Prospects Take First Step Toward World Junior Championship
The USA Hockey National Junior Evaluation Camp took place in Lake Placid this past week, and the Penguins organization was very well represented.
This camp is important because it’s the first step in picking the teams for the 2014 World Junior Championship in Malmo, Sweden. The United States, Canada, Finland and Sweden all participated, practicing and playing exhibition games against each other.
Pittsburgh had one prospect on every team – 2012 first-round pick Derrick Pouliot (Canada); 2012 first-round pick Olli Maatta (Finland); 2012 third-round pick Oskar Sundqvist (Sweden) and 2013 third-round pick Jake Guentzel (USA).
Here’s a look at how each of the prospects did…
DERRICK POULIOT, CANADA
Defenseman Derrick Pouliot, drafted by Pittsburgh in the first round (8th overall) of the 2012 NHL Draft, was scratched for Canada’s first game of the week, a 5-3 win over Finland, but played in their remaining two games against Sweden (7-3 win) and the United States (5-1 loss). He was paired with Damon Severson for both of those contests and did not record any points.
Pouliot accomplished a career first this past season when he and his junior team, the Portland Winterhawks, won the Western Hockey League championship in their third straight appearance in the final. Now Pouliot is battling to accomplish another goal – playing in his first-ever World Junior Championship. He came close last year, but was ultimately one of the final roster cuts for Team Canada’s 2013 World Junior Championship team.
At the time Penguins assistant to the general manager Tom Fitzgerald said, “For Derrick to get invited to the camp and have a chance to make the team, I think it’s a great experience for him. Whether he makes it or not, it’s the experience in itself. … If it doesn’t happen that’s OK, too. It doesn’t change how we feel about him as a prospect by any means. It’s just a hurdle, a little adversity. Moving forward it’s going to help him.”
If Pouliot does make Canada’s final roster this year, he will be playing for Brent Sutter, father of Penguins center Brandon Sutter. Canada would likely count on him to provide offense from the blue line and skate on the power play.
OLLI MAATTA, FINLAND
Defenseman Olli Maatta recorded four assists in Finland’s first game on Monday vs. USA White, but missed his team’s next two contests with what NHL.com’s Adam Kimelman reported was a flu-like illness.
Fortunately, Maatta – who served as his country’s team captain this week – was able to recover in time to play in Finland’s fourth and final game on Saturday, a 3-2 win over Sweden.
That being said, missing games is not an issue for Maatta, as he is virtually a lock to make Finland’s roster for 2014 World Junior Championship. He’s been on their national junior team since he was 16 years old, representing his country at each of the last three World Junior Championships (2011, ’12, ’13) – serving as alternate captain at the most recent tournament.
JAKE GUENTZEL, UNITED STATES
Being invited to this camp was a big deal for Minnesota native Jake Guentzel, who was drafted in June by the Penguins in the third round (77th overall). Team USA is the tournament's defending champion, defeating Sweden 3-1 to capture gold, so for the young center to play alongside the country's most elite talent in his age group and get evaluated by the staff this past week is a very positive step in his development.
Team USA split up into two teams (Blue and White) for games vs. Sweden and Finland on Sunday and Monday. After playing in both of USA White’s games, recording one assist, USA Hockey sent home 13 players, trimming its camp roster from 43 to 31 players, and Guentzel made the cut.
He played in one of USA’s three remaining games, a 4-3 win over Finland on Thursday. Guentzel was a healthy scratch in Wednesday’s 4-0 loss to Sweden and their 5-1 win over Canada on Saturday. U.S. coach Don Lucia told NHL.com's Adam Kimelman not to jump to conclusions about the players who sat out vs. rival Canada.
"There will be some kids not playing that probably earned the right to be in the game [Saturday]," Lucia said, "but we're not choosing a team [Saturday] to say that this is who we think our best 22 guys are at this stage. It's still an ongoing process. We want to reward some people, but there will be some people sitting out [Saturday] that if we played the tournament would be in our lineup based on what they've done. But still, it's an evaluation process and we don't want to lose sight of that fact."
Guentzel, 18, will be attending the University of Nebraska-Omaha in the fall, where he will be teammates with fellow prospect Josh Archibald.
OSKAR SUNDQVIST, SWEDEN
Forward Oskar Sundqvist had a tough start to his camp, as NHL.com’s Adam Kimelman reported that he sustained a neck injury when he collided with a metal stanchion in the final seconds of the second period of Sweden’s second game, a 4-3 win over USA Blue.
The 19-year-old Sundqvist missed his team’s next two games with what Sweden coach Rikard Gronborg said was a sore neck. Fortunately, Sundqvist recovered in time to play in Sweden’s final game of the week, a 3-2 win over Finland on Saturday.
If Sundqvist makes the team, this would be his first World Junior Championship appearance for Sweden – who went home with the silver medal at last year’s tournament after falling to the United States in the final.
SUNDAY, AUGUST 4
FINLAND 6, USA BLUE 5
Olli Maatta (Finland) had four assists in the game.
SWEDEN 4; USA WHITE 2
Oskar Sundqvist scored for Sweden; Jake Guentzel recorded one assist for the U.S.
MONDAY, AUGUST 5
SWEDEN 4, USA BLUE 3
Sundqvist (Sweden) did not record any points.
USA WHITE 5, FINLAND 2
Guentzel (USA White) and Maatta (Finland) both played but did not record any points.
WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 7
CANADA 5, FINLAND 3
Maatta (Finland) did not play due to illness; Pouliot (Canada) was a healthy scratch.
SWEDEN 4, USA 0
Sundqvist (Sweden) did not play due to a sore neck sustained on Sunday; Guentzel (USA) was a healthy scratch.
THURSDAY, AUGUST 8
USA 4, FINLAND 3
Guentzel (USA) did not record any points; Maatta (Finland) was scratched due to illness.
CANADA 7, SWEDEN 3
Pouliot (Canada) did not record any points; Sundqvist (Sweden) was scratched with a sore neck.
SATURDAY, AUGUST 10
USA 5, CANADA 1
Pouliot (Canada) did not record any points; Guentzel (USA) was a healthy scratch.
FINLAND 3, SWEDEN 2
Both Maatta (Finland) and Sundqvist (Sweden) returned for their respective teams after sitting out two straight games. Neither recorded any points.