The St. Louis Blues had six of their prospects participate in the 2007 World Junior Championships, and overall they had some very solid performances.
Erik Johnson, D – Team USA
Drafted: 1st Overall, 2006
Heading into this year’s World Junior Championship, all eyes were on St. Louis’ first overall pick of 2006, Erik Johnson. The Americans didn’t fare as well as they had hoped (though they still won a respectable bronze medal), but Johnson, a Minnesota Golden Gopher freshman, had an outstanding tournament. He was a force at both ends of the rink, anchoring the American blue line along with Jack Johnson (LA), while scoring four goals and six assists for a total of 10 points in seven games. He also spent 16 minutes in the penalty box and led Team USA with a plus-3 rating. Johnson finished tied for the tournament scoring lead, and easily led all defensemen in that category. Not surprisingly, he was named the tournament’s top blueliner. Johnson saved his most important goal for last, blasting the puck past Swedish goalkeeper Joel Gistedt midway through the second period of the bronze medal game. The goal gave the Americans a 2-1 lead, which they did not relinquish. Johnson will still be eligible to suit up for Team USA in 2008, and seems intent on doing just that. There’s a good chance he will be in the NHL next season, but the Blues may be willing to release him to play in the tournament.
Patrik Berglund, C – Team Sweden
Drafted: 25th Overall, 2006
St. Louis’ other first-round selection from 2006, Patrik Berglund, wasn’t quite as successful. The host Swedes placed fourth, about where they were expected to finish, but Berglund’s play did leave a little to be desired. He was by no means bad, but only had a single goal and two assists, and only managed six shots on goal in his seven games. Berglund’s best performance came against Slovakia in the preliminary round. He recorded a goal and an assist to help Sweden to a 6-3 victory. He was not alone in term of offensive struggles, however. Fellow forwards Nicklas Backstrom (WAS) and Nicklas Bergfors (NJ) both failed to score a goal. But Berglund should have an opportunity to redeem himself at next year’s WJC, as he will still be 19 years old and eligible to play.
Jonas Junlund, D – Team Sweden
Drafted: 64th Overall, 2006
Jonas Junland, one of two Blues prospects on Sweden’s blue line for the tournament, had an excellent tournament. He was clearly Sweden’s top rearguard, supplying solid defensive play along with an offensive touch. He wasn’t afraid to play physical at times, though he got a misconduct in the tournament opener against Canada for hitting from behind. His plus-5 rating was the best on his team. On the score sheet he chipped in a goal and an assist, though that’s not an entirely just reward for his 20 shots on goal, a total that trailed only forward Patric Hornqvist (NAS) for the team lead. The Blues should be pleased that Junland and Johnson, two of their most promising defensive prospects, had such strong performances at a major tournament.
Alexander Hellstrom, D – Team Sweden
Drafted: 184th Overall, 2006
Another Swedish defenseman, Alexander Hellstrom, played a less prominent role on the team. The fact that there wasn’t a particularly deep crop of young Swedish defensemen to choose from opened the door for his selection to the team. This was welcome news to Hellstrom and the Blues as well. Hellstrom’s play with Bjorkloven in the Allsvenskan in Sweden was good enough to get him on the team, and he did not look out of place. He finished the tournament without any points, posted a minus-1 rating, and had eight penalty minutes. Hellstrom played well in Sweden’s victory over the Czech Republic in the quarterfinal. He was a plus-2 and also saw some minutes on the penalty kill.
Tomas Kana, C – Team Czech
Drafted: 31st Overall, 2006
Tomas Kana, St. Louis’ second-round draft pick from 2006, was one of the bright spots on a Czech Republic team that under-performed throughout much of the tournament. He had two goals and three assists for five points in total in six games played. He was on the ice for a few too many goals against (minus-3 rating), but managed to stay out of the penalty box for the most part on a Czech team that played undisciplined at times. Kana came through with a goal and an assist against Switzerland in the final round robin game, a game that his team needed to win. His efforts gave the Czechs an early lead that sent them on their way to a 4-2 victory. Kana will be 20 years old by the time next year’s tournament starts, so this was his final WJC. He also scored a pair of goals during the 2006 tournament.
Reto Berra, G – Team Switzerland
Drafted: 106th Overall, 2006
St. Louis’ only goaltender prospect at the WJC was Swiss netminder Reto Berra. Berra, who celebrated his 20th birthday during the tournament, played every minute of every game between the pipes for Switzerland. After defeating Belarus in their tournament opener, Berra and the Swiss played lackluster in a pair of lopsided defeats to Russia and Finland, but started to pick up their game in the latter portion of the competition. They weren’t able to avoid the relegation round, but Berra’s 31-save performance in a narrow 2-1 victory over Slovakia ensured that they would remain in the top-tier for next year’s tournament. Switzerland closed out its schedule with another strong performance against Germany, winning 5-3. Berra finished with a 3.17 GAA and an .899 save percentage, recording three wins and three losses. Those numbers include a 6-0 loss to silver medalist Russia, and aside from that game Berra played a very solid tournament in goal.
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