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World Juniors

5 things to watch in quarterfinals of World Juniors

Lafreniere's status for Canada, Zegras' hot streak for U.S. among storylines

by Adam Kimelman @NHLAdamK / Deputy Managing Editor

The 2020 IIHF World Junior Championship resumes with the quarterfinals in Ostrava and Trinec, Czech Republic, on Thursday. 

The semifinals will be held at Ostravar Arena in Ostrava on Saturday, along with the championship and consolation games on Sunday.

Quarterfinals schedule

Switzerland vs. Russia, 6:30 a.m. ET, NHLN

Canada vs. Slovakia, 9 a.m. ET, NHLN

United States vs. Finland, 11:30 a.m. ET, NHLN

Sweden vs. Czech Republic, 2 p.m. ET, NHLN

5 Things to watch

1. Lafreniere returns for Canada

Alexis Lafreniere, expected to be the No. 1 pick in the 2020 NHL Draft, will play for Canada on Thursday after missing two games with a left knee injury.

Not that Canada was hurting for offense without him, but Lafreniere adds a top-line, game-breaking presence with WJC experience from 2019 (one goal in five games). In the one full game he played in the 2020 World Junior Championship, against the United States on Dec. 26, the first day of the tournament, he had a goal and three assists.

Tweet from @StevenEllisTHN: Barrett Hayton scores his second of the game after a great move by Alexis Lafreniere took the D out of position. 4-2 Canada. #WJC2020

Tweet from @StevenEllisTHN: Alexis Lafreniere gets the puck off the faceoff and scores a beautiful goal to make it 5-4. 3:10 left to play. #WJC2020 #NHLDraft

Lafreniere has been skating the past few days, and practiced Wednesday.

"If we get him back it would be huge," forward Dylan Cozens (Buffalo Sabres) said before the official announcement. "You saw what kind of player he is in the one game he played. He's an unbelievable player, he's a game-changer, he's the guy that every time he's on the ice he's a threat to score so you know it'd be huge if we got him back."

2. Sweden trying to finish job

Sweden pushed its preliminary-round winning streak to 52 games, but in those 13 years it's won the WJC once, in 2012, and has one top-three finish since 2015. That includes a 2-0 loss to Switzerland in the 2019 WJC quarterfinals.

Offense hasn't been an issue for the Czech Republic. Samuel Fagemo (Los Angeles Kings) leads the tournament with six goals, Fagemo (six goals, one assist) and Nils Hoglander (Vancouver Canucks; three goals, four assists) are tied for second in the tournament with seven points. And top 2020 NHL Draft prospects Alexander Holtz (three goals, two assists) and Lucas Raymond (two goals, two assists) have been impressive.

Tweet from @IIHFHockey: FAGEMOOOOOOOOO!!!!! No back-to-back goals this time, but that's ok. Fagemo seals it for @trekronorse with a 6-2 final over Slovakia. #WorldJuniors

"I think we're confident," defenseman Victor Soderstrom (Arizona Coyotes) said. "We have a good group here. If we play well, we know we need to be a little bit lucky too, but we can go all the way, absolutely."

There's also some residual anger from the returning players from 2019, who also blamed a team-wide flu bug for the quarterfinal loss.

"We don't want that to happen again," said captain Adam Ginning (Philadelphia Flyers), one of seven players back from 2019. "We will be as prepared as we can for that game."

3. Zegras magic show continues

United States forward Trevor Zegras (Anaheim Ducks) leads the tournament with nine points, all primary assists, including a number of show-stopping plays.

His spin-o-rama pass to Jack Drury (Carolina Hurricanes) in the United States' 4-3 overtime win against Czech Republic on Monday might have been the prettiest pass of the tournament.

Tweet from @IIHFHockey: Beautiful spin-o-rama pass by @tzegras11 to Jack Drury and @usahockey takes the lead 3-2! #WorldJuniors

He's tied for the fourth-most assists by a United States player at the tournament; the U.S. record is 14 set by Doug Weight in 1991.

Zegras certainly knows how to score goals; he has five in 16 games as a freshman at Boston College and scored 26 in 60 games with the USA Hockey National Team Development Program Under-18 team last season. For now, though, he's happy being the set-up guy.

"I don't really know what it's like to score a goal anymore," he said. "Assists are the best thing in the world for me. I don't know, there's just something about it that I really like."

4. Hofer taking over for Canada

Joel Hofer (St. Louis Blues) seems to have settled Canada's goaltending situation, making 17 saves in the 7-2 win against Czech Republic on Tuesday and allowing five goals on 60 shots since replacing Nicolas Daws (2020 draft eligible) during the second period against Russia on Saturday.

Hofer has been one of the best goalies in with Western Hockey League with Medicine Hat, with 20 wins a 1.81 goals-against average and .937 save percentage in 20 games. But it's the first time he's playing international hockey and is taking nothing for granted.

"I'm just trying to go game by game and live in the moment and then we'll go from there," he said. "Obviously I know all three of us (Daws and Olivier Rodrigue) want to be the guy so I know whoever is going to be in net against Slovakia will be ready."

5. Finland going for repeat

Finland's quest for a second straight championship starts against the United States in a rematch of the 2019 championship game.

Four players from that team are back, including defenseman Toni Utunen (Vancouver Canucks), along with defensemen Anttoni Honka (Carolina Hurricanes) and Ville Heinola (Winnipeg Jets) and injured forward Rasmus Kupari (Los Angeles Kings). Utunen sparked Finland's championship run with an overtime goal against Canada.

"I'm pretty sure it's going to be a hard game," Utunen said Tuesday. "We just have to leave everything on the ice. We have beaten them this season already (World Junior Summer Showcase in August), so of course it's not impossible. We just need to get our heads up and play."

One good omen: Finland, which lost 5-2 against Switzerland on Tuesday, also lost its final game of the preliminary round in 2019.

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