It’s been a busy two days at the World Junior Hockey Championships in Helsinki and I’ve admittedly struggled to keep pace. That’s a lot of hockey to keep up with and I’ve only so much time at my disposal.
That’s not to say that these posts are in jeopardy. Not by any means. Instead, I’ve broken form the traditional formula of analyzing a day’s worth of World Junior competition and condensed this post to cover two days of hockey. There was so much action and much of it involved players who will come to the front just a few short months from now at the NHL Draft.
Rather than doing a game-by-game breakdown of the Belarusians, I’ve decided to look at their performance as a whole. They played twice, first against their rivals from Russia, followed by a match with the Czech Republic just a day later.
In the first of these matches, the Belarusian side fell behind the vastly more talented Russians and never managed to close the gap, dropping that contest 4-1. The next game was played against a former fellow Bloc member, the Czech Republic. The Belarusians fared better, but not well enough to win the contest, falling 5-3 to the Czech Republic.
The main draw for draft fanatics on Belarus is clearly Yegor Sharangovic. Perhaps an indictment of the state of Belarusian hockey, given he’s not even on the radar of most major scouting organizations. Sharangovic continues to see minutes in the top-six and figures prominently into the Belarusian special teams. His two-way game is sound, as backed by his even goal differential over the course of two games where his team was handily outscored.
There’s also the matter of his power play goal against the Czech Republic, giving us a little production to back the steady stream of qualitative analysis.
There’s exactly zero first year draft eligibles on the Swiss roster. Even if there were, it would be incredibly hard to get a read on them based on their two most recent performances. On the one hand, they gave Canada all they could handle, taking them to a shootout before dropping the contest 3-2. Then they go ahead and lose by nine goals to the United States, 10-1.
None of the Suisse players will be called on the draft floor this summer, but there’s a look to the future in 16-year old, Nico Hischier. Relatively hard player to make heads or tails of in a tournament of this scope, especially given Hischier is so much younger than his peers. Still, pretty encouraging that he’s there.
Experience is the flavour du jour on the Russian side, as they’ve a wealth of 18 and 19 year olds at their disposal. In fact, there’s only the one draft eligible player on their team in Alexander Polunin. It’s quite peculiar that this player can’t seem to gain any attention from the mainstream media, or draft resources alike, given his ability to compete against men in the KHL on a regular basis.
— Ryan Biech (@ryanbiech) December 29, 2015
Perhaps Polunin’s performance against the White Russians will be enough to gain the attention of scouts, as the diminutive forward put up two goals. That gives Polunin three goals, in three games played, which is good enough for sole possession of the team lead on Russia.
— Ryan Biech (@ryanbiech) December 29, 2015
I saw something to the effect of “Canada sure likes making these minnow games difficult” on Twitter. That was during the first period, if memory serves, but oh, how it held true right to the end. The Suisse threw everything they had at Canada including the kitchen sink. Wasn’t until the shootout that the Canadians put this one away and staved away the possibility of relegation entirely.
Jake Virtanen’s role continues to expand, as the Canadians have placed him on the first line with Dylan Strome as his pivot. This game started terribly for Virtanen, who was at best invisible. By mid-way through the second period, though, Virtanen found his stride and was generating scoring chances left and right. By my recollection, Virtanen somewhere in the neighbourhood of five individual scoring chances by the time the game ended, which is just absurd.
As the estranged, former leader of Canucks Army, Rhys Jessop, loves to point out, I don’t think Dave Lowry’s tutelage is doing Virtanen any favours. People see the big hits and penchant for physicality in Virtanen and get it in their heads that he’s a “power forward”. Somewhat accordingly, Lowry keeps putting Virtanen in front of the net, which doesn’t really do his skill set justice.
One has to wonder if the Canadian coaching staff will open the playbook for Virtanen going forward, so as to maximize on his skill set. Either way, it’s encouraging to finally get something out of Virtanen. The sixth overall selection is one of a handful of draft+2 players and in even sparser company where returning members of last year’s Gold winning squad are concerned. Really, Virtanen should be head and shoulders above the competition.
As far as the middleweight competition is concerned, the Czech’s bring a highly skilled roster with some high end draft eligible talent. At the forefront is Simon Stransky, currently playing in the CHL and Filip Hronek. Both players figure to have their name called between the early-second, or third round.
It’s been difficult to get an expansive look at a player like Stransky, given his limited role within the Czech offense. They are using Stransky primarily as their extra forward, primarily in checking roles. That’s not to say he hasn’t made the most of his limited opportunities. The defensive play of Stransky jumped out at me immediately when first viewing the Czech’s. Yesterday Stransky potted his first goal of the tournament as well.
At nearly a point per game in the WHL, with a rounded out defensive game, Stransky is a player who might be of some interest to Canucks fans as we inch closer to the draft.
If these early proceedings are any indication, the Swedes are as good a team as any in the tournament. They continue to roll along undefeated, playing without their best player in William Nylander. That’s quite the feat, especially given how dominant they’ve been throughout. They dThismantled the Danes by a score of 5-0, just two days after defeating the Americans 1-0.
Perhaps a twisting of the dagger, former Canucks prospect Gustav Forsling continues to impress for the Swedes and potted their second goal of the game on the power play. Of note to draft fanatics and Canucks fans alike, was the continued dominance from Alex Nylander.
The presumptive top-ten selection is continuing his torrid scoring pace, with another goal against the Danes. Nylander has been in the top-five of tournament scoring for almost the entirety of the tournament. The skill of Nylander really jumps out at you, as does his straight line speed and skills with the puck.
The Slovaks are an underwhelming lot for draft nuts. They’ve got just the one draft eligible player in Filip Lestan and he’s not even on the radar of any major scouting organizations. That said, Lestan is playing in the SHL already, which is impressive in and of itself and generally a solid indicator of a prospects ability to transition to the NHL.
Lestan is being used primarily in the bottom-six, in somewhat of a checking role. His skating isn’t his best asset, not by a mile, but he throws the body around and isn’t afraid of going to the front of the net. In fact, the Slovaks have been using him as the net front presence on their second unit for all of the tournament.
The Finns have so much talent at the top of their lineup and most of it is draft eligible. They are a scouts dream. Realistically, any of Jesse Puljujarvi and Patrik Laine should be in the dreams of most Canucks fans as well. Both figure to go in the top five and given that most projection models have Vancouver slated to fall somewhere in that range, these players are definitely worth keeping an eye on.
— Brendan Ross (@RossyYoungblood) December 31, 2015
So yeah, the young Finns are acquitting themselves quite nicely. Puljujarvi and Laine combined for seven points in the Finnish drubbing of Slovakia. My appreciation for Puljujarvi is growing with every game. He’s got great jump and there isn’t any one glaring deficiency in his game that I can pick up on. The hype is very real and much deserved.
I made mention of this in profiling the Suisse, but it bears repeating: how exactly does one get a solid read on any players in a 10-1 drubbing? On the bright side for the Americans, they were on the winning end of that score and had several draft eligibles contributing in key roles to get there.
Right at the top of the list is Auston Matthews, who’s been at the top of the scoring race for all of the tournament. Not far behind is Matthew Tkachuk, a player who is expected to land somewhere in the three-to-five range in the next draft.
I’ve never found myself overly impressed by Tkachuk. Certainly not relative to his draft standing, anyways. That said, it’s hard to ignore his production and ability to dominate the opposition in front of the net. That’s a rare skill these days and one that NHL GM’s covet immensely.
Brock Boeser had another quiet night. The Canucks first rounder was moved back to the second line, to play alongside college teammate Nick Schmaltz. Boeser had the one assist, but it wasn’t anything to write home about, especially because it was secondary. Would like to see more from Boeser.