Future Watch: Caps Well Represented at IIHF 2014 Under-20 World Junior ChampionshipsPosted on January 06, 2014 by Keith Leonard
As dawn rises over the city Swedish city of Malmo on Monday morning, it will mark the first time since Christmas that the city hasn't been the center of the junior hockey universe.
On Sunday evening, the anthem of neighboring Finland could be heard reverberating in the Malmo arena as Team Finland upset the heavily favored host Team Sweden in a 3-2 overtime victory to claim the gold medal in the 2014 International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) Under-20 World Junior Championship. The annual tournament showcases the finest teenage hockey players in Europe and North America, and offers a tantalizing glimpse of what the future holds for teams in the NHL. If their performances during the 10 day grind are any indication of their NHL potential, the future of the Washington Capitals will remain bright.
TEAM SWEDEN (Lost 3-2 in Overtime of Gold Medal Game vs. Finland)
- Andre Burakowsky, LW (Drafted in the 1st Round, 23rd overall in the 2013 NHL Draft) - As a member of the host team, Burakowsky entered the tournament with lofty expectations. The Sweden roster was considered by many to be the finest the nation has iced since the early 1990's and was the prohibitive favorite to win gold on their native soil for the first time in the tournament's history. His first time in the tournament, the 6-foot-1, 179 pound Burakowsky lined up at left wing on the team's third line. The Malmo native displayed the high end offensive skills that justified a first round pick by the Washington Capitals in the NHL Draft last June, finishing the tournament with three goals and seven points in seven games. Noted for his speed and puck-handling abilities, Burakowsky was a one man offensive machine at times. Although he can be guilty of trying to do too much on his own, Burakowsky possesses the kind of top end skill that will be critical to the Caps scoring balance in years to come, although he is still a few years away from being NHL-ready. He will return to the Eerie Otters of the OHL, where he has amassed 23 goals and 47 points in just 31 games playing alongside wunderkind Connor McDavid, the prohibitive favorite to go 1st overall in the 2015 NHL Draft. Burakowsky has all the tools to be a top-six forward at the NHL level.
- Christian Djoos, D (Drafted in the 7th round, 195th overall in the 2012 NHL Draft) - One of the returnee's for Team Sweden, Djoos (pronounced "juice") turned in a solid performance for the host country, and was instrumental in forcing an overtime period during the gold medal game. The son of former NHLer Per Djoos, Christian was paired on the right side of Sweden's top defensive pairing with Linus Arnesson. Garnering time on team's second (but more effective) power-play unit, Djoos notched two power-play goals and an assist in seven games for the host country. Djoos plays a solid, simple game from the back-end. He uses his speed and positioning to break up plays and cover attackers, and is skilled at getting pucks through traffic to his teammates, or to the opponents net on the power-play. At 5-foot-11 and 185 pounds, Djoos does not possess ideal NHL size for a defenseman and will need to continue to bulk up to crack the Caps lineup, but his blend of hockey IQ and puck-moving ability should help Djoos overcome his slighter stature. He will need to spend some time in the AHL adjusting to the smaller ice surface and fine-tuning his defensive game, but Djoos has the skills to play as a bottom-pairing defenseman in the NHL at some point.
TEAM UNITED STATES OF AMERICA (Lost 5-3 in Quarter-final vs. Russia)
- Riley Barber, RW (Drafted in the 6th round, 167th overall in the 2012 NHL Draft) - Returning to defend Team USA's gold medal win, Riley Barber was named team captain prior to the tournament, and the NCAA star did nothing but live up to that responsibility during the tournament. Lining up on the right wing of USA's top line, Barber was a point per game player and finished in a tie for second on the team with four goals and six points in five games. Although the U.S. failed to secure a medal in this year's tournament, it wasn't for lack of effort on Barber's part. Consistently one of the team's best players, Barber was a fixture on USA potent special teams throughout the tournament, and even netted a shorthanded tally against rival Canada on New Year's Eve. Barber possesses a strong two-way game, but his shooting ability has been his calling card so far in his NCAA career with Miami University of Ohio, where he has 11 goals in just 18 games the Redhawks this season. Barber is looking like a steal given his draft position, and with the logjam at right wing for the Caps, he won't be rushed to the NHL anytime soon. Barber will return to the NCAA ranks a prime contender for the Hobey Baker award and has a bright future ahead of him as his versatility and intangibles should get him into the NHL ranks and make him a fan favorite for the Caps in the not too distant future.
- Connor Carrick, D (Drafted in the 5th round, 137th overall in the 2012 NHL Draft) - The only Caps prospect with NHL experience in the tournament, the 5-foot-11, 190 pound defenseman proved to be a reliable member of a USA defensive corps that experienced great turnover between the 2013 and 2014 U20 World Junior Championships. Carrick compiled three assists and a plus-7 mark in 5 games for the United States, ending a memorable year for the Illinois native that saw him score his first NHL goal. After a productive junior career with the OHL's London Nights, Carrick has been thrust into a significant role with the Hershey Bears and, like many of his team-mates, has underwhelmed the scoresheet on many nights. However, Carrick played very well against his peers in Malmo, and the Caps are pleased with his ability to move the puck and generate offense from the blueline. Like Djoos, Carrick will be given time to round out his game as there is a logjam on the blueline in DC. But since he's already been given a taste of the NHL at such a young age, it's likely we will see him back in the Caps lineup at some point this year. He will be given every opportunity to make the team out of training camp this coming fall, and has the skills to be a puck-moving defenseman at the NHL.
- Thomas Di Pauli, LW (Drafted in the 4th round, 100th overall in the 2012 NHL Draft) - The Caps practically raided the US National Team Development Program (USNTDP) during the 2012 Draft, and it started with Thomas Di Pauli. Playing in his first U20 tournament, the natural centerman was moved to the left wing of USA's fourth line, where he managed three assists in five games. Di Pauli represented the University of Notre Dame well, displaying the kind of defensive accumen and physical play the program is notorious for in the NCAA. Di Pauli lacks the skills of Barber or Burakowsky, but the high-energy grinder plays with the intensity that would be highly effective on an NHL team's third or fourth line. Di Pauli will likely remain at Notre Dame for the forseeable future, honing the skills that could make him a valuable role player on the Caps in a few years time.