by Corey Pronman
Here are my thoughts from the 12/20 World Junior exhibition games:
Aaron Ekblad (2014) will be making a strong bid at this tournament to be the #1 pick in this summer’s draft. Today he took on top pairing duties, including top PP and PK responsibility and excelled doing so. He’s a very physically advanced 17 year old who can make stops with his body and reads on top of being a good puck-mover. His skating didn’t look to be an issue at all as well on the big ice, as was the case at the Ivan Hlinka.
Connor McDavid (2015) is a player you run out of good things to say about. He’s an elite skater and puck handler with arguably generational hockey sense. His ability to anticipate the game is second to none, and he’s the best pick pocket I’ve ever seen at the prospect level. He could be one of the best 16 year olds to play at the World Juniors in the modern era.
Anthony Mantha (DET) beat out Hunter Shinkaruk (VAN) in a battle for a spot on Canada, as the latter was cut. Mantha didn’t do a ton early on, but later in the game showed the speed and offensive creativity that makes him pretty desirable as a prospect for a big man. Shinkaruk has not looked himself since a hip injury in October for the last few weeks and this cut almost seemed inevitable.
Teuvo Teravainen (CHI) was by far Finland’s best player and it’s pretty expected at this point. His ability to think the game in the offensive zone is really high-end, with his creativity, vision and ability to make unusual plays being the main driver of scoring chances for the Finns.
Esa Lindell (DAL) had a solid game. Until Rasmus Ristolainen arrives, Lindell seems to be one of the go-to options for offense from the blue line and he embraced the role. Lindell joined the rush, activated well from the point and was dangerous on the man advantage. He made a few nice plays in his end as well.
There wasn’t a ton to talk about from the USA today, but their top line showed the best flashes as they did at the summer camp. Nic Kerdiles (ANA)- Dan O’Regan (SJ) and Riley Barber (WSH) generated a fair amount of chances and all certainly have the offensive ability to do so when the games count.
Stefan Matteau (NJD) showed a few good flashes in terms of power and skill, but his moments didn’t really lead to much in terms of scoring chances. He’ll be a guy to monitor for this event.
Alexander Wennberg (CBJ) was excellent today. He was simply just fine in the summer, but has played pretty well in the SHL and that showed today. He created two of SWE’s goals and both were very difficult and creative offensive plays. With that part of his skill set, plus good speed, and a committed defensive game he’s a really intriguing prospect.
Gustav Olofsson (MIN) is a player I haven’t gotten to see since he was in the USHL last season and he was a pleasant surprise. He played in all situations, showing good two-way hockey sense moving the puck well and sticking to his check. Olofsson didn’t stand out in any big way, but he quietly noticeable.
Brett Pesce (CAR) had some pretty good moments where he would make tough defensive stops and be a factor in the transition game, but he also got turned and his so-so mobility may be exposed at times on the big ice surface.