Switzerland made it all the way to a bronze medal game at the WJC in Vancouver.
PHOTO: Bildbyrån
World Juniors 2019

WJC REVIEW: Swiss surprise and Danish disappointment

McKeen’s Hockey’s review of the 2019 IIHF World Junior Championships has already covered medal finalists Finland (Gold), USA (Silver) and Russia (Bronze) along with Sweden (5th) and Canada (6th) in prior posts. We now wrap up our coverage with the remaining five teams in order of finish, Switzerland (4th), Czech Republich (7th), Slovakia (8th), Kazakhstan (9th) and Denmark (10th). 

Switzerland – By Jimmy Hamrin

Switzerland had one of their best tournaments ever at this stage. They didn’t just beat Sweden in the quarterfinal, they pushed the Czechs to overtime, only losing to Canada by a 3-2 final score and were tied 3-3 vs Russia after 40 minutes in the preliminary games. If you look at the quality of the team and how they performed in all aspects in this tournament, they weren’t a top four competitor, but they came together as a team and played well. They played with good structure, good speed and they battled hard. I wouldn’t say that Switzerland has come close to the top nations, but they certainly can compete with them, and at times even beat one or two of them.

Individually (outside of a charismatic head coach), Philipp Kurashev (CHI) really stood out and was one of the best players in the tournament. He led the Swiss first line with his speed, hand skills and scored an impressive six goals. It wasn’t hard to see why he is producing well in the QMJHL this season. He looks like he can become an NHLer in the future, making him a good 4thround pick by the Blackhawks. In this tournament, he had the same big impact as Nino Niederreiter had last time Switzerland ended up in the top four.

Another great individual performance came from goalie Luca Hollenstein. A smaller goalie with good athleticism and hockey sense. He had a rough semifinal but really came up in big in that quarterfinal versus Sweden. In the third period Sweden pounded 19 shots at him but Hollenstein shut out the Swedes. Since smaller size goalies rarely get drafted these days, he may not get picked by an NHL team. A tournament like this is a small sample size of a prospect’s full potential, but he is still young enough to play again in next year’s tournament and continue to make his case.

Czech Republic – By Shaiyena Cote

The Czechs fell short despite the power they had on their roster compared to previous years, with 12 drafted players and three players currently playing in the AHL with forward talent being led by veteran Martin Necas (CAR), Martin Kaut (COL) and 2018’s sixth overall selection Filip Zadina (DET). Their systems  did not gel very well in the tournament and the lines seemed to struggle for consistency leading to fatigued penalty killing and turnovers. Zadina did not have the showing he had the year before where he managed seven goals and an assist through seven games. This year he struggled and managed only a single assist over five games. For a shooter with his skills, that is simply disappointing and unfortunately the Czech Republic definitely felt it throughout the tournament.

Martin Kaut, who is typically very dominant on the forecheck and creative during rushes was also kept quiet with only two assists throughout the tournament despite playing powerplay and top line minutes at even strength. Fellow AHLer Martin Necas of the Charlotte Checkers was left as the only player who played up to his AHL status with four points in five games (only one goal) and a surprisingly high number of penalty minutes as a result of frustration shown towards the team’s poor performance and slow transitional play.

Along with the Czech’s transitional play being a problem, their defensive positioning in both 5-on-5 play and the penalty kill was difficult to watch and often left their goalies (all of whom are drafted) out to dry. Thankfully, their top goaltender Lukas Dostal (ANA) came up big in the four games he played, keeping his team in the game and demonstrating his ability to track the puck and flash his glove to make really solid saves. Efforts made by Jakub Lauko (BOS), Matej Pekar (BUF) and defenceman Filip Kral (TOR) were noticeable but did little to help the team where standings were concerned. All three players added valuable contributions to the team including goals scored, special team performances and gritty play. Being eliminated in the quarter final this year by Team USA and last year losing the bronze medal game to the US did not help soften Czech feelings towards the Americans That being said, the Czechs will hope to avoid further elimination games against the USA and better prepare themselves for next year’s World Junior Hockey Championship as host nation.  As a forerunner in developing hockey nations in Europe with growing recognition on NHL draft boards, and one of the teams with extensive NHL/AHL representation, expectations will be high and they will be motivated to be ready.

Slovakia – By Ryan Wagman

For the fourth year in a row, and for the fifth time in six years, Slovakia avoided the relegation round of the WJC, but not much more, with a quarterfinal elimination. One the one hand, with only one victory in the round-robin portion of the tournament – just like in three of those five similar endings – the tournament was not much to write home about. On the other hand, for the first time since they had to be saved in the relegation round in 2007-08, Slovakia scored more goals at the WJCs than they allowed.

During that old event, in which the relegation round was played between four teams, allowing Slovakia to beat up on Switzerland (5-2) and Kazakhstan (8-0), it was easy to see how they managed to end the tournament on a positive note. Once more, this time, despite losing four times in five games, their goal differential was salvaged through a romp against Kazakhstan. Slovakia beat the present-day minnows by an 11-2 score and were shut down by a combined 4-12 differential against Sweden, the United States, and Finland. And of course, the quarterfinal match was a laugher, as Russia romped to an 8-3 victory. In fairness, that proved to be a tough road, having faced each of the three medal winners. But it would have been nice for Slovakia’s future prospects if they could have played close in more than one game, the honorable 2-1 defeat in the opener to the U.S.

When an underdog goes far at the WJC, it is generally the case that one or two players played above their previous levels. When Slovakia won the bronze in 2015, Martin Reway was a force up force, and Denis Godla was unbeatable at the back. No one stepped up in a similar fashion this year. Adam Ruzicka had a third disappointing WJC, with all three of his points coming in the Kazakh blowout. Undrafted Adam Liska had a few moments of grace, showing nice offensive touch and so-called stay-at-home defenseman Martin Fehervary surprisingly tied for the team lead in scoring with five points (none against Kazakhstan!). But with inconsistent goaltending and a scattershot offensive attack, Slovakia left British Columbia as quietly as they had arrived around two weeks earlier.

Kazakhstan – By Alessandro Seren Rosso

Starting the tournament as the underdogs, the Kazakhs had a decent round robin then played above their head as they defeated Denmark to negate the forecasts and keep their spot in the Elite Division. To achieve this result, the Kazakhs leveraged their strong qualities such as skating and puck skills, dispatching Denmark after losing all the round robin games.

A few players stood out for Kazakhstan. The best player was probably defenseman Valeri Orekhov. It’s not a surprise, since the blue liner already has two KHL seasons under his belt and is a veteran of three U20 WJC (only one at the elite level). He also represented Kazakhstan at two lower tier U18 WJC. His experience on the ice was visible by the way he played, with more than enough calmness and confidence, and he ended the tournament as one of the top-scoring defensemen, with five assists in six games. Considering his size (6-1”, 190 pounds), skills and WJC performance, it would not be a huge surprise if someone takes a flyer on him next June. Orekhov is having a strong season with Barys in the KHL and is outscoring drafted players of his same age such as, for example, Nikolai Kovalenko. Of course, points aren’t everything, especially when it comes to defensemen, but Orekhov showed a lot of good things at the WJC and he is expected to develop into an NHL-caliber player in the future.

Forward Artur Gatiyatov was one of the top scorers of the tournament, with eight points in six games. He scored five goals through the WJC and was a threat even against the top teams. However, his diminutive size will likely play against him this spring. That said, based on his skating and puck skills alone, Gatiyatov is certainly a draft-worthy player.

More or less, the same considerations apply to the cousins Sayan (forward) and Samat (defenseman) Daniyar. Samat Daniyar posted five points like Orekhov, but in spite of his good performance, he didn’t look to be on the same level as him. Sayan Daniyar had a slow start, but once he picked up pace, he started delivering and finished the tournament with two points. Both players are gifted with excellent skating and soft hands, but they are both unlikely to be picked next spring because of their size.

It will be hard for the Kazakhs to stay up next year, especially considering that their best player will have graduated from the level by December, but didn’t everyone just say the same this year?

Denmark – By Jimmy Hamrin

Well, this wasn’t pretty. Denmark had a weak team to start and they failed to meet the bar of those low expectations, losing all six games. Next season, we won’t see Denmark in this tournament. Denmark scored the fewest goals, let in the most goals, had the worst power play and the worst penalty kill of the tournament. They ranked 10thin every statistical category.

Prior to the start of the tournament, they had three interesting players with NHL potential. Draft eligible goalie Mads Sogaard, defenseman Malte Setkov (DET) and forward Jonas Rondbjerg (VGK). Large 6’7” goalie Sogaard probably didn’t have much fun in the five games he played with a 6.16 goals against average and an .802 save percentage. Luckily, no one in their right mind blames him for Denmark’s departure. He didn’t have near enough help in front of him and when it comes to the draft, it is unlikely this tournament is what scouts will remember most when they evaluate his potential.

Setkov and Rondbjerg were both in on 67% of Denmark’s goals which is an impressive number. The thing is though, that Denmark only scored three goals in the entire tournament and all three of them came in one of the relegation games against Kazakhstan. Denmark were shut out offensively in five of six games. Rondbjerg, who played in his fourth WJC, had some creative plays but also showed that he doesn’t have that electrifying offensive potential that older Danish talents have shown over the years. Setkov is a player I really like as a very big defenseman that moves his feet and the puck well. He stood out as the best player on this Danish team, even though he had some tough times along with everyone else on the team.

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