, led the Swedish junior league in scoring last season and finishing second in scoring for Sweden at the 2016 IIHF World Under-18 Championship. Davidsson (6-0, 185) also was on the World U-18 team that won the silver medal.

It's been bumpy but Sweden coach Tomas Monten is confident they can be key players at the WJC.

"Lias played yesterday and had his first game so he was better today," Monten said. "He started from where he left off yesterday. Marcus was his first game. But both have played the Under-18s. They know they're one year younger than most of the other players and they're pretty smart and keep track of the plays on the ice. I think both of them are going to improve a lot this year. I think both of them are going to play regular minutes with their pro teams back home. I think they're really going to give it a shot of making our team."

Cuts coming for U.S. -- After three days of practices and games, the U.S. will combine USA Blue and USA White starting Tuesday, which means a few of the players will be heading home.

Coach Bob Motzko said he expects those discussions to go deep into the night Monday.

"It's very difficult, I can tell you that," Motzko said. "We're going to be in for long discussions tonight. We just started, just hunkered down. It's hard to get ahead of that. We just started it and there's a large group in there and we want to hear what everyone has to say."

Motzko said there was no set number of players to keep, or number of players at each position he wants to continue to evaluate. "It's a floating number," he said. "That's one of the things we talk about."

One player on the bubble could be forward Riley Tufte (Dallas Stars). He sustained a wrist injury during the second period of USA Blue's 6-4 defeat of Sweden.

Motzko said Tufte was being evaluated and he had no update.

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