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Recapping the Flyers’ prospects at the 2018 World Juniors

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Carter Hart won gold, Sushko played a lot, and Hogberg struggled for ice time

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Canada v Sweden: Gold Medal Game - 2018 IIHF World Junior Championship Photo by Kevin Hoffman/Getty Images

Every year, The World Junior Championship gives us a chance to see some of the best hockey players around the world under the age of 20 years old represent their country in an international tournament. Almost every player in the tournament is either a prospect of an NHL team or eligible for the upcoming NHL Entry Draft. World Juniors can serve as a great way for a player to increase their draft stock, as illustrated by last year’s tournament where Nico Hischier helped his case to be taken first overall in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft.

As a hockey fan, there are plenty of reasons to watch this tournament annually. Although they didn’t match their total of nine prospects from last year, the Philadelphia Flyers still had four prospects take part in the two-week tournament. With two first-round picks and a total of 10 picks at the moment in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft, Flyers’ fans saw several players who are finally eligible to taken in the next draft. Let’s see how these Flyers’ prospects and 2018 draft-eligible players performed in this year’s World Juniors.

CARTER HART
Of the four Flyers’ prospects to play in this year’s World Juniors, Hart had the biggest impact. He posted a .929 save percentage (highest for any starter of the ten countries in the tournament) and a 5-0-1 record in six appearances to help Canada land the gold medal.

Despite seeing the most amount of ice time in the tournament for any goalie with 365:00, Hart’s 11 goals against and 1.81 goals against average were tied for the best with Sweden’s Filip Gustavsson (a Pittsburgh Penguins’ prospect). Gustavsson was voted the best goalie by the directorate and was the Media All Star goaltender selection even though Hart posted slightly better numbers and was one of three goalies with a shutout in the tournament.

Hart was twice selected by Canada as their best player in a game, as it took a total of seven games for the nation to win gold. The first time he earned the honor was in Canada’s only loss in the tournament, as they dropped a 4-3 shootout decision at the hands of the United States. The Flyers’ prospect stopped 32 of 36 to force a shootout after Canada was out shot 36-22 overall and 24-14 in the first 40 minutes of the contest.

Canada did have leads of 2-0 and 3-1, but it wasn’t entirely Hart’s fault that the leads dissipated. U.S.A. converted on a 5-on-3 power play, a pretty give-and-go in the offensive zone on the man advantage, and watched Casey Mittelstadt set up a wide open Brady Tkachuk in the slot on a play created behind the net. Hart also bailed out his team in a pair of situations, as he denied Tkachuk and Joey Anderson on a few shots that followed a 2-on-1 rush in the second period (2:20 in) and kept an Adam Fox attempt in the dying seconds of overtime from finding the back of the net (5:08 in).

The other game Canada selected Hart as their best player was the gold medal game, where he made 16 saves in the first period of a game where his country was out shot 36-28. Hart played a major factor in the victory, as the game was tied at one from the middle of the second period until Arizona Coyotes’ prospect Tyler Steenbergen potted the game-winner with 1:40 left in regulation. With the game tied at one early in the third period, Hart denied a pair of attempts from Lias Andersson following a shot off the post to keep the tilt even (3:48 in).

Flyers’ fans already had a lot to be excited about when it came to Hart, as he has absolutely cleaned up in the Western Hockey League over the last few seasons. After coming through on the biggest stage he can possibly play on at the moment, it won’t only be Philly fans talking about Hart before he reaches the NHL (well, his superstitions may help that cause).

Hart returns to the Everett Silvertips, with whom he has a 13-3-1 record while posting a .961 save percentage and 1.32 goals against average this season.

MAXIM SUSHKO
After Hart, Sushko drew the most attention of the Flyers’ prospects in the tournament, and not entirely for his play on the ice.

Sushko, who recorded two goals and six assists in six games, was one of just two players (Russia’s Klim Kostin, a St. Louis Blues’ prospect, was the other) to finish top ten in the tournament’s scoring while taking part in less than seven games. He led Belarus, the country he captained, with eight points and six assists. Sushko was also one of three players for Belarus who had 18 shots on goal or more during the tournament.

On top of being voted the third best player for Belarus by the coaches, Sushko also earned the title as the country’s best player in a game twice. He provided one goal (1:43 in), one assist (3:35 in), and five shots on goal in Belarus’ 3-2 loss to Switzerland in the preliminary round before he produced one goal (1:02 in, with a salute) and one assist (1:18) with three shots in a 3-2 loss to Denmark that relegated Belarus.

What made Sushko’s tournament so intriguing was the comments Flyers’ general manager Ron Hextall made when he assessed the prospect’s play. From NBC Sports Philadelphia:

“Sushko was good. He’s big player on that team. They don’t have a ton of ability, so he plays a big role, probably a bigger role than he would play with another country, but he was playing 24 to 26 minutes. Too much for a forward, but he’s a big guy, a thick guy that can skate. He’s got good sense. He was on their power play, their penalty kill. He did a lot of good things and played well. He’s not going to be that type of player at the pro level. He could be more of a two-way guy that’s not expected to score, but you hope he can chip in. He did a good job, made a name for himself. Obviously we knew him taking him in the fourth round, but he made a good impression.”

Hextall makes some fair points. Knowing Morgan Frost couldn’t make Team Canada, it’s fair to wonder how Sushko would have looked if he played for another country. As for his playing time, Sushko’s lowest ice time in a single game was 19:39 and he played 26:55 and 28:37 in Belarus’ two relegation games. For comparison’s sake, only five forwards have played 26:55 or more in an NHL game this season. Even though Belarus was relegated and a ton of ice time may have inflated his point totals, it was still a good showing from Sushko throughout the tournament.

Sushko has 19 goals and 11 assists in 30 games this season with the Owen Sound Attack of the Ontario Hockey League.

GERMAN RUBTSOV
Rubtsov had a good showing at the World Juniors, as he had a goal, three assists, and nine shots on goal for Russia in five games. He also averaged the most ice time for any Russian skater with an average of 18:24 ice time per game.

Rubtsov had a pair of multi-point games in the tournament, as he had two assists (4:05 in and 4:29 in) in a 5-4 loss to the Czech Republic and two highlight-worthy plays with a goal (1:35 in) and an assist (3:57 in) in Russia’s win over Belarus. In Russia’s only elimination game, Rubtsov won five of 18 faceoffs with a shot on goal in 18:08 in a loss to U.S.A.

The Flyers’ 2016 first-round pick has nine goals and 19 assists in the QMJHL this season as he has split 27 games between the Chicoutimi Sagueneens and Acadie-Bathurst Titan.

LINUS HOGBERG
A fifth-round pick of the Flyers in 2016, the big news surrounding Hogberg, who failed to record a point or shot on goal, was his lack of ice time in these World Juniors. Averaging 4:50 of ice time per game over the tournament, Hogberg’s most ice time in a single game at was 7:46 in Sweden’s opening game in the preliminary round against Belarus. The lack of ice time for Hogberg is a little perplexing, as the 6’1” left-handed blue liner averages 14:29 of ice time per game for the Vaxjo Lakers HC in the SHL, Sweden’s highest level of professional hockey and one of the better hockey leagues in the world.

Hogberg may have seem limited ice time due to how deep Sweden’s blue line was in this WJC. Both Rasmus Dahlin, the projected first overall in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft, and Erik Brannstrom, taken 15th overall by the Vegas Golden Knights in the most recent draft, averaged well over 20 minutes per game. The highly touted Timothy Liljegren, who fell to the Toronto Maple Leafs at 17th overall in the last draft, averaged 17:42 and Jesper Sellgren, who has been passed over in the last two drafts, had a strong tournament with 19:01 of ice time a tilt.

Even though Hogberg only saw 33:56 of ice time for the entire tournament, he did come away with some notable unfortunate plays. Along with losing a pair of faceoffs, Hogberg also accidentally scored on his own net in Sweden’s 7-2 win over Switzerland in the preliminary round (1:45 in). While carrying the puck in the defensive zone, Switzerland’s Nicolas Muller whacked Hogberg’s stick hard enough to force him to lose control of the puck and it slid past Filip Larsson.

Hogberg has one goal and three assists in 25 games this season for the Vaxjo Lakers HC.

2018 DRAFT-ELIGIBLE PROSPECTS
Here’s how some notable names for the upcoming draft did in the World Junior Championship:

One player who is eligible for the 2018 NHL Entry Draft that isn’t listed on the table above is Finnish center Rasmus Kupari. Anticipated to be taken in the first round of the 2018 draft, Kupari failed to record a point and recorded only three shots on goal while averaging just 6:46 ice time per game.