Thursday, July 27, 2017

World Junior Summer Showcase: Six Flames Prospects Ready to Strut Their Stuff

As an indication of the type of talent the Flames have added to the organization over the last 14 months, six Calgary prospects will be in action this weekend at the World Junior Summer Showcase in Plymouth, Michigan.

From the 2016 draft class, Dillon Dube, Adam Fox, Linus Lindstrom, Eetu Tuulola and Matthew Phillips will all be in attendance. Joining them will be 2017 pick Juuso Valimaki.

Juuso Valimaki
Less than a month removed from when all of them were at WinSport participating in Calgary's summer development camp, they are back on the ice. Only this time, expect the level of intensity to be ratcheted up a notch.

All six will be looking to make an impactful first impression as they begin their bid to play for their country at the 2018 IIHF World Junior Championships, which this year will be played in Buffalo.

Every year over the Christmas holidays, the WJC captures the attention of hockey fans of all ages as the best 19-and-under players in the world -- other than the handful in the NHL -- go head to head in a high-intensity event that's created no shortage of drama over the years. Well, the path to putting on their country's sweater in December begins this weekend.

The venue for the dozen exhibition games to be played between July 29 and August 5 is the USA Hockey Arena in Plymouth, Michigan. It's a rink that holds just under 4,000 fans and has become the home facility for the USA's national team programs. Participating countries are the United States, Canada, Sweden and Finland.

Mining Some Late Round Gems

What's impressive about the Calgary contingent is of the 55 players in attendance that were top-50 draft picks, the only Flames player with that label is Valimaki. Not to be forgotten, 2016 first rounder Matthew Tkachuk stepped right into the NHL.

Brad Treliving
It suggests that general manager Brad Treliving and his scouting staff have done a commendable job identifying talent in the later rounds of the draft. You never know, perhaps a few years down the road, there could end up being some late round steals.

One of those possibilities is Lindstrom, who Calgary selected in the fourth round in 2016. The added intrigue this week with the Swedish centre is he was the one guy, who for precautionary reasons, did not participate in the scrimmage portion of development camp. At the time, he was still working his way back from arthroscopic surgery on his left knee, a procedure he underwent after the season to clean up a few things that were causing him some grief.

Treliving confirmed today that Lindstrom's knee is feeling better and he's going to give it a go.

As is frequently the case with European prospects, Lindstrom is a guy very much off the radar for most Flames fans. For one, he was one of a whopping nine players drafted by Calgary last year. That's a lot of names to track and when you're chosen after high-profile guys like Tkachuk, Tyler Parsons, Dube and Fox, it's easy to get lost in the mix. Additionally, we never see Lindstrom in action as he plays in Sweden.

However, should he make Team Sweden -- and he's played plenty of international hockey in the past having played both U18 and U17 for his country -- seeing Lindstrom suit up against the Russians on New Year's Eve would thrust him into the forefront for a change and would finally give fans an opportunity to see him in action.

Unexpectedly Playing Pro in Sweden

The back story with Lindstrom is he was guy that the Flames fully expected to play with his club's junior team last year. Instead, he spent almost the entire season with the pro team where he played alongside former Calgary goaltender Joni Ortio (who Lindstrom added had an "awesome" season.)

Linus Lindstrom
For Lindstrom, it was one of those scenarios where after training with his team in the off-season, he went through training camp and was still with the big club when the season began. As the season went on, he kept waiting for that call to come and be demoted to the junior team, but it never came.

I had a chance to chat with Lindstrom earlier this month at WinSport during development camp.

"I went to practice with the pro team in the summer and I got to start there, then it kept going and I stayed there the whole season," said Lindstrom with a wry smile.

While his offensive totals don't leap off the page -- two goals and six points in 50 games -- playing in the men's league at age 18 was a great learning experience and one he will be able to build on moving forward.

"Guys are much better, closer to NHL, bigger guys, older guys, stronger, so you have to play fast," said Lindstrom.

While he mostly used in a depth role, that wasn't always the case. "Sometimes I played second line, some games I played some power play. It went pretty good."

It will be a while yet before we see Lindstrom come over to North America to play. For one, he still has two years remaining on his contract with Skelleftea. Secondly, he knows he's not ready yet.

"I want to have a good season in Sweden before coming over here," he said.

As for what he has to work on, as you might guess with a guy listed at 6-foot-0 but just 170 pounds, strength is one of the areas. He says speed is another.

"My skating is the biggest," he says. "But also getting faster, bigger and stronger. I need to gain some weight. I haven't been able to train so hard this summer (because of the injury) but now I'm starting to lift more weights so it's starting to get much better."

From Skinny to Short

    Matthew Phillips
Another undersized guy in Michigan for the week who Flames fans are really excited about is Phillips.

You know the 50-goal scorer in the WHL last year is excited to get the opportunity given he's never played for Canada in an international event.

'Bubba' as he's known around the rink, is one of 26 forwards invited by Team Canada. Like the Americans, Canada will dress two separate teams for the first two games of the tournament. In perusing that long list of forwards for the red and white, two things jump off the page with Phillips.

First of all, predictably, is his size. Listed at 5-foot-6 by Hockey Canada, that would make him a full three inches shorter than the next shortest forward (Mason Shaw). Eighteen of the forwards are listed as 6-foot-0 or taller with 11 of them standing at least 6-foot-2.

Then there is his draft position.

Among the sea of first rounders (11) and second rounders (9) up front for Canada, the only player taken outside of the fourth round is Phillips, who Calgary took in round six in 2016, 166th overall.

Back For More

Phillips and Dube, local guys that train together in the off-season in Calgary, will both be in Michigan with Dube a returning member from Canada's 2017 team that lost to Team USA in the gold medal game.

"We skate with each other in the summer and work out so it's great to see him all the time," Dube said.

One of the top scorers for Kelowna (WHL), he took on a checking role last year with Canada and thrived in it. He also loved it.

"I was fourth line and everybody questions how it was and it was the most fun I've ever had playing hockey," said Dube. "It's almost more enjoyable because I don't have as much pressure and I just get to go out there and play and enjoy it."

He also saw it as a way to silence skeptics and demonstrate that he's not just one dimensional.

"I know lots of people question guys like us that kind of have our way a little bit in junior hockey. It's nice to show that I can (play defensively). Definitely playing that role this year, I won't be afraid to do it."

Similarly Decorated

As for the other three, they all boast plenty of international experience.

Tuulola did not play internationally for Finland last year but in the three seasons prior to that, he played U16, U17 and U18. Continuing to get chances to play for his country is proof that his development is coming along just fine.

It's an all-in-the-family situation for Eetu as his dad Marko played pro hockey for many years in Finland including some games for his country. Interestingly, when Marko retired just four years ago, he had spent his final three seasons as captain of HPK, the same team Eetu will play for this season.

Speaking of leadership, Valimaki was the captain of Finland's U16 team in 2013-14. Two years later, he wore the 'C' for the U18 team. Now, another two years later, it makes you wonder if he might end up wearing a letter on the U20 team.

Fox has also worn his country's colours often in his young career. Over the last three seasons, he's pulled on that Team USA red, white and blue sweater for the U17, U18 and U20 teams. Expect Fox to be a big part of this year's squad on the back end as the Americans try to defend their gold medal and get to do so on home turf.

Flames Prospects by Roster

Here are the full rosters as well as the lowdown on the six-pack of Calgary kids. Height and weight, which may vary from what is listed on the team rosters below, are as listed by the Flames on their 2017 development camp guide. They've been known to be a bit generous, although these are also growing boys so those specs are subject to change.

USA Blue (entire roster)

23 - D Adam Fox
  • Age 19, 5-11, 180 lbs
  • Drafted in third round (66th) in 2016, entering his second season at Harvard (ECAC)
  • Last year: 6-34-40 in 35 gm

USA White (entire roster)

Canada (entire roster)

LW Dillon Dube
  • Age 19, 5-foot-11, 185 lbs
  • Drafted in 2nd round (56th) in 2016, entering his fourth season with Kelowna (WHL)
  • Last year: 20-35-55 in 40 gm, 7-14-21 in 17 playoff gm

RW Matthew Phillips
  • Age 19, 5-7, 155 lbs
  • Drafted in 6th round (166th) in 2016, entering his third season with Victoria (WHL)
  • Last year: 50-40-90 in 70 gm, 1-2-3 in 6 playoff gm

Finland (entire roster)

25 - RW Eetu Tuulola
  • Age 19, 6-foot-2, 230 lbs
  • Drafted in 6th round (156th) in 2016, entering his first season back with HPK (Finland)
  • Last year: 18-13-31 in 62 gm, 6-1-7 in 10 playoff gm (with Everett, WHL)

29 - D Juuso Valimaki
  • Age 18, 6-foot-2, 215 lbs
  • Drafted in 1st round (16th) in 2017, entering his third season with Tri-City (WHL)
  • Last year: 19-42-61 in 60 gm, 0-1-1 in 4 playoff gm

Sweden (entire roster)

16 - C Linus Lindstrom
  • Age 19, 6-foot-0, 170 lbs
  • Drafted in 4th round (96th) in 2016, entering his second season with Skelleftea (Sweden)
  • Last year: 2-4-6 in 50 gm 

Schedule and TV Coverage

If you're looking to get your hockey fix, the games later in the week will be available on TSN in Canada. With the plethora of high-end draft picks in attendance as well as young 17-year-old stars like Swedish defenceman Rasmus Dahlin, who is expected to be one of the top picks in 2018, it should make for some pretty good hockey.

Note that all times listed are in M.T.

Saturday, July 29

USA White vs. Finland - 11 am
USA Blue vs. Sweden - 2 pm

Sunday, July 30

USA Blue vs. Finland - 11 am
USA White vs. Sweden - 2 pm

Tuesday, Aug. 1

Canada Red vs. USA White - 2 pm
Canada White vs. USA Blue - 5 pm

Wednesday, Aug. 2

Canada vs. Finland - 11 am (TSN1, replayed at 10 pm on TSN3)
USA vs. Sweden - 2 pm (TSN1)

Friday, Aug. 4

Sweden vs. Canada - 11 am (TSN1, replayed at 10 pm on TSN2)
Finland vs. USA - 2 pm (TSN1)

Saturday, Aug. 5

Sweden vs. Finland - 2 pm (TSN3,
USA vs. Canada - 5 pm (tape delay,  9 pm on TSN3)

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  1. Maybe the most interesting thing about the Flames prospects going to these tournies is how late many of them were picked.


    1. It doesn't guarantee anything but you like to see your prospects get an opportunity to play in the pressure of the World Juniors as it's all good experience. How many of the six will actually be in uniform at the WJC in December remains to be seen -- Dube, Fox and Valimaki for sure and I'd like to think Lindstrom also, not sure about the others -- but the more experience they accumulate even at something like this is all beneficial.

      As you mentioned, versus the alternative, it's nice to see your later round picks getting these chances. Just because they skated for their country at U18 or U16, it's no guarantee that they will do it again at U20 unless they continue their development so this invite suggest their development is coming along nicely.

  2. Adam Fox is at a new,level at the Showcase. By far the best player on the ice.

    1. Quite a performance, for sure. Now we await late December, early January, when the 'real' WJC happens and see if he can be equally dominant.