The 2017 IIHF World Junior Championships were packed full of excitement, culminating with a thrilling 5-4 triumph in the shootout by the United States over Canada. Russia took the bronze over Sweden in the 3rd place game.
But the only people who might be happier with the tournament results than the United States are the Arizona Coyotes, who were well-represented in both preliminary play and in the medal round.
Jens Looke - Sweden - 3rd round selection, 2015 NHL Entry Draft
While most of the spotlight for Coyotes fans has been on Canada and the United States, Arizona also had a prospect playing for Tre Kroner this tournament. Jens Looke has been plying his trade quietly in Sweden for the past two seasons since he was selected at 83rd overall in 2015.
At the World Juniors, Looke played in all seven of Sweden’s games. He scored what proved to be the game winner against the Czech Republic in the preliminary round, and had an assist in Sweden’s quarterfinal victory over Slovakia.
All in all, not a bad tournament for Looke. The Swedes would ultimately fall to Russia 2-1 in overtime in the third place match, capping off a third consecutive finish in fourth place for Team Sweden at the World Juniors.
Dylan Strome - Canada - 1st round selection, 2015 NHL Entry Draft
The World Juniors were a tournament Dylan Strome was hoping to avoid. It wasn’t because he didn’t want the spotlight, but rather because he hoped to be playing for the Coyotes during the 2016-17 season.
While that ultimately did not happen, Strome made the most of his time with Team Canada. He was named captain pre-tournament, in recognition of his experience last year and his stellar start to this season; he has 16 points in seven games with the Erie Otters, good for 2.28 points per game, better than anyone else on his team.
At the World Juniors, Strome started off with a bang, with two power play goals in a preliminary round victory over Russia. And by tournament’s end, Strome was tied for the team points lead with 10 with Ottawa Senators’ first round pick Thomas Chabot, and led Canada in assists with seven.
Coming away with silver on home ice is a tough break for Strome. But for the Coyotes, Strome only improved as the tournament progressed, and demonstrated against top-tier talent the skill-set that made the Coyotes choose him 3rd overall in 2015.
Clayton Keller - United States - 1st round selection, 2016 NHL Entry Draft
After the United States’ World Cup of Hockey debacle in Canada earlier in 2016, the redemption narrative ran strong through America’s world junior team. Thankfully for the United States, Clayton Keller was there to lead the way for Team USA as they claimed their second goal medal in five years, and their first since 2013.
Keller also led his team in points, with three goals and eight assists. His final assist - one more than Strome - came on the USA’s tying goal in the third period of the gold medal game against Canada, just in case the USA defeating Canada in the shootout was insufficient bragging rights between Strome and Keller.
The strong tournament performance by Keller should also be a confidence booster for Keller after missing several games with Boston University due to injury. He currently has seven goals and eight assists in 10 games with the Terriers, good for fourth on the team in points and best on the team in points per game (1.50).
With a month to go before the Beanpot tournament against Harvard, Northeastern, and Boston College, Keller should be in great shape heading into tournament season in college hockey.
The Arizona Coyotes could not have hoped for much more; all three of their prospects at the tournament played the maximum amount of games, and contributed to their teams along the way. And perhaps most importantly, Strome and Keller were major impact players all tournament long.
This season has swiftly become about the future with the large number of young players making their debuts and the ongoing struggles at the NHL level. But the Coyotes should be encouraged by what we all witnessed from Dylan Strome, Clayton Keller, and Jens Looke at the 2017 IIHF World Junior Championships.