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World Junior Summer Showcase Day 9 notebook

Lafreniere kept Canada locker room loose; Byram eyeing Avalanche roster spot

by Adam Kimelman @NHLAdamK / Deputy Managing Editor

PLYMOUTH, Mich. -- Alexis Lafreniere, the favorite to be the No. 1 pick in the 2020 NHL Draft, knows how to keep teammates happy on the ice with his elite play.

The 17-year-old Canada forward also showed during the World Junior Summer Showcase, which ended Saturday, that he knows how to keep them smiling off the ice as well.

"I love being here," Lafreniere said Friday. "The guys are all good guys, we have a lot of fun in the room."

Locker room reports point to Lafreniere as the source of a lot the fun.

"He's a total dressing room guy," goalie Hunter Jones (Minnesota Wild) said. "He likes to be very outgoing with his teammates and he likes to speak up in the room. He's a good teammate."

For Lafreniere, a native of Saint-Eustache, Quebec, a number of the laughs have come from his English malaprops.

"He makes the guys laugh a little bit," linemate Joseph Veleno (Detroit Red Wings) said. "His English has come a long way. Like every French guy the laughs always come when you're trying to speak English. He embraces that and has a lot of fun with it. He knows we joke around with him and he likes being involved with the team."

Lafreniere said he doesn't take offense to the jokes at his expense.

"For sure, sometimes I don't say the right words and they're getting on me," he said. "It's funny and we have a lot of fun with that."

Lafreniere's language skill might be the only thing he needs work on. Playing for Rimouski of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League last season, he was named league MVP and Canadian Hockey League Player of the Year after he tied for second in the QMJHL with 105 points (37 goals, 68 assists), the most in the league by a 17-year-old since Sidney Crosby had 135 points for Rimouski in 2003-04.

"He's dynamic in every sense," Veleno said. "He can score, he can pass, great hockey sense. He's easy to play with. For any centerman or winger he's easy to find on the ice. He makes his linemates better and he's just honestly an amazing player."


Byram eyeing NHL

Canada defenseman Bowen Byram, selected by the Colorado Avalanche with the No. 4 pick in the 2019 NHL Draft, said he believes he has what it takes to play in the NHL this season.

"I know I have things to work on, but I think if I go in, have a good training camp and work hard, do my best, I think there's a chance," the 18-year-old said.

Byram displayed his full skill set during the WJSS. He had two assists in two games (he was scratched from a 5-3 loss to the United States on Saturday) and displayed the same calm and poise he showed while dominating with Vancouver of the Western Hockey League last season. He led WHL defensemen with 26 goals, led WHL players in the postseason with 26 points (eight goals, 18 assists) in 22 games and won the CHL Top Prospect Award.

"Great skater, but the hockey sense is a big part of it," Canada coach Dale Hunter said. "He moves the puck, he works the net, he makes the right play. Power play, he's very deceptive up top. He doesn't telegraph the puck, where it's going, and for penalty killers that's hard."

The Avalanche, who advanced to the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season but lost to the San Jose Sharks in seven games, likely will have defensemen Samuel Girard, 21, and Cale Makar, 20, playing key roles this season. Would they also want Byram in that group?

"I want to go there and make it tough on them to send me home, that's my goal," Byram said. "I've worked really hard these last couple weeks training. When I get home after this I'll be working hard as well. I'm really looking forward to going there and playing the best I can."


Heinola looking forward to 2020 WJC

Ville Heinola (Winnipeg Jets) enjoyed the celebration when Finland won the 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship, but because of a lower-body injury sustained on a hit by Canada's Max Comtois (Anaheim Ducks) during the quarterfinals, the defenseman missed Finland's final two games.

"It was really, really tough," Heinola said. "You look forward to games and you can do nothing, so that's bad."

The 18-year-old had another moment of concern when he injured his right wrist July 27 in the first game of the WJSS. He missed one game but arguably was Finland's best all-around defenseman in the final four games. He had three assists in a 6-3 loss to Sweden on Saturday, and four in four games.

He wants to be a leader on and off the ice for Finland at the 2020 WJC, which will be played in the Czech Republic Dec. 26 to Jan. 5.

"I want the other guys to look at me and what I do," Heinola said. "I can help because I was there last year."

Finland's coaches will be counting on Heinola's presence as well.

"Obviously he's a top player in the whole world," assistant coach Tuomo Ruutu said. "He's already there last year so we're really hoping that he can help us this year too."


Johnson a surprise for U.S.

U.S. defenseman Ryan Johnson (Buffalo Sabres) was one of the players who opened eyes with his solid play throughout the event.

"I felt comfortable from the first game," Johnson said. "They picked me for a reason. I felt like I belonged here, so I just wanted to prove that I did. Just tried to play hard and have fun."

Johnson scored in a 5-3 win against Canada on Saturday for his only point, and he was plus-2 in five games.

Tweet from @StevenEllisTHN: Looks like Alex Turcotte tipped in Ryan Johnson's shot, but for now, it's Johnson's goal. Caufield with an assist. #WJSS

The 18-year-old had 25 points (six goals, 19 assists) in 54 games with Sioux Falls of the United States Hockey League last season and will be a freshman at the University of Minnesota in the fall.

"We liked the way that Ryan Johnson is maturing as a player," U.S. general manager John Vanbiesbrouck said. "I think he's really taking a big step, and it's a big jump from the USHL and moving on to college hockey. In the summer you can see he's put in the work."

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