The 2012 World Junior Championship in Edmonton and Calgary is complete, ending one of the world's premier hockey spectacles. It's a two-week period filled with memories for some of the best young hockey players in the world. It's also a busy week for NHL teams and their scouting staffs.
Minnesota Wild Assistant General Manager Brent Flahr and his scouting staff were in attendance for the 10 days of this tournament. They got to check out some of the top prospects for next year's NHL Draft, but they also kept tabs on six Wild prospects, who all performed exceptionally in this tournament.
Team USA's Jason Zucker
served as captain of his team and finished second on his team in scoring with three goals and four assists. His teammate, Charlie Coyle
, battled the flu, but still tied for his team lead in goals with four.
Finland's Mikael Granlund
- also a captain - tied for second in tournament scoring with two goals and nine assists and was named to the All Tournament Team.
And of course, Team Sweden captured gold with the help of three Wild prospects - Jonas Brodin
, Johan Gustafsson
, and captain Johan Larsson
Flahr talked about the World Junior tournament, and the performances of each Wild prospect.Wild.com: First, what are your impressions of this year's tournament overall?
Flahr: The tournament's been great. There's a lot of competitive teams and we have a personal interest in it because we've got a number of players here and they all performed to their standards and beyond. So we're happy. It's been a great tournament.
The Calgary fans and everything has been spectacular. Really, no complaints from our side. Wild.com: Any surprises to you with the results, perhaps with Team USA or Canada settling for the bronze medal?
Flahr: Well, I don't think anyone would have predicted the U.S. being out of it, but things like that happen. There's enough depth here with certain teams that someone had to fall out. Obviously with Canada, anybody can beat anybody when it comes to four or five teams and that's the way it works. I'm sure Canada and the U.S. will both find their way back into medal contention next year. Wild.com: Is your priority to check in on how current Wild prospects are performing at the World Juniors, or are you more interested in draft eligible players, or even players that belong to other teams but might be involved in a trade down the road?
Flahr: Yeah, I try to see every team a number of times. We're doing reports on not only kids that are draft eligible for this year, but monitoring our own guys and the other team's top players.
That's why it's such a good tournament for us to watch. We can spend time here. These kids are under a lot of pressure and it's a big spectacle for these guys. It's a great time to evaluate. Wild.com: Let's touch on the six Wild prospects that were here, starting with Jason Zucker.
Flahr: I was talking to him the other day and he was a little disappointed with the team's results. But Jason comes to play every night. He's got great speed. He really plays hard. He shoots the puck and ton and he's got a really big heart. He never leaves you wanting more. He gives his best effort every night, and I can't complain. Wild.com: How about his teammate, Charlie Coyle?
Flahr: Charlie got the flu there half way through the tournament and had no energy there for a couple games. But overall he was fine. He's a big, strong guy. He's exactly what we think he is and we're looking forward to him having a strong second half of the season. Wild.com: Let's go next to Mikael Granlund.
Flahr: Well, Granlund was an elite player in this tournament, obviously. He was spectacular in a lot of games. Obviously his team doesn't have the depth of Canada or some of these teams, but he made plays consistently throughout each game that caught your eye. He comes to play hard, but for a kid that hasn't played an amateur game in a couple years, he came down and tried to do his best for the country, and it's a pretty honorable thing for him to do.Wild.com: A lot of experts up here in Calgary, including Ray Ferraro, have said he's the best forward at this tournament. That's saying something considering some of the talent we've seen here. Would you agree with that assessment?
Flahr: Yeah, there are some great players here, but you look at some of the things he can do - his vision, his playmaking ability, his skill level and his competitiveness. The package is there and obviously we couldn't have asked anything more from him.Wild.com: Now let's touch on the gold medal-winning Swedes and the three Wild prospects that starred for them.
Flahr: Obviously, Johan Larsson
was the captain there. He played great and was their leader. Whenever they were down, he was the one that stepped up and got them going. He's a pretty complete player. He's got a big heart, he's very competitive and he's a highly skilled kid.
He's been a complete player for them and he's really helped them along. Wild.com: How about your first-rounder from last year, Jonas Brodin?
Flahr: Brodin on the blueline played huge minutes, and played against the other team's line each night. He did an unbelievable job of getting back and moving the puck. For a young guy, he's played spectacular. Wild.com: And lastly, Johan Gustafsson, who pitched a shutout in the gold medal game.
Flahr: I guess he struggled earlier before I got here, but as the games got bigger, he got better and better. They relied on him a lot and he really performed well against Russia.Wild.com: Obviously, your success is gauged on the eventual performances of the players you pick during Draft Week. But this has to be one of the most important weeks for you in preparing for that.
Flahr: What it is, I guess, is a measuring stick for some of these guys to see where they are against some other teams' top prospects as well. Obviously we feel we've done a pretty good job, but it's these kids that do all the work. They've become the players that they are today, and they deserve all the credit.
We're obviously happy with all of them, and look forward to them being in Wild uniforms over the next couple years.