Updating the prospect action of the World Junior Championships with a close look on Leafs William Nylander, Predators Kevin Fiala, Canada’s Connor McDavid and American Jack Eichel…
Sunday, December 28th
Two days in at the 2015 World Junior Championships and we’ve already witnessed some stellar performances. Lucky for me, I have tickets to every game taking place in Toronto featuring Sweden, Russia, Czech Republic, Switzerland and Denmark and thanks to PVR, I have been able to catch the Pool A action, including Canada, US, Slovakia, Germany and the defending 2014 gold medalists – Finland.
As good as it would be to watch Canada and USA through the round robin, I am thankful for the teams and their talents participating in Toronto. Having the chance to watch William Nylander (Sweden/Maple Leafs, 8th overall in 2014), Nikolaj Ehlers (Denmark/Jets, 9th overall in 2014), Kevin Fiala (Switzerland/Predators, 11th overall in 2014), Jakub Vrana (Czech Republic/Capitals, 13th overall in 2014) and AHL star David Pastrnak (Czech Republic/Bruins, 25th overall in 2014). With each of them possessing similar offensive skills featuring crafty puck skills and out-out-of-this-world creativity, all five of them have been a treat to watch. More on these players a little later.
Fortunately, the long list of exciting participants doesn’t end there as plenty of 1995s have proved (and will continue to prove) to be dangerous throughout this tournament. From Group B action in Toronto, here are a few drafted players (outside of the ones mentioned above) who have stood out for me … Nikolay Goldobin (Russia/Sharks), Pavel Buchnevich (Russia/Rangers), Sergey Tolchinsky (Russia/Hurricanes, signed), Vladislav Kamenev (Russia/Predators), Oliver Bjorkstrand (Denmark/Blue Jackets), Ondrej Kase (Czech Republic/Ducks), Mirco Mueller (Switzerland/Sharks), Noah Rod (Switzerland/Sharks), Jacob de la Rose (Sweden/Canadiens), Linus Soderstrom (Sweden/Islanders), Robert Hagg (Sweden/Flyers), Lucas Wallmark (Sweden/Hurricanes), Axel Holmstrom (Sweden/Red Wings), Adrian Kempe (Sweden/Sweden) and Oskar Lindblom (Sweden/Flyers).
With an eye on the 2015 and 2016 NHL draft classes, this year’s World Junior Championships are loaded with potential high end picks. Headlined by the battle for 1st overall in 2015, Connor McDavid (Canada) and Jack Eichel (USA) are starring in Group A play in Montreal and that hoopla will climax when Canada faces US on New Year’s Eve. After Canada defeat an overwhelmed Slovakian squad 8-0 on Boxing Day, much of the media coverage was on how McDavid failed to register a single point. While it was surprising that the young phenom was held off the scoresheet, McDavid was certainly buzzing (although maybe not to his capabilities) all game long but it appeared it was more of a linemate chemistry issue more than anything. After being paired with former minor hockey teammate Robby Fabbri (Canada/Blues) during Canada’s second game against Germany, the duo flashed some great chemistry together and #17 finished with one goal and two assists (named Player of the Game).
McDavid’s Jack Eichel registered a beautiful powerplay assist in USA’s 2-1 shootout win and certainly comes as advertised. Blessed with elite skating abilities, slick playmaking vision and the two-way awareness that teams want in a franchise forward. If Jack Eichel doesn’t pass Connor McDavid to be selected 1st overall, whichever team lands this superb talent shouldn’t think of it as “losing out on McDavid” but rather, “winning the best consolation prize” ever.
Eichel’s assist vs Finland:
Outside of the McEichel tandem, draft eligible forward Lawson Crouse (Canada) has impressed after being a surprise addition to the Canucks roster (albeit, not a surprise to me at all). He has been a valuable defensive presence but unlike Leafs prospect Frederik Gauthier, he has been utilized in offensive situations and shown great flashes of his two-way potential.
Pavel Zacha (Czech Republic) hasn’t accomplished much offensively through two losses but he’s shown a good commitment to the defensive side of the puck while he waits for his offensive chances. He’s received very limited offensive minutes on the powerplay (a mistake on CZE’s part, in my opinion) despite a couple of beautiful offensive rushes that featured some great shake-and-bake moves. Zacha’s teammate David Kase (younger brother to Ducks’ 7th round pick Ondrej Kase) has impressed with limited ice-time. Small but very quick, D.Kase possesses all of the elusive skills to be considered a legit NHL prospect. He may not take on a big role on this year’s team but he will be a vital member of the Czech program moving forward. Michael Spacek has been held to limited minutes too.
Timo Meier (Switzerland) has been the most impressive draft eligible through his one game in Pool B play. Forming outstanding chemistry with Kevin Fiala, Meier is a big-bodied skilled forward who uses his frame and advanced puck handling ability to excel in traffic, specifically along the boards. The sophomore import QMJHLer has exploded with the Halifax Mooseheads tallying 21 goals and 46 points in 33 games. Fellow Swiss teammate Kay Schweri actually holds a one-point advantage in the QMJHL scoring charts but wasn’t nearly as impressive as Meier. With just one viewing of these Swiss draft elgible forwards, I am certainly looking forward to seeing if Meier is a legit first round talent….my hunch is that he very much is.
Sweden’s Jens Lööke has made use of his minutes bring a nice level of energy as a complimentary forward. He can only improve his draft stock if he continues to play the smart, highly energetic game that he’s brought through two games.
Russia’s top draft eligible skater is 6-foot-4 Alexander Dergachyov and he was very solid in his only game so far. Dergachyov skates very well for a big man and has the soft touch to operate in traffic. He may not receive the opportunities that other top draft eligibles get on rival teams but with his size and projectable game, he will be watched very closely as a potential top round pick too.
Switching over to Group A participants, notable NHL-drafted talent includes… all Canadian and American players (yes, too many to list here), Kasperi Kapanen (Finland/Penguins), Julius Honka (Finland/Stars), Artturi Lehkonen (Finland/Canadiens), Juuse Saros (Finland/Predators), Ville Husso (Finland/Sabres), Martin Reway (Slovakia/Canadiens) and Peter Cehlarik (Slovakia/Bruins). Not to worry, I will touch on some notable top performers from Canada/USA below.
Pool A 2015 NHL draft eligible players to watch, outside of Eichel, McDavid and Crouse, include Mikko Rantanen (Finland), Zach Werenski (USA), Noah Hanifin (USA), Brandon Carlo (USA) and Radovan Bondra (Slovakia). Additionally, Group A features two outstanding forwards eligible for the 2016 1st overall selection in American Auston Matthews and Finn Jesse Puljujarvi, who many compare as the best Finnish player since Teemu Selanne. Puljujarvi has been outstanding for Finland but unfortunately hasn’t been able to get Finland their first win – falling to USA in the shootout and then being upset by the Slovaks in game two.
To keep this ramblings to a readable length, here are my quick thoughts on the Top 10 performers from play after two days, starting with the most impressive…
Max Domi (Canada) – Domi’s elevated game has been well-documented in the OHL this season but who would’ve guessed that this quick footed offensive talent had even another level. He’s playing like an NHL player against a bunch of peewee aged competition. Outstanding pace to his game is being highlighted at even strength, on the powerplay and even during penalty kills.
Kevin Fiala (Switzerland) – With only one game in the books, it’s hard not to love Predators’ prospect Fiala. Blessed with outstanding patience, creative vision and a lethal shot, Fiala created scoring chances each time he hit the ice versus Czech Republic. The way he combines his skill game with some nastiness makes him absolute treat to watch.
Nic Petan (Canada) – Right there with Domi and Fiala, Jets prospect Nic Petan has been sensational through two games. Petan’s ability to elevated everyone’s play around him is nearly unmatched. Few players can see the ice and anticipate the play as well as Petan and it’s the sole reason that he leads the tournament in scoring with six points.
Jacob de la Rose (Sweden) – I tweeted it out yesterday but will mention it again here – Montreal Canadiens landed a great talent in Jacob de la Rose. In a draft class that had Bo Horvat (9th) and Curtis Lazar (17th) drafted ahead of him, de la Rose is in the same mold as a responsible two-way forward with terrific leadership abilities. The talented Swede has been tremendous on both sides of the puck and appears to have some untapped offensive skills. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him appear on the Canadiens roster as soon as 2015-16.
Robby Fabbri (Canada) – As Fabbri’s biggest supporter for well over two years, it’s not surprising that he’s this high up on my list but this was an easy choice. Much like Petan, Fabbri’s ability to make those around him better is one of his best attributes and it stems from his unrelenting puck pursuit. His ability to pounce on pucks and quickly hit a streaking teammate speaks to his high-end hockey processor and overall offensive skills. The Blues prospect will be among Canada’s scoring leaders and has already move up the lines onto Connor McDavid’s wing.
William Nylander (Canada) – Passionate Maple Leafs were eager to see Nylander hit the ice at the Air Canada Centre and he certainly hasn’t disappointed. Dazzling the spectators with his speed, one-on-one attacks and swagger-like presence on the ice, Nylander has been dangerous through two games scoring twice. He’s not always involved and plays with a bit of arrogance at times (kind of like Max Domi in 2013-14) but it’s clear that the Leafs landed a superbly talented player in Nylander – arguably, the most skilled drafted prospect in the tournament. Look for the “Go Leafs Go” chants to continue at the ACC every time Nylander hits the ice.
Nikolaj Ehlers (Denmark) – The Dashing Dane was absolutely brilliant in the opening game versus Russia attacking with speed impossible for opposing defenders to contain. His elusiveness and unpredictable one-on-one attacks make defenders look foolish at times. There are few players in this tournament with the offensive creativity that Ehlers possess. It had to be a bit deflating for Ehlers and his Danish teammates after failing to seal that victory against Russia and it showed in their game versus Sweden on Saturday.
Connor McDavid (Canada) – As mentioned above, McDavid wasn’t perfect in game one or even game two but that’s to be expected after missing a month of game action. He continues to create chance after chance at ease and has been one of Canada’s most lethal forwards. With a tendency to act as a pass-first player, I would certainly like to see him shoot more often moving forward. I doubt McDavid lights up the scoring charts like many expect of him but that’s probably because Canada has so many more offensive options than previous Canadian teams had.
Jack Eichel (USA) – I had one scout tell me yesterday that Eichel reminds him of a young Mario Lemieux. Scary! He was easily USA’s top player versus Finland dictating the pace of play every shift and burying in the shootout to seal the win. With the Americans slated to play a tired German team (they played Canada yesterday), I fully expect Eichel to rack up some serious points…and of course, fuel the McEichel debate.
Oliver Bjorkstrand (DEN) – Playing alongside Mads Eller and Nikolaj Ehlers, Blue Jackets prospect Bjorkstrand has excelled playing a complete 200-foot game. He’s been particularly strong in traffic showing good patience waiting to find the late arriving player. Bjorkstrand is a player I wouldn’t be surprised to see crack the Columbus NHL roster as soon as next year. His ability to play up the lineup because of his hockey sense will help him fast track through his development.
Jakub Vrana (CZE/Capitals), Jesse Puljujarvi (FIN/2015), Kasperi Kapanen (FIN/Penguins), Artturi Lehkonen (FIN/Canadiens), Alex Tuch (USA/Wild), Sonny Milano (USA/Blue Jackets), Sam Reinhart (CAN/Sabres), Anthony Duclair (CAN/Rangers), Oskar Lindblom (SWE/Flyers), Adrian Kempe (SWE/Kings), Pavel Buchnevich (RUS/Rangers), Sergey Tolchinsky (RUS/Hurricanes), Timo Meier (SUI/2015), Martin Reway (SVK)
Top Goaltenders (to date):
- Denis Golda (SVK) – Upsetting the defending gold medalists warrants top spot ….for now.
- Eric Comrie (CAN/Jets) & Zach Fucale (CAN/Canadiens) – Let the debate continue on who Canada should choose as their starter moving toward the meaningful round robin games after two strong performances from Comrie and Fucale. For me, Comrie is my choice but Fucale has the pedigree and hasn’t really given Hockey Canada reason to think he can’t do the job.
- Ville Husso (FIN/Blues) – He was the surprise starter versus the Americans unseating 2014 WJC starter Juuse Saros and excelled in the game. With two high-end starters, Finland will have a tough choice moving forward.
- Linus Soderstrom (SWE/Islanders) – Despite Sweden winning their two games, both of them were well earned and it was Soderstrom who kept the Swedes afloat with some big moment saves. The Denmark game on Saturday wasn’t as lopsided as the score appeared and that credits Soderstrom’s play.
- Thatcher Demko (USA/Canucks) – This spot almost went to Denmark’s Georg Sorensen after his spectacular game versus Russia but after following up with a spotty effort versus Sweden, Demko’s ability to get the job done against Finland moves him into this slot. Demko was pretty shaky throughout the Finland game and despite looking nervous and out of position quite often, his desperation was good enough to get the shootout win. It will be interesting to see how USA proceeds with its goalies as the Canucks prospect didn’t really trigger a whole lot of confidence.
Some early tournament disappointing showings…
David Pastrnak (CZE/Bruins) – With 10 goals and 27 points through 23 games with Providence (AHL), I expected Pastrnak to come into this tournament and dominate. Yes, he’s looked really flashy at times and to the casual fan, there’s a lot to be excited about but he’s been too lackadaisical for a player of his skill level. Ramp up the effort Pastrnak and you’ll be mentioned alongside Max Domi, Kevin Fiala and Nic Petan.
Ivan Barbashev (RUS/Blues) – Maybe my expectations for Barbashev were set too high but I certainly anticipated the Blues 2nd rounder to have more of an impact through one pre-tournament and one round robin game. He’s been virtually invisible and that doesn’t bode well for Russia’s chances. Pick it up in game two Barbashev!
Anton Karlsson (SWE/Coyotes) – Arizona’s 3rd round choice in 2014, Anton Karlsson has been just “okay”. Known for combining skill and physicality (see his 2013 WJC showing), Karlsson hasn’t really engaged himself physically and isn’t as effective as a result. Maybe his intensity will increase as the games become more important but I was certainly expecting him to be one of the standouts for Sweden and that just hasn’t happened yet.
Sunday’s action only brings two World Junior Championship games with Russia – Switzerland taking the ice in Toronto (5 pm EST) and USA – Germany slated for the 8 pm game in Montreal.
I will be in attendance in Toronto and you can follow my updates on Twitter @RossyYoungblood.
If you missed it, you can check out my 2015 World Junior Championship Preview here.
2015 WJC VIDEO:
Jets prospect Nic Petan roof-daddy goal vs Slovakia (Dec 26, 2014):
Oliver Bjorkstrand goal (2:28 mark) and Nikolaj Ehlers goal (5:10 mark) vs. Russia (Dec 26, 2014):
Beauty goal from Switzerland’s Kevin Fiala (Dec 27, 2014):
William Nylander’s Goal vs Denmark (Dec 27, 2014):
Connor McDavid scores his first (not-so-pretty) goal of the 2015 WJC (Dec 27, 2014):
Thanks for reading,
@RossyYoungblood (Brendan Ross)
As always, feel free to converse, comment or rambling in the comment section below.