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 Kelowna Rockets’ squad, compiling nine goals and 28 points in 17 contests – good for a share of sixth most in the Dub.
Despite not recording a point tonight, Kole Lind had another strong game. He pumped 4 shots on net to go along with some physical play and nice playmaking. Was out in the final moments w/ the goalie pulled.— /Cam Robinson/ (@CrazyJoeDavola3) November 8, 2017
He’s pushing for a spot. #Canucks
LA Kings’ defensive prospect, Kale Clague kept his recent hot play rolling by compiling three assists on the evening. He currently sits as the top scoring defensemen and 10th overall in the WHL with 26 points in 15 contests.
Game two of the matchup started out in the same manner as the previous night, with the WHL jumping out to a 3-0, only to see the Russians storm back to score four unanswered goals – three in the third period with the final tally coming while down a man, to win 4-3.
2016 New Jersey fourth rounder, Mikhail Maltsev scored two for the Russian squad while Andrei Altybarmakyan – a Chicago 3rd rounder from 2017 despite being passed over in 2016, set up a tally and scored the shorthanded game winner.
It’s been a fun start to a highly scrutinized mini-tournament.
Dillan Dube, a returning player from last year’s World Juniors and a Calgary Flames' 2006 second-round selection, leads all players in tournament scoring with two goals and five points through the two matchups. Dube will once again be relied on for his speed and opportunistic scoring at this winter’s event in Buffalo.
Next up, the OHL squad gets their chance to make a mark on the Canadian management on Thursday evening.
For more information, head here.
Kailer Yamamoto and Owen Tippett were both sent back to their junior clubs this week. Neither were expected to remain in the NHL for the duration of the campaign so both should feel good about their first foray into professional hockey.
Tippett saw limited action through seven contests, scoring one goal and eight shots on net. His finest performance came in game three as he pumped five shots on net in just 11 minutes of ice time.
He’ll head back to a Mississauga where he’ll once again be the number one offensive option for a struggling Steelheads’ squad.
Yamamoto flashed far more brilliance during his nine-game trial with the Oilers. The undersized winger was dynamic in the pre-season and showed that level again when paired with Connor McDavid at even-strength.
When the club decided to reduce his minutes, surprise surprise, his shot volume and impact was also greatly diminished.
Yamamoto will head back to Spokane to terrorize opposing teams and will come together to form 1/3 of the United States top line at the upcoming WJHC. It is forecasted that he will see time next to Logan Brown and Casey Mittelstadt on what is likely to be the most productive and electrifying lines at the tournament.
Speaking of Mittelstadt, the Buffalo Sabres first-round selection is off to a very nice start to his NCAA career. The most recent eighth overall pick has racked up three goals and nine points in nine games while averaging just a hair below three shots per contest.
The 18-year-old has consistently impressed with his dynamic skating, creative puck work and terrific vision. He’s managed to find the scoresheet in all but one contest.
He’s a legitimate candidate to be a one and done NCAA player and push for a spot with the Sabres next fall. He can always spend a moment or two in the AHL since he isn’t subject to that pesky CHL-NHL agreement.
Here’s a look at the top 20 NCAA Division I scorers thus far:
For those of you with an eye towards the long-term future, the early favourites for the top two selections in the 2019 draft class, Ryan Suzuki and Jack Hughes are strutting their stuff.
Thus far, Hughes has been setting the world on fire wherever he plays. The 16-year-old has been dynamite in the USHL, scoring three goals and 10 points in just four games. This is against players up to four years’ his senior.
He’s been equally impressive against his age group, posting nine goals and 28 points in 13 under-17 games with the National Team Development Program and is currently running wild at the U17 World Hockey Challenge, sitting second in tournament scoring with three goals and six points in three games.
Suzuki, not to be outmatched, has two goals and five points in three tournament games to go along with his stellar play in the OHL.
The distributing centre has one goal and 11 points in 14 games for Barrie while playing secondary minutes.
The 2017 draft class may have been a tad weaker than previous years, but get excited about both the upcoming 2018 crop and the following 2019 group.
* All stats and information are accurate as of Thursday, November 9 at 5pm PST *
That’s all for this week. As always, feel free to follow me on Twitter @CrazyJoeDavola3 where my hockey ramblings never end.