The World Junior Championship has monopolized my time over the last week or so. The tournament has been great so far and now that the preliminary phase is over, we can enter the win or go home stage.
And while you're at it, it's not too late to join a league and play Yahoo fantasy hockey!
Here are the quarterfinal match-ups:
Canada vs. Denmark
Canada won all four of their match-ups, including a New Year's Eve tilt against the United States, and outscored their opponents by a 21-4 margin to capture Group A. That sets up a quarterfinal contest against Denmark. The Danes have been a feel-good story in the competition. They took Russia to a shootout, lost to the Czech Republic in overtime and defeated Switzerland in a shootout for their first-ever World Junior Championship victory.
Canada's offensive attack has been led by the trio of Max Domi, Sam Reinhart and Anthony Duclair. The combination has remained intact since the team's evaluation camp and their chemistry has carried over into tournament play. Reinhart, who was chosen by Buffalo with the second overall pick in 2014, leads the tournament in scoring with eight points (three goals, five assists) in four games. Coyotes prospect Max Domi is just behind him with four goals and three helpers for seven points. 2015 NHL Draft prospect Connor McDavid is starting to round into form after recovering from a hand injury just before the tournament began. He has a goal and three assists in four outings.
Nikolaj Ehlers and Oliver Bjorkstrand have propelled Denmark into the quarterfinals. Ehlers, who was a first-round choice of the Winnipeg Jets in 2014, has one goal and three assists in four matches, while Columbus third-rounder Bjorkstrand has a team-leading four goals and five points.
Danish netminder George Sorensen has played valiantly, but he'll be under siege against Canada. The Canadians' scoring depth and speed will put Denmark on their heels and Canada should be off to the semifinals.
United States vs. Russia
The United States lost their showdown with Canada for the top spot in Group A, so they will draw a much tougher quarterfinal opponent in Russia. The U.S. opened the tournament with a shootout win over Finland before coasting past Germany and shutting out Slovakia. Russia avoided a major upset by beating Denmark in a shootout, but they lost in regulation to the Czech Republic and Sweden after running over Switzerland.
The United States' most consistent player has been Dylan Larkin, who plays for the University of Michigan and was drafted 15th overall by Detroit in 2014. He leads the team in scoring with seven points (five goals, two assists) in four matches. Sonny Milano has been the Americans' next most productive player with two goals and two assists in four outings. Columbus selected him with the 16th overall pick, just after Larkin went to the Red Wings. Vancouver Canucks second rounder (36th overall) Thatcher Demko has been brilliant in the tournament with a .955 save percentage and a 1.31 goals-against average in three appearances.
Russia's co-leading scorers from the preliminary round, with four points apiece, include New York Rangers third-round pick Pavel Buchnevich, St. Louis Blues second rounder Ivan Barbashev and Vyacheslav Leshchenko. Leshchenko is out front with three goals. The Russians are still waiting for San Jose draft pick Nikolay Goldobin to break through. He has one goal and one assist thus far.
Russia has been inconsistent this tournament, but they are likely to elevate their game against a strong U.S. team. Still, the Americans should come out on top here behind solid goaltending from Demko.
Czech Republic vs. Slovakia
The Czech Republic was viewed as a dark horse team to medal entering the 2015 World Junior Championship, but they had a sluggish start with losses to Sweden and Switzerland. The Czechs managed to qualify for the quarterfinals thanks to an overtime win over Denmark and a decisive victory against Russia. Meanwhile, Slovakia bounced back after getting blitzed by Canada in their opener to beat Finland and Germany. They also lost to the United States.
The Czech Republic has some dangerous players that Slovakia will have to keep in check if they hope to pull off the upset and advance. Boston Bruins first-round pick David Pastrnak has compiled one goal and six helpers in four contests. He has been productive at every level, including the AHL where he has 27 points in 23 games with Providence. Washington Capitals prospect Jakub Vrana, who was the 13th overall pick in 2014, has contributed two goals and three points in four matches.
Only Denmark's George Sorensen (142) has faced more rubber than Slovakia netminder Denis Golda (136). He has a solid .919 save percentage and his 3.12 goals-against average is actually decent considering the shot barrage he has faced. Up front, the Slovaks rely on Montreal prospect Martin Reway to supply offense. He posted three goals and five points in four games during the preliminary round. Boston draft pick (90th overall in 2013) Peter Cehlarik is the only other player on the team who has more than one point. He has a goal and an assist in four contests.
The Czech Republic performed up to expectations in a must-win game against Russia and they will do the same here versus Slovakia.
Sweden vs. Finland
Sweden won all four of their preliminary round matches and outscored the opposition 18-6 to win Group B. They failed to score five goals in a game just once and it came in their 3-2 victory against Russia. Finland was dangerously close to being sent into relegation, but they managed to sneak into the quarterfinals thanks to a 2-0 win against Germany in their final game. The Finns lost to Canada and Slovakia in regulation and the United States defeated them in a shootout. Sweden has been lethal on the power play, scoring a tournament-leading nine goals on 19 opportunities. Only Canada (50%) ranks ahead of the Swedes (47.4%) in power-play efficiency.
Philadelphia fifth rounder Oskar Lindblom and Toronto first-round pick William Nylander have produced seven points apiece to lead the team. Vancouver Canucks prospect Gustav Forsling has contributed six points (two goals, four assists) from the back end. He was a fifth-round selection in 2014.
Finland has a promising pair of youngsters on their roster. Mikko Rantanen leads the team with three goals in four games. The 18-year-old forward is eligible for the 2015 draft and he's expected to be a mid or late first-round pick. Jesse Puljujarvi has amassed a team-leading 23 shots, but he's still looking for his first point. The 16-year-old is projected to be a highly sought-after player in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft. Pittsburgh draft pick Kasperi Kapanen has been a disappointment so far. He has no points and just five shots in five games. Top defenseman and Dallas prospect Julius Honka also has to get going, as he has one goal on 15 shots.
Sweden will probably win the special teams battle and the game. In addition to a dangerous power play, the Swedes also own the best penalty kill in the tournament. They have killed off all 12 of the opposition's man advantage situations. Sweden is firing on all cylinders and Finland shouldn't give them much trouble if both teams continue to play the way they have been playing.
Final Predictions: Canada takes Gold, Sweden captures Silver and the U.S. wins Bronze