Rickard Hugg and Casey Mittelstadt. Image by: Getty Images
Sweden, Finland, Canada, and the United States faced off in a world junior tuneup event in Michigan, and these 35 players were most impressive.
The World Junior Summer Showcase in Plymouth, Mich., came to an end recently and I was there for the last two double-header games. Sweden, Finland and Canada joined the hosts from Team USA for a really nice showing of hockey in August, pitting most of the best under-20 talents in the world against each other. The following is my list of the 35 players who stood out the most to me in those games.
So here’s the caveat: Canada and Team USA had more players there, so their lineups were quite different in two games. Hence, there were some players I only saw once or not at all. And I’m not including top names just for the sake of. It doesn’t mean I think Pierre-Luc Dubois is a bust, or that I think Kieffer Bellows will miss the final cut – I just thought other players moved the needle more. Plus, several prominent Finns just weren’t there: Olli Juolevi, Miro Heiskanen, Eeli Tolvanen and Kristian Vesalainen all missed for various reasons.
A final note: player positions are based on the lineups of the games – I know several of these “wingers” may usually be centers, but this will give you a sense of their roles in Michigan. Let’s get to it.
Rasmus Dahlin, D (2018): Yeah, the kid lives up to the hype. After fighting a fever for several days, Dahlin came back for the finale and put on a clinic, delivering pinpoint passes and rushing the puck up the ice with flair. Has an edge, too.
Erik Brannstrom, D (VGK): Brannstrom led so many rushes against Canada, I thought he was a forward until I checked the number on the scoresheet. So involved, so smooth and he even threw a big hit against Finland.
Timothy Liljegren, D (TOR): Liljegren’s ability to get his shot through traffic is excellent. He’s a great skater and has that sweet knack of carrying the puck right on the blueline without losing the zone.
Tim Soderlund, LW (CHI): This kid does everything fast and when he’s on the ice, the puck is usually in the offensive zone. Showed a surprising physical side against Finland, too.
Frederik Karlstrom, RW (DAL): Odd observation, but Karlstrom has long arms. It helps him on the ice, where he can pick pucks off from behind, but his great strengths are in the offensive zone, where he excels at creating goals.
Lias Andersson, C (NYR): Not the flashiest, but Andersson makes smart decisions and supports the play. He’s a leader out there and the skills are still evident.
Isac Lundestrom, C (2018): I really liked this kid against Finland. He mounted several dangerous rushes using a powerful stride, with one early sojourn resulting in a goal. Plays smart.
Oskar Steen, RW (BOS): Steen can snipe. The recipient of a glorious home run pass from Brannstrom vs. Finland, Steen finished off the breakaway in style. Great speed and skill, he popped in four that afternoon.
Axel Jonsson Fjallby, RW (WSH): Best hockey hair in the tournament, but the kid they call ‘Tarzan’ is also notable for his speed and his tenacious physical game. Had a sweet goal against Canada.
Jesper Boqvist, C (NJ): So many of Sweden’s chances involved Boqvist, who blends speed and skill in tantalizing amounts. Great passing vision.
Juuso Valimaki, D (CGY): So much for a summer break: Valimaki played a ton here and had a very positive impact. He takes the extra second to make the right play with the puck and his rushing ability was noticeable.
Aarne Talvitie, LW (NJ): The surprise of the tournament for me, Talvitie was so active for the Finns, whether it was in the offensive end, or on the penalty-kill, where his anticipation, active stick and speed caused havoc.
Robin Salo, D (NYI): Played a lot, sharing top pairing duties with Valimaki. Solid all-around, but was specifically good at protecting the puck.
Joni Ikonen, C (MTL): Ikonen had a hat trick against Sweden, including the late marker that sent the game into overtime. He’s feisty and dynamic and really kept Finland in the game.
Otto Koivula, RW (NYI): Very active in the offensive end, I liked his opportunism and the skill he brought to the table.
Eemeli Rasanen, D (TOR): Big, physical presence also brought that powerful shot he’s known for.
Joona Koppanen, C (BOS): Koppanen has a really big frame (he’s 6-foot-5) and he uses it well when he’s carrying the puck. Pretty quick for a big man, too.
Adam Fox, D (CGY): I’m confident in saying that Fox will be the most important blueliner on the team in Buffalo. His smarts, his patience and his offensive play are sights to behold.
Ryan Poehling, C (MTL): This was a great tourney for Poehling, who got to play against kids his own age instead of the college ranks. He flourished offensively on a deadly line with Joey Anderson and Brady Tkachuk, while also playing well on the penalty-kill.
Casey Mittelstadt, LW (BUF): There was tangible excitement every time Mittelstadt got the puck in open space and that happened fairly frequently. His hands and his speed make defensemen leery, which opens up more lanes.
Joey Anderson, RW (NJ): Just a perfect power forward. Anderson exceeded expectations last year and continued his work this summer, creating offense and using his skills, as well as his size.
David Farrance, D (NSH): His end-to-end rush against Finland was a highlight of the tournament. Farrance still needs to round out his game, but his puckmoving abilities are lights-out.
Dylan Samberg, D (WPG): A solid defender, Samberg was kind of an unknown soldier (same with Edmonton pick Phil Kemp), but I liked his game nonetheless. A late penalty against Canada stung, but his work when shorthanded was also notable.
Patrick Harper, RW (NSH): Devastating goal shorthanded against Canada. His speed, hands and elusiveness are top-end.
Brady Tkachuk, LW (2018): Tkachuk took a ton of punishment in the Canada game – at one point he lost a glove but still stood in front of the net taking whacks until finally the Americans scored. But that’s his game and it was easy to see why he got as much of a role as he did.
Riley Tufte, RW (DAL): Put a crushing hit on Dante Fabbro and was generally dangerous against Canada. Great speed and size, just needs to finish his chances more.
Kailer Yamamoto, RW (EDM): Yamamoto took a lot of faceoffs, spelling Logan Brown on their line with Casey Mittelstadt. He disappeared at times, but also had a great goal. The fact coach Bob Motzko had him out in the last minute while protecting a lead speaks volumes.
Jordan Kyrou, RW (STL): Probably the most pleasant surprise on Canada, Kyrou was a stone-cold sniper against the Americans and showed excellent chemistry with Sam Steel (whom he was rooming with). Kyrou also had some great set-ups, but the recipients couldn’t cash in.
Sam Steel, C (ANA): Like Kyrou, Steel was consistently dangerous and created a lot of offense. He’ll be crucial in December.
Kale Clague, D (LA): The veteran of last year’s team has great escapability, which buys him extra time when he’s clearing the zone. And though he has offensive skills, his defensive stickwork was also impressive, breaking up a 3-on-1 against Team USA.
Logan Stanley, D (WPG): In a tournament filled with great mobile defensemen, Stanley brought a different element to Canada and it was good. The giant blueliner was physical, strong on the penalty-kill and even looked more confident pinching in the offensive zone.
Cale Makar, D (COL): The talent was obvious with Makar. His passing, his puckmoving – all on full display. If there was any worry about the level of competition he had faced in Jr. A last year, it was certainly vanquished in Plymouth.
Michael DiPietro, G (VAN): It wasn’t a great weekend for goaltenders, but I thought DiPietro fared well and I liked how he tracked pucks through traffic. It really feels like he will join Carter Hart on the final team.
Dillon Dube, LW (CGY): Very fast and very disruptive on the forecheck. It will be interesting to see how big a role he gets after playing on the team last year.
Robert Thomas, C (STL): Played center against Finland and right wing versus Team USA. I thought he was a lot more effective as a pivot. Thomas seemed to be in the thick of everything against Finland, getting into battles in the corners and making things happen.