World Junior Notes
Since Iʼm awake at what can only be described as an ungodly hour to watch what little bit of hockey we actually DO get to enjoy this winter,
I thought weʼd take a look at some interesting things of note so far in this annual tournament of country pride. Heading into the always white-knuckled new yearʼs eve match- ups, there are a few story lines and statistical tidbits that may be of some interest to Maple Leaf and hockey fans alike.
Playing solid, composed hockey as one half of Canadaʼs top defensive pairing, Morgan is being utilized often on the power-play as the tournament lives up to its reputation of being called extremely tight. (Inconsistent as always, but tight nonetheless.). Rielly is currently leading all tournament defensemen with 4 points (1 G, 3A) but could stand to jump-start a Canadian powerplay unit that looked rather disjointed and lacking creativity against the U.S. this morning. Known for his speed, skating out of trouble and making big plays when theyʼre needed most, Rielly will see plenty of action tomorrow when Canada takes on tournament host and perennial rival Russia.
Having a relatively unnoticeable tournament through three games so far, Biggs remains consistent on the ice but pointless on the scoreboard. (Even with an 8-0 win over Germany.) Always competitive, and a threat to the very end, USA will battle, and battle hard. That hard-nosed, honourable mentality is not lost on Biggs. He plays an effective leadership role on every team he plays for, but to this point, the 2013 WJHC hasnʼt been anything to write home about.
Sparks hasnʼt seen any game action so far in this tournament, and with fellow goalie, John Gibson, arguably putting up team USAʼs best performances through three games, itʼs unlikely that he will. Leafs fans shouldnʼt be too disappointed though, as Garret being named to the team is simply a testament to his consistent play in the OHL this season. For loads of enjoyment, follow him on twitter. (@GSparks40)
Maple Leaf prospect and Swedish defender, Tom Nilsson, has been given more of a role in this tournament than anyone could have predicted. With a large portion of Swedenʼs blueline suffering from injuries, Nilsson has stepped into top pairing minutes and done so with consistent, dependable play. Scoreless through three games, but sporting a +1 rating, Nilssonʼs contribution will be seen more in the effectiveness of his physical, shut-down style. Adding some girth to his slender frame and taking advantage of this opportunity, Nilsson could quickly become a player of some interest to his North American ties.
Currently, Canadaʼs players own 4 of the top 6 slots on the statistical leader board. Not overly surprising, considering Canadaʼs penchant for point productivity, but with Russiaʼs high-flying, all-offensive style and a sprinkling of blowouts throughout the tournament so far, one might expect some stiffer competition. Yakupov, shaking off his world junior drought, will likely creep up into the top few in short order. RNH, Strome, Huberdeau, Scheifele, and Rielly top Canadaʼs point totals so far, again unsurprisingly, but if I had to predict an underdog explosion, I see it coming from Drouin. Look for a big game against Russia, cementing him as a go-to speedster when the game requires a kick in the pants.
Perhaps no three players in this tournament are being watched more closely than Seth Jones, Nathan Mackinnon, and Jonathan Drouin. Set to, in the eyes of many, battle it out for NHL draft ranking supremacy, how are they performing through the first three tilts of this highly-skilled tournament?
Showing flashes of high-end hockey IQ and big play capability, Jones admits he isnʼt happy with how heʼs played overall. Looking slightly “caught off guard” at times, 2013ʼs World Juniors may end up serving him best as a wake up call, a reminder that there will be plateaus to move past in his career. Nevertheless, heʼs clearly a blueline stud that wonʼt have to wait long to hear his name called to the stage in New Jersey. (IF thereʼs a draft......heck, IF thereʼs still a team in New Jersey!)
This wonʼt be Mackinnonʼs only World Junior tournament, and it probably wonʼt be his best either. Playing relatively limited minutes and getting used to the bigger stage, Nathanʼs stratospheric upside isnʼt diminished at all by this learning experience, but he wonʼt be among the statistical leaders when all is said and done (Currently sitting with one assist). A heavy gold medal around the neck is sure to be adequate consolation should he be lucky enough to wear one in the coming weeks.
Regularly slated a step or two below the crowned fighting duo of Jones and Mackinnon in most draft ranking lists, Drouin is taking advantage of every opportunity he gets with Team Canada. Turning heads with his blazing speed and creative stick work, Drouinʼs only downside right now might be his size (5ʼ11” and 176 lbs). That, and rounding out is game a little more are on the docket for the next 12-24 months, but the excitement surrounding this player (as well as his responsibilities with this team) continues to build.
There really isnʼt much to say about Yakupovʼs comments regarding Canada being a “dirty” team. It was an ill-advised and incorrect statement to make, and the speed at which we saw him (and his “translator”) back-peddle today proves that. Probably a result of them realizing who their next opponent is, and whoʼs returning to the lineup. Players need to stop using the misquoted/account hacked/phone stolen excuses, too. Theyʼre not genuine OR believable. Instead, donʼt say things like that from the get go. The type of things that give your opponents motivation. The kind that donʼt endear you much to the country which youʼll be playing in for a while. You know, “Tim Thomas” sort of comments. To quote an old coach of mine, “itʼs grow-up time, gentlemen.”
Cheers to some exciting hockey, finally!