Canucks at the WJC: Forsling and Demko Impress on Day One


Tis the season.

The country turned its attention to the newest holiday tradition, the WJC’s, and with the tournament being hosted by Toronto and Montreal, it has been commercialized to no end. With no NHL hockey on TSN this season, the WJC’s seem to hold more influence than ever for the network’s success, and they’re milking every drop of it. Televising all four games – Denmark v. Russia, USA v. Finland, Czech Republic v. Sweden and Canada v. Slovakia – there was a ton of puck to take in on the first day of the tournament, but “too much hockey” falls on the deaf ears of 33 million people.

Of course, while Canucks fans have mostly sat on the sidelines without many noteworthy prospects taking part in the tournament in recent years, this year there is actually an interesting contingent of Canucks prospects. Vancouver has three prospects playing in the tournament (it would have been four had Cole Cassels made the US squad) and they’re all playing big roles for their respective countries. No. 6 overall pick in last summer’s draft, Jake Virtanen, had a strong game for Canada – although, to be fair, literally everyone looked impressive – but the other two picks from the Canucks’ impressive 2014 class were the ones who stole the show.

Gustav Forsling, a fifth round selection that’s playing with Linkopings HC in the Swedish Hockey League (formerly the SEL, if you were confused), impressed with his play today and was one of the stronger looking Swedes overall. It’s not a surprise given the positive reports coming in from Sweden so far this season, and his play in the pre-competition games. He had two assists today against the Czech’s, made a couple great plays in transition, and was sound in the defensive zone and moving the puck out of the zone. Given the success of another relatively unknown mid-round Canucks’ pick, Alexander Edler, there is some reason for optimism from Canucks fans if Forsling can continue to develop at a strong pace. We know that defensemen often take a long time to get acclimated to the pro game and for European prospects, that is compounded by the downsizing to the North American ice surface. But as scout Corey Pronman noted before the tournament, Forsling is getting more ice time in Sweden and leads all U20 defensemen in the SHL in scoring. The Swedes get an intriguing match-up tomorrow when they face a Denmark team that did its best to upset Russia before bowing out in a shootout. The Danes feature an exciting stable of forwards, from Nikolaj Ehlers to Oliver Bjorkstrand, that should provide us with another good look at Forsling.

After looking very shaky for the first ten or so minutes of the game, 2014 second-round pick Thatcher Demko was pretty efficient and made some very nice saves for the Americans, as they squeaked out a tough 2-1 victory over defending champions Finland. Demko, currently tending the net at Boston College, made 28 saves on 29 shots for a .966 save percentage, was moving well in the crease and made a couple of nice saves. Although he wasn’t tested too thoroughly, it was nice to see Demko get those early game jitters out of the way and fight his way through adversity, pitching a shutout after what was virtually an own goal by Auston Matthews. That mental toughness is a nice trait to see from your goalie, and certainly a rallying point for the team.

Plus, did you see his mask? Wicked cool.

Last, but not least, was Virtanen. The Abbotsford native played on a line with Toronto prospect Frederik Gauthier and 17-year-old Lawson Crouse and had a really nice game, contributing to a goal with a strong move towards the net and scoring one of his own late in the 8-0 drubbing of Slovakia. Virtanen’s drove possession to the tune of the second best shot differential on Canada, also leading all forwards in corsi-for alongside Connor McDavid. With 9 goals in his first 20 games with the Calgary Hitmen since returning from off-season shoulder surgery, Virtanen seems to be finding his groove at the right time and was a force on several shifts tonight. His skating has improved, but it hasn’t impacted his size or his willingness to be physical. It’s likely that, before the tournament is over, Virtanen will get some time with some more effective offensive options, perhaps if Robby Fabbri or Nick Ritchie aren’t playing up to par.

Here’s the goal Virtanen figured in on, thanks to the guys over at Habs EOTP:

Tomorrow’s games features Canada playing Germany at 8 PM EST/5 PM PST and an intriguing Czech Republic v. Switzerland game 5 PM EST/2 PM PST.