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US Cruises Into Medal Round at World U17 Challenge

Not from this tournament, but you get the idea.
Not from this tournament, but you get the idea.
Bruce Bennett

The United States U17 team won Group B at the World U17 Challenge in Sarnia, Ontario, and now head into the medal round as the clear-cut tournament favorites.

The US opened the tournament with a 6-3 win over Sweden. They followed that up with a 7-1 win over Slovakia and a 7-3 win over Canada Red last night to finish first in the group.

The United States will now face Canada Black, who finished in last place in Group A at 3pm EST on Thursday. That game, along with every other tournament game is available for to watch live for free on FastHockey.com.

With a tournament-high 20 goals in three games--seven clear of the next highest-scoring team--the United States dominates the top of the scoring charts. Clayton Keller has clearly been the best player in the tournament, and leads in scoring with 9 points in three games, including a hat trick in the final group game against Canada Red. Nick Pastujov(Mich) is second in scoring with 7 points, and Max Jones is third with 6 points.

This tournament is sort of a first look preview of the 2016 NHL Draft. Here's a few players that stood out to me through group play:

-As expected, Keller and Jones have just dominated this tournament. Nick Pastujov has been a pleasant surprise, seeing some time on the top line and making the most of it with some hard work and gritty play. This has been my first chance this year to see Luke Martin play and he's looked good while playing top minutes. The US hasn't had to do much defending in these first three games though, which is where more of my questions were with Martin.

-Alexander Nylander, brother of Toronto first round draft choice William Nylander, has been very impressive. He can really handle the puck. He's playing on Sweden's top line with Minnesota recruit William Fallstrom, who scored a goal in all three of Sweden's games, and those two have pretty clearly been Sweden's best players.

-From Canada Red: Dante Fabbro was the only player who still has NCAA eligibility left and he was impressive, maybe the team's best offensive defenseman. I really liked WHL forward Jake Kryski off that team. Nolan Patrick, who isn't eligible for the NHL Draft until 2017 was strong too. Adam Mascherin and Victor Mete were two players that were said to not have the same high-end pro ability because of their size, but both played very strong games, and I think they'll be difficult to overlook a year from now. Defenseman Sean Day is playing in this tournament for a second time, and while he's still an elite skater, he still just isn't that good with the puck, which is going to hold him back as he goes forward.

-There was a ton of parity in Group B. Finland and Canada White tied with five points, Russia and Canada Black tied with four points. It's tough to tell whether that means everybody is really good, really bad, or really average. Probably the third one. But the US should face a fairly tough test in Canada Black in the quarterfinals(especially compared to Finland, who draws Slovakia).

-I didn't see either of the other two Canada teams in pool play. From Finland, forwards Janne Kuokkanen and Otto Makinen have drawn strong reviews. Big Russian forward Dmitri Sokolov looks like their biggest scoring threat.