As the 2014 World Junior Championships opened yesterday in Malmo, Sweden, the Nashville Predators have six prospects vying for the international spotlight.
On Thursday morning, Zach Stepan (fourth round, 2012) and Team USA defeated the Czech Republic, 5-2, in their opening game of Group A play. Stepan, who left the game with a lower-body injury, recorded a +1 rating as his line accounted for two of the Americans’ five goals. Stepan remains day-to-day according to USA Hockey, as the American squad prepares to take on Slovakia on Saturday.
Host country Sweden and Filip Forsberg also opened play on Thursday afternoon, as the Swedes downed the Swiss 5-3 in front of the home crowd. Forsberg, the Swedes' captain, posted three points (1g-2a) on seven shots, as he was named the best player in opening game. After the Swiss scored early in the opening frame, it only took 71 seconds for Forsberg to respond for the Tre Kronor, tying the game at one goal apiece. The 19-year old would notch his first assist on Sweden’s third first-period goal, and post his second helper on the go-ahead goal later in the third period.
The Swedes return to the ice tomorrow morning to take on the Finnish team.
In today’s action, the Finnish team, which boasts four Preds prospects, used a three-goal second period to defeat the team from Norway, 5-1. Saku Maenalanen (fifth round, 2013) stole the show for Suomi as he posted three points (2g-1a) in the opening game.
With 47 seconds remaining in the opening frame, Maenalanen and the Finns’ top line scored on the power play, with Maenalanen picking up the lone assist. That line combined for the second Finnish goal as well, as Maenalanen fired a shot past Norwegian netminder Joachim Svendsen just 2:57 into the second period. Maenalanen found the back of the net again late in the period, when he banged in the loose puck to give Finland the 3-0 lead.
Goalie Juuse Saros (fourth round, 2013) earned his first World Junior victory for Finland, after carrying a shutout into the final four minutes of play.
Outside of the two prospects highlighted here, Nashville has defenseman Mikko Vainonen (fourth round, 2012) and back-up netminder Janne Juvonen (seventh round, 2013) playing for Suomi.
You can read more about the Preds prospects here at nashvillepredators.com, and you can watch select game from the 2014 World Juniors live on NHL Network and NHL.com.