Rangers prospects Gabe Perreault and Drew Fortescue shined in Team USA's exciting WJC opener. Captain Adam Sykora played a crucial role in Slovakia's win.
Gabe Perreault made a splashy debut at the 2024 World Junior Championship in Gothenburg, leaving a mark for the United States in their 4-1 victory over Norway, who were in the top tier for the first time since 2014. The New York Rangers prospect showcased his skills with an assist and came tantalizingly close to scoring a goal.
In the early moments of his first WJC game, Perreault, the No. 23 pick in the 2023 NHL Draft, had a prime scoring opportunity but was denied by Norway's goalie Markus Stensrud, who made 39 saves. Norway didn't make it easy, putting Michigan State star and Detroit Red Wings prospect Trey Augustine to the test with some quality scoring chances. Augustine held his ground despite facing the heat, making 22 crucial saves.
However, the Boston College standout swiftly redeemed himself, contributing to the score sheet by assisting Columbus Blue Jackets prospect Gavin Brindley's power-play goal that gave the U.S. a 2-0 lead in the second period. Perreault's display of hand-eye coordination, controlling the puck mid-air and setting up Brindley for a slick finish, added finesse to the team's performance. Brindley, a returning player with a versatile role, made it 3-0 with a skillful top-corner shot after winning a battle in the left corner. Brindley brought some serious speed to the game, constantly challenging defenders and putting in the hard work on the forecheck.
Perreault, part of the Boston College trio alongside Ryan Leonard (Washington Capitals prospect) and Will Smith (San Jose Sharks prospect), contributed an assist and two shots on goal in 15:03 of ice time.
Despite the line not scoring, their collective performance remained dynamic throughout the game. Smith excelled in faceoffs, winning 14 of 17, while Leonard's 5v5 performance, going 4/5 on zone entries with an expected goals value of 2.82, underscored his impact. Perreault, displaying strength with three shots, recorded an xG of 1.36 and an xGF value of .976.
Rangers 2023 third-round pick and Boston College defenseman Drew Fortescue also stood out, executing a seam pass to his partner and New Jersey Devils prospect Seamus Casey, who found St Louis Blues prospect and Minnesota University star Jimmy Snuggerud in the slot. It resulted in a 1-0 USA lead in a game they started slowly but gained momentum.
Despite a turnover by Perreault leading to a shorthanded breakaway goal by Norway, narrowing the score to 3-1 in the third, the U.S. quickly responded. Lane Hutson (Boston University star and Montreal Canadiens prospect), who led the team in ice time at 22:56, fed Cutter Gauthier (Boston College star and Philadelphia Flyers prospect), who, in turn, set up Isaac Howard (Michigan State star and Tampa Bay Lightning prospect) for a beautiful redirection, securing a 4-1 lead.
USA Coach Dave Carle from Denver, a fan of transition play, praised the team's speed and creativity, acknowledging the challenging start against Norway. "I thought it wasn't a great start for us," he said." We draw the two penalties early, they did a good job on their kill, and I thought [Norway] came out swinging. They played well, played on their toes. I thought we got better as the game went on."
Captain Sykora to the Rescue:
Switching gears to Day 1 highlights, Slovakia pulled off an impressive 6-2 win against their rivals and reigning silver medalists, Czechia. Minnesota Wild prospect and Vancouver Giants (WHL) star Servac Petrovsky stole the show, bagging the player of the game honors with a solid performance, netting two goals and adding an assist. Assistant captain and Calgary Flames prospect, Samuel Honzek scored one, while Montreal Canadiens prospect and Kitchener Rangers (OHL) forward Filip Mesar also added a goal and an assist in the win.
Rangers 2022 second-round pick and Slovakia's captain, Adam Sykora, did more than just put points on the board. In addition to his assist, he handled the nitty-gritty details, like helping kill off three penalties and dominating in board battles. Tied at one in the second period. Sykora stepped up and dished the lone assist for Peter Repcik's game-changing goal at 18:35. This not only gave Slovakia the lead but also set the stage for five consecutive goals. Repcik, a 2024 draft-eligible forward playing for Drummondville in the QMJHL, showcased his skills.
Sykora, a second-round pick by the Rangers in the 2022 NHL Draft, led Slovakia forwards with an impressive 22:51 of ice time. That's second only to defenseman and Buffalo Sabres prospect Maxim Strbak (23:32), who logged significant minutes and chipped in with a goal. The Slovaks have 16 returning players on their roster and have medal aspirations. Their most significant strength is between the pipes as reigning netminder of the tournament, Chicago Blackhawks prospect and Green Bay Gamblers (USHL) star Adam Gajan stopped 27 of 29 shots in the win.
Canada is Grinding and winning with the fourth line:
Shifting the spotlight, Canada has been buzzing about the four-line makeup of its squad, particularly the last line featuring Red Wings prospect Nate Danielson, Canadiens prospect Owen Beck , and the undrafted Owen Allard. They were the difference in their 5-2 victory against Finland, contributing to Canada's first two goals. Despite having limited ice time (11 to 13 minutes), their impact was undeniable. With relentless forechecking and offensive prowess in the heart of the offensive zone, they combined for three points, eight shots on goal, and a plus-2 rating as a line.
Adding to Canada's goal tally was 17-year-old Boston University sensation Macklin Celebrini, a projected 2024 first-overall NHL pick, who slammed home a rebound for his inaugural tournament goal, making it 3-1 in the third period. The BU forward notched a solid goal and showcased some impressive stats, going 3 for 3 on zone exits, 5 for 6 on zone entries, and boasting an expected goals value of 1.93. He's making waves, with his performance only surpassed by Danielson's 2.32 xGF. Closing the deal was Boston Bruins forward Matt Poitras, a late roster addition, and Arizona Coyotes prospect Maveric Lamoureux, with empty-net goals.
Halifax Mooseheads star Mathis Rousseau held it down between the pipes, securing the win with 24 saves. He threw his hat in the ring to save the tournament, pulling off a jaw-dropping robbery on Lenni Hameenaho's backdoor attempt. In a 2-on-0 situation with Hameenaho and Janne Naukkarinen, the Canadian goalie delivered an absolute beauty, snatching the puck mid-air with a sensational glove stop on the cross-crease pass. Conversely, despite a strong effort from Seattle Kraken prospect Niklas Kokko, Finland struggled to find the net.
Meanwhile, the host fans in Sweden had plenty to cheer about as Vancouver Canucks prospect Jonathan Lekkerimaki and San Jose Sharks prospect Filip Bystedt both netted two goals each, propelling Sweden to a dominant 6-0 victory over Latvia.
Here's Wednesday's World Juniors Schedule (12/27):
Slovakia vs. Switzerland at 6 a.m. ET
Finland vs. Germany at 8:30 a.m. E.T.
Czechia vs. Norway at 11 a.m. ET
Canada vs. Latvia at 1:30 p.m. ET