The 2019 World Junior Championship is now in full tilt in Canada. The New York Rangers have four prospects representing their countries in this year’s tournament, including three players who were first round picks in the 2018 Draft.
Let’s catch up with how the Rangers prospects have performed early on in the tournament.
Nico Gross - Defenseman
Switzerland | 4th round, 101st overall in the 2018 Draft
Before the tournament, Gross acknowledged that he had some work to do on his offensive game. “I feel like my offensive skills (can improve) a little bit more,” he told Dhiren Mahiban of IIHF.com. “Last year, they were not so good. This year, trying to be a little bit more offensive and still keep my defensive game.”
So far, that offense has come in the form a primary assist that Gross picked for Switzerland in their 4-0 rout of Team Denmark on December 29. That assist set up Philipp Kurashev’s hat trick goal in the third period, however it wasn’t the prettiest of plays. Gross’ pass missed the mark, but Kurashev was able to kick it up from his feet and carry it on his own from center ice to complete his hatty.
Gross has picked up two minor penalties through his first three games of the tournament and is still searching for his first shot on goal. He’s an alternate captain for Switzerland this year, in his third trip to the World Juniors.
Dec. 26 vs. Czech Republic: 16:12 TOI
Dec. 27 vs. Canada: 18:21 TOI, 2 PIM
Dec. 29 vs Denmark: 19:17 TOI, 1 assist, 2 PIM
Vitali Kravtsov - Forward
Russia | 1st round, 9th overall in the 2018 Draft
Kravtsov started his tournament with a bang, scoring at the 6:28 mark of the first period in Russia’s opening game against Denmark.
As it turns out, he was just getting started.
#NYR prospect Vitali Kravtsov finished his IIHF World Junior Championship debut with two points (one goal, one assist), including the GWG, drew two penalties, recorded 3 SOG, won 6 of 10 faceoffs (60.0%), and led all Russia forwards with 18:28 of ice time.— NYR Stats & Info (@NYRStatsInfo) December 27, 2018
This is the young winger’s first trip to the World Juniors with Russia, but he is still wearing an “A” on his jersey. We’re dealing with a small sample size here, but it seems like Kravstov is continuing his meteoric rise as a must-watch NHL prospect even after a quiet game against the Czech Republic. Before the tournament began, the 19 year-old had 17 points in 33 games in the KHL with Traktor Chelyabinsk.
Dec. 27 vs Denmark: 18:28 TOI, 1 goal, 1 assist (secondary), 3 SOG
Dec. 28 vs Czech Republic: 17:42 TOI, 1 SOG
K’Andre Miller - Defenseman
USA | 1st round, 22nd overall in the 2018 Draft
Miller has been having an amazing freshman season at the University of Wisconsin. Prior to the WJC, his 17 points through 18 games had him leading the Badgers in scoring.
Thanks to some outstanding work by Olivia Lin (@oliviaylin), we have a lot of interesting data to look at for Miller and his performance with Team USA in this year’s WJC. The data below, specifically Game Score and zone exits and entries, comes from the work she has been sharing on Twitter.
vs Slovakia: 16:19 TOI, 0.83 Game Score (1 SOG)
vs Kazhakstan: 16:25 TOI, 2.43 Game Score (5 SOG, 1 A1)
vs Sweden: 17:39, -0.10 Game Score (1 SOG, -2 goal differential)
Against Sweden, Miller had one controlled zone entry on one attempt and four controlled zone exits on six attempts — including one exit where he skated it out himself. Other defenders on USA had better success rates (and more attempts due to receiving more ice time), but Miller’s success is noteworthy because it appears that he’s been playing his off-side while being paired with Mattias Samuelsson through USA’s first three games. The left-handed defender had been deployed on the right sporadically with Wisconsin, but has played there throughout the tournament so far.
Again, Miller is still relatively new to his position, so the fact that he’s picked up a primary assist and has seven shots on goal in three games while playing the right side is definitely a promising sign.
Nils Lundkvist - Defenseman
Sweden | 1st round, 28th overall in the 2018 Draft
Before the WJC Lundkvist had six points in 24 games for Luleå HF in the SHL, which makes him the most productive defenseman from Team Sweden playing in the SHL. Last year, at the U-18 Worlds, Lundkvist picked up two assists in seven games. So we weren’t necessarily looking for him to contribute a lot of offense at this year’s tournament. It’s also worth noting that he is the youngest Rangers prospect at this year’s WJC. He’ll be 19 on July 27.
Lundkvist is a solid and reliable right-handed defenseman for Sweden, but he’s playing in the shadow of Adam Boqvist (Chicago’s 8th overall pick in the 2018 Draft) and captain Erik Brännström (Vegas’ 15th overall pick in the 2017 Draft).
Through three games in Vancouver, Lundqvist has picked up one assist for Sweden and while managing to stay out of the penalty box. He has played primarily with Philadelphia Flyers’ prospect Adam Ginning on Sweden’s third pair. The most ice time he’s seen in a single game was the 18:40 he played in Sweden’s 5-4 OT victory against Team USA.
Dec. 26 vs Finland: 17:00 TOI
Dec. 27 vs Slovakia: 17:22 TOI, 1 assist (primary), 1 SOG
Dec. 29 vs USA: 18:40 TOI