WJC: Mittelstadt shines in U.S. win; Nylander, Sweden take opening round game

December 27, 2017

Opening day of the 2018 IIHF World Junior Championship has come and gone, and it was a busy day for the five Buffalo Sabres prospects in Buffalo. All five prospects were in action for the Sabres on Tuesday, all playing in each of the four games scheduled for the day.

It was a highlight reel night for 2017 first round pick Casey Mittelstadt, who scored twice and earned Player of the Game honors for the United States in a 9-0 throttling of Denmark at KeyBank Center. The 19-year old was all over the ice for Team USA, registering three shots on goal in 18:43 of total ice-time for the Americans.

Mittelstadt's two goals came in an onslaught of five goals from the U.S. in the first period.

The first made the score 3-0 when Mittelstadt drove the puck to the net and cashed in on his own second chance in front of the net. Mittelstadt had room to shoot the puck, but made the charge inside and backhanded the puck into a wide-open net after his first chance never made it on goal.

His second goal made the score 5-0, and made this game a blowout before the first 20 minutes of play had ended. Mittelstadt received a nice back-pass from Nashville Predators prospect Patrick Harper from behind the net, and was able to roof a wrist shot from in-tight and over the shoulder of Danish goalie, Kasper Krog. Upon further review, the puck was in mid-air when Mittelstadt gets his stick on it, then he quickly put it up high with the flick of his wrist for an impressive goal.

Behold the soft touch of Casey Mittelstadt pic.twitter.com/5BB5yLojaR

— Pete Blackburn (@PeteBlackburn) December 27, 2017

Six other players for the Americans finished the night with two-point games, including New York Islanders prospect Kieffer Bellows who scored twice in the win. Harper and Andrew Peeke (Columbus Blue Jackets) each finished the evening with a goal and an assist, while Josh Norris (San Jose Sharks) and Quinn Hughes (2018 draft eligible) finished the contest with a pair of helpers.

It was an easy night in goal for Toronto Maple Leafs prospect Joseph Woll, who stopped all 17 shots that he faced.

The United States will take to the ice at New Era Field on Wednesday for practice before taking on Slovakia on Thursday night at 8 p.m. at KeyBank Center.

Another one of Buffalo's top prospects put up a decent showing on Tuesday afternoon as Alexander Nylander helped Sweden to a 6-1 win over Belarus at HarborCenter. Nylander registered two assists in the win, while skating the most ice-time among Swedish forwards at 20:14.

The 19-year old Nylander got off to a bit of a slow start, even though he put up a team-high three shots on goal in the first period. Nylander made a mistake early on when his lob pass at the point was knocked down by Belarus' Yegor Sharangovich, who then scored on a shorthanded breakaway to tie the game, 1-1. However, Nylander looked more comfortable in the final 40 minutes of play, and started to play with more confidence as Sweden began to pull away.

Nylander got his first assist when he found Vegas Golden Knights defenseman Erik Brannstrom coming off the bench and streaking into the offensive zone. Brannstrom made a move around a Belarusian defenseman, then rifled a shot past the glove hand of Andrei Grishenko. Nylander's second helper came on the powerplay in the third period when he found New York Rangers' 2017 first round pick Lias Andersson with a beautiful pass to the left of Grishenko.

Andersson added another goal in the third period to make the score 6-1, and officially put things away for the Swedes.

Nylander's linemate, and Vancouver Canucks' first round pick in 2017, Elias Pettersson also had a good night with a goal and an assist for the Swedes in the win.

On the blue line, Swedish defenseman Rasmus Dahlin was noticeable in the win with two assists. The projected first overall pick in the 2018 NHL Draft was skating well for the Swedes on Tuesday, and created a good amount of offensive chances while playing a smart, solid defensive game.

Buffalo's other Swedish prospect in the tournament Marcus Davidsson went pointless on the afternoon, but played well in his fourth line role. Davidsson saw 10:25 of total ice-time on Tuesday, but made a couple of nice back-checks defensively, registered a shot on goal, and won 83.3-percent of his faceoffs.

Sweden will have Wednesday off from game action before taking on the Czech Republic at 4 p.m. on Thursday at KeyBank Center.

An early tournament favorite claimed their first win of the tournament on Tuesday as Canada downed Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen and Finland, 4-2 at KeyBank Center.

Luukkonen looked decent in net for the Finns, stopping 28 of 32 shots faced in the game, but his effort was not enough to come out and get a win.

Canada got lucky on a controversial call early on in the game when Tampa Bay Lightning prospect Boris Katchouk appeared to have scored on a breakaway just 5:34 into the action. The official signaled for a goal, but the video replay never showed the puck clearly crossing goal line, and showed that the net was slightly ajar from the surface of the ice when the puck may have crossed the goal line. However, after a lengthy review, the goal stood as called.

Finland's defense, who has five NHL first round picks on the roster, left Luukkonen out to dry for most of the game as goals two and three for Canada came with defensive breakdowns in the Finnish end.

While Finland kept things close with a couple of goals, Canada kept the pressure up and put things away with their fourth goal of the game in the second period. This time, it was Lightning prospect Taylor Raddysh lighting the lamp with a spin-around shot that knuckled its way past Luukkonen.

Other than the fourth goal against him, Luukkonen played positionally well for the Finns, and allowed them to stay within striking distance throughout the game. The only problem was that the Finnish offense could not get organized with their chances, and never really threatened the Canadians in the third period.

Up next for Luukkonen and Finland is a matchup with Denmark on Thursday afternoon at 12 p.m. at KeyBank Center.

Last, but not least, the first big upset of the tournament came in the very first game of the day between Russia and the Czech Republic. It was the Czechs who managed to stun the defending bronze medalists and beat them by a 5-4 score at KeyBank Center.

Sabres defensive prospect Vojtech Budik started the day skating on the Czech's top defensive pairing with Lightning prospect, Libor Hajek. It was a relatively quiet day for Budik as he was held pointless in 18:52 of total ice-time, but he was solid defensively for the Czechs, not giving up many quality chances against his team throughout the game.

The Czechs got scoring from some of their top offensive weapons in the win, including Filip Chytil (Rangers), Martin Necas (Carolina Hurricanes), and Filip Zadina (2018 draft eligible). If the Czechs want to have any chance of making a run in this year's tournament, they need to find scoring from some of their best players. They got that result on Tuesday.

In goal, Josef Korenar was brilliant for the Czech Republic, stopping 34 of 38 shots faced in the win.

For Russia, it was a struggle for most of the game to get any continuity flowing on offense. The team could not handle the puck well while missing some key passes, and not capitalizing on their best scoring chances. 

Russia will look to rebound from their loss on Thursday when they face Switzerland at HarborCenter at 2 p.m.

On Wednesday, just two games will take place at KeyBank Center with the Swiss opening up their tournament against Belarus at 3 p.m., followed by Slovakia playing their tournament opener against Canada at 7 p.m.