concluded 2006 WJC in Vancouver
Four Washington Capitals prospects participated in the
recently concluded 2006 WJC in Vancouver. Three of the four (Chris Bourque,
Oscar Hedman, and Mikhail Yunkov) were making their second consecutive
appearance on the U20 stage. Sasha Pokulok, the Capitals first selection in the
2005 NHL Entry Draft, was the lone new face.
Chris Bourque, who joined Team USA directly from the Hershey
Bears, was a tour de force in the opening game of the tournament, rampaging
through Norway for five goals, of which three were scored on special teams (2
power play, 1 shorthanded). For his extraordinary effort, Bourque was selected
as the Player of the Game for the U.S. Joining Bourque on the top line were Phil
Kessel, currently a freshman at the University of Minnesota and the
top-rated draft-eligible skater going into this year’s WJC, and Phoenix Coyotes
draftee Kevin Porter (whom Bourque was a linemate of at last year’s WJC). After the tournament opener,
this line was the focus of a lot of attention by defenses, and there was
precious little space in which to operate. Bourque contributed one more goal
during the round-robin portion of the tournament.
Facing the Czech Republic to advance to a date in the
semifinals with Russia, Bourque scored what proved to be the eventual
game-winner, propelling the U.S. to a 2-1 victory. During the playoff round,
U.S. coach Walt Kyle removed Porter from the Bourque/Kessel combination, first
replacing him with T.J. Oshie and then Jack Skille. It didn’t
seem to matter as the U.S. could only muster three goals total in their last
Coming into the tournament as an overwhelming favorite, the
U.S. dropped the bronze medal game to Finland and left Vancouver empty-handed.
However, Bourque was the goal-scoring leader (7 goals) and finished as the
fifth-leading scorer of the WJC.
This smooth-skating Swedish defenseman was the plus/minus
leader of the WJC at +10. Paired with Anton Stralman, Hedman’s decision-making
was instrumental for Sweden as he jumped into the offensive rush numerous times
(he had 15 shots during the course of the tournament), and demonstrated a lot
of composure in his own zone. Hedman only scored one goal, but he made it
count, as it was the game-winner against the Czech Republic. Playing with MoDo
of the Swedish Elite League, Hedman was much more comfortable on the ice in
comparison to last year’s WJC, and he has certainly matured as a player.
It seems strange that a hulking 6’5, 230-lb defenseman would
become a forgotten man, but that was the case for Sasha Pokulok, as he was the
seventh defenseman on Team Canada, a young squad which certainly benefited from
playing in front of their home fans and won the gold medal for the second
consecutive year. While this could prove to be a great learning experience,
especially the time spent in practice, the opportunities for Pokulok to show
what he was capable of doing, be it as a physical force or as an offensive
defenseman, were scarce.
Switching between the third and fourth lines, WJC returnee
Mikhail Yunkov did not feature a tremendous amount of offensive prowess, since
his main responsibility was defensive play. Yunkov was solid on faceoffs, and
is a hard-working two-way forward. There is no flash and dash to Yunkov’s game,
but he played well and did provide some leadership.
For the second straight year, Yunkov played in the gold
medal game against Canada. Alas, he went home with his second straight silver
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