Going into the 2016 World Junior Hockey Championship, Maple Leaf fans were filled with optimism as the future was set to be on display with both William Nylander and Mitch Marner representing their countries. Through the preliminary round, things haven’t gone quite as planned. Marner and Team Canada were eliminated in the quarterfinals after a disappointing tournament while Nylander has missed all but one period after suffering a concussion from a blindside hit in the opener against Switzerland. After Swedish doctors spook optimistically about Nylander returning, Lou Lamoriello and the Leafs shut that idea down quickly putting an end to his tournament. The only bright side of the Nylander injury was that it opened the door for Leaf fans to focus on another Swede that just might be more than many expected.
Dmytro Timashov – Sweden
While it has been a rather disappointing tournament for Maple Leafs fans that had hoped to get a glimpse of their franchise cornerstone William Nylander, it has been a coming out party for Timashov the 5th round draft pick that has looked like a dynamic offensive star for Sweden. With the loss of William Nylander, Sweden needed someone to step up and fill the hole offensively and Timashov jumped at the opportunity. Playing with William’s younger brother Alex Nylander through parts of the preliminary round, Timashov has produced more than a point per game and looked dangerous every single time the puck is on his stick. His skill set is perfect for the more wide-open style of play on the bigger international. Timashov helped lead Sweden to first place in Group A and an easy quarterfinal win. His play on the international stage should make Maple Leaf fans excited that the team may have finally struck gold with a late round steal.
— The Leafs Nation (@TLNdc) December 28, 2015
Mitch Marner & Travis Dermott – Canada
The play of Team Canada has been the big story of this year’s World Juniors. Aside from a few bright spots, the team looked inconsistent, disjointed and at times dysfunctional. Finishing third in Group A after a disappointing 1-1-0-2 record, Canada was eliminated in the quarterfinals after an incredibly exciting game against Finland. In a tournament that many in this country feel they should win every year, this version of Team Canada was simply not as good as it has been in the past and lacked a sense of calm and composure that has been the calling card of Canadian hockey over the past half decade.
The majority of the team’s defence looked rather disappointing with Maple Leafs prospect Travis Dermott chief among them. Dermott was expected to be a key piece of the second powerplay unit and help add a dynamic threat from the blue-line. He did neither through most of the tournament. Dermott looked invisible at times and didn’t show the type of impact many had expected when he was named to the roster.
Up front Team Canada had been a mess and through the first three games, Mitch Marner was among a group that needed to completely change his game. He looked out of sorts on many shifts and admitted in an interview with TSN that he didn’t necessarily feel comfortable during any of the three games.
A great sign came on New Year’s Eve as Marner looked like he had turned a corner. He was one of Canada’s best players in the game against Sweden gave flashes of the kind of impact that is needed from him. With a powerplay goal and a few other very nice scoring chances, Marner was a bright spot in what was another bad game for Canada. For the first two periods of the Quarterfinal it looked like Marner was going to take a back seat but as Canada entered the third period trailing 4-3, the fourth overall pick took over. Marner scored twice on the powerplay and added s few more incredible scoring chances including one rush that would have been a candidate for goal of the year had he snuck the shot past the Finnish goalie.
Marner was the best player on either team during the third period of a high-level elimination game. He created his own chances and drove the play on every shift. He was the player Leaf fans had been waiting for. Then with three minutes left trailing by one and his team about to go on another powerplay he took a penalty that was dumb and selfish. Sure in his usual OHL play he the opponent that was roughing him up would have likely also been penalized but that is not how the IIHF works. Marner punched an opponent in the face with the referee looking directly at him. I was something that simply can’t be done, especially in that situation. It may have cost his team the chance to tie the game up and stave off elimination.
All in all, his performance in the tournament likely wasn’t something that Marner or the Leafs management will be satisfied with but at the very least we saw the talent that should have everyone in Leafs Nation incredibly excited. We saw at times that his raw talent is off the charts and with growth, both physically and mentally the sky is the limit for Mitch Marner.
Kaspari Kapanen – Finland
And then there are the Finns. The team that has had their outstanding 17-year-olds overshadow the veterans that are much further along in their development. going into the tournament, Mikko Rantanen and Kaspari Kapanen were among the players expected to lead Finland if they were to have any chance at success. Through the quarterfinal win against Canada it was the youngsters Laine, Juolevi and Puljujärvi who were the stars of the show.
Leafs prospect Kaspari Kapanen had looked decent but not spectacular playing on his team’s second line. While he has only a single goal, Kapanen has been a little snake bitten as he led lead all skaters with 16 shots through the four-game preliminary round. While he was decent through the first 5 games of the tournament, Kapanen was great in today’s semifinal against Sweden. He set up both of Finland’s goals and looked more consistent shift to shift than he has all year.
Kasperi Kapanen looks really dangerous today. Creating offensively almost every shift.
— Todd Cordell (@ToddCordell) January 4, 2016
Fans in Toronto will get another look at Kapanen as he will look to lead Finland to a gold medal on home ice tomorrow. He was the key piece in the trade that sent Phil Kessel to Pittsburg and it is important for the Maple Leafs that he can show he’s worth it. It’s been an up and down year for him but a gold medal could definitely go a long way in propelling him towards a great second half with the Marlies. Something that the team will need with the status of William Nylander up in the air.