Every year the IIHF World Junior Championship gives NHL fans a preview of some of the world’s best young drafted hockey players who will likely one day be playing in the NHL.
It is also a time for NHL team personnel to get together and not only take stock in their prized prospects but also share in a gala event that has become so popular that its largest annual hockey rival can only be the Stanley Cup playoff itself.
Another intriguing aspect of this tournament is watching the handful of yet undrafted prospects, usually underage participants in their 17-year-old seasons, playing with the big boys in what is predominantly a 19-year-old event. This is intriguing not only to the NHL executives and scouts in attendance but also the media looking for a feel good story.
The 2011 event had the potential to be a big year for draft eligible participants when the representing countries pre-tournament camp invitees were initially announced as they featured more than a dozen potential 2011 first round draft picks and a handful of others that could have used the big event to send their draft stock skyrocketing. But as in most years past, we were again reminded as the 22-man rosters were being announced that if the choice comes down to a 17-year-old prospect with the same skill set as a 19-year-old, the elder of the two will always win out.
With the field severely whittled down before the first puck was even dropped at HSBC Arena, there were still a handful of draft eligible prospects to keep an eye on throughout the proceedings in Buffalo. FC details a few of the top draft eligible performers and how they faired at the big event.
Sean Couturier / Canada
Left Wing / Drummondville (QMJHL)
HT: 6’-3” / WT: 200 Lbs
GP 7 G 2 A 1 PTS 3 PIM 0
Key stat: Couturier ended the tournament a plus -6.
WJC Report: Did not stand out offensively like other potential top draft picks have in recent years. He was able use his big frame and long reach to play an effective game along the wall, owning the cycle game and protecting the puck behind the net but ultimately could not show much of his offesnive creativity as he has with Drummondville this season.
He fit in nicely as a complementary player on Canada as he used his smarts and strong defensive awareness to not only shut down the oppositions chances by applying strong backpressure but also filling in for pinching defenders and blocking shots.
For those who see his skating as a weakness, it looked fine when up against the cream of the crop in Buffalo which leads you to believe the much talked about shortcoming is no longer an issue. If anything his acceleration is an area needing improvement but not to the point of keeping him out of the NHL. Couturier did nothing to hurt his draft stock in Buffalo but he also did not give it that shot in the arm so many others have in the past.
Adam Larsson / Sweden
Defense / Skelleftea (SEL)
HT: 6’-2” / WT: 215 Lbs
GP 6 G 1 A 3 PTS 4 PIM 4
Key stat: Larsson ended the tournament a plus -4, good for second on the Swedish team.
WJC Report: A rather ordinary showing through the preliminary round, Larsson turned it on for the semi-final game against the Russians as he became more aggresive and took control of the play at both ends of the ice.
He looked overly tentative and indecisive early on and had many asking if he was worth even a first round pick at all nevermind first overall. But even through the rough streaches in the preliminary round games he did show some flashes of his high skill level, strong vision and passing ability as well as his ability to read the play.
Larsson, just like Couturier, really left the tournament the same way as he started it, maybe dropping a bit in some draft rankings due to a lack of consistency in his overall play but still showing the talent to be a top NHL defender one day.
Gabriel Landeskog / Sweden
Right Wing / Kitchener (OHL)
HT: 6’-1” / WT: 205 Lbs
GP 1 G 1 A 1 PTS 2 PIM 0
WJC Report: One of the main billing draft prospects entering the 2011 Championship in Buffalo, Landeskog tweaked an unfortunate high ankle sprain early in the preliminary round which kept him off the ice when his Swedish squad needed him most.
While they continued to play an aggresive style in the medal round, only a select few were able to play the body with Landeskog’s effectivness due to their lack of size, an area Landeskog would have no doubt made a difference. No word on the extent of Landeskogs injury or how much time he will miss with Kitchener.
Rickard Rakell / Sweden
Right Wing / Plymouth (OHL)
HT: 6’-0.5” / WT: 190 Lbs
GP 5 G 0 A 3 PTS 3 PIM 2
WJC Report: Only getting into the tournament when Landeskog’s injury reared its ugly head after the Norwegian game, it is a shame that both Landeskog and Rakell could not have dressed together in tournament action as each play a some what similar style game.
Rakell used his willingnees to play a gritty, intense, hard hitting game to separate the opposition from pucks and then he utilized his soft hands and high skill level to generate scoring chances. His play really did not generate to the scoresheet as many of his chances unfortunately were solo efforts as he was willing to go into greasy areas, most often outnumbered, unlike many of his teammates. His draft stock is one that is on a strong upward trajectory after his time in Buffalo.
Max Friberg / Sweden
Left Wing / Skovde IK (Swe Div.1)
HT: 5’-10” / WT: 180 Lbs
GP 6 G 2 A 0 PTS 2 PIM 4
WJC Report: One of the biggest suprises of the tournament. Not much was known about Friberg before his strong international showings of late as he was subject to very limited viewing before 10-11 but he has really jumped out especially with his preformance in Buffalo.
Coming from a division 1 team, Skovde IK, one thing is for sure; he has SEL skills. He is a quick darting winger with loads of energy, good hands and strong puck control at top speed. Despite being smallish, he weighs in at 180-pounds so he is not really tiny, he plays a feisty game where he is always involved and consistantly generating chances. His quick feet, lightning fast release and willingness to engage physically with anyone are his best assets. His draft stock is sure to skyrocket after the preformance he put forth in Buffalo.
Joel Armia / Finland
Right Wing / Assat (SM-Liiga)
HT: 6’-3” / WT: 190 Lbs
GP 6 G 0 A 1 PTS 1 PIM 2
WJC Report: Big skilled power winger in the making is taller than what he is listed as. Played a nice complimentary game where he made sure to finish checks and kept his head on a swivel to maintain strong defensive awareness.
Looked fearsome on some shifts when he could get his speed up coming down the wing. Dominant along the wall as he was rarely outmuscled and was constantly willing to go into high traffic areas. While he was limited in production, Armia did generate some solid chances using his quick hands, pro shot and determined play all tournament long. Armia is one prospect who was already moving in the right direction before coming to Buffalo and has not done anything to change that afterwards.
Miikka Salomaki / Finland
Left Wing / Karpat (SM-Liiga)
HT: 5’-11” / WT: 185 Lbs
GP 6 G 2 A 1 PTS 3 PIM 14
WJC Report: This average sized two-way performer made the very most of his limited opportunity in Buffalo. He was cast as the 13th forward going into the tournament but after the first few games of mostly bench warming he was given an opportunity to play as a shutdown forward.
Despite being of just average size he showed physical strength when engaging in puck battles, strong hockey sense and defensive awareness in his own zone. He was not content to only sit back or shadow the other teams top forwards but instead he went out and put his own offensive skills to good use. His draft stock will see a bit of a bump up the rankings by most services because of this strong showing.
Tobias Rieder / Germany
Right Wing / Kitchener (OHL)
HT: 5’-10” / WT: 170 Lbs
GP 6 G 1 A 1 PTS 2 PIM 0
WJC Report: Probibly the most disapointing draft eligible prospects in this tournament as he was unwilling to play the game the way he has all season in Kitchener, venturing into the traffic areas and maintaining a high intensity level for most of his time in Buffalo.
He would put together a few exciting shifts a game and the reminder of the time played on the outside looking in. Even when he did show off his nice puckhandling and quick stick he was trying to do too much on his own and failed to accomplish much. His tournament highlight was a nice breakaway goal against Joni Ortio and the Finns earlier in the tournament. Rieders draft stock might have taken a bit of a hit after this underwhelming performance.
Sven Bartschi / Switzerland
Left Wing / Portland (WHL)
HT: 5’-10.5” / WT: 175 Lbs
GP 6 G 1 A 1 PTS 2 PIM 4
WJC Report: After jumping out to a great start offensively with Portland, much was expected of Bartschi in Buffalo. He looked to really be missing the talented linemates who have been a big part of his success this season in the WHL.
However, after a handful of games in Buffalo it was evident that he was also not playing the same way, going into traffic and to the net like he does in the WHL. Instead he was satisfied to play on the perimeter, using his speed and creativity to try to be the playmaker instead of using his speed, quick hands and elusivness to drive the puck to the net consistently. Despite being one of the obvious talents on the Swiss team, the games in Buffalo showed many just how limited and ineffective Bartschi’s game can be when he is not scoring.
Gregory Hofmann / Switzerland
Centre / Ambri-Piotta (NLA)
HT: 6’-0” / WT: 170 Lbs
GP 6 G 1 A 3 PTS 4 PIM 2
Key stat: Hofmann ended the tournament a plus -2, tied for tops on the Swiss team.
WJC Report: The biggest suprise of the tournament for FC as last time Hofmann was seen he was no where near the competitior we saw in Buffalo. He played wing in Buffalo and he looked more comfortable in that spot than at centre.
The feisty forward consistently played with a phjysical edge, finishing all of his checks and engaging larger competition in puck battles whenever the opportunity presented itself. He was sound defensively with his head on a constant swivel and also showed some soft hands and smarts in the offesnive zone. His impressive two-way skills are highlighted by an explosive first step and a non-stop motor. Hofmann is one prospect that really boosted his draft status at the World Juniors.
Tomas Jurco / Slovakia
Left Wing / Saint John (QMJHL)
HT: 6’-2” / WT: 190 Lbs
GP 6 G 1 A 0 PTS 1 PIM 0
WJC Report: Jurco did what he could, including playing some PK minutes, for an overmatched Slovak squad in Buffalo. While he is counted on to provide offense for the Sea Dogs, as one of the Slovaks youngest players in Buffalo, he was used in more of a supporting limited ice-time role.
In the time he was given he was able to flash his amazingly soft hands, shifty, quick, elusive skating stride and natural offensive creativity while creating some opportunities but not enough for the Slovak coaches to put him in more a prominent role. He did show a strong effort level from shift to shift and willingness to help the cause in any way. Jurco might have made the best use per minutes played as he did nothing negative to propel his draft stock but instead showed a good attitude in a tough situation.
Dan Stewart is the scouting director of Future Considerations and can be found on Twitter. For all the latest Future Considerations news and posts, follow FC’s Official Twitter Feed, on YouTube and on Facebook!