It’s the most wonderful time of the year.
Yes, it’s the holiday season, but it’s also time for the World Junior Championships. The annual tournament brings together the best young talent in the world where dreams can come true and legends can be born.
In past years the Flyers have had as many as nine prospects competing in the tournament, and this year they are represented by four players. The four different players all come from different countries, and have different level of expectations for the tournament.
Let’s take a look at the four Flyers prospects vying for gold in Buffalo, starting with the most high-profile player.
Carter Hart, Goaltender – Team Canada
Not only is Carter Hart the Flyers prospect with the highest-profile at the World Juniors, but perhaps the prospect with the most on his shoulders heading into the tournament. Team Canada’s chance at their first gold medal since 2015 lies in the pads of the Flyers’ goaltending prospect.
Everyone remember’s last year’s gold medal game, with Troy Terry playing hero as Carter Hart and Canada went home with the silver medal. Hart is back and better than ever as he looks to revenge last year’s fate.
This is Hart’s final year in junior hockey after being one of the best goalies at that level last season. Hart was named the WHL Top Goaltender in both 2015-16 and 2016-17 seasons, and is in line for another. Before leaving Everett to join Canada for tournament preparation, Hart won four-straight WHL Goalie of the Week awards, including three-straight CHL Goalie of the Week awards. It’s been an unbelievable season for Hart.
Hart is 11-1 over his last 12 games with five shutouts. He’s stopped 402 of 412 shots over that span for a save percentage of .976. He leads the WHL and CHL with five shutouts, a 1.32 GAA, and a .961 SV%.
Last week Hart was perfect in pre-tournament action, and he’ll be the guy to beat in these coming weeks for Canada.
Team Canada schedule
- Tuesday, 4:00 p.m. vs. Finland
- Wednesday, 7:00 p.m. vs. Slovakia
- Friday, 3:00 p.m. vs. USA (at New Era Field)
- Saturday, 8:00 p.m. vs. Denmark
German Rubtsov, Forward – Team Russia
German Rubtsov has fallen under the radar a bit in terms of Flyers prospects this season, but he’ll get a huge chance with Team Russia. As one of the elder statesmen on the team, Rubtsov will be on one of Russia’s top lines as a center.
Rubtsov has disappointed this season with just a point per game, which is a bit behind his peers of his draft class, but the World Juniors could be a chance to jumpstart him. He hasn’t been able to get settled anywhere over the past two seasons. First he was in Russia, then he finally came over to Chicoutimi after the World Juniors last year and got hurt, which ended his season. He then started this year in Chicoutimi before getting hurt and being traded.
The World Juniors will give Rubtsov a chance to reset and refocus.
Team Russia Schedule
- Tuesday, 12:00 p.m. vs. Czech Republic
- Thursday, 2:00 p.m. vs. Switzerland
- Friday, 12:00 p.m. vs. Belarus
- Sunday, 8:00 p.m. vs. Sweden
Maksim Sushko, Forward – Team Belarus
Maksim Sushko will play a huge role for a country that doesn’t get seen on the big stage too often. Belarus finished in 10th place in 2016, relegating them to the D1A tournament last year, but they have won their way back and will look for Sushko to lead them.
Sushko’s experience playing North American hockey gives him a leg up on his teammates, and will in turn give him a bigger role on the team. He has played well this season for the Owen Sound Attack in the OHL, with 26 points (16 goals, 10 assists) in 26 games. He had just six more points (32) in a full season of 54 games last year, so he is on pace to shatter that mark
“Yes, it’s a really good chance to show for the world that Belarus is a hockey country and we can play against the best national teams,” Sushko said last week of being able to represent his country at the World Juniors.
Team Belarus Schedule
- Tuesday, 2:00 p.m. vs. Sweden
- Wednesday3:00 p.m. vs. Switzerland
- Friday, 12:00 p.m. vs. Russia
- Saturday, 12:00 p.m. vs. Czech Republic
Linus Högberg, Defenseman – Team Sweden
Linus Högberg will anchor a defensive corps for Team Sweden that is looking to place for a medal for the first time since 2014.
Hogberg played well during the Summer Showcase for Sweden, and he’s been having a solid season in the SHL. He is a +2 with four points in 25 games for the Vaxjo Lakers in his first full season in the SHL after bouncing up and down last year.
Hogberg is another defensive prospect in the Flyers’ deep pool. It’ll be interesting to see how he does here for Sweden.
Team Sweden Schedule
- Tuesday, 2:00 p.m. vs. Belarus
- Thursday, 4:00 p.m. vs. Czech Republic
- Saturday, 2:00 vs. Switzerland
- Sunday, 8:00 p.m. vs. Russia
Round robin play will run from today, December 26th through Sunday, December 31st. The quarterfinals will take place on Tuesday, January 2nd, the semi-finals on Thursday, January 4th, and the medal games on Friday, January 5th.
(Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)
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