The Dean’s List is back and ready to get straight to the point with some report cards. After four intense games of competition, there were several players that impressed at the Canada-Russia Challenge, a series put in place to commemorate the 1972 Summit Series. Below, drafted prospects that I feel are fantasy relevant in standard leagues (top-six forward/top-four defensemen) are graded from A+ to D- based solely on how I feel their play at the Canada-Russia Challenge (CRC) reflects their future fantasy value.
Jonathan Huberdeau, LW (Florida Panthers)
CRC Grade: A-
Game one was forgettable for the 3rd overall pick as Huberdeau was at fault for trying to do too much and turnovers resulted. He sat out in game two but returned to wear the captaincy in the final two games. Huberdeau elevated his game to the level that’s expected of him tallying three points en route to Canada’s win. His vision and playmaking remains his strongest assets but I especially enjoyed seeing Huberdeau add more grit to his game showing that he could drive to the net as well as anyone.
Ryan Strome, C/W (New York Islanders)
CRC Grade: B
Strome was the heroic figure as the four-game series came to a close after scoring the overtime winner executing a toe-drag around a sprawled out defender and firing one beyond the Russian tender. Strome displayed his crafty hands and creativity on that play but his game was pretty erratic over the four games. He was awful in the opening game as he continuously coughed up the puck after trying to do too much himself. He remains a valuable asset to own in fantasy leagues but his 5th overall draft status (2011) may have some owners overestimating his upside. I see Strome in a similar mold as Sam Gagner and Nazem Kadri, two very creative forwards that need to play alongside a natural finisher to reach their upside. Luckily for Strome, John Tavares could be that perfect player if Strome eventually moves to the wing. Don’t write Strome off completely as he possesses some filthy offensive skills but I question how well he will be able to translate his game to the next level.
Mark Scheifele, C (Winnipeg Jets)
CRC Grade: A+
Personally, I had some reservations about Mark Scheifele after last season. He was impressive during Jets camp and in the brief stint he had with the Winnipeg Jets to open the season. In a few live viewings last season, Scheifele was somewhat mediocre playing for the Barrie Colts. It’s possible that he had “off games” but he left me wanting more. My opinion changed drastically as soon as he stepped on the ice for this series. Scheifele looked bigger, stronger and played with great confidence. His finesse game was noticeable as his puck handling skills were immediately on display, feeding teammates with saucy passes and executing plays at top speed. In addition, Scheifele’s power game was evident as he used his frame to box out opponents, creating space and then driving hard to the net. His intensity was a bonus as well.
Ty Rattie, RW (St. Louis Blues)
CRC Grade: A
Disclaimer: Huge fan of Ty Rattie and his scoring prowess. Playing in a top-six role, Ty Rattie was crucial to Canada’s success as the team won in each game he scored. With a two-goal, three-point effort in game four, Rattie fought hard to earn his points battling defensemen in the crease for positioning. Rattie showed a new level of physicality that I hadn’t previously witnessed venturing into the dirty areas and winning puck battles. Offensively, Rattie has a unique gift and as he develops into a complete player, I truly feel he will become one of the better fantasy players from the 2012 draft class…if he can overcome the Blues’ ridiculous depth on forward. He has a real knack for being in the right place at the right time and that cannot be taught.
Phil Di Giuseppe, LW (Carolina Hurricanes)
CRC Grade: C
Di Giuseppe’s grade is more a reflection of his limited opportunities than his skill. The Canes’ prospect dressed in two games and did not receive the most offensive minutes. The Good: Di Giuseppe is a relentless forechecker who draws from his above-average intelligence to force turnovers. He showed creativity and seemed to know exactly where to place the puck, another testament to his hockey IQ. The Bad: Di Giuseppe is a strong skater but he lacked the strength to win puck battles along the boards. Fortunately, strength is an easy weakness to address.
Charles Hudon, LW (Montreal Canadiens)
CRC Grade: A+
The most surprising player by far for Team Canada was Montreal Canadiens’ 5th round selection Charles Hudon. His draft pedigree was alarming considering I had him ranked as a late 2nd/early 3rd round player but it indicated that Hudon struggled in his draft season after failing to meet the lofty expectations set after his QMJHL rookie of the year campaign. Hudon has always been criticized for his skating as he lacks the speed you would like to see in an undersized winger. Charles Hudon actually made improvements in his skating over the past season but he still lacks the separation speed and it was noticeable during this series. However, Hudon compensates his slow feet by using his elite hockey sense and slippery hands. For a smaller player, Hudon was exceptional at gaining body position against larger opponents allowing him to protect the puck and create magic with his puck skills. As a bonus, Montreal’s Hudon is a valuable player on the defensive side of the puck as well and that should assure him a good opportunity in the NHL…and in your fantasy lineup.
Kevin Roy, (Anaheim Ducks)
CRC Grade: C-
Kevin Roy may not approve of his CRC Grade but when you compete for Team Canada as an underdog, you have to take advantage of your opportunities regardless of how few there are. Kevin Roy has oozed offence from a young age when he became a YouTube sensation as a 13-year-old.
He continued to add to his offensive accolades last season when he became the first USHL player (since becoming Tier I) to net 50 goals and clear 100 points in the league’s history. Canada invited Roy to this series to get an early look at his offensive weaponry. Unfortunately with the Huberdeaus, Stromes, and Scheifeles ahead of him on the depth chart, Roy wasn’t able to garner much offensive ice time. In limited time, Roy did create some offensive chances but was it enough to impress the Canadian coaching staff? There’s no guarantee that the trio above will be available to suit up for Team Canada at the 2013 WJC, so Kevin Roy might get an extended look if he gets off to a strong start this season.
Mathew Dumba, D (Minnesota Wild)
CRC Grade: B
Considering Dumba was knocked for his erratic play, you would never have guessed he was the same player based on his solid reliable showing in this four-game series. Mathew Dumba was excellent playing as a bottom pairing defenseman for the most part. He used his physicality as a tool defensively and not for entertainment purposes. Dumba was able to fire a few howitzers on net during his limited powerplay opportunities. Team Canada relied more on some of their veteran defensemen but fantasy owners should be pleased to see Dumba step up and show that he can play strong on both sides of the puck. That simple impression will earn him more ice time and shows that he could be trusted earlier than expected.
Morgan Rielly, D (Toronto Maple Leafs)
CRC Grade: A+
The Leafs drafted a special player in Morgan Rielly. His mobility, vision, puck handling and playmaking are on the verge of eliteness. His positioning is solid and while he will continue to develop defensively, Rielly showed that he can be relied upon in all situations. Ryan Murphy was Canada’s offensive catalyst from the backend but Morgan Rielly was the better all-around defenseman and showed fantasy owners a few dazzling rushes and passes of his own.
Cody Ceci, D (Ottawa Senators)
CFC Grade: D+
Fantasy owners, do not freak out with this grade as Ceci played sparingly. Buried on the backend, Ceci didn’t get a chance to showcase his game at all in this series. He remains a solid option in deep keeper leagues as he possesses one of the most dangerous shots from the backend of the 2012 draft class.
Griffin Reinhart, D (New York Islanders)
CFC Grade: D+
See Cody Ceci’s explanation. Reinhart served as the 13th defensemen in the only game he suited up for and didn’t see the ice again after injuring his shoulder, missing the final three games. Like Ceci, Reinhart can only improve his standing.
Dougie Hamilton, D (Boston Bruins)
CFC Grade: B-
While Dougie Hamilton struggled in the four-game series to play with the consistency that earned him CHL Defenseman of the Year honours, he showed a few individual plays that fantasy owners would approve of. Specifically, Hamilton displayed some finesse in several plays on the offensive blue line in an attempt to keep the line and then create an offensive chance. He was guilty of a few uncharacteristic blunders and turnovers but he’s still a young player and those mistakes are part of the learning curve. Dougie Hamilton remains one of the better prospect defensemen to own, especially if fantasy owners covet players with a high likelihood of NHL success.
Ryan Murphy, D (Caroline Hurricanes)
CFC Grade: A+
Ryan Murphy was easily the most entertaining player to watch on the Canadian roster over the course of this series. He receives a grade of A+ based exclusively on his fantasy potential. Inside the defensive blue line, Murphy was an adventure but we already knew that as fantasy owners. Murphy is a defensive (term used loosely here) asset to own in fantasy circles as he’s one of the few defensemen capable of creating offence on his own. Starting with his mobility, moving onto his puck handling abilities and finishing with his elite vision and execution, Murphy is an offensive dynamo from the backend. When he rushes the puck, the opposition respects his skills backing off of him slightly and as Murphy gains that extra time and space he becomes ever so dangerous. At the NHL level, Murphy will need to brush up (or develop) his defensive skills to warrant ice time but, offensively, he could be that much more dangerous playing alongside more talented players. He has led Team Canada in scoring several times in international play and the Canada-Russia Challenge was no difference (tied with Rattie and Huberdeau).
Ryan Murray, D (Columbus Blue Jackets)
CFC Grade: B+
I remain skeptical, from a fantasy perspective, on the future value of Ryan Murray as most fantasy owners will overestimate his offensive game based on his second overall draft spot. He’s a talented well-rounded defenseman that has no holes in his game but also no real standout skills. Murray is a swift skater that shows good four-way mobility but at the NHL level I think that advanced skill will be minimized slightly. The second overall selection certainly has a bright NHL future ahead of him but my gut instinct tells me that he isn’t that franchise fantasy defender that we want to lead our fantasy squads. Offensively, Ryan Murray thrived when he was paired with the dynamic Ryan Murphy scoring a goal and an assist. While Ryan Murray may never lead his NHL team in defensive scoring, I do think his fantasy value increases substantially if he is paired up with an offensive catalyst as he complements the offensive partner very well. Ryan Murray should be drafted based on his reliability and slightly above-average offensive skills and not his draft pedigree. He certainly did not hurt his fantasy value and probably increased it slightly showing that he can play comfortably and successfully alongside a true offensive defenseman.
Malcolm Subban, G (Boston Bruins)
CRC Grade: A+
Subban went head-to-head with fellow first rounder Andrei Vasilevski in games one and four coming out as the victor in both contests. The Belleville Bulls’ netminder showed starter potential as he oozed confidence turning away shot after shot. Analyzing goaltenders is certainly not my forte so I will leave that up to the experts (ahem, Justin Goldman) but the one telling part of Subban’s game that impacted my view of him was how confidently the team played in front of him. Confidence, not cockiness, is important when it comes to goaltending as it allows the rest of your team to play naturally in front of him and Canada did just that. The early signs point to Subban being a solid future starting goaltender.
Mikhail Grigorenko, C (Buffalo Sabres)
CFC Grade: C+
Grigorenko continues to frustrate as he attempts to do his best Alexander Kovalev impression. Grigorenko had several shifts early on in the series when he showcased his rare offensive talents but those shifts were too far and few in-between. There wasn’t a player in this series that owned the size and puck possession abilities that Grigorenko does. On several occasions, Grigorenko would enter the zone at top speed, maintain possession using advanced body positioning and locate an open teammate with his sensational on-ice vision. Those skills are extremely rare and worthy of a first round selection…in fact, worthy of a top five selection. Unfortunately, Grigorenko lacks the consistency to execute those plays often enough and was virtually non-existence in the final game. It’s due to that inconsistent play that he fell to the Sabres at the 12th position. Grigorenko will remain a valuable fantasy asset with his raw skill set but the Buffalo Sabres need to work with the big talented Russian to strengthen his mentality to fully maximize his talents.
Maxim Shalunov, LW (Chicago Blackhawks)
CRC Grade: B+
Shalunov was one of the more noticeable drafted Russians participating in this historic series. He’s an exceptional skater (resembled Nail Yakupov slightly) and owns the quick release you want in a top-six scorer. Surprisingly, Shalunov was more physical than expected and that bodes well for his transition to the North American game. Shalunov will only be owned in deep leagues and is a few years away from competition but he showed well and that’s promising for any Russian player.
Andrei Vasilevski, G (Tampa Bay Lightning)
CRC Grade: A
Despite losing both games that he started, Vasilevski was excellent stopping a total of 66 shots fired from the Canadians including a 19-shot first period in game four that kept his Russian team in contention. Vasilevski let in a few bloopers in the opening game and these lapses in concentration remain his biggest weakness. Vasilevski’s reflexes and quickness are exceptional at this stage in his development and if he can strengthen his mentality, Tampa Bay will be set up nicely with a potential starting goaltender.
Nail Yakupov, RW (Edmonton Oilers)
CRC Grade: B+
Expectations were high for Yakupov entering this series as the face of the Russian team. It’s difficult to conclude how outsiders viewed Yakupov’s showing but for me it was slightly disappointing. After countless live viewings of Yakupov over the past two seasons, I have certainly watched his game evolve. He came to North America and dominated instantly as a player with a ton of swagger. Over the course of the past year, Yakupov has endured a lot as he faced significant injury, the pressures of being the top pick and the preparation of making the jump to the NHL. Yakupov remains that charismatic player but on the ice, it seems that he has lost a bit of his confidence. His explosive and agile skating was certainly noticeable and he displayed his patent one-timer slapshot in game one but his game isn’t consistently as dangerous as it once was. The opposition’s attention to Yakupov could certainly lessen his effectiveness and that’s likely one reason.
Here’s my theory. Like Ilya Kovalchuk, Nail Yakupov thrives in situations where the team is forced to play through his hands (see Yakupov’s 2010-11 OHL Season). Nail Yakupov adjusted well to Sarnia adding offensive depth last season as the team shifted their focus from a “Yakupov do-it-all” approach to a more balanced team approach. Yakupov increased his point-per-game pace this past season and while that is a product of his development, it can also be credited to his ability to introduce a dynamic playmaking element. Internationally, Yakupov has shown the same tendency to shift to this playmaker’s mentality as he wants to utilize his talented teammates but he has struggled to find a balance between sniper and playmaker.
In the end, Yakupov is going to be a much better player because of his versatility but it would have been interesting to see how different his game became as the lone featured player in Columbus rather than one elite member of a talented and crowded cast in Edmonton. Are the Oilers the best team to maximize his fantasy value? Or, would Yakupov benefit from a less talented group where the offence runs through this vibrant Russian? In Edmonton, I question whether there will be enough puck to go around for Yakupov to thrive. Either way, following Yakupov’s progression as a player is going to be a fascinating process.
Feel free to ask any further questions via twitter @RossyYoungblood