A summary of the first day of competition at the World Junior Championships at Ufa, Russia.
The 2013 World Junior Championships have started today in Ufa, Russia and there have been three Dallas Stars prospects in action alongside multiple top prospects from across the hockey world and top prospects that are eligible for the 2013 NHL Draft.
Finland and Latvia faced off to start the tournament and the result was a 5-1 victory for an impressive looking Finnish side who are looking to break into and expand the ‘top four' group of countries of Canada, USA, Russia and Sweden who typically dominate at the WJC. Despite winning 5-1 they suffered a blow through the loss of Miro Aaltonen to injury, which can be viewed here, after scoring two goals and an assist. 2013 eligible Sasha Barkov, a likely top three or five pick, was good but was not the top performing player for the Finns going pointless. Rasmus Ristolainen, in his second world junior, performed well and helped anchor a strong Finnish defense and earned a single assist in the process.
Canada and Germany faced off in a lopsided contest which resulted in a 9-3 victory for a Canadian team who are favourites to win the tournament with an incredibly strong side. Despite the large number of goals Brett Ritchie had two assists in the game. In what I saw it was very impressive his ability to gain and to hold the puck around the boards. At one point when he was fighting to get the puck around the boards he left a German defender shaken after a short struggle.
The Canadian side is still taking too many penalties and was punished by a German side which included some good talent, even if their overall team was several rungs below the Canadians. Its quite likely that playing against better sides, such as the Swedes, Americans and Finns they would be punished by the number of poor penalties taken.
The Canadian side included only 2 draft eligible players, Nathan Mackinnon and his Halifax Moosehead team mate Jonathan Drouin. Drouin, playing alongside Ryan Strome and Brett Ritchie was excellent and had plenty of opportunity to show off his excellent hands and vision. I noticed MacKinnon less but I was only able to watch the first period of the game. With the depth that the Canadians have its not unexpected for a young player such as Mackinnon to have less ice time and opportunity than top prospects Johnatan Huberdoau, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Ryan Strome. Jonathan Drouin had a goal and an assist and Mackinnon had a single assist.
On the German side there were two prospects who were very noticeable. Edmonton Oilers forward Tobias Rieder, Fourth Round 2011, and 2014 draft eligible Leon Draisitl. On one occasion on the powerplay it was very impressive to watch Draisitl weave through the Canadian team and help set up a very good scoring chance for the Germans. Tobias Rieder had a single goal and Leon Draisitl had a single assist. The Germans aren't aiming to be champions this year, instead they are hoping to hold on to a top division spot and not to be relegated.
Sweden and the Czech Republic featured two Dallas Stars prospects, Emil Molin and Radek Faksa and finished 4-1. In what I saw Emil Molin had some good chances and was generally pretty good. He finished the game with a single assist. There was one particular moment where he was able to tip a shot in at goal though was prevented by good positioning and awareness from the Czech goaltender. It was a very small sample size so whether he is persistently like this is questionable. The top two lines for the Swedish were excellent and dominated for long stretches of the game. Emil Molin proved that he was able to fit in and it was good to finally see him in action in a proper game situation.
Radek Faksa used his size and strength around the boards and in front of the net effectively. Though he wasn't able to get on the scoreboard he was noticeable on the ice whenever he was there. The Czech Republic squad had some good talent with one other first round draftee from 2012, Tomas Hertl, in the lineup. There were several 2013 draft eligible prospects playing for Sweden in particular Elias Lindholm, Alexander Wennberg, Jacob De Le Rose and Linus Arnesson.
Russia also managed to beat Slovakia after an over time victory 3-2 when they scored with 10 seconds left before they went to the shootout. As they won in overtime this means that they only got two points instead of the three that they would normally get for a win. I didn't get a chance to watch this game so I have no details on how specific players performed.