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2019 World Junior Summer Showcase: Sampo Ranta led the way for Colorado Avalanche prospects

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What a week!

Pasi Mennander - Leijonat

The 2019 World Junior Summer Showcase ended on Saturday, and there were a number of Avalanche prospects who represented their country at the four-team tournament. Some had quieter showcases than others, but it was a great opportunity to see a lot of Colorado’s newest prospects play competitive hockey for the first time since being drafted.

If you were following along with my live-tweets of the WJSS (I only tweeted the games I was able to watch), I gave every player a letter grade after each game they played. After the showcase ended, I averaged the grades (as best as I could) to come up with a final grade for the player’s tournament. The prospects are ordered from lowest to highest grades. Keep in mind that these grades are subjective, and feel free to discuss in the comments!

Drew Helleson (N/A)

Helleson only played in USA’s split-squad games at the beginning of the tournament. He didn’t really stand out at all, and was cut from the team following the second game. I didn’t get a chance to watch him play, so I didn’t give him a letter grade. From what I could find on Twitter, this was pretty much his only notable play:

Helleson is probably a long-shot to make Team USA, as they are extremely deep on the blueline. He’ll need an impressive start to his freshman year at Boston College this fall to play his way back into the conversation.

Luka Burzan (C+)

Burzan only played two games, and he was Canada’s 13th forward in the second game. He didn’t put up any points and didn’t play on either special teams. Burzan was just one of those players who was fairly unnoticeable unless his name was mentioned on the broadcast. He had a couple of scoring rushes against Finland, and was a mainstay as a screen in front of the net. Burzan mostly played a shut down role, but he was a good forechecker, shot blocker, and battler along the boards.

Alex Newhook (B-)

Although Alex Newhook didn’t land on the scoresheet in any of his three games at the showcase, it wasn’t for a lack of trying. Newhook was most noticeable when he took the puck down the ice himself for a offensive zone entry, showing off his speed and puck control. He was a little hot-and-cold as far as standing out during games. Newhook would have one really good period and then disappear completely for the other two, or have a good shift every other shift (if that makes any sense). In the game against Finland where Canada got absolutely shelled, he was one of their better players (including three chances to score on one shift).

Newhook is probably a long shot to make the 2020 World Junior team, especially as a younger player. He had a really quiet tournament, probably more quiet than Avalanche fans and Hockey Canada management were expecting, given his performance at the U-18s in May. But if it doesn’t happen this season, Newhook will definitely be in the conversation to make the 2021 Canadian team.

Justus Annunen (B+)

Annunen opened the tournament with a 36-save performance against USA White. He followed up that with an excellent 23-save game against Canada. Here are some of the best saves he made against Canada:

However, Annunen faltered Finland’s final game of the showcase against Sweden. He allowed five goals in 12 shots after two periods of play, but got his play together in the third period. He didn’t allow a goal in the third and made a beautiful save against one-half of the Swedish Terror Twins:

A lot of the goals Annunen allowed against Sweden were uncharacteristic. It was pointed out on the broadcast that the Avalanche prospect looked tired, and I had to agree. Annunen whiffed on this shot here:

However, one bad game is nothing to fault Annunen for, and he’s still the undeniable favourite to start for the defending gold medallist Finns at the 2020 World Juniors.

Bowen Byram (A)

Byram played two games at the WJSS, and finished with two assists. He wasn’t the offensively dominant player that we were used to seeing in major junior, however, he was still Canada’s top defenseman and paired primarily with 2020 draft-eligible Justin Barron (which, if you hadn’t heard, is my dream WJC pairing). Byram was on Canada’s top powerplay unit, consistently leading the rush, and doing the little, unremarkable things in the offensive zone that would lead to scoring opportunities:

Byram is a lock to make Canada’s World Junior team in December. However, the growing expectation is that he may not be available because he’s in the NHL. If that’s the case, well, it definitely hurts the Canadian blueline (but would be great for Avalanche fans). There’s also the possibility that Byram makes the Avs out of training camp and is loaned to the tournament anyways. Regardless, if Byram is made available to Hockey Canada or playing major junior next season, expect him to be donning the Canadian jersey during the holidays.

Sampo Ranta (A+)

The expectation heading into the WJSS last week was that Byram would probably have the largest impact of the six Avalanche prospects. Boy, did that Ranta ever blow that expectation out of the water with his two point performance in the first game. By the time the final day of games rolled around, Ranta was leading the showcase in scoring and finished tied for second with four goals and two assists in five games. Even more impressive, all of his six points came at even strength.

Ranta was consistently Finland’s most dynamic forward (I say forward because damn, Anttoni Honka is amazing), and his line with Aku Raty and Antti Saarela was always creating havoc in the offensive zone. All of Ranta’s four goals were scored in different ways. He showed off his hands, skating, and scorer’s touch, and proved that he can drive offense (something that was in question after his NCAA rookie season in Minnesota). Plus, his game wasn’t all offense, either. Ranta was an effective penalty killer and played very well in his own end.

Also, as a result of Ranta’s performance this week, now all those who cover the Avalanche are aware of who he is:

Ranta should be a pivotal part of Finland’s World Junior team this year. After that, there’s a good chance he could turn pro. If this week was a sign of things to come, the Avs have a really good prospect in their system here.