The Nations Network sent this Jets Nation writer to the Young Stars Tournament in Penticton, BC. I’m judging your team and bringing you the view from the Press Box.
Vancouver opened the tournament in prime time on Friday night against the Oilers’ prospects in what was really a tale of two games.
The Canucks brought a strange roster to their own tournament, with 10 invitees among their 23 healthy bodies. Injuries and sickness are the proximate cause, but one wonders where some of their AHL talent is this weekend, including Alex Friesen, Alex Mallet, Joacim Eriksson and new comer Linden Vey.
It might have helped to have a few more experienced bodies, as the Canucks simply didn’t dare roll lines against a dangerous Oilers club. The team started in a conservative set to contain the skilled Oilers group, but opened up in the second period and began managing the bench to double shift each of their stars in various parts of the lineup. The Canucks clawed back from a deep shot deficit after the first period and lost in overtime thanks to the remarkable efforts of a few key prospects.
Inside we’ll begin where we left off last year – systems stuff at the top and then a review of every player to follow. You can see the game on YouTube here. (Apologies for the delayed post – lots to watch and write out here!)
As hinted above, the Canucks started the game in a very conservative 1-4 trap formation. Limited up-ice pressure meant the Oiler defenders were able to move the puck with impunity and the static formation was taken apart by both the speedy skill wingers and the bulldozing centres of the Oilers. Worse, the Canucks were rarely seen outside their own zone in the first period. The Oilers used an aggressive 2-1-2 system to open the game, meaning two forwards were below the bottom of the circles in pursuit of the puck. In some conservative variations, the players might track above the puck. For this Oilers squad, they attacked toward the puck, meaning the top forward in the formation attacked from high to low, with the back-side or weak-side forward filling the high space as necessary. It made for a constant rotation of charging bodies and sticks, thwarting a breakout that had likely never been practiced together.
After giving up 17 shots against in the first period (and managing just 3 themselves), the Canucks opened it up a little to start the second. A Bantam 1-2-2 forecheck was used the final two periods and the team’s fortunes improved dramatically, finishing the game SHOTS
It wasn’t just the change in up-ice pressure, but the coaching staff also abandoned playing regular lines and began double shifting all of Bo Horvat, Brendan Gaunce, Niklas Jensen, Hunter Shinkaruk, and invitee Curtis Valk. From the second period on, I didn’t notice a single Canucks’ shift in which at least one of those players wasn’t on the ice.
On the powerplay, the Canucks attempted a 2-3 Umbrella formation, where Jensen, Corrado and Subban rotated freely along the top and two players created a net presence. The idea is to pull apart the top of the box for shooting lanes, but the Canucks simply could not get the passing to work. A number of collections off the boards, re-groups, and dump-ins were necessary. In the third period, the coaching staff went to an overload formation (similar to what’s used by the NHL Canucks with everyone supporting the puck on one half of the ice, but with just one look as the NHL Canucks use a hybrid system) and it created Valk’s PP goal.
On the PK, they used a 1-3 in transition, with forward pressure all the way to the goal line. It’s a little more advanced than most teams are using in game one, and it was effective against an Oilers PP group that didn’t have a solid plan of how to get into the offensive zone.
#76 Austin Lotz: The starter for Everett last year is an invite to the camp for the Canucks. Listed at 6’0″, he looks a lot bigger in the net. He tracks the puck extremely well both horizontally and vertically in the zone. His motions are efficient and he keeps his chest to the puck in every rebound situation. Pins to the post well, good hands. He was the better goaltender in this game despite the loss, stopping 34 shots from a very good Oilers squad. Making a serious case as a FA signing.
#26 Frank Corrado: He was probably too good for this tournament a year ago, and he didn’t get worse. At the same time, doesn’t seem to take these games very seriously. His range is exceptional, his skates always seem to be in contact with the ice showing good body control and power off his edges. His hands are better than you’d imagine for his player type, showing some nifty blade work in-tight against Brossoit. Huge hit on Connor Jones in the third showed his opportunistic hitting style. Can tend to roam. I’m not sure if that’s a function of knowing he can be a bit loose and make up for it at this level, or if he’s still in this tournament because he has those tendencies. He made the wrong read on the OT winner and wandered behind the net too early. Roy read him and put it back in front for Moroz. He was a team worst -3, but his other two ‘minuses’ came because of his partner in my opinion.
#57 Anton Cederholm: Came into this game with much more polish than we saw last year. His mobility has improved and he’s managing lateral movement much better. In particular, I noted his improved control in skating, keeping the play in front of him well. He looks his size on the ice (a large 6’2″/6’3″ and 210lbs) but doesn’t keep close enough gaps to make his size effective. His work off the boards is much better than a year ago, but he chooses a conservative approach most of the time. He and Jeremie Blain really struggled to move the puck out of the zone, and didn’t have competitive gaps in defensive transition. Despite some short comings, a genuinely positive game and a lot of development for the former 5th rounder in just a single season.
#61 Evan McEneny: A subject of hype before the tournament, McEneny was dependent on Subban for much of this game. His timing on the breakout was a problem well into the third period. He has smoothed his skating motion out a little and is much more confident attacking the puck carrier and supporting up ice. Need another viewing.
#67 Jordan Subban: An absolutely outstanding game. As I tweeted, he gains the zone with control on what seems like every shift. If you were looking for a possession-stats wunderkind, Subban is it. He moves the play to the right end of the rink and doesn’t let go until something develops. At the same time, the best passing defender on the team and a lot of tools from the blue line (a couple shots, good lateral movement, ability to slice into lanes). His skating is his most obvious asset – he’s very quick in small space and will add power to that, he’s very fast in straight lines, and his foot work in pivots is advanced for his experience level. Legitimately, it’s his brain that is the difference, though, and he’s much more patient than we saw last year. Looked in this game like he was starting to put it all together.
#68 Miles Liberati: Played with Corrado and even got some powerplay time early where he did not look comfortable. Bad turnover in the 1st, didn’t close to his man (Yakimov) on the Oilers’ second goal. His limbs flail a little when he skates implying poor core strength/control.
#73 Jeramie Blain: He attended this camp a year ago (healthy) and didn’t get into a game but excelled in practice. His play in this game showed a little of why he spent so much time in Kalamazoo. He’s a tall defender with good reach. He’s a chest-up skater, but a bit frenetic in his foot work in transition. His gaps are wonky and it made Cederholm’s life a little harder all game. Average outlet pass, but not well organized entering board play. Slapped it to no where a few times, lost battles on other occasions. He’s a ’92 birthday with over 100 games of pro experience, so I think we can expect more.
#40 Michael Zalewski: Was a stand out player despite a limited tool box. Excellent zone exits with control, strong board play. Struggled to defend inside-out, and got left chasing the puck carrier off the boards a few times. Didn’t push the play or generate offence, but could be counted on to keep his head above water with strong defensive awareness. The outstanding question for this player is whether he has the skill set to move beyond a minor pro checking role.
#43 Curtis Valk: Two goals in his first game as a camp invite certainly drew attention his way. But even before the goals, Valk went from centring a line with Zalewski and Jonathan Martin to being part of the rotation of difference makers the coaches trusted to change the flow of the game. After the first period, my comments effectively added up to ‘has skills, can’t break open gaps.’ Then in the second he had a terrific toe-pull and release top-corner that showed he could do a little more in traffic than he showed early. Was terrific on PK as the lead forechecker on the 1-3. Strong neutral zone passing. Always on the right side of the puck. Very impressive showing as a two-way centre with scoring.
#45 Dane Fox: It was clear from the crowd’s reaction that Canuck fans were excited to see this guy. 64 goals in 67 games last year will do that. The guy Loves to shoot. His shot is plus to elite level in this tournament, with instant release, speed, and precision. He’s credited with 4 shots, I think it was closer to 6 and that was on maybe 10 attempts. He has a bit of a James Neal thing going where he supports the puck extremely well in vertical set-zone play going low to high, but effectively does not read horizontal hockey (his back-door goal notwithstanding). He wants the play to come off the end boards. His skating is average for this tournament and he’s a bit top-heavy in his motions. His goal started by him bumping Gernat off the puck in a loose puck battle. Adequate passer, mostly using passes with a give-and-go mentality. Finds space very well in the offensive zone.
#46 Nicklas Jensen: The most pro-ready Canuck and understandably so. Big body, handles contact very well. The Kessey chance in the first was because Jensen wasn’t in puck support position, but it was a rare mistake. Jensen was the Canucks’ best puck support forward in the game as a whole. In a moment of McEneny really missing the timing of the breakout and centre reading the wrong outlet lane in the second, it was Jensen who curled back to give McEneny an outlet before the Oilers could force the turnover. Jensen not only showed his exceptional short-release, heavy wrister again, but was a noticeable force at both ends of the rink.
#48 Hunter Shinkaruk: Had a very poor first period in which he struggled to find space and couldn’t separate from the Oiler defenders. As the game wore on, Shinkaruk emerged. He became physical again, fighting through a Nurse hug/hold before delivering a back hand pass through Gernat, Nurse, and Draisaitl on the Fox goal. His skating is quick and he’s tenacious, creates a lot of room for himself and draws defenders in. I suspect he will be a force again by the end of the weekend.
#50 Brendan Gaunce: Gaunce was trusted by the coaches from puck drop and certainly was a positive contributor. He didn’t show a lot in the way of offensive skill, and it wasn’t until the coaches took him off the PP that the unit started generating chances. A few good board battles showed he was engaged. Managed passing lanes better than last year and looked less lost. His skating is still slow due to poor transition strides and ‘heavy feet’ (where the player won’t pick his feet up far enough to get a comfortable stride length). He’s only a ’94 birthday, but he’s still working on one side of his game at a time and isn’t a significant difference maker at this tournament.
#53 Bo Horvat: Extremely impressive game at both ends of the rink. He’s always on the right side of the play. Added some speed – blew by Nurse in the third and then jumped through Gernat coming out in front before passing to Shinkaruk. He doesn’t have pro level control of his skating yet, but the quickness is coming. Finds and uses space well, including on the powerplay where his stacked unit with Shinkaruk and Jensen should have had two goals late in the game. He doesn’t get touched very often, but needs to work on managing his body when he contacted. That often comes in the first pro season.
#59 Cordell James: With all due respect, my first note about this player was after the second period when I wrote, “Who is Cordell James? Has he played?” He would get laid out in the neutral zone by Connor Boland in the third to announce his arrival, but I didn’t get a sense for this player at all. Anyone get a good look?
#62: Jonathan Martin: The title of this piece comes from the fact that the distance between the Canucks’ best players and their invites is dramatic. I didn’t notice this player either and that’s usually a bad sign as I try to get at least a few shifts of every skater.
#63 Matthieu Bellerive: Small but thick, Bellerive’s primary asset is his straight ahead speed. He’s fast in transition. I didn’t see him make a move that suggested he would be able to break from the outside-in or affect the defender’s gap. Was willing to stand-in and make contact on plays, but didn’t excel along the boards. Handles the puck well, but isn’t attuned to pressure at this speed yet.
#70 Matt Revel: Apologies, readers, I didn’t notice Revel either. I know it seems a little crazy, but if you can imagine, Revel, Wilson, Bellerive, Martin, James, and Zalewski combined for one shot the whole game. That’s six skaters, many of whom had limited minutes. After the first, these players were used to give the drafted prospects, Valk and Fox a breather.
#74 Klarc Wilson: After the Boland hit on James, Wilson stepped in and gave Boland the Junior B treatment – throwing punches long after the player had lost his footing and was in a vulnerable position. He scored a little in Prince George, but my viewing suggested he was a bit of a patrolling enforcer.