December 31st Ramblings, Austin Wallace

by Austin Wallace on December 31, 2014

 

Great goaltending, great games, not so great teams.

 

***

 

Welcome to my second ramblings in as many days. Instead of covering a lot of things broadly, I am going to take a deeper look at the two games today as well as the Leon Draisaitl escapade. I focus mainly on drafted NHL prospects; Brendan Ross will be posting his own ramblings in the days to come with much more of an emphasis on 2015 and 2016 eligibles.

 

*

 

Denmark and Switzerland played a massively, unexpectedly entertaining game filled with highlights, great plays, sloppy plays and an improbable, unprecedented win.

 

 

 

The Switzerland powerplay goes through Kevin Fiala, as does most of their offense. He created opportunities for others and himself with abandon, flashing highlight-reel play after highlight-reel. Some of his style (skating to draw players in before dishing it cross-ice) will translate to NHL powerplay success, but some (like a toe drag in the slot that almost led to a goal) is not likely to work against better competition. Fiala scored his first period goal as a result of terrible defensive coverage; while you need skill to capitalize, the disparity in skill between teams is one reason why point totals at the WJC shouldn’t much affect your valuation of prospects.What does matter is seeing how they play, and Fiala was excellent almost every shift and now has 17 shots in three games.

 

Fiala, he of five languages and five shots a game, has immense offensive upside and it will be interesting to see how quickly he translates that to the NHL. He is 5’10, 180lb, but has played very well in a top league against men with 14 points in 20 games in the SHL. That total is good for top three on his team by points per game. Leading his team with 31 points in 30 games? Erik Christensen. When’s the last time you thought about him?

 

*

 

Mirco Muller has looked fairly impressive, not in a flashy way but as someone playing sound, professional hockey. He is that one prospect that the Sharks always seem to have pan out perfectly. Don’t expect any offense from him for another three-plus years.

 

*

 

Noah Rod, one of three NHL drafted players on the Swiss team, was net front on the powerplay. He also had a great transition rush that almost resulted in a highlight-reel goal before Sorenson made an even better save. Don’t expect any fantasy relevance from him, or much offensive potential unless he gets that net-front thing down to a Holmstrom level.

 

*

 

Sorenson is the only player that was keeping Denmark in the game for the early going, the middle going, and the late going. Maybe he in a softie and his GAA isn’t great, but he made spectacular save after spectacular save for the punchless Danes. He is playing in the top Denmark league, and could get a few looks from NHL clubs, only because he single-handedly won Denmark their first ever WJC game and a chance to get to the medal round.

 

He finished last year with a 1.17 GAA (!) for Herning in Denmark, and I don’t think he will spend another year there after this one. The biggest things going against him are the fact that he doesn’t play in one of the elite leagues, and that he is only 5’10 in an age where many prospects are at least 6’3. He is only worth picking up in leagues where wavier wire goaltenders are scarcer than a Denmark win, but he bears watching if he successfully makes his way to North America.

 

*

 

Denmark is about as thin a team as you can have at this tournament, relying on their top line anchored by Nikolaj Ehlers and Oliver Bjorkstrand. Their line combined for an incredibly fluky goal in the first period, and looked dangerous on the powerplay all night. Denmark’s powerplay scored twice, which isn’t particularly surprising; what is surprising is that it was their second unit both times.

 

Ehlers looked great in flashes, but wasn’t a threat on every shift. Overall, he has at least met expectations this tournament, especially given that he is playing as much as 24 minutes a game. He also had a hardcore bumpback hit in the third period that zero people expected, including the poor guy trying to check him.

 

Bjorkstrand also looked very good, and was just as noticeable as Ehlers. If available, I would pick him up immediately; he could be a nice coup for both the Blue Jackets (third round pick), and fantasy owners. He has scored four goals and is tied for second in tournament scoring while leading the tournament in shots.

 

*

 

I was planning on leaving the 2015 draft prospects to Brendan, but Timo Meire really stood out to me. He had great poise with the puck, and displayed a ton of confidence with the puck. With 10 shots and four points in three games, you couldn’t ask for any more.

 

 

***

 

 

The second game wasn’t quite as exciting. For much of the game, it was a foregone conclusion that Slovakia would win as they quickly jumped to a 3-0 league. Even when Germany held the edge in play for much of the second period, their lack of game-breaking talent was readily apparent and Godla was more than capable of keeping them in check.

 

 

Their best chance of getting within a goal came from Dominik Kahun with nine minutes left in the third. Kahun shook off his defender in the corner and made a great feed across the ice to Jonas Muller who hit Godla’s blocker instead of a wide-open cage.

 

*

 

Frederik Tiffels, and Dominik Kahun were the Germans best skaters, but neither has much of a hope of fantasy relevance. Tiffels, who has scored both of Germany’s goals this tournament, is doing well in Western Michigan, but there haven’t been any signs of NHL interest.

 

 

Kahun has split the year between the DEL and their division two league, doing moderately well in both. Last year he scored at a .75 points per game rate with the Sudbury Wolves and had a better WJC, with seven points in seven games.

 

*

 

On the other side, it was the Godla/Reway show. Martin Reway was the most talented skater on the ice for either team. The 2013 Montreal fourth round pick scored a hat trick. I said that Denmark was about as thin as you can get, well Slovakia and Germany might have something to say about that. Reway wasn’t as good as the top players from the other teams in the medal rounds, but he was good enough for Slovakia. Reway has five points for the tournament, tied for second in the league. 27 players have more points than the second Slovakian player, Peter Cehlarik, who has two. No other Slovak player has more than one point. It isn’t quite Kane and a beer league team, but the stats make it seem like it.

 

Denis Godla was great again, going super saiyan and eliminating every last trace of Germany, even if the Tuffle got a couple of shots in. This performance should hopefully get him a look with HC Slovan of the KHL, and if he can get some starts there then maybe he will be able to parlay that into a North American job. Despite some excellent games, the chances of him ever putting on an NHL sweater are exceedingly slim.

 

*

 

Josh Weissbock, whose WJC stats site I showcased yesterday, has taken an advanced-stats look at the usage of prominent Canadian WJC players.

Here is his analysis of Team Canada’s: forwards, defensemen and goaltenders.

 

*

 

The biggest non-WJC news in the prospect world is Leon Draisaitl being sent down to Kelowna.

 

Obviously, there was an internal change in direction within the Oilers front office over the last couple of weeks. There was also the external swap of Mark Arcobello for Derek Roy, though it is difficult to say whether that is a cause or just an effect of the aforementioned change in direction.  Maybe they really didn’t want him to play in Prince Albert, but that still doesn’t explain the lack of WJC. In hindsight though, it looks pretty bad. During the time Draisaitl would have missed for the WJC, he has played 11 minutes and gone minus-two. Even though he has been there and done that on two bad German teams already, you have to think that another tournament would have been better than one NHL game. It isn’t like the Oilers are a much of a step up from team Germany.

 

Draisaitl can still turn this into a positive, look for him to dominate in the WHL as part of a powerhouse WHL squad and come back much stronger this year. It may take him a little bit to get “down” to speed though. The pro game is the best for pro games, but it isn’t always the best game for WHL success. Draisaitl would probably garner more points by toe-dragging and dangling and hero-ing than he would by playing a positionally/defensively sound pro-style game. He has probably been instructed to keep refining his pro game, so don’t be disappointed if he doesn’t rip it up for two points per game; points aren’t the only way to dominate juniors as a massive, talented center.

 

It has to be nice for his psyche to go to a team that wins almost every night, after being exposed to the sunken ship that is the Oilers. Kelowna has to be considered the Memorial Cup favorites, even above Michael Dal Colle, Scott Laughton and the Oshawa Generals.

 

***

 

Some time in the next while, there may be a collaborative ramblings where some of our scouts pitch in. They have really been doing excellent work all around, I think it is worth highlighting. 

All of our veterens are great, but we have two new additions to the staff who have certainly exceeded my expecations.

 

Mark Allen, our new Penguins scout, has been handing in thoroughly professional work at an incredible volume. I rarely, rarely have to edit anything in his work, and it is always informative and well written. Take a look at some of the profiles he has worked on here.

 

Michael Barrett is our new Canucks scout and some of his profiles are more insightful and in depth than anyone short of Brendan Ross himself. Check out this Gustav Forsling profile, sent in all of three hours after I asked him to look into it.

 

They aren’t the only excellent writers on our squad, but they are the newest!

 

 

Denmark couldn’t be happier, winning their first ever WJC game: