Several Buffalo Sabres prospects enjoyed a productive week as they work to impress their national programs before the 2018 IIHF World Junior Championship begins in December.
This past week, forwards Casey Mittelstadt (USA), Cliff Pu (Canada) and Marcus Davidsson (SWE), and goaltender Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen (Finland) participated in the 2017 World Junior Summer Showcase in Plymouth, Michigan.
The event serves as an evaluation camp for players hoping to represent their countries for the World Junior tournament, which will take place Dec. 26, 2017 through Jan. 5, 2018 in Buffalo.
Mittelstadt, the eighth overall pick in June, finished the week with nine points (3+6), tied for most at the showcase.
"There were a lot of different things that I felt I learned over the course of the tournament," Mittelstadt said. "One thing I was able to do this week was come out and be comfortable on the ice. Another is I learned how to be ready to play from the first shift of the game until the final whistle. I look forward to taking those things with me as I move forward with my hockey career."
Mittelstadt was an early cut at last year's showcase and then was not invited to the World Junior Championship final selection camp. He's used that disappointment as motivation this year.
"With every game that he has played this week, Casey has made a positive impact offensively," U.S. head coach Bob Motzko said. "He has been pretty impressive to watch this week because of the high level he plays at. I like what he has done throughout the course of the camp."
Not only were his coaches pleased with his performance, but his teammates were impressed, too.
"Casey is a special player," defenseman Adam Fox, a 2016 draft pick of the Calgary Flames said. "He has a great set of hands especially in the tight areas of the ice. He's a player who can change the course of a game just by one shift."
Mittelstadt is committed to the University of Minnesota, where he'll begin his freshman campaign this fall.
Pu was drafted by Buffalo in the third round of the 2017 NHL Draft and then broke out for an 86-point (35+51) season in 63 games for the London Knights of the OHL. He'll look to start strong there and use it as a springboard when Team Canada's WJC camps roll around.
"I've gained confidence in myself this week," Pu said. "I felt that I played with some aggression and I think it can make me a tough player to play against. But I need to bring it 100 percent of the time."
He had a good week in the eyes of the coaching staff as well.
"I really like Cliff's speed and skill that he brings to our team," Canadian head coach Dominique Ducharme said. "He is also guy who plays the right way."
Davidsson, Buffalo's second-round pick (37th overall) in 2017, finished the week with an assist and three shots in four games.
"The week was great," Davidsson said. "I am hoping to make the national roster. It would be a huge honor. But it's only the beginning of August so I still have put in the work."
Davidsson took on a depth role this past week for Sweden, killing penalties and making it difficult for the opposition to generate any offense.
"Marcus is a player who can play on the wing or center for us," Swedish head coach Tomas Monten said. "He has a quick two-way game that, when he uses his speed, it only makes him that much more difficult to play against. He also is a player who comes to work every day and is a very hard worker too."
He'll be back with Djurgårdens IF of the Swedish Hockey League in the fall, where he recorded nine points (5+4) in 45 games last season.
Luukkonen finished the week 0-3-0 with a 5.28 GAA and a .792 save percentage as Finland went winless during the event.
"Both he and I know he can play better, but it is only summer," Finnish head coach Jussi Ahokas said. "I do think he was getting accustomed to the smaller ice over the course of the week and I think he is a great, young, growing - and also an improving - goaltender, that will help contribute to our team."
The 54th overall pick in 2017 feels the experience was beneficial moving forward for both his personal game and for the team. As his coach suspected, playing on the smaller ice surface did require him to make some adjustments.
"I believe this week will help us a lot with World Juniors," Luukkonen said. "We played well at times during the games, but also, there were times we did not, myself included.
"The game is much faster here in the U.S. It took the first few shifts for me to get used to the speed, but it improved as the week progressed. The second thing I learned is players come much quicker to the net and I need to protect the post more tightly."
Luukkonen played 35 games with HPK U20 of Jr. A SM-Liiga in Finland last year.
For more information on the 2018 IIHF World Junior Championship, including ticket packages and details on the tournament's first-ever outdoor game, which will feature the U.S. and Canada at New Era Field on Dec. 29, visit BuffaloWorldJuniors.com.