We learned a lot of things in this year's World Junior Championship, which Sweden won over Russia in a 1-0 overtime thriller. Here's a list.
- I touched on this last week, but Evgeny Kuznetsov is coming for you. In fact, he's coming for all of us. The Russian captain was held scoreless in the final - a far cry from last year's three-assist effort to take home the gold - but he was still making plays all over the ice in that and every other game, and was named the tournament MVP for his silly 13 points (six goals, seven assists) in seven games. That's second in WJC history only to Peter Forsberg, who scored 14 points back in 1993. It's been a few years since Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin burst onto the scene with enormous rookie seasons, but Kuznetsov has a very real chance to replicate that kind of success next year.
- Mika Zibanejad may not have the greatest offensive upside - his five points in six WJC games is okay, but won't exactly make headlines - but he does have a flair for the dramatic. Ten minutes into overtime in the final, as he capitalized on a turnover generated by teammate Patrik Nemeth, took the puck to the net on a breakaway, and pulled a pretty move, going forehand to backhand to beat Russian goalie Andrei Makarov for the game's only goal.
- Speaking of Russian goalies, the Russkies showed that they've got two big-time prospects in net with Makarov and Andrei Vasilevski, who were arguably the two best goalies in the tournament, allowing just 12 goals between them. Just 17 years old, Vasilevski put up a disgusting .953 save percentage in his five games, notching two shutouts. The 18-year-old Makarov stopped 95 of 97 shots in his three games (one relief appearance) for a .979. In the final, Makarov made 57 - yes, fifty-seven - saves before Zibanejad finally snuck one by him. He also showed extra tenacity by staying in the game after Sweden's Rickard Rakell ran into him in the third period. Unfortunately, there may have been some lingering effects from that hit, as Makarov, back with the WHL's Saskatoon Blades, was the victim of a similar collision Monday and left the game with a concussion. You have to wonder if he shook off a mild concussion to stay in that final. Wouldn't be the first time the Russians didn't handle medical care properly.
- Nail Yakupov is still probably the No. 1 pick in 2012. But there's a window open for someone else to take that top spot from him, as Yakupov failed to score a goal in the WJC - though he did rack up nine assists, which certainly takes the edge off - and suffered a knee injury in the final. The worst thing for Yakupov is that, uncharacteristic for a future No. 1 pick, he was overshadowed by his teammates. He won't need surgery on the knee, so Yakupov should return soon to continue his super season with Sarnia of the OHL, where he's got 53 points in 26 games.
- Mark Visentin is for real. Taken 27th overall by Phoenix in 2010, Visentin has had a down season with Niagara of the OHL (just a .902 after posting a .911 and .917 the last two seasons), but he was on top of his game in the WJC, putting up a .943 and reasserting himself as the Coyotes' goalie of the future.
- The Avs may have found their own goalie of the future, and at more of a bargain. Finnish stopper Sami Aittokallio (say that five times fast), Colorado's fourth-round pick (107th overall) in 2010, has been a revelation this year as a 19-year-old playing against men in the Finnish SM-liiga, posting a .911 save percentage in a backup role and threatening to take over the top job. In the WJC, he established himself as one of the world's elite under-20 netminders, putting up a .937 save percentage over five games.
- Jack Campbell still isn't there yet. Campbell celebrated his 20th birthday on Monday, but the celebrated prospect and the Stars' No. 11 overall pick in 2010 still hasn't grown into the kind of dominant goaltender everyone's expected. I said the WJC would be a bellwether for him, and it was - with a ho-hum .906 save percentage, he failed to live up to his reputation as a big-game goalie. The American team, which wasn't loaded offensively like some others, didn't go far because Campbell didn't carry them. With a .909 save percentage across two OHL teams this year, he's still a long way from breaking out.
- Mikael Granlund will be the best player to come out of Finland since Teemu Selanne. Granlund tied for second in WJC scoring with 11 points (two goals, nine assists) in seven contests. The ninth overall pick by the Wild in 2010 - and RotoWire's No. 2 NHL prospect - has had a monster season in Finland, posting 38 points in 30 games. He's a bit undersized, but Granlund has high-end talent and ice vision, and that makes up for a lot. He won't soon forget the botched shootout attempt that sent Sweden to the WJC gold-medal game, but countryman and future teammate Mikko Koivu (the last “best player out of Finland since Teemu Selanne”) gave him a call after to make sure he kept his chin up.
- Max Friberg is quite a finisher. A fifth-round pick by the Ducks in '11, Friberg has been quiet in the Swedish Elitserien with just three points in 28 games, but he blew up for nine goals in the WJC and tied with Granlund for second in scoring. He also played with some edge, racking up 22 PIM. The 19-year-old Friberg's got a long way to go before he's NHL-ready and probably will never score like this in the pro ranks, but he's a hard worker who could develop into a nice second- or checking-liner with some grit and scoring ability.
- Impressive: Mark Stone, Jonathan Huberdeau, Brandon Gormley, Dougie Hamilton, Ryan Strome, Scott Wedgewood, Petr Mrazek, Nikita Gusev, Tomas Jurco, Jason Zucker, Austin Watson.
- Disappointing (which doesn't necessarily mean bad): Jaden Schwartz, Mark Scheifele, Alexander Khokhlachev, Mikhail Grigorenko, Emerson Etem. These guys should have been taking over games, but they didn't.
Magnus Paajarvi, LW, EDM - Paajarvi wrote his own ticket to the minors by flopping in his sophomore season, failing to score a goal and dishing only three assists in 25 games with Edmonton before being sent down, but he looked revitalized in the minors, totaling nine points (one goal, eight assists) in 10 AHL games. The 10th overall pick in '09 has all the potential to turn into a star, and at just 20 years old, he's still got time to develop. That second year as a pro can be tough, so I'm willing to cut Paajarvi some slack. It would be nice to see the Oilers find him some power-play time this time around, as he averaged just 46 seconds there earlier this year.
Kevin Poulin, G, NYI - It was speculated that Poulin would start Tuesday against Detroit, but Evgeni Nabokov has been announced as the starter for that game. Poulin just won the AHL Player of the Week award for the first week of January, winning all four of his starts - three via shutout. That's a good way to turn around what had been a disappointing season for the 21-year-old, who may just now be rounding back into form after a knee injury derailed him last year. All of a sudden, his numbers look respectable - Poulin raised his save percentage from .891 to .905 and dropped his GAA from 3.27 to 2.77. I'm more and more convinced that he's going to be the starter on the Island after Nabokov is inevitably traded.
Eric Tangradi, LW, PIT - Tangradi has taken his production up a (small) notch in the AHL this year, as the 22-year-old has a respectable 14 goals and 11 assists in 30 games. Scoreless in four games this season as a Penguin, he's got a prime opportunity to put some points on the board thanks to injuries suffered by James Neal and Jordan Staal. The power forward has to show something on the big-league level soon, as he turns 23 in a month, and in today's NHL, that makes him pretty old for a prospect.
Kyle Palmieri, RW, ANA - Palmieri was given just 12 minutes per game of ice time for the struggling Ducks before they sent him down at the end of December, but the 20-year-old former first-rounder (No. 26 in '09) has been a dominator in the AHL, totaling 21 goals and 10 assists in 23 games. He's got just two points in eight games for Anaheim, including a scoreless game Sunday, but he's obviously got a ton of potential and faces the very real possibility of the Ducks shipping some stars out of town. You've got to think they want to find him some more minutes at this point - he skated just 11:18 on Sunday.
Tomas Kubalik, RW, CLM - Kubalik had a huge preseason for Columbus last year, failed to make the team, and went on to record 24 goals and 53 points as a rookie in the AHL. Things haven't gone quite so swimmingly this year, as he has a meager 11 points in 24 games, but the 2008 fifth-round pick is apparently going to get a significant trial run with the Jackets, as he skated 15:48 in his season debut with nearly three minutes of power-play time. The bad news is he didn't have much to show for it - one shot on goal, a minus-one rating, a hit and a minor penalty. The 21-year-old Czech has the size and talent to be an impact player, but he's got to keep skating hard and going to the goal mouth, where he does his best work.
Iiro Tarkki, G, ANA - Do you like 26-year-old Finnish goaltending prospects? Then Tarkki is for you! The unheralded and undrafted Finn has quietly put together a solid season for AHL Syracuse, putting up a .916 save percentage while playing for a truly horrible defensive team - especially without Palmieri. He was also productive in Finland over the last couple seasons. With Dan Ellis hurt, Tarkki is now the backup to Jonas Hiller, and when Hiller left Sunday's game with a lower-body injury, Tarkki stepped in and won despite allowing three goals on 10 shots. He could see a few starts in the short term with Hiller on the sidelines. Keep expectations low, but he's certainly better than he showed in his NHL debut.
Anders Lindback, G, NAS - Lindback was sent down to AHL Milwaukee so he could actually play for once, since the Preds foolishly think that it's smart to deploy Pekka Rinne every single game. The 6-6 Swede won one and lost one as he played back-to-back Friday and Saturday. It's not surprising to see him drop the second, considering that he hadn't played on consecutive days since February (also in an AHL stint to get him some work). The Predators have a terrific reputation for goalie development, but they seem to be doing their best to screw up both Lindback and Rinne this year.
Jacob Markstrom, G, FLA - Markstrom got the call last week, played one game, and suffered another injury to his surgically repaired knee. He's had an MRI and has a meeting with a surgeon on tap, so this could be a long-term issue. Markstrom's status as Florida's goalie of the future is at risk now.
Andrew Shaw, C, CHI - Shaw's not a big prospect - he's a shade undersized and was a fifth-round draft pick in '11 - but the 20-year-old showed something with AHL Rockford this year, potting 12 goals and 21 points in 33 games - oh, along with 80 PIM. He's shown that grit, energy and finishing ability on the NHL level already, laying six hits in his three contests with Chicago thus far and scoring a goal in his very first NHL game. It was a beauty, too, as Shaw gained control of the puck behind the Flyers' net, stickhandled around a stunned Kimmo Timonen and beat Ilya Bryzgalov with a backhand shot. Shaw has the potential to develop into a very nice points-and-PIM player.
Marco Scandella, D, MIN - Scandella's been a productive two-way defenseman in juniors, where he posted a point per game in '09-'10 with Val d'Or Foreurs of the QMJHL, and in the minors, where he put up 19 points in 33 games last season for AHL Houston. His first full season in the NHL, though, has been a disaster, as Scandella put up just six points and went minus-10 in 37 games. Finally, enough was enough and he was returned to Houston on Monday. He's a good skater, he's got NHL size and strength, and he's got NHL talent - it's just a matter of putting it all together into solid play.
Gustav Nyquist, LW, DET - Nyquist saw only fourth-line ice time in his five-game trial with the Wings, averaging less than eight minutes per game, but he did post an assist and four shots in his limited opportunity. He returns to AHL Grand Rapids, where he's been dominating at a point-per-game pace.
Jeremy Smith, G, NAS - AHL Milwaukee's usual starter, Smith was flip-flopped with Lindback and backed up Rinne for a couple games. The 22-year-old has been awfully productive with Milwaukee the last two seasons, following last year's .921 save percentage with a .917 this year, and has won 32 of 54 starts in the last two seasons combined. Of course, he's blocked by Nashville's two monsters, but Smith is one of the game's more underrated goaltending prospects.
Jonathon Blum, D, NAS - My fondness for Blum is well-documented, but his ice time remains limited for the Preds and his minus-14 rating is stunning on a team with such good goaltending, so some AHL time will do him good. In three games since being sent down, he's got three assists. The 2007 first-rounder will soon be 23, so he needs to get it going soon, but his pedigree and impressive results both in juniors and in the AHL will ensure that he gets more opportunities.
Matt Frattin, RW, TOR - A 60-point man for the University of North Dakota last year, Frattin proved unable to step directly from college into NHL success, totaling just 10 points in 37 games before finally being sent down to the AHL's Marlies. Still, despite generally limited ice time with the Leafs, Frattin established himself as a physical player with offensive potential, and if space opens up in Toronto's top six this year or next year, the 24-year-old winger could make a significant impact.
Zac Dalpe, C, CAR - Carolina is the most baffling team in the NHL. Dalpe, given next to no ice time, suddenly skated 11 minutes (scoring a goal and adding an assist), then 15 minutes, then 19 minutes… and then was sent back to AHL Charlotte. Yep, I'm pretty well mystified. He's been rejuvenated in the minors, though, scoring three goals in as many games since the send-down.
Louis Leblanc, C, MON - A first-round pick, 18th overall, in '09, Leblanc made a solid first impression in the NHL, picking up five points in 14 games despite skating less than 10 minutes per game on average. He played with some edge (17 hits) and stayed defensively responsible (plus-2), so overall, a nice debut. The Habs sent him back to the AHL to skate more minutes, which is a good move for the 20-year-old. He's got a goal on 11 shots in three games since being sent down.
The Future to Come
Every week in this space, I'll feature one college player and one junior player who are making their mark.
This week's college prospect is Danny Kristo, a junior winger with the University of North Dakota and a second-round pick by the Montreal Canadiens in 2008. The 21-year-old Kristo is in the midst of the best season of his college career, totaling 11 goals and 13 assists through 21 games thus far. That puts him on pace to blow away his previous career highs in goals and points (16 and 36, respectively, as a freshman). It sticks out like a sore thumb that he set those career highs as a freshman (and WCHA Rookie of the Year) - indeed, Kristo struggled somewhat in his sophomore season, scoring just eight goals and 28 points in 34 games and missed time thanks to a particularly harsh - indeed, career-threatening - case of frostbite. Yes, frostbite. Welcome to North Dakota. Kristo's a tough kid, though, and after returning to star in the playoffs last season, he's been back out there this year like he never left.
Our junior prospect of the week is Malcolm Subban, a 2012 draft-eligible goalie for the OHL's Belleville Bulls. P.K. Subban's younger brother (the youngest, Jordan, a 16-year-old defenseman, also plays for Belleville) has been on an unbelievable run this season, backstopping the Bulls to a 13-6-0 record in his 19 starts and putting on an absolute clinic in goaltending. Subban is sporting an eye-popping 1.93 GAA and .938 save percentage this season, stunning numbers in the high-scoring world of junior hockey. He's done that despite being one of the younger starting netminders in the league, having just turned 18 late in December. The one knock on him so far is durability - Subban missed time early in the season with an ankle injury and has been held out lately with a groin pull - in fact, he hasn't played since Dec. 17 - but he's on the mend and should return soon. The OHL's skaters certainly aren't in any hurry to see him back between the pipes.
Something to ask? Something to say? Prospects you're dying to hear about? You can contact me here.