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Should Lafreniere and Kakko play in the World Junior Championships?

October 20, 2020, 6:19 PM ET [97 Comments]
Jan Levine
New York Rangers Blogger • RSSArchiveCONTACT
The starting date for the 2020-21 season is still somewhat in flux. What was originally "scheduled" for December 1 has now for all intents and purposes been moved back to January 1, and even that might be a pipedream. In accordance with the change and potential further modifications, the number of games to be played next season is also up in the air. Due to these changes, following the announcement yesterday as to the dates for the tournament, inclusion of NHL prospects and under-20 players in the IIHF WJC is the topic du jour.

Bob McKenzie stoked the fire with his tweets. Steven Ellis added more fuel to the discussion with his tweet as the possible Team Canada lineup. The Rangers do have a few prominent names that could be options for teams, including a certain first and second overall pick over the past two seasons. The question is should New York allow either to play?









The tournament, which runs through Jan. 5, 2021 and begins on xmas Day, will be held at Rogers Place in Edmonton, without fans in attendance, in a secure-zone bubble similar to what the NHL used for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The US open on Xmas Day while Canada starts their tourney play on December 26. The start and end dates matter solely as they relate to the start date of the NHL season and possible availability of those under-20 for the tournament.

For the Rangers, two prominent names are included in the list of potential options for tournament play. Yes, others, including Braden Schneider and one better known name, could suit up for their respective teams. But Alexis Lafreniere and Kappo Kakko will be prominently mentioned for Canada and Finland, respectively, over the next few weeks leading up to camps' opening. 

As McKenzie noted, Lafreniere has already played in two WJC's. In addition, he suffered an injury in last year's tournament, but was able to return after missing minimal time. Kakko really burst on the scene in the 2017-18 tourney, locking up his status as one of the top-two players in the draft. What could either gain from playing? 

For Laf and Kakko, the start date to the regular season could drive the decision-making process for the team and player. If the season or lets even say training camp will begin in the beginning of January, the likelihood of either playing is remote. To have one or both of them go right from the tournament to training camp to the season without any break is risky due to the lack of rest in between.

Even if the season starts in late-January or February and is less than 82 games, allowing either to suit up is fraught with risk. Just think back to all the hand-wringing when Laf was injured and the questions as to whether he should suit up the remainder of the tourney, Now add in the specter of him being Rangers' property and the possible injury sidelining him for the regular season and/or being major. How apoplectic would you be? The same thought process could apply to K'Andre Miller, who I believe is still eligible to play, though more so on the injury and less on timing of play, since he is unlikely to open the season with the parent club. In addition, as pointed out in the blog comments, do any of them have anything to prove? Plus, while they are in a bubble, COVID still needs to remain a concern, albeit less than if traveling.

I expect Schneider to play for Canada, since the experience and ability measure him against his peers would be invaluable. The same could be the case for Matthew Robertson and Dylan Garard. For Sweden, Karl Henriksson and Oliver Tarnstrom might be options, each of whom should suit up for their country, However, the rationale does not apply to Laf and Kakko, plus possibly Miller as well, though you could argue that having any play in the tourney might be a nice lead in to NHL action. But for the reasons laid out above, I would not have the big-two and maybe the big-three suit up.

What's your view?

 
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