Virtanen was perhaps the highest of high-profile flops for a disappointing Canadian team. The 19-year-old, who had a respectable 2014-15 WJC, was held without a goal in the tournament and also took several bad penalties. His also had some tough defensive zone work in the game against Finland that eliminated Canada from medal contention. He was playing on Canada’s top line most of the tournament but still struggled. Discipline has been something that has haunted Virtanen in his junior career, and perhaps this was the wakeup call he needed. Either way, it was a rough tournament for the young Canuck upstart.
The Montreal Canadiens had a record breaking start to the season and looked to be in good shape for a return to the playoffs. Then Carey Price went down with an injury, forcing Mike Condon to step up. In his first stint as the temporary starter, he played very well, maintaining the team’s quality form until Price returned to the crease. That lasted only three games before he reinjured the same lower-body injury on November 14th against the Rangers. Since then, the Canadiens have fallen off and their double-digit lead in the Atlantic Division has evaporated. Despite his 8-2-3 record through the first two months of the season, Condon really struggled in December. He lost seven of his nine starts and his save percentage dipped to .888 for the month. Price is still weeks away from returning, but it appears Condon is rediscovering his winning form following a strong performance at the Winter Classic.
Like Virtanen, Perlini had a rough overall tournament offensively. It was his first foray into the U20 World Junior scene, and he walked away from the tournament without a goal, without a point, and with a dash-two tagged to his stat sheet. Perlini was given plenty of opportunity as well, as he was saddled with Brayden Point and Mitch Marner for most of the tournament. He had a very good training camp with Arizona, but has been slumbering so far with Niagara.
Much was expected of Evgeny Svechnikov entering the World Junior Championships. Placed on Team Russia’s top line with Maxim Lazarev and Vladislav Kamenev, the Red Wings prospect was penciled in as a go-to goal scorer. While Russia had a great run to the gold medal game, the team had to overcome the surprising low-level play of Svechnikov. He registered zero points in seven games and only had a handful of shots on net. It goes to show how good Team Russia was as its depth players were able to step up for one of their leader’s lack of production. Svechnikov was doing well in the QMJHL before the tournament. One suspects his struggles at the WJC should motivate him to pick up where he left off.
Brandon Hickey, D, Boston University (NCAA)
Drafted by the Calgary Flames
3rd round (64th overall), 2014
Canada gave us no shortage of trailers, clearly. Hickey is, however, a bit of a rare breed. He is a Canadian playing in the NCAA circuit who made the Canadian team. That has happened just one other time in the last 20 years of Canadian WJC history. Unfortunately, Hickey and his partner Haydn Fleury had a bit of a rough tournament in the Canadian top 4. The duo was unable to shut down the top threats on Team USA and Finland in the knockout round. They also combined for almost identical stat lines: zero goals, zero assists, zero points, and only six shots apiece—despite receiving plenty of time on the powerplay.
Before the start of Cornell’s 2015-16 season, junior Matt Buckles was predicted to have a bigger role on the team. Last season, the then-sophomore impressed his peers, scoring eight goals and 11 points in 29 games, showing his two-way game was developing. This season the Big Red have a more balanced attack with other NHL prospects stepping up. Buckles’ ice time has stayed the same throughout the season but he has not taken off as many predicted he would. December was a slow month for the Toronto native as he only had one point. However, there are signs that Buckles can rediscover his scoring touch. He leads the team in shots taken and has been more active offensively at even strength. A bit of luck could help him get going.
Anton Karlsson, W, Frölunda HC (SHL)
Drafted by the Arizona Coyotes
3rd round (87th overall), 2014
It is a tough assignment for Anton Karlsson to find offense, but he did himself no favors at the World Juniors. Centering the third line of team Sweden, he was going to receive few opportunities behind an offensively gifted top six. However, there was hope the hulking 6-foot-2 Swede could handle smaller and younger players. Nevertheless, Karlsson had a sleepy tournament. He scored just once in seven games, and had a huge penalty in the Sweden-Finland game that ended up being costly to the Swedes.
As mentioned earlier, Team Switzerland did not have the best showing. There were some standouts like Malgin, but the team was not as competitive as it could have been. Jonas Siegenthaler played on last year’s feisty Switzerland squad and returned as a leader for the 2016 team. He played alongside Roger Karrer on the top-pairing, providing a physical, responsible presence on the backend. Unfortunately, the Swiss struggled defensively. Siegenthaler had issues trying to slow down the opposition’s top talent. His lack of offense also hurt Switzerland’s ability to transition to offense. Fortunately for him and his countrymen, they rallied to win the relegation series against Belarus to remain in the top division. Through six games, he tallied an assist and finished with a minus-4 rating.