LA Kings: Alex Turcotte, Team USA is must-watch matchup against Russia

LA Kings (Photo by Kevin Light/Getty Images)
LA Kings (Photo by Kevin Light/Getty Images) /
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LA Kings top prospects Alex Turcotte and Arthur Kaliyev will try to score on Team Russia, Yaroslav Askarov as WJC tournament play officially opens.

As if Christmas Day alone didn’t present enough excitement, the LA Kings will have five prospects playing in World Junior Championships tournament play. Martin Chromiak and Team Slovakia had a difficult outing against the Czech Republic. The LA Kings 2020 fifth-round pick had a couple of solid scoring chances in an otherwise forgettable exhibition contest for Slovakia, who will face Switzerland on Friday.

2020 third-round pick Kasper Simontaival and Team Finland will expand upon their exhibition, squaring off against Team Germany, who recently experienced more COVID tests that originally canceled the first set of warm-up games. Friday afternoon presents a jam-packed slate of LA Kings prospect-watching, especially with Team USA set to face Team Russia in the evening.

The LA Kings are well-represented on the US squad, with Alex Turcotte, Arthur Kaliyev, and Brock Faber attempting to help head coach Nate Leaman’s group get back on track. Team USA failed to medal in 2020, ending a run of four-straight medal appearances. However, a brick wall in netminder Yaroslav Askarov stands in the way of the Americans from getting off on the right foot.

Related Story. Observations from the World Junior Warm-Up Games. light

Drafted 11th overall by the Nashville Predators as the heir apparent to Pekka Rinne, Askarov was widely considered the best goalie prospect since Carey Price, taken with the fifth overall pick in the 2005 NHL Draft. Askarov also became the highest Russian-born goalie selected in NHL history, besting Andrei Vasilevskiy, who was taken 19th overall in 2012.

In the exhibition against a high-powered Team Canada, the Russian netminder saved all 22 shots in 40 minutes of play before Canada broke through in the third period after Askarov was taken out.

Against Finland, the US received goals from Kaliyev in the first period and two more from Canadiens’ top prospect Cole Caufield to take a 3-1 lead. Turcotte had a couple of solid scoring chances, and Caufield could have potentially added two more goals, but the US will need to convert those chances against Russia.

As noted, Team USA’s opening exhibition against Switzerland was canceled due to positive COVID tests inside the WJC bubble. The Americans got off to a slow start against Finland, but it was the wake-up call they needed.

"“I’m glad we played Finland,” said head coach Nate Leaman. “They’re a really good team, and we found some things that we’re good at and they showed us some of our weaknesses. It’s important we had this game tonight to help us prepare for the next step in the tournament.”"

Askarov is one of three players returning for Team Russia, who fell short in the World Junior Championship Finals against Team Canada last year. The 18-year-old logged a 2.71 GAA and .877 SV% in five games in the 2020 tournament. He was so good for the Russian U18 team in the Hlinka Gretzky Cup, logging an absurd 1.25 GAA and .960 SV% in four games.

Despite not scoring against Canada in the exhibition, Russia had three first-round picks in the 2020 NHL Draft in Rodion Amirov (TOR) and Yegor Chinakhov (CBJ), and defenseman Shakir Mukhamadullin (NJD).

The USA also brings a lot of firepower in Caufield, Turcotte, Kaliyev, Trevor Zegras, and Brendan Brisson. This matchup could come down to the goalies and what lucky bounces may find the back of the net. The puck drops between Team USA and Team Russia at 6:30 PM (PT) and will be televised on NHL Network.