We’re still about five months away from the latest edition of the World Junior Championships, but the participating nations, and their prospects, are already gearing up.
Prospects from eight different countries held summer showcase events over the last week or so, with the Kings represented on five nations – Canada, Finland, Slovakia, Sweden and the United States.
Hockey Canada Summer Showcase – Tsuut’ina Nation, Alberta
Hockey Canada splits its prospective players into two squads, red and white, and holds a showcase event that allows each player to skate in three games during the summer. Brandt Clarke represented Team White in the U-20 showcase, and Team Dyck in the U-20 / U-18 crossover games. Quinton Byfield was invited but did not attend.
If we had begun to prepare for this article before the draft, we wouldn’t have seen a Kings prospect on Team Canada’s summer roster, but in the dynamic Clarke, the organization’s newest first-round selection finds himself in the mix for a spot on this season’s U-20 squad, coming off of a gold medal with the U-18 team a few months prior.
In the two Red / White games, Clarke skated on the blueline for Team White and tallied a goal in the first of the two contests. Starting with the puck at the blueline, Clarke displayed some of that elusiveness that had been touted of him, maneuvering himself around a couple of bodies at the offensive blueline, dishing the puck out of traffic, driving the net and finishing from in tight. Goal is embedded for your viewing pleasure below.
In Game 3, Clarke tallied three assists for Team Dyck, as the U20 and U18 prospects integrated for the final games, bringing his total for the showcase to four points (1-3-4) from three games played.
Kings' 8th overall pick in the 2021 NHL Draft Brandt Clarke with a nice goal during the Red-White game for Team Canada.
— Russell Morgan (@NHLRussell) August 1, 2021
A gold medalist at the U-18 level, Clarke seems to be in a good position to make the final roster in the winter, depending on his start to the season and who is eventually available for the tournament. You’d expect him to be right towards the top of that mix, though.
World Junior Summer Showcase – Plymouth, MI
The Kings had a pair of forward prospects – Samuel Helenius and Kasper Simontaival – representing the Finns last week in Plymouth. Both Helenius and Simontaival were a part of the roster at the most recent World Juniors, with both producing fairly solidly en route to a bronze medal.
Simontaival appeared in all six of Finland’s games across the eight days, recording a goal and an assist for two total points. Simontaival’s assist was a pretty one, a patient setup while on the man advantage, while his goal was a tidy finish off of a 2-on-1 rush in a 4-2 win over USA Blue. Via the expansive highlights we’ve seen on Twitter, Simontaival had a few additional opportunities for assists, but came away with just the two points he did.
— Lassi Alanen (@lassialanen) July 30, 2021
Helenius finished the showcase with one goal from his team’s six games, though that goal was as important as a goal can be in a summer showcase, a game-tying tally in the third period, with Finland eventually downing USA Blue in a shootout. On the play, Helenius picked off an errant pass through the middle and buried from close range for the goal.
Helenius’ play was also praised by his head coach at the tournament –
“I think Helenius is a big center and I like him a lot,” Finland Coach Antti Pennanen said. “He’s so good, he’s coachable and his attitude is good. He’s humble and he’s tough. I think someday, if everything goes well, he’s going to be an NHL player because of his attitude, size and his mental makeup.”
— Spoked Z (@SpokedZ) July 27, 2021
With both Helenius and Simontaival making last season’s squad for the World Juniors, the expectation would be seeing both players again this winter, though that obviously remains to be seen as the process plays out. Still, a pair of forwards considered likely for the final roster.
Defenseman Helge Grans was the last defenseman cut from Team Sweden at the 2021 World Juniors, a team that bowed out in the quarterfinals. This summer, he was back in the fold with the Swedes, skating in all six of his team’s games at the showcase in Michigan.
Grans found the back of the net once across six games, a tally for his team in a 5-2 defeat against USA Blue. Grans’ tally came with Sweden on a 5-on-3 power play and was a well-taken one-timer from the top of the left-hand circle. A good sign from the right-handed blueliner, who has “first power-play potential” in the eyes of Mark Yannetti.
— SwehockeyGIFs (@swehockeygifs) July 28, 2021
Armed with a full season of professional experience under his belt, and likely in the midst of another by the time the tournament begins in December, LA’s second-round selection in 2020 figures to have another crack at Sweden’s roster after a near miss in 2021. Grans signed his entry-level contract with the Kings over the summer, and is a player to watch in the pipeline this coming season.
One of Team USA’s standouts en route to a gold medal one season ago, Faber skated for both USA White and USA Blue, appearing in four games in total throughout the showcase. Teams Faber skated for went 3-0-1, while the Kings defensive prospect posted a +1 rating, though no points.
Looking ahead to this winter, Faber appears to be close to a lock to return to the midseason showcase. Faber earned himself an evolving and increasing role with the team last season as the tournament progressed, and was a standout performer in an underaged season. Now, he’ll likely be looked upon as one of the more veteran players on a team in search of a repeat.
*All Statistics Provided By USA Hockey
U20 Summer Challenge – Fussen, Germany
Slovakia was the “champion” of the summer event, with victories over the Czech Republic, Denmark and Germany. The Slovaks conceded just one goal throughout the tournament, with 14 scored, including a dynamic performance from the lone Kings prospect in the showcase.
Chromiak was the leading scorer for Team Slovakia, as he tallied nine points (6-3-9) from three games played. Chromiak scored, or assisted on, 64 percent of his team’s 14 goals during the short tournament, including four goals and three assists during an 8-1 rout of Denmark. In that game, Chromiak finished two breakaways, as well as an impressive, dancing, coast-to-coast goal, showcasing his offensive abilities and instincts.
An unreal performance by #GoKingsGo prospect 🇸🇰 Martin Chromiak, who scored SEVEN points tonight. Chromiak had four goals and three assists in Team Slovakia U20’s 8-1 win over Team Denmark U20. All points are in the video.
🎥: aisw pic.twitter.com/wwWo46Y4Yz
— Matej Deraj (@MatoDeraj) July 30, 2021
As a leading player during Slovakia’s 2020 run to the quarterfinals, Chromiak will be expected to carry a similar load in 2021. Chromiak is slated to return to the OHL, with the Kingston Frontenacs, for his final season of junior hockey. He made his AHL debut with the Ontario Reign late in the 2021 campaign.
In addition to those mentioned above, Russian defenseman Kirill Kirsanov and the Finnish duo of Aatu Jamsen and Juho Markkanen have also skated in affiliated camps, or played in the tournament, while Alex Laferriere (USA) and Francesco Pinelli (CAN) are also eligible. The tournament is scheduled to begin on December 26 in Edmonton/Red Deer Alberta.