Prospect Ramblings: NCAA Returns and Karjala Cup Performers

Dave Hall

2020-11-09

Thanks for joining me for Tuesday’s Prospect Ramblings. 

If you haven’t yet, make sure to check out our November 31-in-31 series here at Dobberprospects. Each day is filled with draft recaps, off-season transactions, and more. Today happens to be the day my Columbus Blue Jackets segment dropped, so, check that it out if you feel inclined.

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To kick things off, I thought I would share a video:

That’s right, folks. Hockey is slowly returning, and next up on the list is the NCAA, which kicks off this weekend. Whether you are a fan of the Collegiate level or not, any hockey that is televised takes precedent right now. In fact, this could prove to be a huge pull for USA hockey, as this should entice a greater audience, including many Canadian viewers, who otherwise live-and-die by the CHL. Which, believe me, is definitely a thing.

Up until recently, it was quite rare for a Canadian to make the move across the border to play hockey, let alone watch it televised. Partly due to the culture change, but also the exposure. While I personally believe in the College route and think the opportunity to gain an education is the obvious choice, I do recall players/friends feeling reluctant to play anywhere other than the CHL, in fear that they may not get noticed. This, of course, was quite some time ago, and the game has grown ten-fold. Regardless, being one of the only North American hockey avenues at the moment, they are sure to gain some traction.

So far, this is shaping up to be an exciting season. There may not be any fans in the buildings, but there is certainly no shortage of talent to keep tabs on. The NCAA recently took a poll, ranking the Nation’s top teams heading into the 2020-21 campaign.

No NHL? Senator fans shouldn’t care. With prospects Shane Pinto, Jacob Bernard-Docker, and now the recently drafted, Jake Sanderson, all suiting up for the University of North Dakota, it looks like Ottawa fans have a new team to cheer on this year.

The first game kicks off this Friday in the Big 10, with Wisconsin taking on Notre Dame. Enjoy the games!

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On the opposite side of the Atlantic, there was some extremely entertaining International Hockey being played with the Karjala Cup taking place.

For those who are not familiar with this tournament, here is a very brief history lesson:

The Karjala Cup is an annual tournament held in Finland and has been running since 1992. It hosts an all European slate, which includes teams from Finland, Russia, Sweden, and the Czech Republic. The event usually consists of the top crop from European leagues, such as the SHL, Liiga, KHL, and Extraliga and is usually formed with groups of veterans, with only a few younger players in the mix.

However, thanks to the pandemic, all other U20 tournaments have been canceled. With this in mind, the Russia team decided to utilize the week as an opportunity for its U20 WJC team to break out the mitts and take on a tournament primarily filled with older players. While this was exciting for prospect enthusiasts, as it gave us all an opportunity to watch some of the best young talents, a few of the teams did not seem to share the same excitement:

 

Of course, in storybook fashion, the (U20) Russian squad dominated the week, taking home their third Karjala Cup title in five years. Which, of course, is just so on-brand for 2020. The Russians would sweep the tournament, going undefeated, posting a 2-0-1 (shootout victory) record. On top of that, Russia held the tournaments top-five point-producers, while Nashville’s newest investment, Yaroslav Askaraov, was brilliant, allowing just three goals in total. 

Here were the final results of the tournament:

Teams GP W L OTW OTL GF GA PTS
Russia 3 2 0 1 0 11 3 8
Czechia 3 2 1 0 0 5 4 6
Finland 3 1 2 0 0 5 10 3
Sweden 3 0 2 0 1 4 8 2

 

Here are some of the tournament’s top-performing prospects, which is basically just a list of team Russia.

Vasili Podkolzin, RW, Canucks – 1G-4A -5PTS

A true testament to what minutes can do for a kid. It’s no secret that Vancouver Canucks’ top prospect has had a frustrating season with SKA St.Peterburg (KHL). For whatever reason – some speculate injury, while others say it’s the coaching staff just being spiteful – his playing time has been extremely disappointing, averaging just under 12-minutes a night, if any.

While it was short-lived, he was able to showcase just what he can do when inserted into a line-up. He plays the perfect combination of a two-way power-forward, and finesse point-producing winger. He’s responsible, skilled, and looks poised to contest for a spot in the NHL very soon.

Luckily, even if he stays glued to the benches in Russia upon his return, fans will not have to wait long to see him in action again. He is set to be a key cog in this year’s WJC and will certainly be one of the tournaments “must watches”. He led the Karjala with five points. Oh, and he also sealed the deal in the team’s shootout victory, with this:

Please, give this kid some ice-time.

Egor Afanasyev, F, Predators – 2G-2A-4PTS

Three of his four points came in game one of the tournament, where he posted a goal and two assists versus the Finns. However, the Nashville prospect looked dangerous throughout the tournament. It’s no surprise that both his goals came off strong shots, albeit one was from a nasty angle, as he certainly has his bread-and-butter – and that’s it. He’s got a big frame and strong offensive instincts, which seem to be developing just fine. 

Following a strong rookie season with the Windsor Spitfires (OHL) last year, Afanasyev has taken his talents to MHL in Russia, where he has two goals through his first two games. If I am an offensively thirsty Predators fan, I am starting to get pretty excited about this kid’s upside. 

Catch him next month, as he should also be a shoo-in for a roster spot on Russia’s WJC squad.

Rodion Amirov, W, Maple  Leafs- 3G-0A -3PTS

Canada’s…I mean Toronto’s new conversation piece, certainly showed off his stuff throughout the course of the week. Amirov took home the “player of the tournament”, and finished as the lone three-goal producer. While it was by no means a perfect performance shift-by-shift, the 19-year-old backed up his 15th overall selection with conviction. As a bonus to the fans, his silky hands provided onlookers with a few highlight-reel plays. I am, of course, talking about plays like this:

And this: 

Finally, the cut-back play that stole the show: 

Yegor Chinakhov, RW, Blue Jackets – 2G-1A-3PTS

Covering the Blue Jackets, Chinakhov was certainly the prospect that I was most invested in throughout the week. So far, despite his knocks to his overall lack of two-way ability, I have been quite impressed with him. Of course, leading the way among U21 skaters in the KHL as a rookie certainly helps his case. His offensive instincts are hard to look past, and he is on the constant hunt to find a scoring play. To be quite honest, I do not blame him one bit – his shot is elite, and I mean, elite.

There is one play that stood out for me, and of course, it eventually led to a top-corner tally. Yes, he destroys this puck passed the goalie by the end of the play. However, what the replay just misses, was his aggressive forecheck behind the net, which ultimately led to the turnover. Sure, he can shoot the puck and provide offense, but if he can implement some of this aggressive behavior into his everyday game, things could get spicy.

Yaroslav Askarov, G, Predators– 2-0-1 – 0.98 GAA – .968 SV%

Finally, we have Nashville’s newest prized possession, Yaroslav Askarov. Before the draft, I had made a few arguments as to why the Ottawa Senators should select him in the five-spot, and while I definitely do not disagree with a solid defender such as Jake Sanderson, I stand by my case. 

As mentioned, he allowed just three goals all tournament and wrapped it all up with a 29 save shutout against the Czechs. While he did not win it in the end, his game surely warranted a ballot for “player of the tournament”. The kid was a brick wall. He is by all accounts elite and has already shown that at the top levels in Russia. Through four games in St.Petersburgh, he’s sporting a 2-2-0 record, with 1.10 GAA, .960 SV%, and one shutout. Did I mention that he just turned 18 during the summer? Russia continues to pump out elite goaltending talent.

Marat Khusnutdinov, C, Wild – 1G-0A-1PTS

Recently drafted, Marat Khustnutdinov tallied a single goal throughout the tournament. Much like the rest of the young Russian team, adding experience against older competition plays a direct benefit to his development. He already dipped his feet in some KHL action earlier in the year, but could not find a rhythm, so this will certainly help with confidence.

Since then, he has been relegated to the VHL, where he has exploded for three goals and 14 points through 11 games, and looks much more comfortable.  He is smaller in stature but makes up for it in strong two-way efforts and certainly entertainment value. He joins a strong pipeline in Minnesota and will be a player to watch out for during this winter’s WJC.

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Thanks for reading. Enjoy your week, and be safe!

Follow me on Twitter @hall1289 for CBJ and FLA coverage, as well as all things prospects.

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