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World Juniors Notebook: Nylander ready for a medal push

Alexander Nylander has a history of success at the World Junior Championship.

He's been a leading scorer at the tournament, a dominate offensive force.

But the Buffalo Sabres prospect is missing one thing.

"This is my third year and I haven't won a medal yet, so obviously I’m going to try and strive for a medal," Nylander said Monday in HarborCenter as Team Sweden practiced on the eve of the World Juniors. "I want to help get the team going. I'm sort of the older guy here, so I'm going to try and bring all the stuff that I've learned and help the young guys out as well."

Last year Nylander finished tied for the tournament's scoring lead with 12 points (five goals, seven assists). This is his third and final trip to the junior tournament entering with a total of 21 points in his 14 World Juniors games.

"It's a big impact for us," Sweden's coach Tomas Monten said of Nylander officially joining the team on Dec. 21. "He's a skilled player. He's a player that can play for us in all situations. But I think mostly for us it's the leadership that he provides. It's his third World Juniors. I think he's going to get some media exposure here and I think that can help our team as well. I think he'll stand in front of our younger guys and push them and show them and I think that will be really good for us."

Nylander will certainly get media exposure. The Sabres first-round pick (eighth overall) in 2016 will be playing in front of a friendly crowd in Buffalo.

"It's awesome," Nylander said of playing in Buffalo. "It's my future home ice so I'm real excited about that and to play in front of the fans here."

Excited, but not feeling any pressure. It's just another World Juniors for Nylander, albeit one with an opportunity to both be a leader and get his season back on track.

The forward suffered a lower-body injury during Sabres prospects camp. He missed the team's main training camp and in essence had not played a game from April to November. Finally healthy, he was assigned to Rochester and made his season debut Nov. 17 with the Amerks. He's played just 15 games this season with two goals and four assists.

"It took a lot longer than I thought but now I feel really good," Nylander said of his injury rehab. "I've been playing a couple games with Rochester and got into the rhythm now of game action. I feel really good right now."

Joining Nylander on Team Sweden is fellow Sabres prospect Marcus Davidsson, drafted by Buffalo in the 2017 second round. Davidsson was a late cut from the World Juniors team last year but won silver with the U-18 team. The forward had a slow start to his pro season in Sweden, but gained more consistent playing time and now has two goals and seven assists through 23 games with Djurgardens IF of the Swedish Hockey League.

"He's a smart kid," Monten said. "He's a little bit shy but I think he got a bigger part at home and got more media exposure and younger players, they grow from that. I think it was good for him that he had to struggle a little bit in the beginning because he made sure he didn't do anything half. He made sure he did everything full. He's really strong. I think he's one of the best conditioned players we have and he can carry big minutes for us."

Sweden opens the tournament at 2 p.m. Tuesday playing Belarus in HarborCenter in a Group B matchup.

* * *

During training camp, the U.S. named forward Joey Anderson team captain. When the program trimmed its roster to the final 23, the rest of the leadership group was also named. Forward Kieffer Bellows and defensemen Adam Fox and Ryan Lindgren were named alternate captains.

"It's obviously a huge honor," Bellows said. "I'm happy to have it but it wouldn't affect me if I didn't. I'm still going to be the player I am. I'm still going to play the same way. Nothing's going to change about me. I'm just going to do whatever I can to help this team win. It shows the respect of the guys in the locker room and the coaching staff and I can't thank them enough for that. I think anyone in that locker room could have a letter. Everyone's a leader."

All four were part of last year's gold-medal winning team and all four were 2016 NHL draft picks.

Anderson was selected in the third round by the New Jersey Devils, Bellows in the first round (19th overall) by the New York Islanders, Fox in the third round by the Calgary Flames and Lindgren in the second round by the Boston Bruins.

* * *

Along with Joey Anderson, the U.S. roster features Mikey Anderson as the pair become just the third brothers to be named to the same U.S. National Junior Team.

Neal and Aaron Broten were the first in 1979 followed by Peter and Chris Ferraro in both 1992 and 1993.

Mikey Anderson, 18, is a defenseman at the University of Minnesota-Duluth and a fourth-round pick of the L.A. Kings in 2017.

Joey Anderson, 19, is a forward at Minnesota-Duluth and a third-round pick of the New Jersey Devils in 2016.

* * *

There are always Buffalo ties and this year's Team USA has a connection other than Sabres first-round pick Casey Mittelstadt.

U.S. National Junior team assistant coach Greg Brown was drafted by the Sabres in the second round (26th overall) in the 1986 NHL Draft. After collecting 120 points in 119 games with Boston College, Brown made his professional debut in the 1990-91 season splitting time between the Sabres and the Rochester Americans. He spent three seasons in the Sabres organization with four points (one goal) in 49 games with the Sabres and 90 points (20 goals, 70 assists) in Rochester.

* * *

Team Canada named its leadership group with Calgary Flames prospect Dillion Dube serving as captain. Defensemen Kale Clague, Dante Fabbro and Victor Mete will be the alternates.

Dube is one of three returning forwards from Canada's silver medal winning team last year.

"When things are down, when we have some tough games, it's just about staying positive," Dube told the Canadian network TSN. "Going through it last year with the pressure and being able to handle it, now I can pass it on to guys that haven't been through the pressure that this tournament will put on you."

Fabbro has been a question mark for the tournament. Saturday was his first practice with his teammates since suffering a lower body injury on Dec. 15 during a selection camp game against Demark. Fabbro was the first-round selection (17th overall) of the Nashville Predators in 2016.

Clague was a second round pick of the L.A. Kings in 2016 and Mete was a fourth-round pick of the Montreal Canadiens in 2016.

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