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Flyers prospects go undefeated in Day 1 of World Junior Championships

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Philadelphia Flyers prospect Cutter Gauthier was a dominant force in the 2023 Ice Hockey World Championships. (Photo: AP)

Philadelphia Flyers prospects Cutter Gauthier, Alex Ciernik, and Oliver Bonk went undefeated in Day 1 of the 2024 World Junior Championships. Ciernik’s Slovakia won the tournament’s first game over Czechia, 6-2, and after him, Bonk’s Canada knocked off Finland 5-2, and Gauthier’s USA escaped Norway with a 4-1 win. Of the three, Gauthier was the only one to score a point. But, how did everyone perform overall?

Alex Ciernik

Let’s start with Alex Ciernik, who played in the opening game of the 2024 World Junior Championships. Ciernik, 19, was the Philadelphia Flyers’ fourth-round pick (120th) in the 2023 NHL Draft, and entered the tournament with question marks around his ability to play, thanks to a concussion. The 19-year-old did recover in time, got into a pre-competition game against Germany, and then made his World Juniors debut for Slovakia on the second line on Tuesday against Czechia.

Ciernik and Slovakia started the game under the cosh, as Czechia’s Dominik Rymon scored 1:01 into the game in a dominant period for them. Slovakia did find their legs towards the end of the period, and one could argue that Ciernik’s solo effort gave them the courage to attack the game. See: below.

The Flyers prospect very clearly has an abundance of speed and skill, and it was on display – at times. Slovakia scored twice unanswered in the second period, and added another three in a four-minute span to start the third. Ciernik didn’t play a hand in any of them, but he made a little bit of an impact in his 17:46 of ice time. It wasn’t a bad outing for Ciernik or for the Flyers, but we all probably suspect that he has better games ahead. This was just the tip of the iceberg.

Oliver Bonk

Oliver Bonk, like Ciernik, didn’t make too much noise in his 2024 World Juniors debut. However, he mostly excelled in the area the Philadelphia Flyers drafted him to address, and that’s defense.

Bonk, per the official lineup, was meant to be Team Canada’s sixth defenseman, but ended up playing the third-most minutes of any defender on the team in their 5-2 win over Finland. Maveric Lamoureux played 24:50, Denton Mateychuk played 24:03, and Bonk clocked in at 17:33. By extension, Bonk was also the third-most effective defender, and that’s why he got so many minutes.

The 18-year-old wasn’t without his lumps, though, as Finland captain Jere Lassila had his way with Bonk in Canada’s defensive zone before Lassila went on to score a cheap goal at Bonk’s expense. It was a genuinely bad rep to put on tape, but the good clearly outweighs the bad. That’s why the Flyers went out of their way to take Bonk in the first round of the 2023 NHL Draft. However, the London Knights rearguard will need to get meaner and tougher for the pros, because a pissed-off Finnish captain isn’t going to compare to NHL playoff forechecking, for example.

Cutter Gauthier

Last but most certainly not least, we come to Cutter Gauthier, who closed out the Flyers’ circuit of representation on the opening day of the 2024 World Juniors. Gauthier was the only one of the three Flyers prospects to record a point on Tuesday, and his assist was a pretty one, truth be told.

The 19-year-old didn’t have a great game at 5-on-5, and aside from Gavin Brindley, none of his teammates really did either. Team USA’s game against Norway had the feel of a trap game before Brindley started putting some pucks in the back of the net as the game carried on. What was evident, though, is that even if Gauthier isn’t firing on all cylinders, he’s going to find a way to make something happen – whether it be on the power play or otherwise.

You can clearly see the goal threat Gauthier possesses from that right circle spot on that power play goal from Isaac Howard with that ‘made ya look’ snake-eyes pass into the slot. Like his two Flyers compatriots before him, I suspect Gauthier will make a few more nice plays before the end of the World Juniors. For him, it’s mostly a matter of consistency and keeping things simple when the moment calls for it.

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