Eligibles shine at WJAC

Dan Stewart2015 Draft Center, International Events

In past World Junior A Challenge events, the draft eligible talent on the ice has been rather hit or miss.This year saw plenty of hit.

The 2014 edition that just past had some pretty intriguing draft eligible talent that prompted NHL scouts to fill the seats at the West Central Events Centre in Kindersley, SK early in December.

The Americans won the event with key contributions from their draft eligible players over Denmark, especially in the Gold medal game. Defenseman Ryan Zuhlsdorf of Sioux City in the USHL played a quiet and effective game showing good defensive gaps and stick work.

Center Kyle Connor of Youngstown in the USHL showed well despite not putting up big offensive numbers. He displayed his smooth stride, quickness and smarts in all three zones.

“He uses speed to create on the rush but to also take away time and space defensively.” said Future Considerations scout Cody Nickolet. “(Connor) hits and gets into the mix to try and win puck battles. He has that innate ability to get his stick in the right spot to steal the puck or lift the opposing players twig at the right time; a sign of a very smart and aware player.”

Also impressing were forwards Tom Novak and Brock Boeser, both of USHL’s Waterloo Black Hawks, who showed both some good chemistry and individual skills. Novak finished second in tournament scoring with seven points, setting up many offensive chances and finishing on a one-timer for the overtime winner. Boeser, on the other hand, battled for pucks and scored the second most goals at the tournament behind only the dominant performance of Nikolaj Ehlers.

Denmark had the undisputed top individual talent in the already drafted Ehlers, who was impressive on each and every shift, among other previously drafted talent on the Danish roster. Draft eligible winger Alexander True, who plays with Seattle in the WHL, played well on the PK using his long reach but was too often easily pushed off the puck and eliminated due to his lack of strength on his lanky frame.

Russia came in third and had a treasure trove of draft eligible talent to view that had our evaluators very excited heading into the event.

Goaltender Ilya Samsonov played very well and looked like a solid NHL draft prospect with the size, athleticism and quickness NHL teams look for.

Russia had one of the better blue lines at the event and the guys that stood out the most was Mikhail Sidorov, Yedor Rykov and Artyom Volkov. Sidorov was consistently dangerous rushing the puck, Rykov was aggressive physically and Volkov proved to be a competitive do-it-all type who contributed in each facet.

One of the most impressive draft eligible talents at the event was Russian winger Denis Guryanov who plays for Lada Togliatti in the Russian Junior MHL.

“He’s a big, strong and skilled forward who plays on his off-wing. He’s got an explosive skating stride with long and powerful legs.” noted Nickolet. “He can absolutely wire the puck, showing a great release and high-end power on his wrister.”

Forward Kirill Kaprizov, currently playing in the KHL with Metallurg (Novokuznetsk), was a guy who really impressed our scouts at the Ivan Hlinka Cup as well in our KHL viewings early this season but he had a hard time really getting his game going in Kindersley. While the talent was obvious and we still like him as an early round pick, his chemistry with linemates and ability to sustain offensive pressure was hit or miss.

Other forwards, such as winger Nikolai Chebykin and centre Dmitri Zhukenov, also showed some intriguing upside. Chebykin used his big frame (6-foot-4) well to shield the puck and drive to the net as well as shows good skill in his hands while Zhukenov proved to be the prototypical highly skilled, slick skating, puck handling Russian forward; buzzing all over the ice but often making one too many dekes in the process.

Canada East’s Blade Mann-Dixon had some impressive moments as he showed off his athleticism, quickness and impressive complete level. His teammate, defenseman Zac Tierney, also showed well as he constantly pushed the puck up ice and did a solid job distributing the biscuit on Canada Easts power play.

Tragically, Canada East forward Neil Doef, a Smith Falls native playing for his home town team in the CCHL, sustained a horrific injury leaving his future status in doubt. Doef’s skill and fearless drive was impressive in our views of Smith Falls this season and someone who might have made our final draft rankings had it not been for this devastating injury.

Switzerland had a few solid draft eligible kids as well with wingers Damien Riat and Auguste Impose showing well. Center Timo Haussener also earned the attention of scouts with his game as well.

Haussener was a kid who moved well, had obvious size and a very strong wrist shot. Riat also has an impressive shot with quick release and showed that he can be very disruptive on the forecheck. Impose, the Swiss draft eligible with the most upside, was impressive showing off his jersey flapping speed, low center of gravity and high end motor.

Canada West was led by two 2016 eligible kids in impressive forward Tyson Jost and defender Dante Fabbro, both playing with Penticton of the BCHL to keep their NCAA options open. Jost was the most dangerous offensive player while Fabbro played a steady two-way game.

Defenseman Connor Hobbs, currently playing in Nipawin of the SJHL while awaiting a WHL trade from Medicine Hat, played a solid game displaying an aggressive mindset in both the defensive and offensive zones and was utilized in all situations. Jackson Keane, son of former NHLer Mike Keane and a forward on Canada West, also showed some good quickness and solid hands but his contribution was muted by his current lack of size and strength.

With files from Cody Nickolet, Colin Mayberry and Daniel Deschene.