The hockey world has become spoiled in recent years with tremendous rookie classes. First it was Connor McDavid, Jack Eichel, Artemi Panarin and Shayne Gostisbehere in 2015. That was followed up by the ridiculous outputs by Auston Matthews, Patrik Laine, Matt Murray, Zach Werenski and company in 2016.
2017 was expected to be a downgrade in that capacity. The top of the most recent draft had some nice pieces but few that are expected to be true game changers.
However, here we are, nearly six weeks into the season and the Calder Trophy race is shaping up to be a doozy.
Clayton Keller, Brock Boeser and Mathew Barzal are starting to gain some separation amongst their freshman peers, but keep an eye out for Kyle Connor who is waiting in the weeds with seven points in nine contests. After starting the season in the American league, the former University of Michigan standout has looked terrific next to Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler on the Jets’ top line and top power play unit.
He’s clicking on nearly 19 percent of his shots, a mark that should be expected to regress, but he’s always been a highly-gifted point producer, so that drop likely won’t be dramatic.
Much of the scouting community has their eyes focused on the CIBC Canada-Russia Series which kicked off this week. Team WHL rostered a team of players whose rights are universally owned by NHL teams – aka, not a single draft-eligible player amongst them.
They did bring five players from the 2017 crop – all of which were selected in the first two rounds.
Cody Glass (6th overall VGK)
Michael Rasmussen (9th overall Det)
Kole Lind (33rd overall Van)
Jaret Anderson-Dolan (41st overall LA)
Jake Leschychyn (62nd overall VGK)
This gives an indication to the direction that the Hockey Canada brass will be taking when assembling their squad for the marquee tournament of the year: The World Junior Hockey Championships.
Meanwhile, the Russian team has stuck with their tradition of boasting as old a team as possible, rostering just two 1999-born players in Alexey Lipanov – (2017 – 76th overall to Tampa Bay) who has looked deadly next to Andrei Svechnikov in Barrie this season, and Nashville’s 2017 sixth round pick, 176th overall, Pavel Koltygin who is a responsible two-way pivot who has a knack for finding the back of the net.
The first of the two matchups occurred Monday night in Moose Jaw in which the WHL squad laid the boots to their Russian counterparts, outshooting them 33-20 and winning 7-0.
Lind was named the player of the game after potting two goals and setting up Glass with a sweet feed for his third point of the evening. The feisty, jack-of-all-trades winger has had a tremendous start in his bid to crack the World Junior squad.
He’s been everything for his K