Last year Sabres' prospects made quite the mark on the World Junior tournament in Sweden. In fact, it was Rasmus Ristolainen who won the tournament for his native Finland with an overtime goal.
That was a fun time. Ristolainen and Nikita Zadorov were both chosen to the All-tournament team, making many Sabres fans giddy about the future of the team.
Now, we get to go through it all again with a new group, including some of the Sabres top-ranked prospects. One of the perks of having one of the best youth groups in the league is a high frequency of players making the tournament rosters. However, there are fewer than originally expected due to late cuts and injuries. There will still be four Sabres participating this year, giving fans players to keep their eyes on during the two week event.
This year's tournament, hosted by Canada, kicks off on Friday. Here's all the info you need to know as a Sabres fan tuning in.
Sam Reinhart- C (Canada)
The Sabres second-overall pick in last year's draft, Reinhart is the team's top ranked prospect. He'll serve as an assistant in this year's tournament, despite wearing the "C" for much of the pre-tournament action. The Senators loaned Curtis Lazar to the team as a late addition, and he was named team captain. Canada's top line center, Reinhart has spent most of his time at camp and in exhibitions with Max Domi (ARZ) and Anthony Duclair (NYR).
Reinhart scored no goals and one assist in his nine games with the Sabres this season. Since being sent back down to Kootenay Reinhart has scored eight goals and 19 assists in 15 games. Reinhart was on Canada's roster last year as well, where he scored two goals and three assists in seven games.
Hudson Fasching- RW (USA)
It was clear that the Sabres had high expectations for Fasching when they traded two second-round picks and Brayden McNabb for him and Nick Deslauriers. He's shown scouts that he was worth far more than the typical fourth-round pick.
At Minnesota Fasching scored 14 goals and 16 assists in 40 games during his freshman season. His Golden Gophers made it all the way to the NCAA finals, where they lost to Union. This year he has five goals and two assists in 14 games. Fasching was also a member of last year's USA World Junior team. He scored two goals and two assists in five games in the Sweden-based tourney.
JT Compher- C (USA)
The Sabres second-round pick in the 2013 draft, Compher has had a very solid career at Michigan thus far. Last season he lead the Wolverines in scoring as a freshman, and received various honors including the Big Ten Freshman of the Year and Michigan's MVP award, in addition to being chosen to the All-Big Ten second team.
He's slowed down a bit in his sophomore year, and only has three goals and eight assists in 15 games.
Victor Olofsson- LW/RW (Sweden)
A seventh-round pick in this year's draft, Olofsson is already looking like a steal for the Sabres. Olofsson led the U-20 SHL circuit in goals last season, and has produced well playing against men this season in the top-level of Swedish hockey. He's scored nine goals and seven assists in 30 games with MODO, which between him, Linus Ullmark, and Gustav Possler is basically Sabres east at this point.
Zadorov was chosen to the Russian roster, but the Sabres decided staying in the NHL would be more beneficial to him. Swedish goalie Jonas Johansson is missing the tournament due to injury. He would have been Sweden's starting goalie had he been healthy. Nick Baptiste (Canada) and Vaclav Karabacek (Czech Republic) were both cut in their respective team's final trimming. Karabacek was cut due to oversleeping and arriving to a meeting late according to Jakub Homol'a.
- United States
- Czech Republic
As you saw earlier, Finland beat the host Sweden 3-2 in the Gold medal game to win last year's tournament. Russia beat Canada in the Bronze medal game 2-1, marking the second straight fourth place finish for the Canadians.
The United States was unable to escape the quarterfinals, losing to Russia 5-3. Canada beat the US 3-2 in their preliminary round match-up.
The World Juniors has seen much parity in recent years, with four different teams winning the last four championships. Prior to Finland's victory last season the US won in 2013, Sweden in 2012 and Russia in the Buffalo-hosted 2011 tournament.
Here are the games on NHL Network featuring Sabres prospects and the elimination rounds:
|Preliminary||Friday Dec. 26||United States||Finland||3:00 pm|
|Preliminary||Friday Dec. 26||Slovakia||Canada||8:00 pm|
|Preliminary||Saturday Dec. 27||Sweden||Denmark||1:00 pm|
|Preliminary||Saturday Dec. 27||Canada||Germany||8:00 pm|
|Preliminary||Sunday Dec. 28||Germany||United States||8:00 pm|
|Preliminary||Monday Dec. 29||Slovakia||United States||4:00 pm|
|Preliminary||Monday Dec. 29||Russia||Sweden||5:00 pm|
|Preliminary||Monday Dec. 29||Canada||Finland||8:00 pm|
|Preliminary||Wednesday Dec. 31||United States||Canada||4:00 pm|
|Quarterfinal||Friday Jan. 2||TBD||TBD||1:00 pm|
|Quarterfinal||Friday Jan. 2||TBD||TBD||3:00 pm|
|Quarterfinal||Friday Jan. 2||TBD||TBD||5:00 pm|
|Quarterfinal||Friday Jan. 2||TBD||TBD||8:00 pm|
|Semifinal||Sunday Jan. 4||TBD||TBD||4:00 pm|
|Semifinal||Sunday Jan. 4||TBD||TBD||8:00 pm|
|Bronze Medal||Monday Jan. 5||TBD||TBD||4:00 pm|
|Gold Medal||Monday Jan. 5||TBD||TBD||8:00 pm|
The NHL Network games will feature Steve Mears, Dan Bylsma, and Dave Starman as the broadcast team. You can find their full schedule here. For our Canadian readers, TSN has extensive coverage split between their various channels. You can find the full Canadian schedule here.
Top Draft Eligible Prospects
Connor McDavid - C (Canada)
Do I really need to say much about McDavid at this point? The 17-year-old phenom is just returning from a hand injury that caused a lot of worry across Canada that he wouldn't be able to play in the tournament. A whole country can let out a sigh of relief, because he's back.
McDavid has scored 16 goals and 35 assists for 51 points in 18 games, an incredible pace. He'll be the star of the World Juniors, despite being one of the youngest players there. The Canadian roster is rather difficult to crack as a draft eligible player. McDavid's Erie teammate Dylan Strome, ranked fourth on most boards, didn't make the cut.
Jack Eichel - C (USA)
One of the main storylines in this year's tournament will be the McDavid vs. Eichel factor. America's darling is currently playing for Boston University, scoring 8 goals and 19 assists in 16 games. Like McDavid Eichel will be a franchise top center, and is already getting compared to USA legend Mike Modano. He was named the captain of team USA yesterday.
Noah Hanifin - D (USA)
If you don't get McDavid or Eichel in the draft, Hanifin isn't a bad consolation prize. The top ranked defenseman in this year's class, Hanifin is the clear third-ranked prospect in nearly every ranking. The speedy blueliner is playing his freshman season at Boston College, scoring two goals and five assists in 17 games.
Lawson Crouse - LW (Canada)
The latest offensive talent out of Kingston, Crouse has more size than many of the other top prospects, standing at 6'4" and 212 lbs. The youngest player on the Canadian team, Crouse has 12 goals and four assists in 24 games with the Frontenacs. He's ranking depends on the list you're looking at. In Button's list he's ranked 18th, but he can be found in the 6-10 range in others like Elite Prospects' ranking.
Pavel Zacha - C (Czech Republic)
Zacha, who normally plays for the Sarnia Sting, is one of many foreign talents that has brought his game to Canadian juniors. Hockeyprospect.com is very high on Zacha, ranking him fourth in the class. Most have him at least in the top ten. MyNHLdraft.com actually has the Sabres taking him with the seventh pick in their latest mock draft, for what it's worth. He's a two-way player who possesses both size and physicality. In his 21 games with Sarnia he has nine goals and ten assists.
Ivan Provorov - D (Russia)
A great skater and offensive defenseman, Provorov is producing better than many forwards in the WHL. Provorov has 10 goals and 27 assists in 35 games with the Brandon Wheat Kings in his first season of Canadian juniors. Button has him at eighth on his rankings, but Hockeyprospect.com has him all the way down at #27. It's always interesting to see the type of production that players of this caliber have at a lower level, as it tends to be very impressive. However, Provorov's 97 points in 51 games as a defenseman in his last year of midget hockey stands out among the rest.
Sabres with previous WJC experience
The Sabres roster is actually full of players who represented their country in the World Juniors:
Joel Armia (Finland) - 2013: 13 GP, 11 G, 8 A
Jerry D'Amigo (USA) - 2010: 7 GP, 6 G, 6 A
Tyler Ennis (Canada) - 2009: 6 GP, 3 G, 4 A
Jhonas Enroth (Sweden) - 2007, 2008: 8 GP, 4 W, 1 L
Marcus Foligno (Canada) - 2011: 7 GP, 2 G, 2 A
Zemgus Girgensons (Latvia) - 2012: 6 GP, 2 G, 0 A
Josh Gorges (Canada) - 2004: 6 GP, 0 G, 3 A
Mikhail Grigorenko (Russia) - 2013, 2014: 14 GP, 7 G, 7 A
Cody Hodgson (Canada) - 2009: 6 GP, 5 G, 11 A
Johan Larsson (Sweden) - 2012: 6 GP, 0 G, 6 A
Andrej Makarov (Russia) - 2013: 3 GP, 2 W, 1 L
Jake McCabe (USA) - 2013: 7 GP, 3 G, 3 A
Andrej Meszaros (Slovakia) - 2004, 2005: 12 GP, 4 G, 2 A
Tyler Myers (Canada) - 2009: 7 GP, 0 G, 2 A
Michal Neuvirth (Czech Republic) - 2008: 4 GP, 2 W, 2 L
Mark Pysyk (Canada) - 2012: 6 GP, 0 G, 0 A
Rasmus Ristolainen (Finland) - 2014: 5 GP, 3 G, 0 A
Drew Stafford (USA) - 2004, 2005: 13 GP, 5 G, 6 A
Nikita Zadorov (Russia) - 2014: 7 GP, 4 G, 1 A
The tournament may not be in Buffalo this year, but it's close enough that Sabres fans can make a trip if they are inclined. The preliminary round is split between Toronto and Montreal, with the Air Canada Centre hosting all of the elimination games. You can purchase tickets here.