by Corey Pronman
Day 1 is in the books and here are my thoughts on the action from the four matches. As always I am also covering these games live on twitter (@coreypronman). There are two games tomorrow with Latvia vs. Switzerland and Germany vs. USA.
Thoughts from Finland-Latvia (5-1 Finland):
This may not have been as big a blowout in terms of final score as Canada’s game but in terms of possession it was right up there. So many of Finland’s top players stood out such as Markus Granlund (CGY), Joel Armia (BUF), Teuvo Teravainen (CHI), Aleksander Barkov (2013), Ville Pokka (NYI), Rasmus Ristolainen (2013), and Miro Aaltonen (2013) who is now out of the tournament with an injury.
Armia continues to be extremely impressive continuing from the exhibition games. His skill level is high-end, arguably elite and at times he looked like he was toying with the Latvian defensemen—and when I reread that sentence it’s highly plausible he was. Armia has gotten quicker, stronger and he’s become a much better passer too. I don’t want to jump the gun because it’s only been three games, two that didn’t count and one against Latvia, but he might be turning a corner.
Ville Pokka showed significant two-way ability. On Finland’s first goal he made a stop in his end, stripped the puck, skated it up ice, made a defender give a wide gap, and dished it to Artutti Lehkonen driving to the net for a perfect tic tac goal.
The puck movement on Finland’s PP was sublime. Barkov, Teravainen, Aaltonen, Ristolainen and Granlund really showed great instincts and quick reactions. Teravainen’s skill level shone through consistently and he made it look easy at times.
19 year old undrafted Arturs Kuzmenkovs for Latvia I thought has the look of an NHL prospect. He has decent size, above-average hands and a pretty high level of offensive instincts. He could be worth monitoring as he plays pro hockey in Belarus. I was hoping to see more from Teodors Blugers (PIT) but he didn’t do much today.
Thoughts from Canada-Germany (9-3 Canada):
As I said after the exhibition games Canada’s best players needed to play like it and for the most part they did. Jonathan Huberdeau (FLA) and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (EDM) were fantastic and their creativity was very fun to watch. Ryan Strome (NYI), Mark Scheifele (WPG), Jonathan Drouin (2013) and Scott Harrginton (PIT) were good too. Canada still needs more from Dougie Hamilton (BOS) though. He didn’t play poorly, and he did make a nice assist on a goal, but he can’t be just decent as he was versus good team as he’s their top defenseman and needs to play like such.
Mark McNeill (CHI) was up and down which is to be somewhat expected as this was his first game action with Team Canada on big ice too. He made a brutal error off a defensive blue line faceoff that led to a goal, and on Germany’s first goal he left a passing lane open that led to the cross crease option. He also created some offense and showed defensive value. The other Hawks first rounder Philip Danault was a player I liked. He didn’t do a whole lot, but just another game another positive output from him which he always finds a way to do.
One observation I made is on Canada’s 2nd PP unit the right wing spot was in flux with Steve Spott alternating between Brett Ritchie (DAL) and Ty Rattie (STL) as he was looking for one of them to help Strome and Drouin create offense with the man advantage.
Leon Draisaitl (2014) was a deserving player of the game for Germany as he showed good speed and playmaking skills and should be an interesting player to watch next season.
Thoughts from Czech Republic-Sweden (4-1 Sweden):
The Czechs did not play well today with their key defenseman David Musil (EDM) taking multiple penalties and committing errors. Although I thought he showed more offensive instincts than I’ve previously noted. Their top forwards Radek Faksa (DAL), Tomas Hertl (SJS), Dmitrik Jaskin (STL) and Martin Frk (DET) created little offense as well.
On the flipside Sweden, on the day they officially lost their best defenseman Hampus Lindholm (ANA) for the tournament with a concussion, played very well. The top line of Rickard Rakell (ANA), William Karlsson (ANA) and Filip Forsberg (WSH) were as great as they were in the exhibition games with the two wingers making a few “pull you out of your seat” kind of puck skills flashes. The second line played well too with elite 2013 draft prospect Elias Lindholm standing out and Sebastian Collberg (MTL) scoring a goal and played solid.
The defense for Sweden did well too as Mikael Vikstrand (OTT) took the number one defenseman job and ran with it. He moved the puck well very on the powerplay and showed some defensive value too. Emil Djuse (2013), Tom Nilsson (TOR) and Linus Arnesson(2013) were also players I liked on the backend.
Thoughts from Russia-Slovakia (3-2 Russia OT):
The second line for Russia was their best with Anton Slepyshev (2013), Mikhail Grigorenko (BUF), and Nikita Kucherov (TBL) being on the ice for several chances, but until the overtime only converted on one and Grigorenko won the draw than led to the OT winner. Grigorenko played well but I thought Kucherov shone the most of the three as he showed a high level of individual creativity but his skating skills were apparent too.
Nail Yakupov (EDM) didn’t do all that much, which only added fuel to the fire for his critics with his comments about Canadian players earlier in the day. Yakupov was up and down in the Super Series vs. the CHL but it’s still hard to bet against such a talent not being up to the task going forward.
Russia’s defense is their main issue as asides from Nikita Nesterov (TBL) and Albert Yarullin (2013) they really had nobody else reliable to throw out there it seemed. The Dyakov-Dyblenko pairing had their good moments, as well as their bad ones too.
Maxim Shalunov (CHI) is a toolsy prospect who I thought had shown notable improvement in his all-around game since being drafted two seasons ago, but the absolutely mind-blowing penalty he took late in the third period in the offensive zone that led to a double minor, and the eventual game tying goal is inexcusable. Even though it’s only one incident and sample need to be kept in perspective, it makes you wonder about him.
Slovakia had a few quality performances today such as Richard Mraz (2013) who has been all but invisible in the OHL so far this season. Marko Dano (2013) and Martin Reway (2013) were both good too.