The quarterfinals of the World Junior tournament took place on Friday, but not every Canucks prospect survived. Jake Virtanen and Canada easily handled Denmark, while Gustav Forsling and Sweden dispatched last year’s gold medallists, Finland, but Thatcher Demko and Team USA ran into Russia and came just short.
Sweden and Canada are now on opposite sides of the semifinals and could face each other in the gold medal game if they are able to beat Russia and Slovakia, respectively. Before the semifinals on Sunday, however, let’s break down the performances of the three Canucks prospects in the quarterfinals.
After a stellar 38-save performance (previously reported as 40 saves, sorry) against Team Canada, Demko wasn’t able to match that performance in the quarterfinals. While Team USA outplayed Russia, out-shooting them 41-to-25, Russia got ahead early and were able to sit back and defend.
It’s hard to blame Demko for making just 22 saves on 25 shots, as the three goals were scored on bad bounces and deflections off his own teammates, with two of them coming on Russian power plays.
Just two minutes into the game, Demko had to face a 5-on-3 power play. When a centring pass deflected off his own defender’s skate, Demko was able to kick out his pad to keep it out, but wasn’t able to hold the line on the rebound and the puck was slammed under his pad.
The second Russian goal was a similar situation, with another pass deflecting off a USA defender. Demko kicked out his right pad to make the save, but kicked the puck back out into the slot and Russia scored on the rebound.
The third goal again involved a deflection off a USA player, with a shot hitting Dylan Larkin’s stick and deflecting down, then bouncing off the ice and over Demko’s left shoulder. Demko, reacting to the initial shot then the deflection downward, had no chance.
That’s a lot of bad luck for Demko, but he’s not entirely off the hook. Some of the issues that cropped up earlier in the tournament reappeared in this game. He has a tendency to be overactive in his crease, sliding too far out of position instead of getting square to shooters and using his size to its full advantage.
It’s possible that some better positioning would have made a difference on the first two goals, allowing him to stop the deflected passes without leaving rebounds for Russia, but that’s nitpicking what was honestly a pretty decent performance. Considering the types of goals that were scored on him in this game, there’s no reason to be overly concerned, especially since he was so good in the rest of the tournament.
Forsling continues to rack up points and is up to 8 points in 5 games, twice as many as the next best defenceman in the tournament. According to Quant Hockey, that ties Forsling for 28th in scoring from a defenceman in a single tournament in the history of the World Juniors, with two games left to play. He’s tied for 6th all-time among 18-year-old defencemen and three more points would make him the highest scoring 18-year-old defenceman in tournament history.
That’s all very impressive and a very positive sign for Canucks fans, but it’s important to temper expectations. Forsling has done the bulk of his scoring on the power play and is on Sweden’s third pairing at even-strength, where he’s had some defensive issues.
Sweden’s quarterfinal game against Finland showed both his positives and negatives. Early in the first he lost track of his check in front of the net, allowing a point blank chance. Later in the period, he fanned on a pass in his own zone, with the resulting turnover leading to a partial breakaway. Neither play resulted in a goal, but they didn’t inspire confidence.
But then Sweden got on the power play, where they’ve been deadly, and Forsling scored Sweden’s first goal on a 5-on-3. He played the point with William Nylander, criss-crossing at the point to put Forsling on his off-side, where he could drive home a one-timer. Nylander’s shot is deadly, but what I’m most impressed by is how intelligently he uses it. This time, he sent the shot back against the grain on the moving goaltender, placing it just inside the far post.
Forsling added an assist on Sweden’s third goal, this time setting up Robin Norell for the one-timer, which got tipped in front by Adam Brodecki. It was a perfectly weighted pass, right in Norell’s wheelhouse.
Forsling ended up on the ice for two of Finland’s goals, one of which could perhaps be partially pinned on him, as he played the puck carrier too aggressively on a 3-on-2, creating a 2-on-1 down low. He wasn’t to blame for the other goal, as he kept his man to the outside on a 2-on-2, forcing a bad angle shot, only to have the goaltender kick the rebound into the slot and his fellow defenceman, Sebastien Aho, lose his check.
He had some good defensive plays as well. His best was against Finland’s leading goalscorer, Miikko Rantanen, on a 1-on-1, forcing him outside and keeping inside position on him as he went around the net.
For an 18-year-old, he’s having a stellar tournament. He clearly has some work to do defensively, but the offensive skillset is there.
While Sweden and the USA have leaned heavily on their Canucks prospects, Canada simply doesn’t need to rely on the 18-year-old Virtanen to be a major contributor. He has three points in 5 games, though should have four after he wasn’t credited with an assist earlier in the tournament.
Virtanen’s played well, using his speed, skill, and size to create opportunities off the rush and throw some heavy hits, and he did enough early in the tournament to earn a promotion to the second line alongside Curtis Lazar and Connor McDavid. Unfortunately, he got bumped off that line when coach Benoit Groulx shuffled the lines after Robby Fabbri got injured early against Denmark.
Groulx moved 13th forward Brayden Point to the second line, likely because he wanted Point in a more offensive role. That moved Virtanen to the third line with Nic Petan and Nick Paul.
That move significantly reduced Virtanen’s ice time, particularly early in the game. He had some good shifts with Petan and Paul, however, with one extended stay in the offensive zone eventually leading to a goal for the fourth line, when they were able to change lines while keeping the puck in Denmark’s end.
Canada clearly outclassed Denmark and the game got out of hand fairly quickly. Virtanen ended up with an assist on Canada’s 6th goal when he cycled the puck for Petan, then went to the net, drawing defenders to him. Petan fed Paul, who roofed the puck on the backhand.
GIF: Nick Paul with a decent backhander to put Canada up 6-0 http://t.co/6bBLJbNEO5
— Pete Blackburn (@PeteBlackburn) January 3, 2015
The in-arena announcer announced the goal as “Team Canada goal scored by number twenty, Jake…Paul.” Whoops. I mean, two-thirds of that line is named “Nick”.
Virtanen had other opportunities to score, but just couldn’t finish. At one point he was alone in front, but the pass was in his skates and he couldn’t kick it up to his stick. He later fanned on a one-timer. On that same shift, he drove around the defenceman, but had the puck roll of his stick as he cut to the net.
Late in the third, he had two great opportunities, but got checked before he could hit a one-timer from the hashmarks, then fanned on a chance at the backdoor. Nothing was going right for him.
To a certain extent, his lack of finish in this game is a concern, but considering the number of goals he scored last year and that he only turned 18 in August, he’ll be fine.