For an upstart Team Denmark squad lacking heavily in star power, the 2016 IIHF World Junior Championship proved to be a rockingly terrific experience that the small hockey nation will surely be able to build upon. Coach Olaf Eller and his staff were able to bring an unknown quantity together to not only beat Switzerland in their opener, thus setting the stage for their second straight quarterfinal participation, but also push eventual silver medalist Russia to the brink of disaster, seeing a late 3-2 lead turn into a 4-3 overtime Russian victory.
Nonetheless, even taking one of the world’s greatest hockey programs that close to an upset won over the hearts of hockey fans across the planet while raising more than a few eyebrows in the scouting community.
With basically the youngest team in the tournament, the true achievement is that the team will once again participate in the WJC in 2017 in Montreal and Toronto, surely to the delight of the many hockey enthusiasts who have come to adore the red and white underdogs.
For a team that scored just a few goals, it is hard to name any particular forward who was the team’s best, but it was clear coming in that overager Alexander True of the Seattle Thunderbirds simply had to be the go-to guy in a first-line center capacity. With two points in the tournament, he was on the ice for just about every important minute of play and had the biggest assignments of almost any forward in the entire tournament. If anything, True is surely tanked up on confidence so it will be interesting to see just what comes from him back in Seattle, where his coaches surely took note of the responsibility he is capable of carrying.
In a defensive lineup filled with relative no-names in the international scene, captain Anders Krogsgaard often showed exactly why he’s the blueline anchor for the Danish dynamite. Already a regular top-four defenseman for the Esbjerg Energy in Denmark’s highest pro circuit, Krogsgaard played like a veteran in reading oncoming attackers and initiating a transition. Some top instincts that wreak of pro experience were also shown on a number of occasions and his right-handed shot allowed him to be a go-to guy on the blueline. Fans shouldn’t be surprised if the soon-to-be 20-year-old is taken into consideration for the Men’s national team this spring.
In light of the victory over Switzerland and the near miss against Russia, you really can’t look past Thomas Lillie, the team’s official starting goaltender at this tournament. Cool, calm, and concentrated, Lillie often showed strong rebound control and ate a lot of shots. In addition, it was clear that his team was always battling for him and felt free to attempt more, knowing he would be there to clean up possible mistakes.
The reasons behind team Denmark’s strong tournament
With the win over Switzerland and the exciting playoff thriller against Russia, but also in keeping scores at an even keel against top nations Canada, Sweden, and the USA, Team Denmark’s greatest strength was the fact that it functioned like a team. The Danes fought and consistently remained within their possibilities.
2016 prospects who helped themselves
Hard to say anyone hurt themselves, especially since few are seen as NHL prospects, but both goaltenders Thomas Lillie of the Vaxjo Lakers program in Sweden and Mathias Seldrup of the Herning Blue Fox opened plenty of eyes. Both are 96-born overagers in a draft sense, but their play in keeping games fairly close and giving their team a chance to win in every situation gave reason to believe that these guys may have just what it takes to be of interest to NHL teams. This is naturally especially the case for Lillie, who already put on quite a show at the 2014 U18 World Championship and was the biggest reason Team Denmark almost defeated Russia in one of the most exciting games of the tournament.
Up front, scouts have obviously known about Alex True, who went undrafted last summer as a very young draft-eligible and will first turn 19 in July this year, but his linemates Mathias From and Nikolaj Krag may have opened some eyes. Whereas From often showed impressive speed and gave the impression of being a raw player with lots of tools still seeking a toolbox, Krag shone through the ability to handle the game along the boards and make smart, responsible plays with the puck. Both measure in at roughly six feet and 170 pounds. In addition, 6’1”, 183-pounder Thomas Olsen finished things off with two points and +1 rating while displaying a lot of gutsy play and a willingness to go where it hurts. He currently skates in Sweden for the Malmo Redhawks organization and will turn 20 in March.
2017 prospect who arrived on the scene
Jonas Rondbjerg is just 16 years old and is already playing his second season of pro hockey. He spent this tournament as the team’s second-line left wing and impressed most especially through his headstrong play and a total lack of fear against older and more physically mature competition. There was no lack of confidence and his demeanor was very cool. The odd bursts of speed also didn’t go unnoticed. He only collected one assist, but he will surely play a big role in next year’s tournament and will likely be playing in Sweden or North America next season.
Follow Chapin Landvogt on Twitter via @Csomichapin