Yesterday marked the beginning of the World Junior Championships, which is the highest level of competition for hockey prospects and is a great excuse for millions of people to pin their patriotic hopes onto a bunch of teenagers already under immense pressure to impress the watching scouts and other hockey personnel. Fun! The Rangers have four players who are representing their respective countries this year; Anthony Duclair (Canada), Brandon Halverson (USA), and finally Pavel Buchnevich and Igor Shesterkin (Russia).
The tournament opened with Russia playing Denmark. Shesterkin was backup to Islanders' goaltending prospect Ilya Sorokin, while Buchnevich featured on a scoring line with Predators' prospect Vladislav Kamenev and undrafted winger Vyacheslav Leshenko. Denmark stunningly took an early 2-0 lead on two power play goals. However, Russia would score twice to tie the game and ultimately won in a shootout. Though Buchnevich did not register any points, he did have an active game. Here are the highlights:
Buchnevich had two great rushes in the first period. Here's the first one.
A lot to like here. In the first rush, it's the speed in which he plows through the neutral zone and then the move on Mads Larsen (#11) to open up a shooting lane for himself. In the second rush, it's the pure power move along the outside and then the composure to wait for a passing lane to open up instead of taking a sharp-angle shot or just slamming it into the sliding defenseman.
Buchnevich was probably Russia's best forward in the first period. He was a lot less active in the second period, however. I partially blame that on his linemates, who for the most part were invisible the entire game. He picked it up in the third period. Buchnevich drew a penalty about four minutes in.
On the ensuing power play, Buchnevich took one shot himself while coming within inches of setting up a goal twice. Here were those setups.
Buchnevich made a chance for himself again a few minutes later, but was stopped by Denmark's George Sorensen. That's Nik Ehlers, drafted ninth overall by Winnipeg last summer, that Buchnevich is beating to the loose puck in the offensive zone. The general theme here is that Buchnevich did a pretty good job of setting others up for chances, particularly on the PP, but had to make his own offense. Pretty much all of his shots came off of his own individual efforts and rushes up the ice. On one hand, that's great. It shows that he's a dynamic player who can be effective just by himself. On the other, it's a bit frustrating to watch. One has to wonder if Russia made a grave mistake leaving supremely skilled forwards like Vladimir Tkachev and Nikita Scherbak off their roster; players who maybe would be a better fit for Buchnevich. In any case, it was by no means a monumental performance but certainly one to be content with. Buchnevich showed off a lot of his raw skill and size as well as his willingness to work hard and perform within a system. If he keeps playing like this then he'll surely put up his share of points in this tournament. It will help if his linemates can take it to another gear. Kamenev in particular is a highly-rated offensive talent and surely has more to offer.
Anthony Duclair had better success getting on the scoresheet in Canada's 8-0 win over Slovakia. Outside the scoresheet, Duclair used his speed to create havoc in Slovakia's end and force turnovers, such as this early one.
Plays like those helped Canada maintain possession in the offensive zone. That eventually led to plays like these; here's Duclair getting a secondary assist on Robby Fabbri's goal. Sam Reinhart, who earns the primary assist, does an unbelievable job of receiving Duclair's pass in-stride and sending the puck over to Domi. Nonetheless, it's a nice flip by Duclair past the defender's stick to get it to Reinhart in the first place. Duclair would score a few minutes later to make it 2-0 Canada. Obviously, that's not exactly tactical genius by Slovakia to leave Duclair wide open like that. He still does a very good job of getting himself into a position to receive a pass from Domi and then make a move like that to finish it off. Here's a second angle (courtesy of @myregularface).
The fall of Slovakia, in terms of its standing in hockey, has been tremendous over the last decade. Nonetheless, the Russia/Denmark game showed quite clearly that there are never any guarantees and that putting up points still requires a good effort no matter the team. Ultimately, though, Duclair and Canada completely outclassed Slovakia in virtually every way. It will be a lot more interesting to see how he performs against a higher quality of opponent.
Brandon Halverson was backup to Thatcher Demko in the USA's shootout win over Finland. A few non-NYR related thoughts; Eichel was the best player on the ice as was expected, while Zach Werenski and Noah Hanifin made a good first impression. Werenski in particular is someone who I believe is flying a bit under the radar this year but end up a top-10 pick. Thatcher Demko had a few shaky moments but overall put in a good performance. Halverson will get a game eventually, but the starting spot continues to be Demko's to lose.
The Hartford Wolf Pack returned to action last night but suffered their second shootout loss to the Springfield Falcons this season. Ryan Malone, who has picked up his production recently, deflected a Mat Bodie shot into the net early in the first period. The Falcons put one past Cédrick Desjardins with just 13 seconds in the first period to tie it up. During the second period, Desjardins suffered an injury and was replaced by Mackenzie Skapski,who would go on to stop all 22 shots that he faced. Unfortunately, the Wolf Pack failed to capitalize on their numerous PP opportunities, and failed to score in the shootout, either. Oscar Lindberg had another solid game for the Wolf Pack. He earned an assist, making a great rush up the ice which eventually set up the Malone goal, and led the Wolf Pack with five shots.