The 2018 World Junior Championship has come and gone, and as such, all six of the Dallas Stars prospects that took part have headed back to their normal teams in various leagues across North America and Europe.
Some players left the prestigious tournament with shiny new medals around their necks, while others did not. Nevertheless, getting to participate at all in an event like this, playing with and against many of the world’s best players in this age group and getting coaching and instruction from national hockey programs, is often a valuable learning experience. Win or lose, the World Juniors can be a huge boost to a player’s development.
Will any Stars prospects take this opportunity and run with it, making a noticeable step forward in their careers? It will be interesting to wait and see.
For now, here is a final rundown of each Stars prospect that took part, looking at how they played and what we learned.
Miro Heiskanen - Finland
The World Juniors ended early and in heartbreaking fashion for Heiskanen, as Finland was upset 4-3 in the quarter-finals by the Czech Republic.
Heiskanen’s play in the tournament was, overall, quite solid. He logged the most ice time for his team, well north of 20 minutes per game on average, and was one of their more consistent, reliable players. He showcased a lot of maturity and poise on the back end, efficiently snuffing out opposition scoring chances and transitioning the puck up ice and to safety. The safest way to defend your own net is when the puck is 200 feet up ice, and Heiskanen was a great example of this in the tournament.
At the same time, though, it was by no means a perfect outing for the young Finn. After showcasing some truly dynamic offensive abilities this past spring at the world U18s, in which he scored a whopping 12 points in seven games, Heiskanen was held to two assists in five games at the World Juniors. He was much more reserved and careful this event, rarely pushing the puck up ice with the same bravado and dynamism that he showcased at the U18s.
Was it his nerves, playing on a bigger stage? Was it his coaches, asking him to stay back and focus on defense first? It’s hard to say.
Whatever the case may be, a little more offense would have gone a long way for the Finns, who were unable to solve Czech goaltender Josef Korenar, who made 51 saves in the elimination game.
Now, let me be frank: Heiskanen, without a doubt, still remains a phenomenal prospect with enormous NHL potential. Nothing said above diminishes that. This recap is just to examine what he did well, what he didn’t, and how we can use that to predict how he will develop as a player.
I’m still confident that this event will serve as a positive one for Heiskanen, who gained more invaluable experience being a team’s #1 defenseman and learning what it’s like to play in games where the stakes are high.
Riley Tufte - United States
It was a fairly quiet World Juniors for Tufte, who saw his role get diminished as the tournament went along. He played nine minutes in the quarter-final game against Russia and then just six minutes in the semifinal loss against Sweden. He finished with no goals and three assists in seven games.
On one hand, it’s understandable, given that the U.S. was deep with forwards. On the other, you do leave wishing that Tufte made more of an impact, especially considering that players that were drafted after him in 2016, both on his team (such as Joey Anderson and Trent Frederic) and other teams (Jordan Kyrou, Brett Howden, and Sam Steel), were more successful.
Tufte is still a good prospect with genuine NHL potential, but he didn’t use this tournament to really boost his profile.
Jake Oettinger - United States
It’s hard to say much about Oettinger’s play in this tournament, given than he only played twice, with one game being the outdoor match against Canada in the round robin and the other the bronze medal game against the Czechs. He finished with a perfect 2-0 record and an .889 save percentage to help the U.S. get the bronze.
The frustrating thing for Stars fans is that Oettinger only played those two games, as Joseph Woll was the team’s starter. Woll’s play was hit or miss, finishing with a .886 save percentage himself.
There were more than a few voices on Twitter left wondering why Oettinger wasn’t the team’s starter in the elimination games. There’s no guarantee that the outcome would have been different for the Americans, but it’s hard not to wonder about that now that it’s all over and done with.
If I'm the USA I put in Jake Oettinger. Joseph Woll has the talent to be the no. 1 guy but has yet to show it at the #WJC. At this time it's more likelihood that Woll loses you a game rather than win you a game. I don't see it happening though as the US has tied itself to Woll.— Giants in the Crease (@CreaseGiants) January 2, 2018
Colton Point - Canada
Point also didn’t play much in the tournament, only getting one start (a shutout over lowly Denmark), but he headed out of Buffalo with a gold medal for his trophy cabinet.
Point is one player that I’m especially curious to follow now. Hockey Canada has some of the best goalie coaches in the world, and Point spent a month hanging around and chatting with Carter Hart, who is one of the best goalie prospects in the world. It wouldn’t be a surprise at all if Point’s development took a huge step forward after this tournament.
Oh, and did I mention that Point recorded a 37-save shutout for NCAA Colgate, just one day after the gold medal game? That’s a good start.
Fredrik Karlstrom - Sweden
Karlstrom had a decent tournament for Sweden, finishing with three assists in seven games. His third assist came at a huge time in the elimination game against the U.S., extending Sweden’s lead to 2-0 in the 3rd period.
Lias Andersson scores his sixth goal of the WJC. Hell of a play. pic.twitter.com/tUgJD02Ikl— Adam Herman (@AdamZHerman) January 4, 2018
Similar to Tufte, Karlstrom’s ice time was limited, in large part due to the depth of talent on the Swedish roster. However, he didn’t do as much in that available time as was hoped. There were far too many shifts where he was not an impact player.
Karlstrom still looks like a player with NHL upside, but watching him closely at the World Juniors, it seems less likely that he has Top 6 potential.
Ondrej Vala - Czech Republic
Relative to expectations, it was a good tournament for Vala.
He wore an “A” for the Czechs and generally provided steady, consistent defense, which was what was expected out of him. Played a ton of time for his team on the penalty kill and, from my observations, looked good when he was out there. He finished with one assist and a -1 rating in 7 games.
Vala will be another player to watch a little closer after the World Juniors, but one of the big reasons why is because he was traded this past weekend, from a weak Kamloops Blazers team to an Everett Silvertips club that could go far in the WHL playoffs. Instead of trying to help his team score on Hart, like he did at the World Juniors, he’ll now be tasked with defending the talented young goalie.
North American Juniors
The OHL’s trade deadline is happening today, and the moves have been coming fast and furious as the top contending teams pad their rosters.
Stars prospects Jason Robertson and Nick Caamano have both been affected by these transactions.
Roberton’s Kingston Frontenacs team is all-in this year, recently adding some serious star power: Los Angeles Kings 1st rounder Gabe Vilardi, Anaheim Ducks 1st rounder Max Jones, Buffalo Sabres 3rd rounder Cliff Pu and New York Rangers 3rd rounder Sean Day.
Surrounded by all sorts of new talent, the early results for Robertson are through the roof: he has nine points over his last two games, including scoring a hat trick on Sunday.
As for Caamano, his new Hamilton Bulldogs team (he was traded there a few weeks ago) added a big name themselves this weekend, bringing aboard St. Louis Blues 1st rounder and Canadian World Junior gold medalist Robert Thomas. The Bulldogs are also hoping to make a huge push in the OHL playoffs this year, so Caamano could find himself going on a nice, long run.
2018 NHL Draft Watch
One of the top draft-eligible prospects in this tournament, aside from the big names like Rasmus Dahlin, Andrei Svechnikov and Brady Tkachuk, was Sweden’s Isac Lundestrom.
Lundestrom is a toolsy, well-rounded center that can do a little bit of everything, at both ends of the ice. He doesn’t have one particular skill that really stands out, but he’ll be a coach’s favorite because of his versatility.
He scored two goals in seven games at the World Juniors, and is now back with Lulea in the SHL, where he’s played all of this season and most of last year.
#WJC: Here is Sweden's Isac Lundestrom (Ranked No. 46) breaking a scoreless tie early in the third. Both Swedish goals coming with the Slovaks enjoying numerical superiority in their own end. pic.twitter.com/2kg2Pn1gMV— Steve Kournianos (@TheDraftAnalyst) January 3, 2018