World Junior Championships Providing Extra Excitement for Flyers

By Kevin Fortier, Sports Talk Philly editor 

I, like so many other fans, anxiously await the World Junior Championships each December. For the fan of the game, and not just a team, there is not much else that could possibly be better.

Seeing the young stars of the future don the uniforms of their country and take to the ice to play for pride and the chance to be the best in the world. 

This is hockey at its purest form, country and career on the line each night as the players take the ice. Fearless young gladiators, some whom are teammates back home on their junior squads, facing off as opposing nations. Others, who suit up for country, are bitter rivals on a nightly basis during the regular season. 

They all put it on the line as their traditional duties are temporarily suspended for a few weeks to determine regional glory.

To make it even more enjoyable, fans get to see the future of their NHL teams on display as the overwhelming majority of the combatants have been through recent draft selections and are lined up by professional team in addition to their country of origin.

For Flyers fans, this tournament it especially gratifying as Philadelphia has a total of nine players competing at the games. No other team has more than five players participating. Flyers fans loyalties are tested as they root for their home country, but additionally, cheer for future Flyers even when they oppose the fan’s traditional loyalties.

When Russia played the United States team Thursday, it was hard not to wish for recent draft picks of the Flyers like German Rubtsov or Mikhail Vorobyov to play well and tally points for their Russian team. Vorobyov did tally an assist in the game.  He has at least one point in each game so far in the tournament.

When your country is not playing, the NHL team loyalty keeps the excitement going as the Flyers nine prospects in the tournament are spread out across six nation teams. 

The most prominent teams that have multiple Flyers prospects are Canada, Russia and Sweden all with two players in the Flyers system. The Canadian and Swedish starting goaltenders are both in the Flyers organization and have serious potential to be future NHL starters.

Carter Hart, the Flyers second-round pick this past July, is Canada’s starting netminder. Felix Sandstrom was a third-round pick in 2015 and is playing his junior games in his home country of Sweden. Both have achieved high levels of success and have developed quickly at their young ages. 

Sandstrom has lead Sweden to a 3-0 record and has only surrendered four goals in those three games played. He has good size, but is not a massive goaltender as many recent NHL teams have seemed to prefer. He is quick and has a high hockey IQ. His glove hand is also very good. He has shown he can be at the top of the league in Sweden even though he is only 19 years of age and playing among men.

Hart was the first goalie taken in the 2016 NHL draft. He has improved both his goals against average and his save percentage each year he has been in the CHL. He has been awarded with top goaltender status almost every year he has played including being named the WHL and CHL Goaltender of the Year last season, as well as being a first-team All-Star. Hart has also has earned the best GAA in his league in each of the past three seasons.

Canada also highlights Flyers blue-chip defensive prospect Philippe Myers, who has played very well so far in the games. He is a high-level talent at both ends of the ice who showed tremendous growth after going undrafted and signing an entry-level contract with Philadelphia. Myers is logging heavy minutes for Canada and has also chipped in offensively as well.

Myers could very likely be patrolling the blue line for the Flyers alongside Ivan Provorov and other recent Flyers draft picks in the very near future.

Vorobyov and Rubtsov are both solid two-way centers who have the ability to shut down opposing lines and participate in the offense for Philadelphia. Rubtsov is only 18 and was chosen in the first round last summer with the 22nd overall pick. Vorobyov is a 2015 draft pick taken in the fourth round, but appears to be a potential sleeper at that selection.

Ohio State freshman Tanner Laczynski surprisingly earned a roster spot on the US squad over recent top draft picks Logan Brown and Alex Debrincat. He leads his college team in scoring and has tallied a goal and an assist in three games so far in the tournament. He is a tenacious forechecker and is hard to disrupt when he has the puck on his stick.

For Flyers fans this has been a very exciting tournament already and it appears it will only get better as we head to the medal rounds. Having so many prospects in the games has only added to the enjoyment.

As the tournament continues and teams begin to be eliminated, the various loyalties will only make it even more exciting.