It’s a ‘no-brainer’ for AHL Players to Get Loaned out for World Junior Hockey Tournament
The phone call was nothing more than a formality. Or, rather, it should have been.
When Team Sweden asked Tim Murray if he would loan prospect Alexander Nylander for the world junior hockey championship, the Buffalo Sabres general manager said yes — on one condition.
“When they asked me for permission, I asked what his role would be,” Murray said. “I think I knew the answer, but you still want to hear it from their lips, obviously.”
Murray’s concern was likely unnecessary. Nylander led Sweden in scoring as a 17-year-old in last year’s tournament and headed into the this year’s tournament having scored 17 points in 25 games as a rookie in the American Hockey League.
As one of five AHLers on loan for the tournament — Sweden’s Oliver Kylington (Calgary Flames), Team USA’s Jack Roslovic (Winnipeg Jets), Russia’s Denis Guryanov (Dallas Stars), and Daniel Vladar (Boston Bruins) of the Czech Republic are the others — the expectation is that Nylander will build on last year’s performance and have an even bigger offensive role this time around.
One game in, Nylander put his pro experience to good use with a pair of goals in a 6-1 win against Denmark on Boxing Day. Jumping on an giveaway in the offensive zone, the Sabres eighth-overall pick deked around a defender and scored the opening goal and then picked up another on a redirection in the second period. Kylington also had an assist.
“The world juniors is a short tournament and sometimes the expectations for individual performances can get high, for sure,” Murray said. “We expect a lot from (Nylander), but I’ve been around long enough where we’ve lent players from the National Hockey League or the American league who have gone to play for Team Canada and had a limited role and you kind of get pissed off after. But that’s just the reality of it.”
As Murray added, what if Nylander, who tied for sixth in scoring last year with nine points in seven games, “can’t find chemistry with a guy that suits his style?” Or, worse, what if he gets injured like his brother did last year when William Nylander suffered a tournament-ending concussion in the first game?
Though Canada had been hoping for the services of NHLers Jakob Chychrun and Lawson Crouse, both of the Arizona Coyotes, and Anthony Beauvillier (New York Islanders), for the first time since 2011 they won’t have a player on loan from the NHL. Maybe that’s not such a bad thing.
Last year, the Vancouver Canucks loaned Jake Virtanen to his second straight world juniors with the expectation that he would play a key role in helping the team defend gold. But after managing just one assist and no goals — as well as two costly penalties in a quarter-final loss to Finland — he landed on the front page of The Province sports section under the headline “Goat-medal winner.”
“You don’t play the game to worry about the bad,” Winnipeg Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff said. “You’re an athlete, you’re a competitor, you play to compete each and every night and whatever unfolds, unfolds. You have to deal with those things in your pro career.”
When Chevaldayoff was asked if he would loan Roslovic to the U.S. team, he said it was a no-brainer.
Roslovic wasn’t picked to represent the U.S. at the world juniors last year. And while he has been a key contributor for the Manitoba Moose — he leads the team with eight goals and 19 points in 25 games — the team is on an eight-day break during the tournament.
“This is only going to help my development,” Roslovic said. “I think that this tournament is going to be good for me. I’m going in on a high with how I’ve been playing in the AHL.”
It’s not just Team USA that benefits by having a player with pro experience. The Jets believe that playing in a best-on-best tournament with tons of exposure will help Roslovic, a first-round pick in 2015, develop in ways that playing in the AHL simply cannot.
“We just think it’s a great opportunity to compete for a championship,” Cheveldayoff said. “It’s a little bit different, but Mark Scheifele went and had a good experience at the world junior level. It’s helped him. Jacob Trouba, while he wasn’t playing pro, the world junior experience helped him.
“For some players, you only have the opportunity once or twice to capture a world junior championship and we just feel that’s an important step.”
A good tournament, said Dallas Stars GM Jim Nill, can speed up the development process. The Leafs saw that last year, when Kasperi Kapanen scored the championship-winning goal for Finland and then started this season with 25 points in 25 games.
“I’ve always recommended our guys to do it,” said Nill, who said that 2015 first-round pick Guryanov could put himself on the team’s radar with a strong showing at the world juniors. “I think we’re going to see even more growth as he takes that next step after the tournament. We’re expecting him to take that next step.”
Sometimes, as with Virtanen, it’s a backwards step. Even then, the adversity can be beneficial to a player that is still developing. After all, while Virtanen is currently playing in the minors, he did score six goals in 24 games with the Canucks after his so-called “goat-medal” performance.
“There’s always a risk,” Murray said. “We’ve seen very, very good players go there and not have great success. And we’ve seen other players go there as a 13th forward and end up on the first line. It’s not just a straightforward the best players will play the best type of tournament.”