PLYMOUTH, Mich. -- Alexis Lafreniere, the Canada left wing projected by many to be the No. 1 pick in the 2020 NHL Draft, received some valuable advice from a recent No. 1 pick with experience in handling pressure.
Jack Hughes, chosen No. 1 by the New Jersey Devils in the 2019 NHL Draft, was extremely helpful to the 17-year-old from Rimouski of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League this offseason.
Lafreniere (6-foot-1, 192 pounds), one of 38 players invited by Canada to the World Junior Summer Showcase, met Hughes for the first time while attending the Bauer Hockey Combine in Exeter, New Hampshire, on July 18.
"He told me to focus on myself, my season; I know there's got to be a lot of attention around it," Lafreniere said. "I'll try to focus on myself and get better every day. That was the first time I talked to him and he's a good guy, a really mature guy and [heck] of a player as well."
Lafreniere, who with center Joseph Veleno (Detroit Red Wings) are the only returning players from the team that finished sixth at the 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship, said he and Hughes don't have a lot in common on the ice.
"I think we're pretty different," Lafreniere said. "First of all, he's a center and he's much more of a quick guy and sneaky. I'm that offensive guy, but he's a way better skater than me. If I can catch him, I'd be happy."
USA Hockey releases 13 players
Five of the 13 players released by USA Hockey from the summer showcase development camp Monday were from the USA Hockey National Team Development Program Under-18 team.
"I think the unity of the group and how we build it and moving forward the fact that we're into single games probably led to this decision," U.S. general manager John Vanbiesbrouck said. "We need to try to give more opportunities to see guys in different roles. I felt for the players released, but this is a selection process. Things cleared up for us and we got to the decisions a little bit quicker."
Defenseman Alex Vlasic, selected by the Chicago Blackhawks in the second round (No. 43) of the 2019 draft, was the highest-chosen player from the NTDP to be released.
There are 31 players remaining at camp, which runs through Friday: three goalies, 10 defensemen and 18 forwards.
Also released were goalie Drew DeRidder (2020 NHL Draft eligible); defensemen Jackson LaCombe (Anaheim Ducks), Marshall Warren (Minnesota Wild), Slava Demin (Vegas Golden Knights), Drew Helleson (Colorado Avalanche) and Case McCarthy (Devils); forwards Luke Loheit (Ottawa Senators), Owen Lindmark (Florida Panthers), Luke Toporowski (2020 eligible), John Farinacci (Arizona Coyotes), Blade Jenkins (New York Islanders) and Demetrios Koumontzis (Calgary Flames).
Warren, Helleson, McCarthy and Lindmark also played for the NTDP last season.
The U.S. has four games remaining at the summer showcase, starting with Canada on Tuesday (4 p.m. ET). It then plays Sweden on Wednesday (4 p.m. ET; NHLN), Finland on Thursday (4 p.m. ET; NHLN) and Canada on Friday (4 p.m. ET; NHLN).
Pasic and the pizza shop
Long before Nikola Pasic even considered earning a roster spot for his country at the 2020 WJC, he was learning the basics on rollerblades inside his dad's pizza shop in Gislaved, Sweden.
"I was young, maybe about 8 years old, and I didn't want to walk home alone," Pasic said. "So while I waited for my father to finish, I had nothing to do, so I took out my rollerblades and started skating. I didn't hand out pies on skates or anything, but it killed the time."
Pasic (5-foot-10, 187 pounds), chosen by the Devils in the seventh round (No. 189) of the 2019 draft, is hoping his determination, grit and scoring prowess will be enough to impress the coaching staff at the summer showcase.
"It's an honor and I want to compete for a place at World Juniors, so this is a great opportunity to show what I can do and hopefully make an impression," he said.
The 18-year-old had two points (one goal, one assist) in 15 games for Linkoping of the Swedish Hockey League last season and expected to play a bigger role for Karlskoga of Allsvenskan this season.
"He's a speedy wing and plays with grit but he's also a goal-scorer and around the net," Sweden coach Tomas Monten said. "He reads the play quickly and is good down low in the offensive zone. He can cycle the puck and is strong taking the puck to the net."
Helminen excited to coach Finland
Raimo Helminen is excited for another chance to coach Finland for the second time in his career. He guided Finland to a fourth-place finish in the 2012 WJC in Calgary.
The 55-year-old isn't too concerned with how all eyes will be on Finland as the defending champion.
"This is a different team but of course in Finland, we are a pretty good hockey country, so we want to remain as good as possible," Helminen said. "There are so many good teams and we have to be pushing and do everything we can after Christmas to be ready to play."
Selected by the New York Rangers in the second round (No. 35) of the 1984 NHL Draft, Helminen played 117 NHL games with the Rangers, Minnesota North Stars and New York Islanders. He began his coaching career as an assistant for Ilves in Liiga in 2009-10 and for the past three seasons has been coaching Jokerit of the Kontinental Hockey League.
Anton Lundell, an A rated prospect in NHL Central Scouting's International Players to Watch list, won a gold medal with Finland in the 2019 WJC. He has a good idea what is needed to repeat.
"I would say team spirit and chemistry in the locker room is very important to team success at the WJC," Lundell said. "It's having every guy trusting each other. Maybe we lose some games, but we come harder the next time."