The Winnipeg Jets must be pleased with the performances of their six prospects at the 2015 World Junior Championships. Six is the most out of any NHL team.
In 2012, Nic Petan and Josh Morrissey played a role in Canada’s gold medal win at the U18 Ivan Hlinka Tournament, one year prior to being drafted by the Jets. Both players were also returnees from the 2014 World Junior team.
Team Canada added another piece of that victorious 2012 Ivan Hlinka squad to this year’s World Junior team in goaltender Eric Comrie, another 2013 Winnipeg draft pick.
The final North American Jet performing in this year’s World Junior Championships was United States forward Chase De Leo, a WHL teammate of Nic Petan and the Portland Winterhawks.
Also represented were Denmark’s Nikolaj Ehlers and the Czech Republic’s Jan Kostalek.
Ehlers played an integral role in the Danes’ Division gold medal win at both the 2014 World Juniors and 2013 U18 World Championships. He led all players in scoring at the latter tournament.
Kostalek entered the 2015 tournament as a returnee of the Czech team that crashed out at the quarterfinal stage last year to eventual gold medallists Finland.
Here is a complete breakdown and analysis of all six Winnipeg Jets who performed at this year’s tournament.
Team Canada: Petan
The Jets’43rd overall selection in the 2013 NHL draft is often seen as an undersized player who shies from the physical aspect of the game. With a lack in size comes a tremendous advantage in speed, which Petan put to full use for Portland before leaving for the World Juniors. Named captain earlier this season, Petan has collected 33 points in 26 games, leading the WHL team with 27 assists.
Though Petan did not live up to his scoring repertoire in the round robin – only one goal on four shots in four games – his skating and dangling ability was on full display.
A terror to knock off the puck from the neutral zone into the opposing end, Petan’s soft hands combined with quick feet ignited plenty of Canada’s chances, many of which were finished off. He led Canada with sevenassists through fivegames.
One of two Canadian players to have been traded during the tournament, Morrissey finished his final season as the Prince Albert Raiders’ captain with 21 points in 27 games. A dominant point-scoring defenceman, Morrissey displayed his natural offensive ability in Canada’s first game of the pre-tournament, sneaking behind the Russian defence to score the only goal in an eventual 2-1 loss.
During the tournament Morrissey emerged as one of the smoothest puck handling defencemen in Canada’s arsenal, often leading the attack from the backline.
The final round robin match against the United States highlighted the positives and negatives of Morrissey’s game. His power play goal in the second period gave Canada a timely 2-0 lead, but late in that contest, Morrissey committed a horrendous turnover into his own zone, which nearly cost Canada a regulation win.
An offensive-minded blue liner with strong hockey IQ and high confidence in possession, Morrissey has a slight tendency to overplay the puck. More often than not, it has worked out for the better, especially in Canada’s case. The Calgary native notched three points in five games in the tournament.
The Tri-City American left for Team Canada as one of the top goaltenders in the WHL, ranking second overall in season save percentage. Comrie performed in one exhibition match, a 5-2 win against Sweden, where the Edmonton native made 17 saves. Hemade his World Junior debut against the Germans in Canada’s second round robin game, turning aside all 17 shots.
Though the 4-0 win appears to have been a typical Canadian victory with one-way traffic, Comrie stood out in the second period as the Canadians were outshot 10-6 and even denied the Germans on a breakaway.
It was a shock to many when coach Benoit Groulx bestowed Comrie the duties of starting against the United States, especially considering Zach Fucale’s spirited 27-save performance against Finland the game prior.
Comrie kept the United States at bay for over 30 minutes, during which Canada scored two second period goals and hardly could be to blame for two of the three U.S. goals scored in a rollercoaster 5-3 win. Yet, a late slip up when Comrie allowed Dylan Larkin’s relatively tame shot past his high glove might have sealed Fucale’s return in goal for the quarterfinal match against Denmark.
Team United States: De Leo
The Jets’99th overall selection in 2014 has a five-foot-nine frame, quick hands, and a speed-oriented style of play, similar to that of Petan. It saw De Leo reach a point-per-game average with the Portland Winterhawks in 2013-14.
De Leo was a quiet performer on the world stage, and collected his lone goal of the tournament credited as a shootout winner in U.S.A.’s opening match against Finland.
With a team-leading 42 points in 34 games before he left for the tournament, it’s fair to say that De Leo definitively played his way onto the U.S. team.
Despite his strong numbers this season, along with an 81-point campaign last season, the native of La Mirada, California underperformed at the tournament. De Leo’s failure to register a single point in regulation or overtime during the entire tournament is disappointing, to say the least.
Team Denmark: Ehlers
It’s not hard to see why the Winnipeg Jets reportedly wanted to bring Ehlers into the NHL fresh out of the draft instead of returning him to the QMJHL’s Halifax Mooseheads. By the start of the 2014-15 season, the verdict was a return to the QMJHL for the 18-year-old left winger, where he notched an astounding 47 points in 23 games before reporting to the Danish junior team.
Alongside Columbus prospect Oliver Bjorkstrand, Ehlers and the Danes made a bold statement of intent as soon as the puck dropped in Group B. Both players scored in the opener against Russia, forcing last year’s bronze medallists into a shootout.
Like Petan on Team Canada, Ehlers’ speed and quick hands contributed greatly to the good of Team Denmark. It wasn’t uncommon to see his confidence with the puck come through, as Ehlers often opted to challenge more than one opponent while in possession.
More importantly, his integral role in Denmark’s 4-3 shootout win against the Swiss in the final round robin game marked the nation’s first-ever win in World Junior Championship history. The win also clinched qualification into the knockout phases. Ehlers contributed with a shootout goal and concluded the memorable tournament with a goal and three assists.
Team Czech Republic: Kostalek
As he has proven for his junior team, the Rimouski Oceanic, Kostalek stepped up as a bonafide and versatile defenceman for the Czechs at the 2015 World Junior Championships.The 19-year-old saved his best performance for when his country needed it most, scoring in a crucial 4-3 overtime victory against the Danes in his third round robin game, in which he was named the Czech’s Player of the Game.
While Kostalek is beginning to grow into a fine example of the next generation of mobile puck-moving defencemen, his physical game was a slight disappointment throughout the tournament.
A noticeable trait for most of the defencemen who play in the World Juniors, Kostalek lacked an edge to his game. However, the114th selection of the 2013 draft easily stood out among the Czech defence, which lacked positional consistency and the ability to settle the puck down along either blue line.
Repeatedly eyeing a pass up the middle of the ice to initiate a rush, he finished the tournament with a goal and two assists.
Stats do not include gold medal game