Monday, April 23, 2012

Under 18 Championship Player Review

For those unaware, the 2012 Under 18 World Championships just wrapped up in the Czech Republic, with Canada taking home the bronze medal (in exciting fashion, a thrilling overtime victory over Finland). This has to be considered a HUGELY successful showing for Canada, as we've taken home our first medal since 2008, when we won Gold. We fought the eventual gold medal winners, team USA, (and four time consecutive champion) tooth and nail in a semi final that was significantly tighter than the 7-0 romp that was the gold medal game (against Sweden).

This strong showing for Canada has to have done wonders for the draft stock of some of the team's performers. I was lucky enough to catch nearly all of Canada's games on television. While providing performance recaps based on television viewings isn't ideal, it's the best I can do here. Fortunately, in the coming days, I'll be posting a Q & A with McKeen's scouting director David Burstyn, who is going to share his thoughts from the tournament after being there live. It'll be interesting to see how our comments jive, considering one person watched the games on t.v., and the other live.

Let's look at how the OHL players on Team Canada performed:

Matt Murray 
90.95 SV%, 2.72 GAA, 4 wins, 3 losses

The stats definitely don't tell the whole story here. It seemed like a lot of people felt the higher ranked Brandon Whitney would end up being the starter, but Murray took hold of the starting job in the pre-tournament games and never looked back (in fact, no other goaltender saw a minute of ice time). Those stats above may look exceedingly average, but Murray played fantastic in the tournament. He showcased his great athletic ability in many of the games by making absolute highlight reel saves, most by going post to post quickly. His ability to challenge shooters and cut off angles was better than what we saw on a lot of nights in the OHL too. At his size, having a goaltender who takes away the bottom of the net and moves well in his crease has to be enticing to NHL scouts. Before the tournament, I was incredibly surprised by his CSS ranking (18th) and said I'd eat my shoe if he's the 18th ranked North American goaltender taken. I definitely stand by that now. Perhaps no player on Canada did better to raise his stock in the tournament, exemplified by his naming as one of Canada's top 3 players in the tournament by opposing coaches.

Darnell Nurse
0 goals, 0 assists, +4, 14 penalty minutes

Nurse saw a ton of ice time for Canada, and largely earned it with strong play, especially for an underager in the tournament. His play for Canada was significantly more impressive than anything I saw from him in Sault Ste. Marie this year. He skates so well for a bigger defenseman, and those football genes ooze out athleticism. While there were a few instances in the tournament where he got caught forcing things offensively, or making bad reads, his skating ability largely allowed him to recover. He also was quite physical in the tournament, showing no timidness against older and largely stronger opposing forwards. Offensively, it's clear he remains a work in progress though. He showcased a few really nice rushes, but at times forced things and looked uncomfortable with the timing of when to jump into the rush. The fact that he was paired with Matt Dumba a fair amount (as was Adam Pelech), speaks volumes as to how Team Canada brass feels about him. Definitely a strong showing for Nurse.

Warren Steele
0 goals, 0 assists, -1, 4 penalty minutes

Unfortunately for Steele, he saw very little ice time in the tournament. This is especially true once Ryan Pulock showed up and got comfortable. In the time he did see, Steele looked a little over-matched, especially defensively. This is kind of a drag for fans of Steele, as this tournament was his chance to really put himself on the scouting map after failing to place on the final CSS rankings.

Adam Pelech
0 goals, 0 assists, +2, 8 penalty minutes

Pelech had an absolutely fantastic tournament. Outside of Matt Dumba (who was fantastic in his own right), Pelech was Canada's top defenseman and the anchor of their "defensive" unit. He saw tons of ice time against some of the tournament's top players and was very effective in a shut down role. This is (again) exemplified by the fact that despite not hitting the score sheet, he was named one of Canada's top 3 players by opposing coaches. And even though he didn't hit the score sheet, I actually felt like his offensive game was pretty effective. He made some absolutely terrific breakout passes that lead to scoring chances, and was comfortable skating the puck out of the zone, and not just chipping the puck out in danger situations. He also showed an above average skating ability for a defender of his size, as the big ice was little challenge for him in defending off the rush (save for a few times where he got caught standing still). His physicality, and effort in all situations made him (IMO) the second best defensive defenseman in the tournament behind Seth Jones (who was absolutely amazing). This tournament secures Pelech as a player NHL teams should be looking at WAY earlier than his CSS ranking indicates (120).

Brendan Gaunce
3 goals, 1 assist, +4, 8 penalty minutes

I have to admit that I was a little bit disappointed by Gaunce's performance in the tournament. I felt like on a lot of his shifts, he was just "kind of there," if you excuse the expression. A lot of this stems from the fact that he looked uncomfortable playing on the wing with Scott Laughton at center towards the end of the tournament. It was Laughton and Sam Reinhart who seemed more engaged where as Gaunce was kind of in charge of creating space for his linemates and hanging out around the crease. Gaunce is way more effective when he has the puck on his stick and can use his vision and size to make things happen. I've seen enough of Gaunce over the past two years to still be a big fan of his, but this tournament wasn't his best showing IMO. On the positive, I felt like he did a great job on the penalty kill and in general defensively, which solidifies his reputation as a quality two way player. And his skating didn't look that bad on the big ice, as he rarely trailed the play on the rush.

Kerby Rychel
5 goals, 3 assists, +4, 12 penalty minutes

Rychel had a very good tournament, tying for the lead in goal scoring with 5. The majority of his goals were scored in his office, in front of the net. He's got such great hands in close, and uses his body so well to get positioning over defenders for rebounds and loose pucks. And while at times this season his defensive play and general effort away from the puck took some heat (rightfully so in some instances), in this tournament I felt like he played quite well away from the puck. And by wearing the A, it shows that the coaching staff had a lot of trust in him as a dressing room influence. This tournament absolutely cemented Rychel as a top front prospect for next year's draft.

Scott Kosmachuk
0 goals, 0 assists, +1, 4 penalty minutes

So shocked that Kosmachuk ended up being a 4th liner for this team, and a guy that saw little to no ice time in most of the games. I'm a big fan and such I figured he'd see a ton of ice time, but that was not the case, for whatever reason. In the one game he did see significant action (against the U.S.), I felt like he was one of the team's best forwards and created a lot of chances with his tenacity away from the puck. I wonder what his disappearing act at this tournament does for his draft stock, considering he was widely considered as a 2nd round prospect before the tournament.

Gemel Smith
2 goals, 3 assists, -1, 2 penalty minutes

Anyone who's seen Smith play in the OHL wouldn't be surprised at his performance in the tournament. Playing on the third line with Mike Winther and Felix Girard, Smith was his usual pesky self. He created offense from his speed and effort near the boards, and caused turnovers from his strong forechecking ability. He's like the energizer bunny. Don't let that -1 fool you either, as his line often played against the opposition's top units.

Scott Laughton
2 goals, 5 assists, +3, 4 penalty minutes

Laughton had a tremendous tournament, and outside of Hunter Shinkaruk, he was Canada's top forward IMO. He was so important to the team in every area. He played in all situations, and was especially excellent on the penalty kill. He was also one of the tournament's leading face off men. He was engaged physically and was tenacious on the forecheck, causing a lot of turnovers. He was dangerous off the rush and showcased a pretty high skill level overall. Basically, he was Mr. Everything for Canada. With his strong play to close out the OHL season, and now this, I think he's pushed himself into conversation for the back end of the first round for the draft in June.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great report Brock