By Lucas Aykroyd – IIHF.com
Boom! Finland’s Aatu Raty answered his critics by leading the World Junior Summer Showcase in Plymouth, Michigan with 14 points in six games.
The renaissance of the 18-year-old Karpat Oulu centre was a major storyline at the tournament at USA Hockey Arena, which featured U.S. White and Blue squads battling Finland and Sweden’s top U20 prospects (24 to 31 July). The Finns dominated under coach Antti Pennanen, winning five of their six games with a 26-19 goal difference.
Raty was once deemed a top contender to become the #1 overall pick in the 2022 NHL Draft, an honour that instead went to defenceman Owen Power (Buffalo Sabres). Raty fell to the second round, where the New York Islanders took him 52nd overall. The 185-cm, 82-kg talent, who had two goals and an assist as a 17-year-old World Junior debutant in 2020, failed to make the 2021 team altogether.
— New York Islanders (@NYIslanders) July 24, 2021
Raty’s dazzling hands and anticipation also benefited 19-year-old linemate Roni Hirvonen, who wore the “C” for Finland. Hirvonen, who chipped in six points when the Finns claimed the bronze medal in 2021, ran wild in Plymouth with eight goals – including two hat tricks – and two assists to finish second in Summer Showcase scoring. And Topi Niemela led all blueliners with six points and had a tournament-best +10 plus-minus rating.
Finland came into this event nicely warmed up after going undefeated in an exhibition series against the Czech Republic and Switzerland at Vierumaki (17 to 21 July).
Although a stacked USA Blue squad fell 4-2 to the Finns in the Summer Showcase finale on 31 July, there was plenty of reason for optimism for the host nation, which captured its fifth World Junior gold medal of all time in Edmonton back in January.
— USA Hockey (@usahockey) July 31, 2021
The Americans used 44 players on their split squads, whereas Finland and Sweden had between 26 and 28 players apiece. Returning U.S. head coach Nate Leaman has some interesting decisions to make between now and the 2022 World Juniors.
“Both the Finns and Swedes are really good teams,” Leaman told USAHockey.com. “We’re getting hard competition, really good evaluations of our guys to see how they’re going to stack up against the best competition.”
Leaman will likely get to ice five 2021 returnees: Brett Berard, Brock Faber, Tyler Kleven, Jake Sanderson and Landon Slaggert.
Sanderson, picked fifth overall by the Ottawa Senators in 2020, is expected to provide leadership and play big minutes as an all-around 19-year-old defenceman. Partnering with Luke Hughes, New Jersey’s #4 overall pick this year, Sanderson delivered four points at the Summer Showcase and generally performed well against the Finns. He’s a no-brainer.
Yet some U.S. newcomers could also be impactful.
Thomas Bordeleau was unfortunately ruled ineligible to play at the 2021 World Juniors due to COVID-19 exposure protocols. The Houston-born, Bern-trained centre from the University of Michigan led all Americans with seven points in four Summer Showcase games (2+5=7).
— USA Hockey (@usahockey) July 28, 2021
While a knee surgery and illness denied National Team Development Program sniper Chaz Lucius a chance to strut his stuff at the U18 Worlds in Texas in April, he contributed a pair of goals in three games in Plymouth. He’s an intriguing name to watch.
Leaman also singled out forward Matthiew Knies as a pleasant surprise. The University of Minnesota forward, drafted in the second round by the Toronto Maple Leafs (57th overall), showed good hustle and offensive savvy in his three Summer Showcase games (2+3=5).
Meanwhile, Sweden is still working out the kinks. The Juniorkronorna ended on a good note with a 7-1 romp over USA White, but had lost five straight games before that.
Coach Tomas Monten is aiming to author a comeback story in 2022 after he – along with multiple Swedish U20 players and fellow staff members – missed the 2021 tournament due to testing positive for COVID-19. Yet there’s clearly plenty of work to be done in terms of team-building over the next five months. Sweden is looking for just its third World Junior title of all time (1981, 2012).
— Tre Kronor (@Trekronorse) July 25, 2021
One bright spot was the performance of Zion Nybeck. The 19-year-old HV71 forward, who helped Sweden capture its first U18 Worlds title ever in Ornskoldsvik in 2019, paced his Summer Showcase squad with three goals and two assists in five games. Nybeck was limited to one assist in five games in his 2021 World Junior debut.
Canada, naturally, was not idle, despite not taking part in this event due to COVID-19 restrictions. The 18-time World Junior champions – who settled for silver on home ice last year after winning gold in the Czech Republic in 2021 – invited 51 players to their own internal Summer Showcase in Calgary.
In the opening intrasquad game on 31 July, Cole Perfetti’s second-period power-play goal was the difference as Team Red beat Team White 4-2.
Perfetti, a top Winnipeg Jets prospect, was part of Canada’s silver-medal World Junior team. The nifty 19-year-old forward also scored two goals in the improbable 2021 IIHF World Championship run that saw the Canadian men rally to win gold in Latvia after dropping their first three games for the first time in tournament history. Canadian World Junior fans would love to see Perfetti driving the offence on home ice in 2022.
The 2022 IIHF World Junior Championship will take place in Edmonton and Red Deer, Alberta (26 December 2021 to 5 January 2022).