Wednesday, December 27, 2017

2018 IIHF World Junior Championships open today in Buffalo

Published by, 12-26-2017

The 2018 IIHF World Junior Hockey Championships kick off at today at KeyBank Center with a noon puck-drop between the Czech Republic and a Russian team that has medaled in the last seven tournaments. Team Russia won the gold the last time the tournament was held in Buffalo (2011) and followed up with three silver and three bronze medals during their streak.

Unlike 2011 when the WJC games were held at HSBC Arena in downtown Buffalo and Dwyer Arena on the campus of Niagara University in Lewiston, NY, all the games this time round will be downtown. Buffalo Sabres owners Terry and Kim Pegula built HarborCenter on a once vacant lot adjacent to the arena now named KeyBank Center for the express purpose of making downtown a hockey destination for events both big and small.

The Sabres have five prospects playing in the tournament that runs through January 5 beginning with defenseman Vojtech Budik taking the ice with the Czech Republic to open the tournament at 12-noon. The 6'1" 185 lb. Budik will wear #19.

At 2pm Team Sweden will take on Belarus at HarborCenter. Sweden has two Sabres prospects on the team, forwards Alexander Nylander and Marcus Davidsson.

The 19 yr. old Nylander was the eighth-overall selection in the 2016 NHL Draft, which was held in Buffalo. In his prior two WJC appearances for Sweden the 6'0" 190 lb. winger totaled 21 points (9+12) in 14 games. He will be wearing #19. Davidsson was selected in the second round of the 2017 NHL Draft (37th-overall) and will be wearing #10. This will be his first WJC.

Sabres goalie prospect Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen and Team Finland face off against tournament favorite Team Canada at 4 pm on the KeyCenter ice. The 6'4" 196 lb Luukkonen (wearing #1) has been putting up solid numbers for LeKi in Finland's second-tier professional league, Mestis.

In the final game of the day, Team USA takes on Denmark at 8 pm. Buffalo's 2017 first round pick Casey Mittelstadt, who was selected eighth-overall, will try to help lead the Americans to back-to-back gold medals. Since 2010 Team USA has won three golds and added two bronze medals. Mittelstadt is wearing a number very familiar to Sabres fans, #11.

There are other 2018 draft-eligible players to keep an eye on as well, most notably defenseman Rasmus Dahlin who plays for Sweden. Dahlin is expected to be the top overall pick in the upcoming draft and Kris Baker of writes in his WJC preview "fans that appreciate speedy end-to-end rushes and slick puck skills will certainly be enamored with Dahlin whenever the puck comes to him."

Sabres fans certainly have been paying attention to Dahlin most of this season as the team has been near the bottom of the league all year, and they will now have the opportunity to seem him up close beginning today as he, Nylander and Davidsson will begin in the small, HarborCenter setting.

Another player of interest for the 2018 draft is Team Russia forward Andrei Svechnikov who is rated very high in the pre-draft rankings. "At 6-foot-3 and 184 pounds, Svechnikov has the size and reach that National Hockey League scouts crave," wrote Baker, "but it's the speed and soft hands packed into the ideal frame that will see him among the first forwards taken in the June draft."

Baker also gives a shoutout to Czech forward Filip Zadina, whom he describes as "a high-end shooter."

"Zadina has been impressive in his first foray into North American hockey, compiling 24 goals and 46 points in his first 32 games," wrote Baker. "His mix of size and offensive dominance will likely see him become a top-10 pick come June."

For a link to the Baker article, click here.

For an easy to read Buffalo WJC schedule, click here.

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