World Junior 2013 Review: The Good, the OK and the Ugly
By Janet Eagleson, RotoWire.com
The World Junior Hockey Championship (WJHC) is my favorite hockey, bar none. It's even better than the first round of the NHL playoffs. And you probably know how much I love that round. I take holidays every year so I can catch every game of the tournament. I've even had friends say I treat it like a religion.
Well, amen to that.
There's nothing like the church of the World Juniors. It's fantastic hockey, in large part because the players are there for the love of the game, not money. But I'll admit I prefer tourneys held in North America. This getting up at 3:30 a.m., particularly when my Canadian boys lose, is gut wrenching.
So is drinking coffee at 4 a.m. But I digress.
The best part - other than rooting for Canada - is the chance to see the best young players in the world. And like every other fantasy owner - at least keeper owner - I'm obsessed with youth. I want to get a jump on the next big thing for my many teams.
And that's where this article begins. This is my assessment of the performance (or lack thereof) of guys who'll soon be donning NHL sweaters. I've broken them down into three categories - thumbs up, neutral and thumbs down.
You may not agree, but sure will be fun to debate.
Let's take a look.
Marco Dano, F, Undrafted - Can you imagine what this young Slovak could do if he actually had someone to play with? He's 5-11 and about 180, and he was clearly among the offensive class of the tourney. The goals didn't come easy - Slovakia was in the proverbial pool of death with Russia, USA and Canada, and the 17-year-old finished tied for fifth in tournament scoring with four goals and nine points. He's only rated as the 10th-best Euro prospect for this year's draft. I'm taking him a whole lot higher than that.
Jonathan Drouin, LW, Undrafted - Drouin dazzled when he took Jonathan Huberdeau's spot on Canada's top line and whispers began that he might be the top pick for 2013. Is he a Jeff Skinner kind of guy? I can't say for certain - he's only 17. But I sure came away impressed.
John Gaudreau, LW, Calgary - This kid could be the next Martin St. Louis - same size, same speed, same skill. He was named to the tournament all-star team after sniping the jocks off opposing goalies and leading everyone in goals. He's clearly one of the most dangerous offensive talents of his age group. He wins puck battles and he's a pure scorer. Neither can be taught. This fourth-round pick is looking a whole lot like an NHL first-line player.
John Gibson, G, Anaheim - Gibson hauled in the personal Triple Crown - top goalie, tournament all-star and tournament MVP - to go with his gold medal. He's big, quick and aggressive, and doesn't fall apart laterally when he moves. He isn't overly athletic, but Russian great Vladislav Tretiak waxed poetic about Gibson's future in the NHL. And who am I to contradict that? I think Tretiak knows a thing or 60 about stopping pucks.
Mikael Grigorenko, C, Buffalo - Grigorenko was one of the best Russians on the ice. His offensive numbers didn't leap out, but he played a 200-foot game that really surprised me. He slipped in the 2012 draft the way Sean Couturier did the year before. The two are very, very similar. Grigs' performance erased my doubts about his future success.
Elias Lindholm, C, Undrafted - This draft-eligible Swede caught my eye on just about every shift. In fact, he was probably my favorite Swedish player. Yes, ahead of Filip Forsberg and the others. Lindholm has terrific wheels and was almost always first on the puck. That's the kind of dogged determination that will earn him a top-five pick in 2013.
Seth Jones, D, Undrafted - Son of Popeye is no Sweet Pea - this dude is big and tough. And talented. He was the youngest player on the US squad and finished the tournament with seven points, including six helpers which were tops for all defensemen. Top pick in 2013? I say YES!
Nikita Kucherov, RW, Tampa Bay - Kucherov was absolutely clutch for Team Russia. He provided important goals game after game, and was the most electric player on their team. Too bad he only weighs 148 lbs. He's boom or bust, but right now, I'm leaning more to the former.
Jacob Trouba, D, Winnipeg - Was this outburst for real? I'd projected him as a heavy-hitting defender who'd deliver more D than O. Offense, that is. But his point shot is hard and heavy, just like his hits. And he really impressed me with both his defensive and offensive game. His game sense appears to have taken a leap. And I'm eager to see if this offense sticks. Look out if it does.
Filip Forsberg, C/W, Washington - The hands were absolutely as advertised - I re-wound the footage of his warm-up stickhandling display at least a dozen times. He was solid in the tournament and good in all three zones. And his skating even looks a bit improved. Honestly, I think Sweden's stifling defensive style is the reason he didn't jump out at me. But he was still named to the tournament all-star squad so I'll give him credit for that. I just can't say he thrilled me … except that stickhandling exhibition. Wow.
Alex Galchenyuk, C, Montreal - Galchenyuk was fine, but he wasn't outstanding. And that's what I expected given his torrid pace in the OHL leading into the tourney. Still, eight points (two goals, six assists) in seven games was decent. I just expected his game to jump out a whole lot more. Still, he could stick with the Habs this season. His individual skills are out of this world.
Dougie Hamilton, D, Boston - Dougie is going to be an absolute stud. He was merely average in Ufa, but that's due in large part because of Canada's D pairings. The kid spent time after time mopping up for his error-prone partners and you just can't excel in that situation. He's a Larry Robinson thinker and player, and he could have a HOF career arc. Yes, he's that good.
Jonathan Huberdeau, C, Florida - Huberdeau was generally quiet through the tournament so I was certain he was injured (this was later confirmed). But his elite vision was certainly on display and he still finished tied for fifth in tourney scoring with three goals and six helpers in six games. He's one of my favorite young players and I've already anted up for his services in an auction league this year. He'll be worth the $14 ($230 cap).
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Edmonton - Yes, he was the tournament's best forward, but he left me wanting me more. Hear me out. I wanted - no, expected - Jonathan Toews-like leadership from him on this big stage. I didn't get it. He was perfectly fine, but I ask you - shouldn't one of the NHL's top rookies AND a near-dominant forward at times last year completely out-class his peer group? He was all but invisible in the semi-final against the US, just when the Canada needed him most.
Mark Scheifele, C, Winnipeg - Don't get me wrong - Scheifele had his moments. In fact, there were shifts when he looked like he was a 25-year-old grizzled NHL veteran simply toying with children. And then there was the cloak of invisibility that sometimes draped his game. He's big and already plays a pro game, and this tourney is the least thing from pro as you can get. That's probably why he didn't always dominate.
Ryan Strome, C/LW, NY Islanders - Like Scheifele above, Strome had moments of brilliance and others that left me wanting more. He had been tearing up the OHL before he went to the tourney so I thought there'd be some crazy offense from those sick hands. He didn't wow me, but he also didn't make me reach for the Tylenol, either. Meh.
Malcolm Subban, G, Boston - Subban has the skills to succeed - he just needs time to mature. The size, the athleticism, the agility and quickness - he has them all (and then some). But he showed some negative body language early in the semis against USA that needs to be cleaned up fast. He's smart, so he'll figure that out. There are a few all-star berths in his future if he continues his development path. But that path isn't as quick as many people think.
Andrei Vasilevskiy G, Tampa Bay - Vasilevskiy's talent is undeniable. He's an athletic rubber man whose flexibility almost matches that of the Russian gymnastics team. Did you see those splits? He also has strong technical skills, good size and is lightning quick. I just wish he hadn't played in a platoon. He didn't even dress for the bronze medal game yet the team brain trust named him one of their top-three performers. What gives?
Nail Yakupov, RW, Edmonton - Dang this guy is quick. And talented. But he just wasn't good in Ufa, in large part because he tried to do everything by himself. He's still going to be a great player, but I'm a little worried about his me-me approach. Was I the only person who found his stick slapping for the puck and the early bolts from the defensive zone a bit tiring? That won't stop me from drafting him, though. Not yet, any way.
Radek Faksa, C, Dallas - Did this guy even make the trip to Ufa? Six other Czech players, including one defender, finished with more points than Faksa. Nine guys had more goals than he did (zero). I didn't expect spectacular things from him, but I did expect solid two-way play. I sure hope the Stars didn't blow another draft pick on a guy who'll be “useful,” but nothing more.
Rocco Grimaldi, C, Florida - I expected a whole lot more from this sniping speedster. He was largely negated - or should I say, dominated - by every team he played. It wasn't his stature … his speed/size combo should have played well on the larger ice. Nineteen-year-olds should dominate this tourney. At least he showed up in the last game and scored twice, but both goals were garbagey.
Nathan McKinnon, C, Undrafted - This kid has been hyped for years, in part because of his special talent, but also in part because he's from Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia. Yes, the home of Sidney Crosby. He was asked to play a checking role for Canada and did, but was often relegated to the role of 13th forward, particularly when Canada got all of its suspended players back. His future is bright, but he didn't do much to prove to me that he's the head-and-shoulders top pick in 2013. Top-three, yes. But not the unequivocal top dog.
Ryan Murphy, D, Carolina - I was obsessed with this kid's skills after the 2011 draft. I'm not any more. His strengths lie on the power play, but he just doesn't have what it takes - at least right now - to compete at even strength. Did you see how 17-year-old Valeri Nichushkin blew past him on the bronze-winning goal for Russia? I'm seeing visions of Marc-Andre Bergeron in my head.
Back to my church.
I already have my vacation booked for next year. And I have to say I'm awfully glad the time difference will 'only' be six hours. The eleven hours to Ufa just about did me in.
And don't remind me about the nine-hour difference to Sochi.
Until next time.