The holiday season is without a doubt my favorite time of year.
Partly because of what it means to me and my family and the joy I get to see in my kids’ faces but also because of the amazing hockey that I have the privilege to take in over a two week stretch.
Most of my time over the holiday season was divided between covering the IIHF World Junior Championship – which took place in Ufa, Russia – also to focus on the 2013 World U17 Hockey Challenge in Victoriaville and Drummondville, where many of the next rising stars were on display.
With so much international action with draft implications, let’s start on European soil.
In Russia, there was much to be excited about even if you were there to solely focus on draft eligible talent. The participation of just top prospects Nathan MacKinnon and Seth Jones alone made the frigid temperatures in Ufa worth it.
For my money, the top draft eligible performer at the World Juniors was undoubtedly the Team USA defender who was the second-best defenseman on his squad next to Jacob Trouba, played a strong two-way game and was able to make a deep impression as the U.S. captured gold. Jones gave scouts yet another example of how he could become the next great NHL blueliner and pushed his case for the top selection come next June.
The other two American draft eligible prospects also had good showings as Ryan Hartman played hard and gritty in his role as a third liner and 19-year-old Cole Bardreau showed his speed and tenacity in the same role as Hartman. Both are strong draft possibilities with Hartman bordering on first round contention and Bardreau looking like a later round pick-up.
The silver-winning Swedes roster there was a plethora of draft talent to dissect as well.
Prospects like Alexander Wennberg and Robert Hagg really showed well and did nothing but boost their draft stock. Wennberg played a good secondary scoring role with his speed and solid work ethic while Hagg, who came in as a late injury replacement on a depleted blueline, showed a strong steady defensive game with some solid passing ability from the backend.
Top Swedish prospect Elias Lindholm displayed his strong hockey sense and smarts along with some very impressive offensive skills to be one of Sweden’s top offensive players in Ufa. His smarts, ability to get to open and deft hands made him a dangerous player. Lindhom did nothing to neither improve nor hurt his draft stock as he played the same impressive game he has been with Brynas all season long.
Winger Jacob de la Rose and defenseman Linus Arnesson as well as the previously passed over Viktor Arvidsson all played well in their roles for Sweden. De la Rose was the defensively sound and hard for-checking monster he has been with Leksand but lacked offensive chops while Arnesson played a poised and strong positional game while taking a regular shift. Arvidsson showed his speed and dangerous offensive skill off to NHL scouts once again.
The Russians played the same highly skilled yet maddeningly inconsistent game all the way to the bronze medal, a disappointing outcome on home soil no doubt, and had a few draft eligible players show well.
Big Valeri Nichuskin flashed a very dominant power game in Ufa but the problem is that it was only flashes and not consistent from shift to shift. He had some rushes up the wing that Zdeno Chara would have trouble stopping – including an impressive overtime goal to secure bronze – but other times floated around content to watch his teammates try to do it all themselves. He still has great tools and we feel he is a top prospect because of those unteachable traits.
Anton Slepyshev and Albert Yarullin, both passed over in 2012, had moments but also showed some deficiencies. Slepyshev was inconsistent and did not show the desire to be a difference maker while on the top offensive line. Yarullin displayed his booming point shot as he scored some timely power play goals but also how unrefined his defensive game is as he was burnt on more than a few occasions in his own zone.
Other draft eligible prospects such as defensemen Pavel Koledov and 18-year-old Andrei Mironov both had moments but there is doubt that they have the desire to try North America, which is the case with most of this draft crops Russian prospects, so their draft stock is almost non-existent.
Canada’s fourth-place entry featured top prospects MacKinnon and Jonathan Drouin who both showed well in the roles they were asked to play. In a new role, MacKinnon was good in his fourth line grind-it-out role, something that he has never been asked to play before in his life, where he used his speed and smarts to do an admirable job.
Drouin was given the chance to show a little more of his offensive skills as he saw some top line duty where his vision, hands and passing skills were in the spotlight. Both prospects showed well in Ufa but did not do anything that was unexpected and so trample over anyone in the rankings in the eyes of scouts.
JC Lipon was the other draft eligible on Canada and he did not have a great tournament. His lack of pure skill and hockey sense was evident and as right now he looks like a mid-to-late round selection at best despite his strong start earlier in the WHL season.
In a similar sense of Sweden, Finland’s entry was of particular interest to scouts at the World Juniors.
Aleksander Barkov had a decent tournament but did not dominate as many expected he would. His offensive game was nice to see but he failed to also play his strong defensive game like most wanted to see. His draft stock took a little hit with me because of this. It’s hard to say that about a player that put up some solid point totals but much more was expected in his prime role for the Finns. The fact Barkov piled on a large portion of his points in relegation action doesn’t sit well, either.
Artturi Lehkonen was not given much chance in a supporting role to do what he does best, score goals. He still managed to make the most of his limited opportunities but was wasted as he was buried. Rasmus Ristolainen played well in spots showing off his size and poise but also displaying some worrying tendencies as he lacked heart on a few shifts and discipline in some instances.
One of the top performers at the tournament was Marko Dano, who was able to take on a prime role for the overmatched Slovaks. In the KHL this season, he has been used as a depth/role player on the bottom line for the most part so getting prime minutes must have been refreshing for the talented winger. His ability to get open and impressive display of shots and skating moved him up many lists.
Dano’s Slovak teammate, centre Martin Reway, and Switzerland blue liner Mirco Mueller also had favorable showings in Ufa. Reway was buzzing around and generating scoring chances while Mueller was a steward defensive force who added a little with strong puck movement from his own zone.
Lastly Swiss goaltender Melvin Nyffeler, while no Benjamin Conz who stole games with his acrobatic style, was a good surprise to me as he played well against some strong competition in the Russians and Swedes who he took to shootouts. He is smaller but has good positioning, lateral mobility, rebound control and strong anticipation.
Keep an eye out for more articles and draft eligible all-star teams from our other FC contributors who took in the action live at the World Junior Championship.
Check back in the next couple of days for Part 2 of this month’s ‘Directors Cut’ as I continue with a look at the World U17 Hockey Challenge and all the future draft talent on hand.
Until next time, see you at the rink.
Director of Scouting