by Corey Pronman
I will be providing regular coverage of the World Juniors at Hockey Prospectus, but if you want to ask me any questions feel free to e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or check out my twitter where I’ll be tweeting regularly @coreypronman.
10 games down into the IIHF Under-20’s round-robin round, and 10 more to go. Today’s matches were US vs. Finland, Sweden vs. Switzerland, Canada vs. Czech Republic and Russia vs. Slovakia. Here are my notes and general thoughts from the action:
It is clear Teemu Pulkkinen along with Markus & Mikael Granlund have played all year overseas as they are running their offense as though the ice is wider, going for the cross-ice plays and generally looking to stretch the ice longer than it actually is rather than working a cycle or getting pucks to the net. Even Mikael Granlund’s goal today wasn’t a shot, but rather a centering feed that went off a US defender’s skate.
I criticized Sabres first round pick Joel Armia two days ago, but today’s performance deserved praise. He was working hard along the boards, played fine defense, showed his great puck skills in flashes and showed nice effort on his scoring chances.When he’s on, he’s one of the better forward prospects out there.
I’ve heard praise about Avs goalie prospect Sami Aittokallio coming into the event, and was a little surprised he wasn’t the opening night starter for Finland versus Canada. When he was drafted he was seen as an athletic, yet raw goalie who needed work, but recently has really refined himself into a more polished goalie with better positional play and reads to combine with his above-average natural skills. Suffice to say, his performance today is obviously not his true talent level, but I wasn’t exactly surprised either.
Habs first round pick Jarred Tinordi was given player of the game honors for the USA, but I don’t think he played tremendous, more so there was no true standout player for the States. However he did play a solid shutdown game and showed the signs of progression he’s made over the last six months after a poor OHL season in 2010-11. I sung Tinordi’s praises after a brilliant summer camp playing for the USA as a very impressive defensive defenseman and that’s what he did today. He’s not a great skater, but impressive for his massive size and can close his gaps fine, uses his big frame and reads the play well.
Kings first round pick Derek Forbort is still an up and down player with great tools. He’s shown progress over the last year or so, but still has significant work to do and the game versus Finland was an example of that. The finger was pointed straight at him after a pretty bad giveaway that resulted in Joel Armia’s go-ahead goal and the rest of his night wasn’t something to write home about.
Meanwhile a 17 year old defenseman and first round lock in the 2012 draft Jacob Trouba is playing great hockey so far at the U-20’s. Trouba played as an underage player at the U-18’s last year and was pretty invisible, yet in an event two years beyond him in peak talent, he’s one of the top nations best defensemen. His shutdown ability is very impressive, and his skating ability has allowed him to show good offensive ability in the transition game.
I don’t think Devils top defense prospect Jon Merrill has been the world-killer some may have thought he would have been in this event back in the summer, but considering the fact he has not played a game all year after being suspended by Michigan for off-ice incidents he’s played well. There have certainly been flashes of the great puck-moving skills and hockey sense Merrill has been famous for.
Ducks prospect Max Friberg had a heck of a game for Sweden. Asides from notching his 5th goal of the tournament with another sniper-like goal, he showed some very good possession skills especially with his playmaking as he flashed some above-average to high-end passing skills I have not previously seen from Friberg.
After looking average at best in the exhibition game I saw and the first round-robin game, Wild prospect Johan Larsson looked pretty good versus the Swiss, showing nice physical work ethic and created several chances with his playmaking and offensive creativity with the puck.
While Jets prospect Mark Scheifele may be listed as the number one center on the depth chart for Canada, I think he’s been overtaken by Islanders top prospect Ryan Strome. Despite the two goal performance versus the Czechs, Scheifele has been fine but not great in the exhibition and round-robin games and that’s what should have been expected out of an 18 year old player who isn’t a high-end talent. Strome going into the draft was considered universally by informed evaluators as the better player, and they are the same age so it is no surprise he has looked better.
As good a player as Brendan Gallagher is, and I know Don Hay has not exactly sung Brett Connolly’s praise, but Connolly needs to be a on a top two line. Canada is only going to shoot themselves in the foot if he’s not versus the likes of Russia or the USA.
Capitals Evgeny Kuznetsov did not light up the score sheet, but wow was he on versus Slovakia. Seemingly every shift he was on the ice for resulted in a scoring chance or something that can generally close as he was far and away the best player on the ice on a team that featured Nail Yakupov and Mikhail Grigorenko. He also made possibly the best pass I’ve seen all season when he entered the offensive zone on the right side, cut to his left, then span around and with the puck on his back hand while spinning, fired a bullet pass through a tight lane of several defenders right onto the tape of a teammate on the other side of the ice while he was entering the zone. His high-end skating, puck skills and playmaking was on exhibit all night.
Red Wings top forward prospect Tomas Jurco had an impressive showing where he showed the good work ethic he did in the first game for Slovakia, but also brought the impressive possession skills he’s famous for and was really the only offensive catalyst for Slovakia.
I obviously could not get to all the players on every team who was notable, so that’s why there’s e-mail and twitter. Feel free to reach out if you have any questions about anyone not mentioned or any of my current comments.