Flames at the World Juniors quarterfinals: And all advance

Part of being successful at international hockey simply comes down to luck.

Which country were you born in? Which countries are you eligible to play for? That’s going to go a long way towards determining your success.

Take, for example, Nico Hischier. Phenomenal young player, likely with a very high draft spot a very bright future ahead of him. He gave the Americans fits in a game virtually everyone would have predicted them to win. But he’s Swiss, his team doesn’t have anywhere near as many players as capable as other teams do, and so, his chances of winning much internationally are pretty low.

As gimmicky as it was, that was the entire philosophy behind having a Team Europe at the World Cup of Hockey. Anze Kopitar and Mats Zuccarello are two amazing players, but the chances Slovenia or Norway ever actually wins anything…

So there’s a certain level of luck that goes into this. Pavel Karnaukhov was eligible to represent both Belarus and Russia internationally; where is Belarus? He went with Russia. And so.

The five Flames prospects at this tournament play for Canada, the United States, Sweden, and Russia. Those are the final four teams of the 2017 World Juniors, and so, all five Flames prospects have advanced. All will play for a medal. At least three of them will win one.

My sincerest apologies for the way the rest of this post is going to unfold. As luck would have it, I was unable to watch the quarterfinal games. As luck would further have it, in trying to make contingency plans with the other FN writers, nobody at the time said they would be able to cover it. As luck would further further have it, my PVR borked. So.

The body of this post will not have in-game observations, and I do apologize for the overly stats-y nature that is to follow. I will be able to watch all of the remaining games, so those will be better. 

In the meantime, I’d like to encourage all of you who were able to watch to keep on sharing your thoughts in the comments, as was ongoing through the round robin games. It’s not often we actually get to watch any of these kids really, so the snapshot the World Juniors provides is always appreciated, even if it is but a glimpse of their play.

If there is any consolation from this, the winners of the quarterfinals were all predictable (even if the Swiss and the Czechs did a pretty good job of trying to throw a wrench into things). That’s not to say the way the games were played out wasn’t interesting in any capacity – more that what’s going to be really awesome to watch is how the indisputably top teams fare against one another, and how the Flames’ prospects respond to what should be even tougher competition.

It’ll be USA vs. Russia

Pavel Karnaukhov was the first prospect to make the quarterfinals. Throughout the round robin, the Russians had essentially rolled their forward lines, and though Karnaukhov was never utilized as a top player for them, he did get to play in all situations.

In Russia’s 4-0 victory over the Danes in the quarterfinal, Karnaukhov played 15:48, marking him about a third liner. He had two shots on net, and he scored a goal: Russia’s third of the game, at even strength. That puts him at two goals and an assist throughout the tournament, which ties him for seventh in Russian scoring.

As far as Flames prospects go, though, Karnaukhov is probably the least exciting among those at the tournament. He left North America to play in Russia, a move which, alone, makes him more difficult to follow; follow that up with the fact that he isn’t exactly lighting it up over there – though his 16 points in 18 games in the VHL isn’t bad – and, well, distance plus lack of eyepopping numbers simply makes him less interesting when thinking in context of future Flames.

He’ll be going up against two of the Flames’ draft picks from 2016, and two exciting ones at that in Adam Fox and Tyler Parsons. Recency bias has a tendency to make recent draft picks more exciting, anyway; when those recent draft picks are putting up awesome numbers, well…

Fox played 12:30 against the Swiss: a bottom pairing role. He had one shot on net. Parsons, meanwhile, got the start over Joseph Woll for the game, so we should expect to see him get the start in the semifinal matchup against Russia, too (a team he already defeated a couple of days ago). He stopped 19 of 21 shots for a 90.48 save percentage, only getting bested by Hischier who is noted to be rather, well, good.

Considering how the Americans won 3-2…

Throughout the round robin, Fox displayed poised, sound defensive play; Parsons, for his part, demonstrated great athleticism and compete, particularly when he had to work with a defence that had occasionally forgotten how to defend.

It’ll be Sweden vs. Canada

Oliver Kylington is perhaps the most interesting prospect the Flames have at this tournament. Three are 2016 draftees; two, Kylington and Karnaukhov, are 2015 guys. They’re older, they’re presumably closer to playing in the NHL. And considering how Kylington has done the opposite of Karnaukhov – left Europe in order to play high-end professional hockey in North America – well, he’s the member of this group it perhaps makes most sense to get excited about in the short term.

The Swedes thumped the Slovaks 8-3. Kylington played 19:44, the most out of all Swedish skaters once again. He picked up two secondary assists, both on the powerplay, on Sweden’s first and eighth goals. With four assists this tournament, he isn’t just sixth in team scoring; he’s their top-scoring defenceman. Not just that, but he’s tied for fifth in defencemen scoring in the entire tournament.

Our Christian T. had the chance to watch a bit of Kylington’s game too, so I turn to him:

Kylington was pretty much what he’s been all throughout the tournament. A big help on offence, a bit risky/shaky. He’s quite deadly in the neutral zone but seems a bit sketchy in the defensive zone. Looked pretty good against a weak opponent. It’ll be interesting to see how he is against Canada.

He’ll be counted on to be Sweden’s top defenceman against the home team, so that’s definitely going to be a game to watch. Sweden has, to date, played Denmark, Switzerland, Finland, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia. With all due respect to those countries, they ain’t Canada.

Dillon Dube isn’t one of Canada’s top players – his 12:53 played (fourth line minutes) and one shot in a 5-3 win over the Czechs will attest to that – but his three assists do leave him tied for sixth in team scoring. Through the round robin, he was an effective, hard-working bottom six player who was honestly unlucky to not come away with more points; he also helps make up a valuable depth the Swedes haven’t quite had to face just yet. 

Next year is probably going to be the really interesting year for him, especially if he stays healthy; in the meantime, seeing how often he gets thrown out there against a team as strong as the Swedes have been all tournament will be fun to watch.

  • Longshot1977

    Watched both the Swedes and the Canadians yesterday, in particular to follow Kylington and Dube.

    Kylington borders on something really special. I say “borders on” because it just doesn’t look quite there yet. He’s quick, smart, and has good puck-control and passing. I think he looks “shaky” on the defensive side mostly because he plays a stick-checking game more than a physical one. He’s the type of defender that will look out of position, but then end up stripping the puck-carrier and leading the charge up ice. I was also surprised in this tournament with the quality of his shots. He’s not a big guy, but he can lean into his shot, and he doesn’t miss wide very often.

    For what it’s worth, Ferraro was raving about him all game.

    As for Dube, I was impressed with his ability to be productive with limited ice time. He stick-handles well, and distributes the puck nicely. I get the impression that he would not be a top scorer at the NHL level, but he might be a good set-up guy. I would’ve liked to see him get some PP time to see how he would fare in that role, but oh well.

    As far as these two guys go, I think there is reason for optimism for Flames fans.

    • piscera.infada

      I think Kylington’s “defensive positioning” takes a lot of crap, but I think it’s overstated to a degree.

      In terms of actually reading the play defensively he’s pretty decent. He generally makes the correct play on puck retrieval. He’s very good at reversing the puck to the weak side behind the net–as odd as this sounds, I find a lot of young defensemen have a hard time with this in the AHL and the NHL, I think the speed on players make them force it where they shouldn’t. He’s also good at giving his partner an open “out” when they’re retrieving the puck. It shows he thinks the game better than I think many give him credit for on the defensive side of the puck.

      I would say among his biggest weaknesses, is a tendency to lose his man in front of the net. I’m not sure if this is something systematically with the Swedes in the WJCH (I can assume it isn’t, because that would make absolutely no sense if it was–although it’s not quite as frequently noticeable in Stockton). He just doesn’t seem to engage the way he should in front of the net–he’s off to the side or behind a player in front of the net. That will, quite simply, make him a liability in the NHL. This is again, however, and issue with young defensemen which generally becomes fixed over time–Kulak suffers the same issue time to time. He also seems to panic a bit when he’s pressured physically along the boards. I think he’s used to being able to skate out of those situations in the past, but with bigger, stronger competition, he’s a bit lost in waiting for help from his wingers or centre. Again, though that’s extremely teachable, and year-over-year he’s been better at the AHL level in this regard.

      The last point I will make is technical with regard to his position. His gap control in immaculate. This is a big struggle for young defensemen. I think Kylington’s overall prowess as a skater allows him to be confident with his gaps–he never really feels like he’s going to get beat outside. That’s the number one reason he can rely a little more on stick-checks, than physically mauling an opponent. That said, he does need to develop a little bit of physicality to his game if he’s going to excel the way I think he can at the NHL level. His gap control allows him to ride players into the corner, but if you can’t disrupt flow once they’re there, there’s not much good that comes of it.

      It’s no surprise that I like Kylington a lot. I think the Flames have a very real player there. I have spent a significant amount of time the last year and a half watching him at the AHL level (unfortunately not live), the Flames camps, NHL exhibition, and now at the WJHC. He intrigues me as a prospect, because I see him kind of as an embodiment of the new versus the old guard in the NHL. Patience will be key here, but if the Flames exercise patience, I think they’ll have a hell of a 60th overall pick on their hands.

      • Baalzamon

        Another issue Kylington has is he has a tendency to fly the zone when his team gets possession. That’s been a big problem for Sweden, not because of Kylington himself (he’s quick enough to retake his position if something goes wrong) but because of his partner. Gabriel Carlsson is an expert at completely unforced turnovers.

        • piscera.infada

          That true. It’s strange. He did that as well during the Young Stars tourny, but I haven’t noticed it in the AHL or his brief time in the NHL exhibition. I wonder if he feels more latitude against younger competition, or if he’s given more of a green light on team Sweden?

          • Baalzamon

            I think it’s a systemic thing. None of the Flames’ defenders really do that (for example, Giordano is always back supporting Hamilton on the break out). It wouldn’t surprise me if Kylington had more free reign with team Sweden (Dahlin does the same thing).

      • OKG

        Excellent post that mirrors my own observations. I however can’t say I have observed the “tendency to lose his man” you are referring to. Maybe we’ve just watched different games of his.

        • piscera.infada

          Watch when he’s “engaged” in front of the net. First, he doesn’t really “engage”, but second, that player generally has free reign in behind him. Kylington is active enough with his stick that he can make up for it a lot of the time, but he does get burned.

          It’ll be a big test for him against Canada tomorrow.

      • SydScout

        When are you going to write an article here mate? Seriously, I learn just as much from your comments as reading the main content, and on occasion more. Always insightful and thoughtful commentary. Thanks…you too OKG & Baalzamon, great stuff

  • Stu Cazz

    For sure Kylington and Parson’s are the real deal. Adam Fox also has a high upside and needs to fill out physically. The others are long term projects and hopefully the Flames will end up having a couple of real gems from this years World Juniors….

  • Parsons, for his part, demonstrated great athleticism and compete,

    particularly when he had to work with a defence that had occasionally forgotten how to defend.

    That was the Oilers guy…. Mr. Jones is one lost puppy in spurts. Train wreck even.

  • jakethesnail

    In other news, I watched some highlights of the Lethbridge Hurricanes run n gun 9-7 win over the Med Hat Tigers on the weekend. Our guy Nick Schneider stopped 24 of 32 shots, one goal was the empty netter.

  • Azim

    Watched parts of the US game. Parsons was incredible. Colour commentator (Button I believe) reiterated this at the end of the game by saying he was the sole reason the US survived a very strong game by the Swiss, who were all over the US at the end. That’s an awesome sign.

    I agree on the points on Dube – hard-working player who can create chances for teammates. Perhaps his ceiling can be of a solid-way top-6 winger? Is he eligible to play in this tourney again next year?

  • EhPierre

    Having watched Kylington in person for the Swiss-Fin game I can say confidently that he will be atleast a top4 defender. He’s good. I’ve seen a lot that I’ve liked about him but that being said, he’s also got a lot of things to work on like many have already posted.

    In the first 10 mins of the game, I was really confused if Sweden was using Kylington as a defender or a winger because he’s usually the one making the breakout play, or he’ll be the first guy in the Fin’s zone looking to receive a pass. His skating is amazing so it allows him to take risky plays and help contribute in the offense while still being able to get back on defense. His shot selection is good and has a decent shot. I was surprised at how strong he is with his checking too, he isn’t afraid to hit.

    As the game went on, the Swedish coach started using Kylington more and more as they were looking to tie the game but once the Swedes had the lead Kylington didn’t play as much.

    On another note, Dahlin is an amazing player, didn’t even realize he was 16!

  • flamesburn89

    I’ve really liked Dube’s game so far in this tournament for Canada. Canada’s top players have had a lot of trouble scoring when they’re not on the PP, and Dube has been one of the few guys IMO who’s created chances at 5 on 5 and on the PK. He brings a good amount of grit and physicality with his speed and smarts, and he’s one of the players that I think Canada needs to play more of if they want to beat Sweden.

    It is getting tiresome watching Barzal trying to dance everyone on his own and Strome fire the puck as soon as he gets it on his stick.

    PS. Raddysh has done very little in this tournament (aside from his game against Latvia), so he’d probably be the guy I’d have swap spots with Dube.