Kings and Ducks prospects excel at world junior championship
Kings director of player personnel Nelson Emerson has spent a lot of time in front of his TV the last two weeks.
He’s had no choice, with Kings prospects playing in the world junior championship almost every night.
“I watch every game,” he said. “Every minute.”
Most other coaches and executives for the Kings, who had an NHL-high nine prospects participate in the tournament, and the Ducks, who had six, did the same.
The world junior championship is the biggest pressure cooker for the sport’s top under-20 players, acting almost like hockey’s version of March Madness. Though it’s only a small factor in the overall scouting equation, it gives each player’s parent club a chance to evaluate him under the spotlight of one of the sport’s biggest stages.
“We really believe in this tournament,” Emerson said. “There’s a lot of pressure. There’s a lot of pride playing for your country. The stage is high. Everybody’s watching, especially this year.”
And over the two-week tournament staged in a spectator-less bubble in Edmonton, Canada, prospects from the two Southland clubs shined the brightest.
Ducks winger Trevor Zegras led the event in scoring, tallying 18 points in seven games for Team USA to earn tournament MVP honors. Kings forwards Alex Turcotte and Arthur Kaliyev played alongside him on the Americans’ top line, each collecting seven points.
In a 2-0 U.S. win over Canada in Tuesday’s gold-medal game, that trio combined for four points and both of the goals, with Turcotte and Zegras finding the back of the net to lift the U.S. to its fifth tournament title.
Scrambling to make up for lost revenue, the NHL has sold naming rights to its divisions. The Kings and Ducks will play in the Honda NHL West Division.
“To be able to play in a Canada-USA gold-medal game in this tournament,” said Turcotte, the Kings’ No. 5 overall draft pick in 2019, “it’s a dream come true.”
There were other standout prospects from the two franchises.
Ducks 2020 first-round pick Jamie Drysdale, a defenseman, anchored Canada’s blue line and had the team’s third-best plus-minus rating at plus-11.
For the Kings, Quinton Byfield, the second pick in the 2020 draft, finished fourth among Canadian players with seven points (he recorded six of them in one game), Finnish forward Kasper Simontaival tallied seven points to help his nation win a bronze medal, and all but four of the tournament’s 28 games featured at least one Kings prospect.
“We just think at this time and in a player’s career,” Emerson said, “it’s a great opportunity to be selected to any one of these teams and to go through this experience.”
There’s little new information for the clubs’ brass to glean from a seven-game event. The Kings, for instance, have been in contact with their prospects during the pandemic on an almost daily basis, keeping close tabs on their long-term development. The tournament was a possible confirmation of the brighter days ahead, a reminder of how the teams’ painful rebuilds have spawned promising futures.
Zegras tied a U.S. record for career points in the world Juniors, upping his total to 27 over the last two years.
“I’m at a loss for words,” he said after Tuesday’s medal ceremony. “It hasn’t even really sunk in yet.”
Byfield went from riding the bench in Canada’s gold-medal game last year to serving a key role this winter, despite still being the team’s youngest player at 18 years and 4 months.
“We wanted to see Byfield in a role like this, on a team that’s expected to win, how he would handle that,” Emerson said. “His tenacity on the pucks, his willingness to work and compete has been excellent.”
The NHL has released the start times for each team’s 56-game schedule. A game between the Kings and Ducks was rescheduled.
And then there was Turcotte and Kaliyev, a dynamic duo that combined for two goals Monday in a semifinal win over Finland and each recorded a point in Tuesday’s gold-medal-clinching victory.
“They respect each others’ games,” Emerson said. “They’re good for one another with the way they play. Arty is a scorer. Turcotte plays all over the ice and does a lot of the work. But Arty is doing a lot of other things too.”
Zegras, Turcotte, Kaliyev, Drysdale, Byfield and Kings Swedish defenseman Tobias Bjornfot will reportedly share a charter flight to Southern California on Wednesday and could join their NHL teams’ training camps this week.
“We’re excited about getting them here,” Kings coach Todd McLellan said. “They’re 18 and 19 years old. It’s hard to keep that in mind. But they’re all 18 and 19 — and they all have a lot to learn.”
But after the last two weeks, they’ll have a little less to prove.
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