There’s someone playing competitive hockey somewhere in every month of the year and the World Junior Championship Summer Showcase events prove that. Many of the participating nations get together for some “friendly” games which are a bit more spirited with national pride on the line. Make no mistake this is still very much summer hockey with few conclusions to be drawn but it is a glimpse into how the national teams are shaping up going into the season and eventually the World Junior Championship.
As a tune-up before team Finland headed to North America to play in the full showcase event they hosted the Czech Republic for two games in Vierumäki on July 23rd and 24th. The Czechs had been playing a few minor events leading up to these games and brought some of their better talent to this finale in Finland including Martin Necas, Jakub Skarek and of course Martin Kaut. The Czechs split their two contests with Finland, trading blowouts of a 9-3 loss and then a 5-0 win. Kaut picked up a secondary assist in each game with some nice board work and then a feed to Necas to start the sequence as seen below. Kaut was playing first line right wing and first unit on both special teams plus wore an assistant captain’s letter if that’s any sort of indication as to the role he’s expected to fill at the WJC.
Kaut easily showed the two-way element to his game and the fact that’s he’s been playing professional hockey for several years. He does all the little things right and pays attention to the details in his game. Kaut really relishes his role on the penalty kill. He blocks shots, dives for the puck and hounds the opposition out of the offensive zone even in a light summer scrimmage. He got into a couple scuffles sticking up for teammates in the first game but stayed away from it in the second. The first game Kaut showed a bit of rust and still working through conditioning back up to game shape but by the second game he was already a bit smoother and quicker in his game. Kaut will hopefully take the next several weeks to work a bit on his acceleration and overall strength and conditioning before training camp.
Not exactly pretty but Kaut with an assisthttps://t.co/1Fq3amrs37
— Nathan Rudolph (@AvalancheReview) July 23, 2018
Justus Annunen unfortunately did not get in any games in Finland although he was the backup in game two against the Czech Republic. To further disappointment, he did not accompany team Finalnd overseas for the showcase and will now have to hope for an invitation to the selection camp in December. More likely it will be that Annunen will get his shot the following year in his final year of World Junior eligibility.
Sampo Ranta played in the first game in Finland as the third line left wing and did not pick up any points. He was used in some varied situations including as the extra attacker and on both special teams units. As usual, Ranta looked good with the puck and with it moving forward as he has some playmaking and obviously shooting skills but there’s still a lot of work for Ranta to be done on the defensive and without the puck side of things.
Ranta then moved on with team Finland to the showcase event held from July 30th to August 4th in Kamloops, BC. He played in the preliminary matches against the split squad of the USA and then Sweden but was quiet in those and didn’t hit the scoresheet. Ranta picked the right time to have a breakout performance once the lights turned on in the televised portion of the showcase against Canada. Ranta also played versus the full-squad United States and Sweden, making that five games in a week for him. The heavy usage should suggest Ranta is in strong consideration for the WJC team. He also scored two of the seven goals Finland managed to get on the board during the main portion of the tournament and assisted on another so team management should keep Ranta’s performance in mind as someone who can add a needed punch of scoring in a depth role.
In the Canada game Ranta scored two goals in a 4-3 overtime loss for the Finns. The first goal was a nice tip on the power play, which looks to be an area of comfort for him. The second goal was something special as seen below as Ranta used his speed to run through half of the Canadian team and then finished with a great backhand which was the standout play from the game. Ranta was slated to play on the fourth line but with a couple injuries to forwards Finland got him more ice time. He also participated on both special teams units and played net front on the first power play unit. He was frequently used as the extra attacker as well. The game against the USA Ranta wasn’t used as much at even strength and had a quieter game.
In the finale versus Sweden Ranta had a chance to show both the good and bad in his game before wrapping up the showcase. Ranta contributed a primary assist on a Kaapo Kakko power play marker in a 5-3 loss. He also made several more rushes like in his highlight reel goal. With his speed and size Ranta really is very difficult to contain streaking through the neutral zone. He also showed he has a ways to go defensively, as he puts in good effort but doesn’t yet have a great idea what to do without the puck. Hopefully Tony Granato is studying Ranta’s tape and has a plan for him to hit the ground running when he gets to Wisconsin because NHL quality talent and ability is right there for Ranta if he can round out his game.
Oh my, Ok Ranta I see you.https://t.co/2MCtgaBMfQ
— Nathan Rudolph (@AvalancheReview) August 3, 2018
Shane Bowers was part of Canada’s split squad team white and saw a couple games of preliminary action mostly in a second line center role. He had possibly the standout moment against USA Blue which forced a great save on a two on zero and then picked up an assist on the power play. Bowers did not play in the game against Finland as Canada chose to not make any cuts and kept a larger roster.
In the 4-1 win against Sweden Bowers would get into the action playing mostly on a second line and was on the first power play unit. He got an assist on Mackenzie Entwistle’s goal as seen below with some hard work on a scramble play in front of the net. Bowers heated up as the game went on and found chemistry with his linemates and showed his excellent board work and attention to defensive detail. Bowers got a couple good looks at the end of the game as well.
Canada consolidated their lineup for the 6-4 finale win against the USA and Bowers was centering the third line in more of a support role and was on the first unit penalty kill. He was even entrusted out on a 5 on 3 covering the Hughes brothers. This game was a better idea of what team Canada will look like for the WJC and how Bowers could be used if he makes the team. He showed well through the showcase with poise, speed and can chip in offensively. It’s up to the coaches to best construct a line that can find chemistry and add a bit of offense but Bowers should be in the mix for that sort of opportunity.