Scouts always say the World Junior Championship is a 19-year-old's tournament and they're often right.
However, the crop of elite draft-eligible players has a different idea in Helsinki.
Led by Finnish wingers Jesse Puljujarvi and Patrik Laine – two players who will be circled on Canada’s pre-scouting reports ahead of Saturday’s quarter-final – the youngsters have left the vets in their dust.
Puljujarvi and Laine have been nothing short of tremendous in the tourney, hosted in their native country.
Puljujarvi scored twice, including the tying marker on a third-period power play, while Laine netted the winner, also on a Finnish man advantage, in a 5-4 victory over the Czech Republic on Thursday. They’ll now get that quarterfinal matchup against Canada they were craving.
Puljujarvi continues to lead the tournament in scoring and now has 12 points, the most of any 17-year-old Finnish player in the history of the event. He passed Juha Jyrkkio, who had 11 points in 1977. Puljujarvi sits seventh on the all-time 17-year-old scoring list. Some of the names in front of him – Jaromir Jagr, Eric Lindros, Pavel Bure – are among the game’s greatest of greats.
Laine isn’t far behind. After his pivotal goal against the Czechs, Laine ranks third in tourney scoring behind linemate Sebastian Aho. Laine’s eight points put him in sole possession of fourth place on the Finnish under-18 all-time points list for a single tournament.
American Auston Matthews is fourth in scoring with eight points. As a player with a late-year birthday, the offensive exploits of Matthews, 18, are no surprise. The consensus No. 1 pick in the 2016 NHL draft is playing professionally in the Swiss league for the Zurich Lions and was among the scoring leaders before he sustained a reported back injury in late October. He still has 25 points in 22 games.
Tied with Matthews is Swedish forward Alexander Nylander, who registered a goal and an assist in a 5-2 victory over Canada on Thursday. Most of the talk heading into the tournament centred on Nylander’s older brother, William. While there is still plenty of talk surrounding William, the AHL scoring leader who was injured in Sweden’s opener, Alexander is garnering attention as well. The 17-year-old has been working the half wall on the power play, sliding down from the point where he is positioned with OHL Mississauga. Alexander is the OHL’s top-scoring rookie with 49 points in 33 games.
Another late 1997-born forward excelling is Matthews’s linemate Matthew Tkachuk. The son of former NHL power forward Keith Tkachuk has seven points to trail only Matthews among Americans. He had 59 points in 29 OHL games for the London Knights before leaving for Finland.
Lastly, Puljujarvi and Laine aren’t the only draft-eligible Finns standing out. Defenceman Olli Juolevi, also a London Knight, has six assists and has been used to quarterback the power play. He’s eighth in scoring in Helsinki.
The world juniors may typically be a 19-year-old's tournament. Just not this year.