World Junior, Junior based prospect ramblings

Dean Youngblood

2015-01-03

Mitch Marner dominating the OHL, Connor McDavid comes alive and Jets prospects impress

 

Saturday, January 3rd

 

Happy New Year to all of our dedicated DobberProspects readers! As we turn a new calendar year, I speak on behalf of the entire DobberProspects staff, including Associate Editor Austin Wallace, when I say that we hope to continue bringing you some of the best prospect coverage out there. As a new resolution, Austin and I are planning on ramping up the frequency of our ramblings so be sure to keep checking back.

 

Before I dive into the World Junior Hockey Championships, there are few non-WJC related prospect stories that need to be addressed…

 

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In an NHL draft class that features to projected superstars in Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel, it’s extremely difficult to top the daily news that surfaces daily on those two players. In saying that, how about London Knights’ draft eligible forward Mitch Marner’s surgence? The young right winger has been absolutely sensational since the end of October.

 

He started the season off on a slow note with just four points in his opening 10 games which required me to remind the hockey world that he would be alright and not to worry, sending people to re-read my article on him late last summer. On October 24th, Marner picked up three assists against an Ottawa 67’s squad which sparked a 16-game point streak tallying 21 goals and 44 points before he was held pointless on December 5th against the Soo Greyhounds, ending that impressive run. Since he was blanked, Marner has picked back up from his storybook month that witnessed him become the OHL’s November Player of the Month.

 

In his past 10 games, the slick playmaking forward has dominated the gamesheet posting 10 goals and 28 points, including 5-point and 6-point nights in back-to-back games against the Sarnia Sting. Do the math and you quickly find out that Mitch Marner has racked up 31 goals and an astonishing 72 points over his last 27 games, with only one pointless game.

 

In any other draft, Marner would be a lock for a top 5 selection but the likes of McDavid, Eichel, Hanifin, Crouse, Werenski, Strome and Zacha are still making it tough to crack. Outside of maybe McDavid, I haven’t seen many draft eligible skaters with Marner’s ability to create offense and it’s going to be arguably the best Top 10 in the drafts recent history. What a class of players! Marner sits with a seven point cushion in the OHL scoring race (77 points in 37 games) ahead of Dylan Strome (70).

 

 

 

 

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Marner’s linemate Michael McCarron (Canadiens 2013 1st rounder) was traded to the contending Oshawa Generals earlier this week. He takes his 21 goals and 40 points that he accumulated with the London Knights with him. London was sort of sitting on the fence on whether to make another run this season but without the guns on the backend and unproven goaltending, it appears the Knights will do a quick restock and rely on Mitch Marner, potential Knight Max Jones and promising young defensemen Victor Mete and Ben Gleason for a run as soon as maybe 2015-16.

 

Knights GM Basil McRae stated that he has no intentions of trading Max Domi (when he returns from the WJC) unless the young Arizona prospect and WJC standout requests a trade. My hunch….Domi gets moved ;).

 

 

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Marner’s other linemate, Christian Dvorak (Coyotes), continues to run red hot. In fact, for a USA team that had trouble scoring goals at the WJC, I am sure they may be second guessing their choice to leave this budding prospect back in the OHL. Dvorak was just named OHL Player of the Month for December, recording 26 points including 10 goals and 16 assists over 10 games. As nice as his statline is, Dvorak plays an outstanding two-way game that should translate well to the professional ranks. Get this kid on your radar (he should’ve been long ago) as he plays such a complete game that he will get looks earlier than most other prospects. Dvorak is coming off back-to-back six-point games.

 

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While we’re at it, it’s worth mentioning that one of my favourite sleepers for the 2015 NHL Draft was just named OHL Rookie of the Month (December). Congrats to Greyhounds’ forward Zach Senyshyn, who’s riding an eight-game point streak. His 13 points in 10 December games certainly has this lanky skilled winger on scout’s draft radars now.

 

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Since being cut, as a returnee, from Team Canada, Owen Sound defenseman Chris Bigras (Colorado Avalanche) has been sensational registering 13 points in only six games. He was just named OHL Defenseman of the Month (December).

 

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Flames prospect Morgan Klimchuk has been traded to the Brandon Wheat Kings. Klimchuk joins a contender with fellow NHL prospects Jayce Hawryluk (Panthers), John Quenneville (Devils), Peter Quenneville (Blue Jackets) and Reid Duke (Wild)

 

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The Oilers did it again eh? Mismanaged another prospect. Sure, I admire their ability to finally recognize that 3rd overall pick, Leon Draisaitl, would be better if he was sent back to the WHL and applaud that decision. However, the timing of their decision was absolutely horrendous. Draisaitl should have been loaned to the German WJC squad and had a chance to compete directly against some of his peers.

 

I am sure some will argue that “he has nothing left to prove there” but for an under-20 prospect struggling to find offensive confidence at the NHL level, there’s a boatload to prove AND, more importantly, gain from that opportunity. I don’t think much will change with this team unless some of that old boys club is removed from Edmonton and they start fresh.

 

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Back to the 2015 World Junior Championships. Fortunately, I continue to make my way down to the Air Canada Centre day after day to catch all of the world’s top prospects compete for WJC glory. Obviously, with round robin action wrapping up and Canada pitted against Denmark, who have been the ACC’s feel good story and adopted “home” team all week, I was ecstatic to have the opportunity to watch Canada live again. As great as that New Year’s Eve Canada-USA match was (one for the ages actually), I am glad that Canada didn’t have to face any of the teams chalked full of talented players. It was bitter-sweet seeing the Americans lining up against the Russians knowing that one of these two teams would be eliminated from action. With a chance to catch some of the game on TSN, USA’s penalty (and legit penalties) troubles were the death of them. They were unable to gain any offensive momentum as they continually sent out their penalty kill units and before you knew it, they had to enter into desperation mode. The game’s final minutes were played out on the Air Canada Centre’s scoreboard for all of the Canada-Denmark attendants to watch and when Russia finally one, the crowd started cheering. Not me.

 

As tough as an opponent as the Americans continue to be for Canada, I wanted a chance to see a Canada-USA gold medal game. For me, that’s the marquee matchup…always. On another level, I was genuinely disappointed that Team USA would be the ONLY team I wouldn’t have a chance to view live…meaning no Jack Eichel, Noah Hanifin, Zach Werenski or Brandon Carlo, all top American draft prospects. Additionally, my live viewing of Auston Matthews (2016 NHL Draft) will have to wait.

 

From my Twitter timeline, it appeared Jack Eichel was forcing the play a bit in the dying minutes. I can’t blame a kid for trying to make a difference but I wonder the impact that had on scouts’ concluding WJC views of him. For me, in a small sample size as one game, it wouldn’t have much barring but in the McDavid vs Eichel race, every miniscule difference counts.

 

I said it when it happened and will restate it again, leaving Jeremy Bracco (2015 NHL Draft) off the team was a mistake. The Kid might be small but he broke Patrick Kane’s scoring records and would’ve sparked their offense.

 

Dylan Larkin (Red Wings) was easily USA’s best player but Will Butcher (Avalanche) had a great tournament as well. Larkin isn’t a high-end offensive player but his two-way abilities and good physical build will ensure that he becomes a good NHLer. Butcher is all about offense and in Colorado, his wait time might take a few years but he should be owned in most leagues. Alex Tuch (Wild) is another American who excelled and with a projectable big-man’s game, look for him to arrive in the NHL quicker than most first round prospects. Tuch has great net-front presence and like Larkin, has a good scoring touch.

 

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Russia defeating USA was a bit shocking as they were a team who looked quite average throughout preliminary play, only occasionally showing offensive bursts. Those short displays of high-end skill are exactly why the Russian’s always remain a threat. Moreover, the all-world goaltending talent from Ilya Sorokin (Islanders) and Igor Shestyorkin (Rangers) is just another reason to be afraid of Russia. Both goaltenders have the ability to stifle offences and in a must-win, loser-goes-home format, that’s extremely lethal. Shestyorkin appears to be the go-to netminder from here on out.

 

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The Canada-Denmark atmosphere was indescribable. As mentioned before, my great girlfriend surprised me with the complete game package for Toronto WJC action as a 2013 Christmas gift. Attending these games as a fan has been a great feeling and she even talked me into painting my face for yesterday’s game (a mistake because you can’t buy beer with a face painted….thanks MLSE).

 

Apparently, we were on the TSN preview show and of course, I had my head buried in my cell phone texting buddies while she was dancing with a Canada flag, for the whole world to see. Sums up what we do best.

 

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Despite several of Canada’s defensemen looking nervous (Samuel Morin, Flyers; Shea Theodore, Ducks) in the opening period, I felt the Canucks settled into their roles extremely well.

 

This team’s success has really been driving by their four-line attack but it’s the top line of Max Domi – Sam Reinhart – Anthony Duclair who dictate the feel of the game. They offer a calming influence when the game gets jittery with Sam Reinhart’s ability to slow the game down and re-set the tone. When Canada needs a spark of energy, it’s Domi and Duclair who ramp up the pace and offer a dominating offensive zone shift.

 

The remaining lines complement this top line extremely well. It was the line of Lawson Crouse-Frederik Gauthier-Nick Ritchie who stood out for me on a consistent basis versus Denmark. Without sounding too much like a fanboy, Lawson Crouse couldn’t have had a better tournament to date. For a guy with massive expectations for Crouse down the road, he’s exceeded all of them with his ability to balance a responsible defensive game with an ability to create offense down low. I’m not sure why I am surprised, he’s been doing it for years now. Crouse-Gauthier-Ritchie were a treat to watch dominate the cycle.

 

ARTICLE: Crouse’s draft stock is rising…

 

Crouse is a projected top-10 pick in this June’s NHL draft, and a scout here says his stock has risen in the last week. Big No. 28 says he’s a “little” surprised at the amount of ice time he’s been getting. Pleasantly surprised, that is.

 

Much of the nation was crying that Crouse, Gauthier and Ritchie made this team but they’re silencing their critics quickly.

 

 

It is very disappointing that Robby Fabbri (Blues) will miss the remainder of the tournament with a high-ankle sprain suffered last night. Sure, Canada has the depth to replace his presence at even strength but this kid’s penchant for big time goals is an asset that Canada might miss if they advance to the Gold Medal game.He’s a guy that you look to in big moments.

 

Jets prospects Nic Petan and Josh Morrissey had great showings. The latter had probably his best game of the tournament and dominated possession, relying on timely reads and silky smooth transition passes. The Winnipeg Jets have been all-stars at the past few NHL drafts and it’ll show on the ice very soon. Canada did a great job holding fellow Jets’ prospect Nikolaj Ehlers in check throughout the entire game. He appeared to lose steam over the final few games and that’s not surprising as Denmark leaned on Ehlers, Bjorkstrand and Eller hard.

 

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Great to see Connor McDavid with a strong game picking up a goal and assist in the 8-0 victory and named Canada’s Player of the Game. He’s been okay throughout this tournament and flashed his elite offensive skills last night but he still hasn’t reached the level that he’s capable of. With more left in his tank, it’s a good thing for Canada.

 

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Another win for Canada and another strong performance from a Canadian goaltender. This time it was Zach Fucale (Canadiens) who was perfect. Who will it be versus Slovakia? Does it even matter? Coach Benoit Groulx has two gems to pick from and neither Fucale or Eric Comrie (Jets) is the right or wrong decision.

 

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Sweden continues to roll with their quarterfinal win over Finland. William Nylander (Leafs) continued to dazzle Toronto fans at the ACC with his offensive skills. Few players in his peer group have the skill that he possesses but he reminds me a bit of Max Domi last year in the sense that his one-sided game still needs some refining. Domi has transformed his game totally to become a very good two-way player and Nylander will need to improve in both effort away from the puck and urgency inside the defensive zone to take the next step appropriately.

 

Adrian Kempe should be in discussion for one of the WJC’s top performers. A north-south attacker, Kempe finds the scoring areas incredibly well on the ice, as evident by his four goals and seven points in four games. The LA Kings nailed down a great prospect in Kempe and his skills are very transferable to the NHL game.

 

Jacob de la Rose (Canadiens) has been nothing short of perfect. High-end hockey sense, power and strength, and the ability to dominate both sides of the puck, de la Rose will be in the Canadiens’ lineup sooner than later. The points might take some time to surface at the NHL level but they’ll come and I’d expect him to be a perennial 50-60 point player.

 

Really like Detroit Red Wings’ pick of Axel Holmstrom as well. Kid with good two-way sense and an ability to player a number of roles.

 

 

Artturi Lehkonen (Canadiens) didn’t have the strongest of games versus Sweden and Kasperi Kapanen (Penguins) was too inconsistent in his attacks to lift the Finns over their Scandinavian rivals. However, Julius Honka (Stars) was outstanding, displaying his elite mobility and uncontested puck rushes throughout the entirety of the game. He’s slowed down from his rampant AHL start but he’s among the top defensive prospects out there. Pick him up if he’s available.

 

I love Finland’s Mikko Rantanen (2015 NHL Draft) game and his natural scoring abilities. He is a strong skater who’s found the back of the net at nearly every level and he’s been arguably Finland’s most consistent and dangerous attacker. Rantanen appears to be a lock for a first round selection.

 

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Timo Meier (Switzerland) was the most impressive 2015 draft eligible forward from Pool B and I’m wondering how high this physical yet skilled pivot will be selected. Top 30 seems like a real possibility but I wouldn’t be surprised to see a team like his versatility and ability to impact each shift enough to take him inside Top 20…or higher.

 

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To some surprise, Slovakia eliminated Czech Republic with a 3-0 victory. Canada dominated Slovakia in the round robin with an 8-0 victory but goaltender Denis Godla’s recent dominance between the pipes has to strike some fear into a highly potent Canadian lineup. Every year a goaltending story emerges and Godla is it for the 2015 WJC.

 

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Great piece from Sportsnet’s Gare Joyce on scout’s opinions McDavid and Eichel but also already drafted prospects, including Alex Tuch, Frederik Gauthier, Robby Fabbri, Shea Theodore and others.

 

Scouts generally have a very high opinion of Robby Fabbri, higher than you might think given that he was passed over 20 times before St Louis nabbed him. “Teams are just scared about him getting injured [when he moves up to the NHL],” one scout said after last night’s Canada-U.S. tilt. “What makes him effective in junior is his ability to go into the traffic. He has great hockey sense and no fear. He can get away with it in junior, but how long can someone his size [maybe 5-10, maybe 170 pounds] get away with it against bigger players. So maybe he gets hurt at the next level or he realizes he can’t play the same way without getting hurt—either way it could make him a less effective player.”

 

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Sweden vs Russia – Sunday, 4pm EST

Canada vs Slovakia – Sunday, 8pm EST

 

PREDICTION: Sweden vs Canada Gold Medal Game

 

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Connor McDavid scores breakaway goal vs Denmark (Jan. 2, 2015): {youtube}I8ZuuNS1hJ0{/youtube}

 

Mikko Rantanen tip-in goal vs Germany: {youtube}-c_O10UjTi4{/youtube} Mitch

 

Marner can stickhandle in a phone booth: {youtube}r5KIcriJD10{/youtube}

 

 

Thanks for reading, @RossyYoungblood (Brendan Ross) As always, feel free to converse, comment or rambling in the comment section below.

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