The 2013 edition of the IIHF World Junior Championship kicks off on Boxing Day. The Calgary Flames may be represented by up to five NHL prospects, which is a large number compared to recent years.
Heading into the tournament, does this number represent a massive shift in the organization? And does World Junior success translate into anything?
THE NUMBERS GAME
Looking from 2000 onward (as the IIHF website has no roster information before then), the Flames have been steadily represented. Steadily, albeit inconsistently.
The fewest Flames prospects at the World Juniors would have been a single one. That’s happened in 2000 (Dan Cavanaugh), 2001 (Jarret Stoll, during his brief Flames prospect stint), 2006 (Dustin Boyd), 2007 (Leland Irving) and 2008 (Mikael Backlund).
The most Flames prospects was five, in 2003. The five were Finland’s Tomi Maki, Russians Andrei “Big Fat Goalie” Medvedev and Andrei Taratukhin, and Americans Brian McConnell and Eric Nystrom. Twelve years later, absolutely none of these guys are part of the organization.
The last few years, the Flames have averaged usually three guys at the World Juniors. Last year it was Bill Arnold, Sven Baertschi and Markus Granlund.
Based on history, having a lot of guys at the World Juniors does not guarantee that any of them will turn out to be any good at the NHL level.
SUCCESS BREEDS SUCCESS?
If having a volume strategy at the World Juniors doesn’t necessarily mean that anything good will come of it, how about a quality strategy?
Looking at the tournaments since 2000, you can find a handful of Flames prospect performances that can be deemed as “good” – using the very simple benchmark of 6 points scored or higher. This threshold has been met on 10 occasions (by nine players): Chuck Kobasew, Jarret Stoll, Andrei Taratukhin, Dion Phaneuf, Aki Seitsonen, Dustin Boyd, Mikael Backlund, Markus Granlund and Bill Arnold.
While it’s too early to judge Granlund and Arnold as pros, Kobasew, Stoll, Phaneuf and Backlund have at least become NHL regulars, and Boyd was an NHLer of some note for a short time. Using this metric, World Junior individual success tends to translate into NHL success.
On a team level, let’s look at gold medalists. Nine gold medals have been won by seven Flames prospects: Andrei Medvedev, Andrei Taratukhin, Greg Moore, Dion Phaneuf, Dustin Boyd, Leland Irving and Keith Aulie. Of these guys, only Phaneuf has really established himself at the NHL level. And Irving got a medal for being the back-up goalie, so he barely counts.
The Flames have a lot of players at this year’s World Juniors. That’s exciting, but don’t get too excited unless one or two of them light it up at the tournament. Having a lot of guys at the tournament doesn’t guarantee anything, nor does having any of them winning a gold medal. But if any of them have strong individual performances, then get excited.