While many of us in North America were at home sleeping in bed at puck drop, there were those lucky few who were able to take in first hand some of the year’s best hockey in Ufa, Russia.
They included masses of media, a few hundred NHL personnel along with the odd lucky fan who traveled such great distance to do so.
The IIHF World Junior Championship is a display of highs and lows that few other annual hockey showcase, sans the NHL Stanley Cup playoffs, is able to match.
Future Considerations’ sent four contributors in attendance in Ufa and filed reports on the draft eligible prospects in attendance.
“The kids I talked to felt USA was the best of the three teams they played.” said FC’s German correspondent Chapin Landvogt “They just felt absolutely dominated in that game and just couldn’t do anything productive.
“Against Canada and Russia, there were phases where they could attack or felt that the opponent was letting down – which is usually the case, when it comes to tourney’s where you’re always looking to the next game as well.”
With a rare opportunity to scout North American players, Future Considerations’ European contingent came away impressed with US blueliner Seth Jones, who helped lead the Americans to gold.
“Jones is a very impressive mix of big and mobile,” noted Igor Kraev, one of FC’s Russian scouts. “He had some costly mistakes but was good overall at both ends.”
Russian contributor Roman Solovyev came away with a similar impression.
“Before the tournament this guy showed incredible confidence saying that US would be the best team here, and you know what he was right.” said Solovyev ”Confidence, size and mobility do a good job of summing up the impressive blueliner but he has so much more to offer as well.”
Another blueliner that had our guys talking was Sweden’s Robert Hagg.
“I admire Hagg’s skating skills – especially in the semifinals,” noted Eugeny Belousov, who is also based in Russia. “He actually was quite an outstanding substitute for the injured four Swedish defensemen.”
“Hagg impressed everyone in Semi-Final game against Russia where as head coach Roger Ronnberg said Hagg closed off Nail Yakupov, one of the better players in this age,” he said.
Also with Sweden was potential top five pick, centre Elias Lindholm.
“He wasn’t at his best like he has been at times in the SEL, but he was always giving a solid effort,” said Kraev. “He won the majority of battles, and not by brute force but with great positioning and smarts. Scored an important goal versus Russia at a crucial time for Sweden. There were rumours that he was injured.”
One draft eligible defender who surprised with his effectiveness as he made some noise according to our correspondents was Swiss defenseman and Everett Silvertips standout Mirco Mueller.
“Mueller had a good tourney as he played a strong game overall and ended with a plus-seven, the best rating on the team,” said Solovyev. “And it’s a big number, especially for Switzerland. Switzerland was the most surprising team in Ufa for me as they didn’t lost in regulations before fifth place game, they even blocked supposed powerhouse Finland the playoff round.”
Melvin Nyffeler was the top draft eligible goaltender in most opinions and his game was noticed by our four contributors.
“The goalie seemed to be the key player for team Switzerland’s success,” said Belousov. “I mean the team hung in there with many of the powerhouse teams. Nyffeler is a confident keeper who knows how to handle certain moments and pressures. He improved his skills since last U18’s and attracted the attention of many scouts here.”
“He is a small goalie and so he has to move a lot, being active in his crease. Very agile guy,” Kraev added.
Russia had its own home grown hero to cheer on, including Valeri Nichushkin, who scored the game-winner in overtime in the bronze medal game to lift Russia over Canada.
“Nichushkin made two great moves that lead to two winning-goals in games against North-American teams,” noted Solovyev. “First time at round-robin against U.S. he grabbed a puck near his own net, skated south to north down the wing, cut close to the crease and on the rebound his partner deposited the puck in the net. Second time it was his goal on Canada in overtime of the bronze medal game, he made the same end-to-end drive as he did against the U.S. but scored a goal and led Russia to the bronze medals.”
“His game showed flashes of dominance in Ufa with his impressive blend of mobility, size and skill. “He’s still a youngster, but it seems like he has bright future ahead of him,” agreed Belousov.
“Drouin proved himself to be one of the most creative players of the tournament playing for Canada,” said Belousov. “Great hockey sense helped him to be effective in every situation – especially on the offensive attack. No wonder Canadian Head Coach Steve Spott decided to put him in the first line before the game against Russians. He acted very mature in many crucial moments.”
Solovyev came away equally impressed.
“Jonathan Drouin found his place on the two first lines of Spott’s team,” he said. “He played two games together with two NHLers Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Mark Scheiffele, and was able to look comfortable especially as he scored a pretty nice goal.”
MacKinnon’s reviews weren’t so favourable.
“The top disappointment in Ufa for me was MacKinnon as he came in as number one in rankings but earned only one assist, played on the fourth line and it was unbelievable to me that he was viewed to be number one,” Solovyev said, who noted MacKinnon played his role well but couldn’t escalate his play to earn a more prominent position on the team.
Another disappointing outcome was the play of the Finns. They came in look upon as one of five teams that had a real shot at taking home the gold. While that was the case there were still some draft eligible that stood out.
“Rasmus Ristolainen I thought showed good skills either in offense or in reliable play in his own zone,” Solovyev said. “Unlike his partner, he stayed quite confident in front of his goal. Especially during the preliminary round he seemed to be one of the best for team Finland.”
Kraev had a bit of a different view.
“Ristolainen is a better defenseman than Hagg going forward, but in this tournament he took some stupid penalties and didn’t have the best tournament,” he critiqued.
If you were to look at the stat sheet alone one draft eligible name would stand out, Slovakia’s Marko Dano, but it was his play on the ice and constant involvement that made our contributors take note.
“After playing in KHL in 4th line of Slovan Bratislava Dano knew how to defend but here he shows his scoring abilities.” Solovyev said. “I have been impressed with this guy throughout the KHL season. He’s not an elite talent like Jones or Lindholm or Aleksander Barkov, but he is a good talent anyway, not big but competes really hard and knows how to score from anywhere on the ice, garbage goals included.”
How the World Juniors affects draft lists remains to be seen, but their contributions in 2013 made for some of the most exciting hockey all season.
With notes from contributors Roman Solovyev, Igor Kraev, Chapin Landvogt and Eugeny Belousov.