The 2019 World Junior Championships just wrapped up with Finland beating Team USA for the gold medal. No Avs involved in the final but there were 4 representing the org throughout the tournament. Now it’s back to their club teams for the rest of the season but before that let’s take a look at how each player fared.
Martin Kaut – Czech Republic – 7th
The Czechs ended up pretty close to where they were expected to but still seemed a bit of a disappointment to many. They beat doormat Denmark easily and the Swiss in OT then lost to Canada and Russia in round robin play. They drew Team USA in the elimination round and played to a respectable 3-1 loss against the eventual silver medalists. The disappointing part comes from scoring only 9 goals in 5 games. A year ago they went 3-1 in prelims, scoring 18 goals in 4 games before taking out the Finns on the way to a 4th place finish in eliminations. From casual viewing it appeared they sacrificed offense for defense this time and it wasn’t the way to go.
Martin Kaut took time out from playing with the beloved Eagles for the tourney and looked strong in a top line scoring role. He scored 3 of the Czech’s 9 goals, 2 of their 4 PPGs and his lone assist came on the game-winning goal in OT vs the Swiss.
TOI/gm: 19:32, 2nd among forwards
Points: 4 (3G/1A), t1st
Shots: 14, 2nd
Kaut was a leader on the team and an alternate captain. He played in all situations, PP and PK, which is something we hope to see soon with the Eagles. His TOI was higher than what he plays in the AHL, which we can only estimate, but even so the production level was much better. Scoring was anywhere from 50-100% greater and shots on goal about the same increase. With the Eagles he’s shooting just under 9% and at WJC’s he was over 21%. There are some quality of competition effects going on there but by the eye test he was getting better scoring chances and shooting from closer to the net.
There was a lot of hype surrounding him and teammates/fellow 1st round picks Martin Necas and Filip Zadina but the system and surrounding cast weren’t up to the task. They had a great PP (ranked #1 in fact), just didn’t draw many calls. PK was good (3rd) but they took more penalties per game than any other team and spent 10 minutes per game killing them off. They had Russia vulnerable within a goal through the whole 3rd period but couldn’t open up the game enough to get the tying goal because of the system and constant PKs. It was a tough loss and the turning point of their tournament.
It took Kaut a little while to get used to freedom he had from the lower level of competition and the tighter IIHF rules compared to the AHL but he adapted and showed well. I’m looking forward to seeing what effects this has on his pro game. I’m hoping Coach Cronin had a chance to see some of his games and the different way he was used. I like the way he played down low on offense rather than the point/perimeter way he’s used in Loveland. Eagles could really use that. He also was strong on the PK and in defensive situations that he hasn’t been used in much so far. Also something the Eagles could use some help in.
Shane Bowers – Team Canada – 6th
Canada was the favorite as the tourney opened which was probably an overestimation but not a big one. They were severely undercoached and take out the blowout win over Denmark and they struggled to score in general, especially with the power play which was 9th overall and only had 3 goals in 5 games. They were strong defensively and had the best goaltending but the atavistic offensive systems killed them in losses to Russia in prelims and Finland in the elimination round. Naturally, Team Canada management blamed the players. Classy bunch.
Shane Bowers was borderline to make the final squad coming into selection camp but he probably benefited from Coach Tim Hunter’s lust for defensively responsible players. He started as the 4th line center then moved up to 2nd/3rd line LW from strong play.
TOI/gm: 14:24, 9th of forwards
Points: 2A, t14th
Shots: 4, t19th
Bowers role ended up on the shutdown-ish line with Jaret Anderson-Dolan and Nick Suzuki/Brett Leason. He also killed penalties with Max Comtois among others. Canada’s defensive stats are impressive, 7 goals against total and only 4 at even strength in 5 games. They allowed the fewest shots per game of any team (24) and had the highest save percentage (94.2%). The defense was so good at suppressing shots and goals it even suppressed their own team’s offense.
I liked Bowers play but in all honesty the offensive output was disappointing. At BU he shoots a lot, 3.5 per game which would be around 3 times as often as he got pucks on net for Team Canada, and obviously shoots higher than 0%. I was hoping that a break from the slog in Boston would spark him back on track but no luck there. He’s got offensive talent when used properly but this is going to be a lost year due to circumstances not of his own making. BU has a lot of guys with more goals than assists which is the hallmark of poor offensive coaching.
Nikolai Kovalenko & Daniil Zhuravlev – Russia – Bronze Medalists
The Russians were expected to be in the same boat as the Finns and Swedes, the best of the rest of the Big 5 but behind Canada and the US. They always put a premium on experience, last year all but four players were 19 year olds, but this year they skewed young with six 18 year olds and a 17 year old on the roster. I liked their style and it was probably the most complete team in the tourney. They were heavy and physical but skilled, their main vulnerability was speed which the US used in the semis to squeak by with a 2-1 win.
If you haven’t had a chance to watch Nikolai Kovalenko in a game yet I highly recommend doing so. He’s not physically large but like his dad he can hit like a truck. He’s relentless on pucks and has the skill to turn defense to offense quickly and capitalize. In the second game vs the Czechs he turned a puck around on the PK, ran it to the other end and scored what turned out to be the winning goal, nearly destroying the boards and himself in the process. He was pretty banged up after that but still managed to contribute.
TOI/gm: 13:20, 8th among forwards
Points: 3 (1G2A), t10th
Shots: 8, t10th
Kovy plays about 10 minutes per game with Yaroslavl so this was a big bump up. His P/60 increased about 80% and shot rate about the same. Oddly enough his shooting percentage is a lot higher in the KHL. I think this was a good break from being a 19 year old playing against men every night.
Daniil Zhuravlev has a good history playing on Russian National teams but being a 2000 birthday meant that he was a longshot to make the WJC team until the Super Series vs the CHL earlier this Fall when he gained the trust of the staff and played more and more as the tour went on. We call him the “offensive defenseman that doesn’t score” because prior to being drafted he was more of a rover than anything else then suddenly this season he turns into a responsible defensive D. His role at WJCs was solid 3rd pair guy that can do a little of everything.
TOI/gm: 16:28, 5th among D
Points: 1A, t18th
Shots: 8, t10th
Zhuravlev plays 15:40 per game with Bars Kazan in the VHL so this is a minor increase. As I mentioned, he doesn’t actually score in the VHL so anything would be more and 0.52 per hour is just that. Shot rate at the tourney was a fair bit higher than the 2.4 per hour he produces at home. Like Kovy I think this along with the Super Series was a good break for a very young player that faces men every night along with smaller NA ice suiting his game better.
Kovalenko’s situation is pretty set, he’ll return to Lokomotiv Yaroslavl in the KHL this season and more than likely the next two after that. He seems to have the goal of playing in the NHL and wants to stay in Russia while preparing for that. Aside from his size and experience level he’s pretty close right now. I can imagine Jared Bednar watching these WJC games and nodding approvingly. When he’s ready the Avs will have a role for him.
Zhuravlev will go back to Bars Kazan and it’s unclear what his plans may be or what his parent club’s plans are for him. It’s probably a long shot but his style fits with the AHL/NHL and he’s got the talent to play pro here, the Avs should push to sign him this Spring. He’ll only be 19 so the AHL would be little rough at first next year but he’s a good upgrade on some of the pure defensive D’s they have way too many of in the system.
This ’99 birthday age group is a strong one for the Avs with Kaut, Bowers Kovy and adding Nick “Hustle Hank” Henry, who’s tearing up the WHL right now. Seeing a group of Avs prospects like this have success on a big stage like this is extremely promising. For years the focus was on oafish defensemen and grindy midget forwards that never got close to playing at WJC’s. We’re not Montreal, who had 7 guys there, but it’s a good start. Each of the 4 prospects there played a role that it’s easy to see them in for the long haul. Kaut the strong top 6 forward, Bowers the defensively responsible 2-way player, Kovalenko as a skilled middle 6/PK specialist and Zhuravlev was just getting his feet wet as an intro to next year.
One observation about the tournament in general was that there was a huge premium placed on defensive systems and play. Scoring seemed down in general, at least compared to what is normally seen on smaller ice, and the games themselves were very grindy other than a few blowouts. Being a defensively responsible player will get guys to higher levels at a younger age but developing the scoring talent that drives play in the NHL might be suffering here. The IIHF wants to move away from International size rinks going forward which is a good step but finding a way to open up play at the U20 and U18 levels needs to be looked at. I’d much rather see systems built around taking advantage of skill rather than mistakes on defense.
2020 World Junior Championships
– Zhuravlev is the only one of these four that’s eligible to return and I see no reason why he won’t.
– Sampo Ranta was the final cut by the Finns this year so he’s a logical choice for next year’s squad.
– Justus Annunen was with the Finnish National Team for a some events this Fall and should be in the running for a goalie spot next year.
– Tyler Weiss was part of the USNTDP and played on the U18 Worlds Team last Spring. He’s been injured most of this season and wasn’t likely to make Team USA this year anyway but he will be eligible again.
– Just about anyone the Avs draft in June will be eligible as well.