The 2014 IIHF World Junior Championship kicks off Thursday with three Buffalo Sabres prospects - Rasmus Ristolainen, Mikhail Grigorenko, and Nikita Zadorov - all taking part in the action. Be sure to visit Sabres.com for daily updates throughout the entire tournament.
Ristolainen returns to Team Finland for the third straight season. Ristolainen's status was uncertain in the weeks leading up to the event, but the steady defender was given a clean bill of health by the Rochester Americans training staff and is expected to be in the lineup for Finland's Friday opener. Ristolainen, who recorded two goals and six points in last year's tourney, could springboard himself into a shot with Finland's 2014 Olympic team with an excellent showing in Malmo.
Snubbed by his country for last year's tournament, Zadorov is poised to make an impact on Team Russia's blue line. The massive left-hander scored a goal in seven NHL appearances with the Sabres this season, and returned to London to collect two goals and six points in eight games prior to his departure. Zadorov will benefit from logging big minutes in pressure situations for his native Russia, which should lead to him performing as a well-oiled machine with his London Knights guaranteed a spot in the 2014 Memorial Cup.
Grigorenko will play in his third consecutive World Junior Championship. The Russian centerman posted a standout performance at the 2013 event, scoring two goals and six points in seven games to help Russia to a bronze medal. Like Ristolainen, a strong performance against his peer group in this year's tourney could help define his role for the balance of the 2013-14 schedule.
Two other Sabres prospects, J.T. Compher (USA) and Gustav Possler (Sweden), were expected to participate in the tournament, but were both ruled out last week due to injury.
Pool play schedule for Sabres prospects:
Thursday, Dec. 26
RUSSIA (Grigorenko, Zadorov) vs. NORWAY, 9:00 AM
Friday, Dec. 27
FINLAND (Ristolainen) vs. NORWAY, 11:30 AM
Saturday, Dec. 28
FINLAND vs. SWEDEN, 9:00 AM
RUSSIA vs. SWITZERLAND, 1:00 PM
Monday, Dec. 30
RUSSIA vs. FINLAND, 11:00 AM
Tuesday, Dec. 31
RUSSIA vs. SWEDEN, 8:00 AM
FINLAND vs SWITZERLAND, 12:00 PM