Thursday, January 12, 2017

The 2016-2017 Western Hockey League Power Rankings(Volume 7)

Keep in mind when perusing through these rankings that the objective of this  article isn't to rank the teams based off of current position which would skew the rankings, it's a ranking where enlies my thoughts on where teams currently situate when assessing the likelihood or lack thereof of said team hoisting the Ed Chynoweth Cup.

1.Seattle Thunderbirds(Last time #1)

There will naturally be plenty that will scoff at the laudy ranking when pointing out that the T-BIrds were inactive in the trade deadline proceedings unlike a lot of their Western Conference combatants. To that I'll remind those that back in their hay day in the mid to late nineties the Detroit Red Wings constantly preached  inactivity at respective trade deadlines and made out just fine. There is no other way to slice it, Ryan Gropp did not have the first half he envisioned only accumulating twenty six points through his first thirty three games played and Coach Konowalchuk will need to see a lot more down the stretch run.Gropp is a terrific compliment to Matt Barzal because at his core Gropp is a shooter where as from what we saw out of Barzal at the just completed World Junior Hockey Championship he's very much a pass first player so just like last season played out, a Barzal-Gropp partnership will wreak havoc on the Western Conference. Aside from the two that will receive the accolades in the aforementioned Barzal and Gropp, from this bloggers perspective the  X factor may very well be Alexander True. True showed exemplary abilities representing Denmark at the WJHC and I would imagine unless Konowalchuk has ideas of re jigging the line combinations will be called upon to anchor the second line. Alexander's a big,powerful skater who for his size(listed at 6'5 on has deceptive hands and when I examine True I unequivocally foresee  a future in the National Hockey League.  Defence isn't as much of a red flag as certain pendants will have you believe, the Seattle Thunderbirds.....Windsor,Ontario bound in May of 2017.

2.Everett Silvertips(Last time # 2)

The Everett Silvertips will not reach the Conference Finals. The Everett Silvertips are a top two team in the Western Hockey League. The 'Tips have no one to blame but the divisional playoff format for why a deep playoff run may not be in their cards this spring. Notwithstanding the number two ranking I've graced Everett with, I have a few concerns with the make up of this 2016-2017 squad. First off, the acquisition of Edmonton's Aaron Irving is a tremendous as an offensive defenceman(I guess he's one this year) is exactly what the doctor ordered. When assessing the rest of the Green and White's backend, the likes of Noah Juulsen and Lucas Skrumeda instill conservative tendencies where as now with Irving he'll be able to push the pace whilst keeping the aforementioned two in their comfort zone. The issue becomes however, when the games become pressure packed who's going to light the proverbial lamp?  I've been critical of the Silvertips Front Office regime throughout the years as I feel the mantra has always been to add players conducive to the coaches style as opposed to recruiting players that can succeed in the most tenuous moments however let's take a second singling out the players that the Silvertips could have in their stable but don't. Tyson Jost, Auston Matthews and Nick Henry were all identified as core pieces but none of which committed to the organization. The adverse argument is that when you swing for the home run you're more often to miss but for the fan base it would've been nice to land at least one. By saying all of that, considering how many home run swings have missed in the last couple years to still compile a 27-4-6-1 record is extraordinary.

3.Prince George Cougars(Last time # 6)

Unquestionably the out of left field(apologies for the plethora of baseball puns) came the Nikita Popaguev transaction.I'm still unsure if I understand the move from Moose Jaw's point of view but nonetheless the Cougar brass has their hands on the special draft eligible Russian. The aftermath of the trade has seen a lot of Warrior fans come out of the closet lamenting over Nikita's poor defensive work ethic however as a  point of reference to the criticism is that the Warriors the entire season have fielded a suspect D so naturally fans will look to scape goats attempting to excuse the defensive deficiencies. Moving away from Popaguev who no doubt will be a welcome addition for Jansen Harkins AKA a poor man's Matt Barzal, where I'm most excited for the Northern B.C constituents is on defence. Everybody clamours over Brendan Guhle and rightfully so but two names that are as important but don't receive near the same respect are Tate Olsen and Ryan Schoettler. I've touched on Olsen previously but with Schottler, I'll come right out and say Ryan was the steal of the 2014 Bantam Draft getting nabbed in the seventh round. The Lloydminster product continues to thrive under the tutelage  of former Dallas Star Richard Matvichuk. Because they've collected a veteran group he'll remain on the third pairing but from my viewings defintely has #1-2 potential as early as next season. I was reading somewhere that on average the Cougars boast the oldest lineup in the league, 18.48 or in and around there so the fact that the seventeen Schoettler is able to crack the lineup most nights is a testament to him.

4.Swift Current Broncos(Last time # 9)

Unlike a few teams in this league, everything that Director of Player personnel Jamie Porter has touched has turned to gold.  From the obvious in hauling in Ryan Graham, Ryley Lindgren and now netminder Jordan Papirny to the less obvious in Jake Hobson and Kole Gable, the holes that needed plugging have now been fulfilled and what has happened is Speedy Creek is now poised to make a memorable playoff run. I won't even get into how the Broncos may match up against some of the Western Conference powers in a finals scenario but surveying their chances against the beasts of the east, they're favourable to put it mildly.  Ryan Graham, the former Saskatoon Blade and Glenn Gawdin, the St.Louis Blues prospect are thorns in the side to play against as they excel in the cycle game and are nearly impossible to knock off the puck.  The Broncos are structured as such that they're polar opposites to much of the conference. The contrasting styles would make for an entertaining playoff series and a scary one because I can't think of one formidable East foe that has the defence to match wits with that style. It's for that reason that I can visualize a spot in the finals.

5.Kamloops Blazers(Last time # 4)

Rampant speculation on message boards existed that the Blazers were looking to unload World Junior goaltender Connor Ingram but the second Lane Bauer was brought in to the fold that vetoed any inkling anyone may have had about acquiring Connor. At 25-15-1-2, they stayed above water during his absence and that can be largely thanked to the play of  Dylan Ferguson. It was truly Ferguson's play that increased the volume on the Ingram rumours and what this means for the sustained longevity of the franchise going forward is that they have a valued off-season trade asset but in the immediate it won't cause panic if the unthinkable happens and Ingram suffers an injury.  Very much like how I attempted to explain the strategy of a team like Swift Current, Kamloops will look to pound you inside with a cerebral forecheck. Jermaine Loewen probably couldn't of landed with a better organization pertaining to how he looks to play the game. He's hard nosed, one could describe him by saying limited offensive potential but I fret to think what a line consisting of Loewen and newly acquired center Luc Smith could look like. A nuisance for opposing defenders to put it lightly. Additionally, I'd be remiss if I didn't follow up with something that was discussed in an earlier synopsis and that's the play of Nolan Kneen. Joe Gatenby and Ondrej Vala would continue to inherit the heavy minutes but the play of Kneen has instilled a trusted top four for Don Hay. A player that was probably on the fringe of getting drafted has firmly supplanted his draft status come June 2017.

6.Regina Pats(Last time # 3)

In a recent article courtesy of the Regina Leaderpost, Head Coach and General Manager John Paddock was quoted as saying that he owed it to the veterans on this team, most notably Adam Brooks and Connor Hobbs, to go "all-in". Judging from a spotty Trade Deadline performance I can unfortunately now assert that he flat out lied. No moves that were made yesterday, the day before yesterday and before that were made with this year in mind. Josh Mahura is an excellent addition but Paddock's verbage that he's already a top ten defenceman in the Western Hockey League is non-sensical. The question I've had for a long time and possbly why I'm so upset with how the Pats administration are approaching this stretch run is who's going to provide secondary scoring beyond the top two lines? Nothing against Jeff De Wit or Wyatt Sloboshan, but on an elite hockey team they're fourth line players. It infuriates me that someone with tenacity like a Adam Musil or Jakob Stukel weren't brought in. And don't understate the importance of the loss of Luc Smith. At the time I was indifferent about the transaction because I just assumed his big body would be later replaced but now that hole remains void it's highly probable the Patties are going to get pushed around.

7.Brandon Wheat Kings(Last time # 8)

Without a doubt the Brandon Wheat Kings enter the second half of the campaign as the league's most feared team solely from an unknown perspective. Consensus first overall pick Nolan Patrick is slated back next weekend and right there enough is strike fear into opposing coaches trying to game plan the Wheaties. The bigger question should probably be what we should expect out of Nolan in the second half. Over the last couple of days I was looking to conjure up the best comparable to Patrick and after careful consideration I've enlisted the name Joe Niewendyk. Nolan isn't going to wow you with exceptional foot speed but has a  long stride and can make up ground quickly. Everyone looks at Nolan and considers him a pure shooter which he is but the characteristic that doesn't get enough play is his playmaking abilities. Getting sparse time with in my opinion last year's best pure sniper in Jayce Hawruyluk he was able to showcase his pristine passing ability. The tell tale sign will be if he can admirably feed some of the lesser talented forwards on the roster because as good as they can be in this second half, the complexion is nowhere near the way it was last year.

8.Lethbridge Hurricanes(Last time # 13)

It was no secret that their were some premier overagers on the trade market this season. However, based on how rosters looked a week ago I didn't expect the Hurricanes to be one of those organizations in the market and even if they were, totally didn't expect them to chase more forwards as a lack of competence on the back-end is a clear defenciency. When all the dust settled, it was the Hurricanes that picked up not one but two overage forwards in Kootenay's Matt Alfaro and Zak Zborosky. Not that I had any idea before but I can officially opine that I have zero idea on the direction being forged by Peter Anholt. You already boasted Tyler Wong and Giorgio Estephan, two  of the league's elite players and yet you still feel the need to go out and bolster your lineup with more goal scoring while laying claim to arguably the league's worst defence? I'm sure you're utterly confused after all of the negative connotations that I've still ranked the Hurricanes this high. Well, it speaks to the fact that the Canes reside in this year's laughing stock division and I fully anticipate them to eventually surpass the Medicine Hat Tigers. I wish them luck though because if I were a fan heading into the playoffs I wouldn't be feeling very confident with a defence being led by Brennan Menell and Calen Addison. If a twenty year old was going to be acquired, Aaron Irving had to be who they needed to target. Time will tell if they can outscore their future playoff opposition out of the building.

9.Victoria Royals(Last time # 10)

Riding a ten game point streak heading into January 11th's tilt against the Kelowna Rockets, it's safe to say that defenceman Chaz Reddekopp used my analysis that he may be potential trade bait as motivation as he's been on a tear the  past while. Appraising the worth the Royals has been a difficult task because on one hand I really like the group of forwards spearheaded by Matthew Phillips but on the other hand the depth they possess on defence worries. The sudden Mike Green-esque offensive production of Reddekopp has subsidized those concerns but even with Chaz's hot streak  in play, the jury is still out if they can compete with some of the B.C division's dynamic offences. From my viewings and this  is presuming my premonitions on where these teams should situate is anywhere close then a potential first round playoff series against the Kamloops Blazers could spell trouble as where Kamloops flourishes, the down low game is where Victoria is constantly victimized. The Euro Ibragimov will have no qualms withstanding the physicality of the Collin Shirley's and Jermaine Loewen's but I have reservations if the suddenly turned dynamo Reddekopp can rise to the occasion over the course of a seven game series.

10.Kelowna Rockets(Last time # 11)

Jason Smith must walk into his office lately and sit down and refresh his memory on all the names of his kids because their has been a exodus of talent coming in and out of the Rockets dressing room over the last while to a point where the team is almost unrecognizable. I was not high on the outlook of the Rockets in the first quarter of the season evidenced by my near basement ranking in an earlier volume. To review the change of philosophy, at least for this season, out are Jonathan Smart,Riley Stadel, Jordan Borstmayer and Jake Kryski among others while James Hilsendager, the Gardiner brothers(Erik and Reid), and Carsen Twarnyski have arrived in Kelowna revamping the team's identity. Touching on Hilsendager and Twarnyski specifically, these two fit the mold of a Jason Smith type player. In your face, take no liberties out on the ice and look after their own end before having thought of jumping into the rush. Lastly, and I fully understand the WHL is a business and these types of decisions are made on a yearly basis but it's still unfortunate to see a twenty year old in Riley Stadel, a heart and soul player who's been a loyal soldier for the Rockets for a good five years get the raw deal and now forced to end his junior career with a team in Edmonton with little playoff aspirations. It's a difficult meeting for Bruce Hamilton to have surely but I suppose the point I wanted to make is it's too bad Hamilton couldn't of slotted Riley in a situation with even a faint hope of the post-season.

11.Medicine Hat Tigers(Last time # 5)

This season in Medicine Hat has been one unpredictable rollercoaster ride. As this blogger predicted in the pre-season draft eligible Mason Shaw is well on his way to garnering consideration for the Most Valuable Player award but maybe what this blogger couldn't foresee was the rash of issues this club would have protecting it's own net. These issues have now been substantiated with the purported season ending injury to New York Islander prospect David Quenneville.  A lot of Tiger supporters woke up this morning disappointed that they stood pat and didn't address a glaring weakness even before Quenneville went down..  I'll be blunt, a legitimate championship contender for which maybe at one point I thought the Tigers were CANNOT accept 150 goals against. It's hard to say whether Head Coach Shaun Clouston isn't voicing the message loud enough and don't let the thirty four points fool you but Clayton Kirichenko has been a hot mess in his own zone and doesn't seem to be held to any level of accountability.  I thought in the first fifteen or so games, Kirichenko's play was outstanding but in the last 2/3rds he seemingly has stopped caring about attention to detail  I'm befuddled at the lack of activity on several fronts but none more so then couldn't the Tigers upper manangement see the division they played in and realized picking up a defenceman or two would've assured them a conference final berth.. Now I eagerly wait for that hotly contested Lethbridge-Medicine Hat second round  playoff series where every game projects to be 12-11. Take the over!

12.Tri-City Americans(Last time # 7)

The Americans continually drop in these editions of Power Rankings and I'll enlighten you as to why. It's not as if they've fallen off a cliff however there is something missing with this group and until very recently I wasn't able to discover what. Michael Rasmussen is the second rated eligible draft prospect in the WHL but the issue I've began to notice is he's too individualistic and from my vantage point the reason why is because there's a lack of structure in how they operate. Tyler Sandhu, credit to him, is as unselfish as they come but the problem there is he's got players like Rasmussen running around wildly not adhering to any kind of breakout and that is stiffling puck movement from the other four players on the ice. Because Sandhu is willing to dish the puck at no end,  I do think it's wise to keep sending out Tyler and Michael together but what that line needs is a coveted puck retriever. After analyzing the roster a player who I think could comfortably line up alongside those two is Carson Focht. This in before the skeptics run over the idea by mentioning he's only sixteen and has no business being on the top line but where Carson would serve some benefit is he's willing to buy into the coaches system, would allow the aforementioned two to focus on what makes them star players in the league and I think at the end of the day would make the group a more cohesive unit. He's the future captain of the team and similaily to what Saskatoon did with Matt Revel when he first entered the 'Dub,, throwing him to the wolves early in his career will teach him the ropes,and hey....if Focht can forge a comparable career to that of Revel then nobody in Kennewick will be shedding tears.

13.Moose Jaw Warriors(Last time # 12)

The removal of Nikita Popaguev from the Warriors roster will be a tough pill to swallow for a lot of Warrior loyalists however when you break down the transaction you have to give full credit to General Manager Alan Millar for  identifying they'd be better served putting their best foot forward next season as opposed to this one. The Regina Pats appear to be the cream of the crop but judging from my rankings I choose not to take the Broncos and Wheat Kings lightly so props to a team that could've played the desperation card and tried to stay in the elite ball park. Prosperity is in the horizon. Until this past week it was confusing to understand the direction ie bringing in Brayden Burke when they did however after observing the roster again, presuming that Burke and Jayden Halbgewachs are returned to Junior Hockey similiarly to how Adam Brooks was for Regina then it's not out of the realm to suggest that if  Regina is fortunate enough to be awarded the 2018 Memorial Cup that  two Southern Saskatchewan teams could represent the WHL in the Pats and the Warriors. One can dream.

14.Saskatoon Blades(Last time # 19)

I get it.Conventional wisdom would dictate that a team currently sitting at ninth in the conference sell off their valued assets in an attempt of looking towards the future but when you're a franchise like the Saskatoon Blades recognizing that the a playoff position is within grasp is enough reason to stand pact. This is an organization that has missed the playoffs the last three seasons and has not won a playoff round since 2011-2012 so in order to acquire that valuable experience for the likes of Josh Paterson and Jake Kustra it's imperative that Dean Brockman find a way to sneak Saskatoon into the playoffs even if it means a dismantling at the hands of Regina in the first round. Edmonton native and seventeen year old forward Paterson has been a revelation for the franchise as the 2014 second rounder is increasing his NHLdraft stock daily as before the year began it was questionable if his name would be called at all, fast forward to today where he could be summoned in the fourth round. Ironically player development I didn't correlate as one of his strong suits as with his past employer the Humboldt Broncos of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League he consistently was blessed with veteran laden lineups so an adjustment was needed as he walked into this Blades job as when he took over the job the roster was stripped down, something he never lost sleep over in Humboldt.Kudos to  Brockman for getting this  club back into playoff contention.

15.Spokane Chiefs(Last time # 14)

Coach Don Nachbaur is a long time veteran coach in the 'dub so generally when he speaks up you listen, but his latest public comments may have crossed a line when he criticized his own General Manager Scott Carter. His latest criticism was that the team was too 'young and small' but newsflash Don, that type of roster make up is the way hockey is evolutionized particularly in junior hockey where an intimidation style has gone by the way side. Some of Nachbaur's Tri-City teams in the mid two thousands were built around grit and tenacity but it's all about adjustments and I'm not seeing enough out of Don.Not to say that GM Carter has done an exceptional job as he's not without transgressions. Being a long time fan of this league there's a certain frustration when I see a superstar player for which Kailer Yamamoto is not being supported with enough comparable talent to flourish in his hometown. Yamamoto to be blunt should have the wherwithal to accumulate 100 + points yearly regardless of the fact that he's in the gauntlet,A.K.A the U.S Division but in order to achieve those lofty goals needs further contributiions from Jaret Anderson-Dolan. Anderson-Dolan is one of the leagues greater enigmas due  to being a world beater when he's engaged in the  play yet looking like a glorified fourth liner when he checks out. I think back to last season when he in his rookie season he jumped out a brazen start only to mellow out the rest of the way to a meager twenty six points. This year it's been mostly the same song and dance superb start only to be immersed in another puzzling two goals in eight games rut. Playing alongside Yamamoto is a privelege, Anderson-Dolan for a lack of a better description is testing fate.

16.Portland Winterhawks(Last time # 16)

Straying away from the Western Hockey League for a second, I can recollect a countless amount of players that were relative unknowns in their respective leagues prior to reaching a certain level of stardom at the World Junior Hockey Championships. The Danish delight Joachim Blichfield fits right into that category. The Danish entry was the cinderella story throughout the entire tournament upsetting the likes of Finland and reaching the quarterfinal and Blichfield was instrumental in leading the Danish charge. Not having seen a lot of Blichfield before the tournament commenced but he was more then impressive as his speed was ever noticeable. To the point of it's rather surprising that with his club team in Portland he's only put twenty eight points to date.As I referenced in my opening though, a European player takes a while to get acclimatized to the Canadian Hockey League as I can remember Lukas Kaspar who before he entered the World Junior Hockey Championships in 2005 was struggling to adapt to new surroundings with the Ottawa 67's, however it was like a new player was born when he got back as he mustered 75% of his points in the second half. Don't expect anything less with Blichfield.

17.Red Deer Rebels(Last time # 17)

At last count I had read that Brent Sutter had made something along the lines of twelve trades this season which for purposes of Junior Hockey is an astronomical number. It's astronomical from a sheer quantity perspective but when you account for the fact that it's becoming more difficult to recruit players into the league with the raging war against the NCAA fully in tact, welcoming that many kids into your "instiitution"only to part ways with them later is a dangerous precedent to set moving forward. Now when analyzing some of the trades made when it relates to this season, there's a lot to like for how Brent has reconfigured his group. The blockbuster that got everybody talking was the Josh Mahura to Regina deal that that brought in Lane Zablocki and Dawson Barteaux a long with two draft picks. Complete heist by the Rebels. You could call Zablocki for De Wit a wash although De Wit is an arguable downgrade but when assessing Barteaux + 2 firsts for Mahura, a player who at times was in Sutters dog house is unthinkable. The way the Rebels have transistioned from the 2016 Memorial Cup hosting year is noteworthy because in less than  a year they've rebuilt an aging defence into something they can genuinely look forward to for the next couple seasons. Picking up Brandon Schuldhaus was also an underrated addition. I tend to think unloading Adam Musil who surely is bound to play professional hockey next fall would've been a wise maneuver but overall am taken a back hoe well Sutter and the Rebels have positioned themselves beyond next season.

18.Calgary Hitmen(Last time # 15)

Devastating news out of Calgary this week losing goaltender Cody Porter to a season ending injury which forced the hand of Hitmen management to sign overage netminder and former Rebel and Blade Trevor Martin. Martin has certainly paved an interesting journey this year. Starting the year in Red Deer he was eventually dropped so Red Deer could dwindle their 20 surplus but from there Trevor ventured into the QMJHL with Baie-Comeau and reportedly had an offer to continue with the Val'dor Foreurs before trekking over to Calgary. Atypical journey aside it's a blow to the Hitmen whose identity revolved around Porter. My pre-season preview paints the picture that I expected much more out of Calgary coming and as I've griped a few times during the season the missing link was not having  a finisher up front. In this era where a literally a million goals are being scored a game, not having that reliable point producer isn't sustainable. By saying all of that underperformers have flooded the Calgary lineup none moreso than Vladislav Yeryomenko. Perhaps I'm not in line to the logic of the current day Junior Hockey administration.Yes these are primarily teeagers that you're mentoring but at the end of the day this is a cut throat business, at least it used to be and if you have an underperforming import which undoubtedly the Hitmen do than you are better served allocating that ice time to a sixteen year old North American. Brent Sutter once said it best when he quipped "if a European can't play in the top six D or the top  four D then he doesn't belong on your team".This is logic I can get behind and it befuddles me how Yeryomenko is still employed in Cow Town.

19.Vancouver Giants(Last time # 22)

Glenn Hanlon meet Brent Parker. Folklore will have you know that back in the 2009-2010 season the Brandon Wheat Kings who were preparing to host that May's Memorial Cup has offered the Regina Pats three first round picks along with current Ottawa Senator Mark Stone for Jordan Eberle and Colten Teubert. It's important to note that at this time the Regina Pats were on the outside looking in and ended up missing the playoffs.It was a rejected deal that set them back years, truthfully until John Paddock was hired on by new ownership. I bring this up because a similar circumstance arose with the Giants who had a dilemma on their hands not knowing what to do with Tyler Benson.In the end as reported by Steve Ewen of the Vancouver province it was decided to hold onto Tyler and only time will tell if the right decision was made.  The way I break it down, the prudent play was to trade Tyler because even though he's expected to return to the WHL next season, chances are the Giants will be in the way of being competitive.  The return could've been extraordinate at this deadline but now they move on and aspire to recuperate what's left of this troubling season. My hope is and I'd imagine that this the mandate being dropped down from ownership is to push the growth of future franchise stalwart Tyler Popowich. I'm having difficulty understanding how Popowich has tallied such elementary numbers, only skating to five goals thus far. In the two games I've had the pleasure of watching him in full on two occasions, once versus Regina and the other facing off against Calgary and on both occasions he's looked dominant. When he gets stick on the puck it's near impossible to remove and maybe Jason McKee needs to sit down with him and remind him why he was picked high in the first round. I clearly won't have followed him as closely as those in Langley will have but is it possible he's not being abrasive enough when he reaches the prime scoring areas? Just a thought.

20.Kootenay Ice(Last time # 21)

The Peyton Krebs era in Cranbrook has officially started......O wait,I suppose that'll have to wait until September 2017 however the removal of Zak Zborosky and Matt Alfaro, two loyal soldiers out of the Kootenay locker room has signalled a new page in this franchise's storied history and the curiousity from my end stems from how they'll manage to stay afloat the rest of the way which limited talent and WHL capable bodies. As cringe worthy as these decisions are for the Chynoweth family trying to bring this organization back to respectability, the trades of Zak and Matt were necessary evils. No one likes to see losing on a nightly basis. The question is, who's Luke Pierce going to count on to step up and eat those hard minutes that both Zborosky and Alfaro prided on consuming? Even though Colton Kroeker technically sits as the team leader in points, the realms in my mind have been firmly handed to Vince Loschavio.  The eighteen year old Winnipeg product probably didn't have any visualizations that by this January he'd be called upon to be their best player but when you're eighteen on a revamping team sometimes that comes with the territory.On multiple radio broadcasts, Regina Pats play by play man Phil Andrews was complimentary of Loschavio's performances.Maybe I'm a harder one to please because everytime I've witnessed the game of Vince I'm left underwhelmed which is why it's such a scary proposition that he is now Cranbrook's new crusader.

21.Prince Albert Raiders(Last time # 18)

Junior hockey has become a society enamored with entitlement. It's no secret that in all three leagues, coaches and general managers are forced to coddle players to keep them happy. Often times the resolution results in a trade which in large part is due to kid not receiving enough ice time, sick and tired of losing, wanting to be closer to home. I bring this up because it's refreshing that a future NHL'er,or at least who I suspect will be one recognized that Prince Albert is, to quote a constant quip of TSN's Jamie McLennan, "dumpster fire" and yet Simon Stransky set out to be the solution opposed to the problem. There are so many things wrong with the way this team built. Was their some bad luck along the way case in point Reid Gardiner spending unexpectedly the entire first half of the season before getting shipped away to Kelowna? No question about it but it doesn't excuse Curtis Hunt and Marc Habscheid making bettter hockey personnel decisions.  One particularly still has me scratching my head and that is the decision to trade Josh Maser to Prince George. Everything I've seen and the reports that I've read all pointed to Maser being a bonafide WHL'er and for PA to give up on the player so prematurely is unforgivable. Onto this year's version. one of the bright spots(and forget about the +/-) has been Sean Montgomery. Montgomery is relishing under a top six role and when I broke down the probably lineup down the stretch it donned upon me that Montgomery and newly acquired Jordy Stallard go together like bread and butter. Montgomery is more of a thinker then a doer and when you put him beside Stallard who has the propensity to drive the net hard, well all I'll say to that is that has the making of being a formidable second line next year. Who sees time on the first line next season I don't think is answerable yet.

22.Edmonton Oil Kings(Last time # 20)

Captain Aaron Irving has left has the City of Champions, as has Lane Bauer but where there is loss there is newfound opportunity. The player I want to profile this evening is someone I almost definitely provided a disservice to in earlier renditions and that is Will Warm. After all the trades have shook out in Edmonton, the four defenceman they will look to build around are Brayden Gorda, first rounder Ethan Cap, newly acquired Conner McDonald and the aforementioned Warm. Anytime you're a fifth rounder in the Bantam Draft for which Will was, any tangible contributions are considered a bonus and you can completely chalk this up to pristine scouting by Randy Hansch and company. Edmonton fans will be patient as evidenced by continually flocking Rexall while the Edmonton Oilers were the league's laughing stock and those same die hard fans  won't forget that before the Oil Kings plan ultimately led to the 2014 Memorial Cup they experienced similar if not worse growing pains. If the rebuild ends up fruitul players like Warm will be part of that core. Staying within WHL circles the player Will reminds me of most is former Kootenay Ice John Negrin. The way Negrin deceptively threw around his body while at the same time contributed admirably in the offensive zone is the way I foresee his career unravelling. Bright future ahead, sadly not too many sunny times the rest of this winter.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Semi-final Canada/Sweden Observations

And it's official, the organizing committee's dream has come fruitful as a battle of North America will commence as Canada will battle the United States. Canada outplayed,outwitted and outlasted the Swedes in the semi-final. For those enamored in reality television, yes that was a Survivor reference and to continue this line of thinking it's as if Canada won the immunity idol and acquired the numbers and ran with the game the rest of the way through. Sweden had it's moment but the minute Dominique Ducharme elected to turn to Carter Hart it was all she wrote.

So about Carter Hart, Hart's performance was a footnote in a collection of great news in Everett Silvertip land today. First the Silvertips  acquired Edmonton Oil King leader and perennial point producer Aaron Irving which if that wasn't enough good news in one day, Carter Hart spelled Connor Ingram early and channeled his inner Ron Hextall and was dynamite for the Canadians. The pre game intuition to favor Conor Ingram swung back in Ducharme's face as for whatever  reason he couldn't handle the pressure and let in two absolute softies before being pulled. There's no other to use when describing Hart's night aside from classifying it as phenomenal. He had excellent rebound control, looked confident and completely stymied a fairly potent Swedish offensive attack. It'll serve the Canadian troops well heading into tomorrow's final.

I've been diff when assessing the play of Matt Barzal. After swimming through neglible performances where I felt he was trying to do too much individually, he bought into the team philosophy and never looked back from there. Mathieu Joseph is an easy guy to play with because of the respect the opposition must give him due to his speed which will create more open space for players like Barzal for where they thrive. He was more mindful of making quicker passes because essentially previously what was happening was that the opposition was backing off as them as with the rest of the nation could blatantly see that she was mindlessly stick handling and could afford to back off. It was gutcheck time for Matt as not often are you graced the world's greatest hockey stage and the New York Islanders should be pleasantly impressed with how he showed himself today. I touched on this in the Czech Republic game observations but the longer this run of Canada carries on the better and better Ducharme is looking for dropping Pierre-Luc Dubois down to the third line alongside the other two Quebecois. It's been a rough year for Dubois as he's had to deal with the warranted criticism that beamed from him getting selected third overall by the Columbus Blue Jackets whilst skating to an unproductive campaign with the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles. When you ponder his strengths and weaknesses, a conspicuous weakness is his choppy skating stride.It's come night and day to what it used to be in my previous viewings from last year but still at times he struggles to maintain an elite pace. I'm not here attempting to condone Columbus' selection just yet but what happened today is Pierre-Luc appeared engaged as from opening puck drop you could visibly see him physically dominating some of the Swedish defenceman with him dismantling the bulky David Bernhardt on a couple of occasions. Some and perhaps most importantly Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen will spout that Dubois projects out as a skill player but the more I watch him play the more I'm convinced he exudes Rick Nash(ironically a former Blue Jacket) qualities.

As I'm watching the game I had the following thought. Jeremy Lauzon is under appreciated. He's such a mundane player that probably in earlier games his ranking of mine was undeservingly negatively effected but the time is now that I point out the  positives, and their are many! In many sports being invisible can be met with negative connotations but in hockey going unnoticed can be just as important as someone who's all flash. The Phillipe Myers injury opened the door for more ice time for some of the unheralded  and Lauzon has flourished in the newly adopted shutdown pairing beside Dante Fabbro. In previous renditions of this tournament TSN has pushed real hard in selling the shut down pairing and maybe in lieu of the constant line shuffling it's been difficult to attach to one pair but if it wasn't already apparent it is now with Fabbro and Lauzon being assigned to "tackle" some of the skillful specimen in the event.On several occasions I've been quick to identify this backend as a whole as too weak,not fit to square up an aggressive forecheck. Well in response to that now with one game to go I'll say that we haven't been exposed to teams who thrive on the perimeter I genuinely wish the squad the best of luck containing the crash and banging Americans, specifically Kieffer Bellows and Jordan Greenway. Additionally, one last game note is this blogger opining how absurd it is that Noah Juulsen wasn't selected as one of Canada's top three players in this tournament.

Game Rankings:

1.Pierre-Luc Dubois(47)
2.Dylan Strome(49)
3.Noah Juulsen(32)
4.Jeremy Lauzon(68)
5.Taylor Raddysh(71)
6.Blake Speers(49)
7.Matt Barzal(59)
8.Anthony Cirelli(53)
9.Kale Clague(65)
10.Tyson Jost(66)
11.Dillon Dube(87)
12.Dante Fabbro(80)
13.Julien Gauthier(50)
14.Mathieu Joseph(54)
15.Mitchell Stephens(55) * 4 games*
16.Thomas Chabot(36)
17.Jake Bean(76)
18.Nicholas Roy(67)
19.Michael McLeod(81)

Phillipe Myers-DNP with an injury

Monday, January 2, 2017

Quarterfinal Canada/Czech Republic Observations

This game was dominated territorially by the Canadians, the shots 41-19 in favor of Canada confirm that hypothesis. The disavowing nature of this game is due to the fact that even  though the contest was so lopsided that the Czechs remained in the game for so long.

Connor Ingram wasn't very good at all this evening and that's summarizing his performance lightly. If Canada would've been tasked with lining up against a half competent opponent,  a Sweden or U.S.A for example then I'm not so sure the Canadians are walking away with victory. The first two goals are complete buzz killers but when you summon Ingram's fastly growing reputation, a slow start should be of no surprise. He's notorious for gaining strength as the game progresses and you could argue today cements that scouting report. I don't know the extent of the pre-scout players and coaches immerse in but on the Tomas Soustal shot who is a member of the Kelowna  Rockets there is simply put no excuses with Ingram also residing in the B.C division so he should be more well aware with Tomas' tendencies. Seemingly their's been debate this entire tournament on who should start the next game and I don't think Ingram did much to silence the doubters. My premonition dictates we'll see Carter Hart versus Sweden in the semi's.

You're going to observe shortly when skimming my individual rankings that I did not think highly of Matt Barzal's performance tonight case in point Michael McLeod who to my recollection didn't even receive a shift is seeded ahead of Matt. The increasing trait in Barzal's repertoire is his propensity to over stickhandle whilst playing with not enough purpose. It's difficult to ignore the flare that he plays with but when all he does is stickhandle I can only imagine the frustration linemates of his must have because you work so hard to position yourself properly only to be standing there like a lost puppy because he doesn't utilize them. The birthday boy and New Jersey Devil property Blake Speers got it all started today but where credit should truly be going is that of Mitchell Stephens. Stephens who has missed the last couple games with injury didn't miss a beat as it  was his masterful cross ice pass that allowed Speers an easy tap in. I haven't  spent much time in this summaries chronicling any of the oppositon but the thought  I've internally held for a while is that draft eligible prospect Martin Necas is the real deal and after perusing a few mock drafts it would be a disparaging crime if he was not a top ten selection. I've observed a couple that have him going 20-30 which in this bloggers opinion is absurd.There was  one play in particular where Necas got in the grill of Anthony Cirelli which is uncommon for a undrafted individual to showcase that type  of swagger. In the postgame show Bob McKenzie of TSN vocalized what everybody was thinking and that it was a radiant decision by Coach Ducharme to orchestrate a true big bodied line with Julien Gauthier, Nicholas Roy and Pierre-Luc Dubois. The three who are naturally familiar with one another used that chemistry to perfection as at the very least Dubois had his best game of the tournament after not keeping up with Dylan Strome's style early on. Lastly all the chatter is surrounding finding  a way to get Strome going 5 on 5, well a sensible option would be to reunite Erie teammates Strome and Raddysh. Is it too logical not to?

After the first period I commented to a buddy that I felt Jake Bean was our most complete defenceman in that period. Sadly for Jake his play deteriorated as the game went along as it was his turnover that translated in a Czech Republic goal. The turnover aside this was Bean's best game as for the first time he didn't look timid the puck. When Jake skates and is aggressive is what's endeared himself to the Calgary Hitmen fan base. I'm presuming Coach Tim Hunter who oversees the defence watched video with Jake because the first four or so games all he was doing was touching the puck and immediately get rid of it and that's not why he made the team. The loss of Phillipe Myers has been discussed on several fronts and it was known that Thomas Chabot would have to take the mantle and run with it. Chabot has not only been Canada's best defenceman but their best player. Not to pad my own ego but in my pre tournament predictions I had Chabot selected a first team all star and if I would've selected an overall M.V.P he's likely my choice. If it wasn't for Alex Nylander, Chabot is probably the front runner. That goal from the back end that he scored was incredibly risky as he was the lone man back but because it was fruitful he'll garner consideration for the Highlight of the Night.

Game ranking time....

1.Thomas Chabot(20)
2.Mitchell Stephens(40) *Three games played*
3.Julien Gauthier(37)
4.Mathieu Joseph(40)
5.Blake Speers(43)
6.Jake Bean(59)
7.Pierre-Luc Dubois(46)
8.Dante Fabbro(68)
9.Nicholas Roy(49)
10.Jeremy Lauzon(64)
11.Tyson Jost(56)
12.Anthony Cirelli(45)
13.Noah Juulsen(29)
14.Dylan Strome(47)
15.Dillon Dube(76)
16.Kale Clague(56)
17.Taylor Raddysh(66)
18,Michael McLeod(62)
19.Matt Barzal(52)

Phillipe Myers-DNP

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Canada/U.S.A Observations

The Americans who I quickly determined the tournament's most complete today looked just like it today in what some would consider a dismantling versus Canada. The three S's: Speed,size and skill all favoured the Americans as today it was made abundantly clear that they did not need the Minnesota Miracle Man himself Gordon Bombay to propel the troops against Canada.

I think whichever side of the ledger Ducharme turned to between the pipes would've been viewed as a controversial decision. Connor Ingram is who received the nod but in retrospect Carter Hart would've been the apt choice as now he'll have to shake out the cob webs as I foresee no scenario where Ducharme can turn back to Ingram in the quarterfinals. The most staunch Ingram supporters will have you believe that he settled down as the game progress but the summary I took out of his performance was that he struggled handling the nerves early and nothing indicated we wouldn't be in for a repeat showing in whomever Canada draws in the all important quarters. I'm no goaltending expert and don't pretend to be one but what I was able to discern from Connor's technical ability is often times he stands too deep in the net and I lost count how many times the Americans, particularly Minnesota Wild prospect Jordan Greenway crashed the net without getting challenged in the crease area. Naturally Carter Hart entered this pinnacle contest peeved that the staff didn't show the confidence in his abilities. Well Carter lest not worry anymore, he'll be the individual all eyes will be pointed to on January 2nd.

Ray Ferraro the colour commentator for this prestigious championship stipulated on several occasions that Canada's advantage over the States was the speed game. Unless Ray and I were watching two different games, the decisive skating advantage gets awarded to the Americans. Taylor Raddysh is a shooter, not a skater but just because pristine skating isn't in your repertoire doesn't excuse not engaging in the competition. The four goal accolades that he received versus the Latvians was the worst thing that could happen to the player due to the fact that began to develop the mindset that everything will go in without moving his feet. Charlie McAvoy and Ryan Lindgren, two of the U.S.A's best defensive defenders take pride in positional work that when it comes to somebody like Raddysh they know that if they're in his face they'll have neutralized his one weapon, that being his shot. Against inferior opponents where there's more time and space available Taylor will flourish but pertaining to elite oppositition as we saw today it becomes perfectly clear why his name was ommited from the Summer Camp roster. On  a more positive note upfront, I loved the adjustment made by the coaching staff midway through the game flanking Tyson Jost alongside Dylan Strome and Michael McLeod. Strome for a lack of a better word was astute this afternoon but the one individual who really seized the increased icetime was Michael McLeod of the Mississauga Steelheads. Prior to roster selection in the forums I was perusing the consensus appeared to be that Michael was renowned for his skating abilities but had NO offensive flare. At twenty eight points through twenty six games perhaps I let this false rhetoric cloud my judgment because from what I saw he is a player who possesses the proper amount of offensive creativity to fit in just fine with Jost and his former minor hockey teammate Strome. That's not to say Dubois was poor in this game. Wher Dubois thrives is with his legendary hand eye coordination and is a handful in front of the net on a power play. Goaltenders and opposing defenceman have to respect his ability to make seam to seam passes with little time and space because if not you get burned. Essentially he needs little room in the office to get to work By saying all of that I have yet to see a complete enough to justify the scorching Columbus Blue Jackets selecting him third overall in the 2016 entry draft.

As I've said in so many other words previously I just haven't been impressed with the complexion of this defence make up.  I analyze the list of d-man 1 through 7 and the missing toughness has been noticeable the entire tournament but specifically reared its ugly head today. The unit American head coach Bob compiled is monstrous to that of the Canadian entry so you begin to ask yourself, do we have the horses to beat the red, white and blue. The defenceman who held their own admirably today were Noah Juulsen and Thomas Chabot. Juulsen will always size up favourably against a group such as this because he grasps at asserting himself physically and because the Americans recripocate he'll always be the most important horse in the stable. Let's nor kid ourselves Juulsen has limitations offensively but the reason I was so impressed today is because he was the one guy who stood up to the Thompson's, Greenways and Harper's and didn't head back to the bench intimidated. When Phillipe Myers left a game with  a pirported serious injury, Jeremy Lauzon was asked so step up and fulfill a top four role and unfortunately for us Canadians he failed to live up to the billing. I've been awfully critical of Boston Terrier Dante Fabbro but maybe playing against five of his BU teammates woke him up as he actually showcased competent tendencies. For Fabbro, skating isn't his forte but the more big hits he's able to lay the better his overall game transitions to and I think once Ducharme scurries through the tape and presuming Myers can't go in the quarters(unknown as of this writing) I suspect we'll Fabbro supplant Lauzon on the depth charts.

Time for the game rankings....

1.Noah Juulsen(16)
2.Mathieu Joseph(36)
3.Thomas Chabot(19)
4.Michael McLeod(44)
5.Dante Fabbro(60)
6.Dylan Strome(33)
7.Tyson Jost(45)
8.Nicholas Roy(40)
9.Kale Clague(40)
10.Dillon Dube(61)
11.Pierre-Luc Dubois(39)
12.Anthony Cirelli(33)
13.Matt Barzal(33)
14.Julien Gauthier(34)
15.Jake Bean(53)
16.Blake Speers(38)
17.Taylor Raddysh(49)
18.Jeremy Lauzon(54)

Phillipe Myers-left the game early enough that he won't be included in my ranking
Mitchel Stephens-DNP

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Canada/Latvia Observations

While Pool A in the 2017 World Junior Hockey Championship has made for dramatic theater, Pool B Canada's group has gone very well to form as Canada comfortably took care of the Latvians 10-2. The real test, the first real test will commence on New Year's eve day when they take on the United States of America.

In net, many have read into Dominique Ducharme's decision to start Carter Hart against the Latvians differently but the way I've interpreted the situation is that he'll run with the Carter the rest of the way.. A few different reasons why but essentially even in the exhibition series Hart was given the net solely in the intersquad games while McNiven and Ingram were left to battle it out for the back-up job. If they revert back to Ingram against the states I'll be more shocked then I would be if Rex Ryan lands another NFL Head Coaching job. I thought in the early going that Hart was solid when needed as the Latvians applied loads of pressure and whether it was fatigue or simply getting out skilled the true colors of Canada began to eventually shine as shots in the second and third periods were 26-15. I was personally indifferent pertaining to who I felt deserved the nod and aside from a couple late softies Hart did nothing to bring forth cause for concern for the coaching staff. For Latvia the starter Mareks Mitens looked stellar in the first and I perceived from the Latvian administration to yank Mitens after the fourth goal as sheer brilliance because as tournament goers are aware, the Super Bowl for Latvia is tomorrow against Slovakia as an appearance in the quarterfinals in dependant on securing the win. No sense exhausting Mitens in this meaningless at the time out of reach game.

In the game against Russia it would've been difficult to argue the assertion that the line of Tyson Jost-Nicholas Roy-Julien Gauthier was the most dominant threesome but in the last two games I've noticed timidness from Roy and Jost. I'll speak to Jost particularly and quite honestly a few of the Western Canadians on this team but for the purposes of focusing on forwards I find Tyson is playing hot potato with the puck and  for someone that possesses such high octane skill everyone and their grandmother Tyson can carry a line but he needs some confidence instilled in him Against the former Soviet Union he was all over the ice, a threat 5 on 5 and on the penalty kill. In this game v Latvia, too much north-south action without enough truculence. I referenced timidness from some if not most Western Canadians earlier and my conspiracy theory behind why this is due to the fact that with the tournament being hosted in Toronto/Montreal, their's an obvious comfortability factor for the Eastern Canadians on the roster and players like Jost  are still attempting adapt to unfamiliar conditions. One of the narratives of this game will naturally be the four goal performance from Taylor Raddysh and what some other forwards can take from Raddysh is just to get pucks to the net. The best example of this would be Seattle Thunderbird Matt Barzal who is illustrating flare with the puck but often it's a lot of weaving without purpose. If opposing defenders and goaltenders start respecting the shot threat then it will inevitably open up more time and space for the likes of the aforementioned Barzal and Dylan Strome.  They're scoring at a frequent pace which is a re-assuring sign for Hockey Canada but what internally concerns me is how they're manufacturing offence. The Americans are  a big, mean bunch that may look to prey on Canada's diminutive nature and pound the cycle thus creating odd man advantages that way. It's not necessarily that the Canadians are overly small, it's that some of the forwards that have been blessed with size, Michael McLeod and Pierre-Luc Dubois to name two are refusing to engage physically.

What this game and tournament have taught me is the Philadelphia Flyers have an embarassment of riches on defence. Ivan Provorov, Travis Sanheim are the high draft picks that Flyer faithful clamours over however the undrafted, signed free agent in Phillipe Myers could be the best out of the bunch?Unquestionably Canada's breakout star,someone I didn't know a lot about but what stands out is his eagerness to ALWAYS jump into the rush and does so maturely and responsibly. His penchant to jump into the rush only works if certain forwards forego statistical capital and cover Phillipe's assignment, and in a hockey game like this that could prove difficult for teenagers. Noah Juulsen was a rock defensively. For a first period that was filled with turnovers Noah was the one constant that you knew would make a good first pass at no risk. Don't let the obscurity of the nation fool you, Latvia has a couple premier stalwarts up front in Connor Ingram's Kamloops teammate Rudolf Balcers and Martin Dzierkals and I formed the impression in thee early going that they were going to push the forecheck and Canada's D would have to be on their toes which they were for the second and  third periods. The one last thought about tonight's game I wanted to make is I've seen Kale Clague play out of Brandon several times and it donned upon me tonight that he has  a real accurate shot. If he could ever beef up his frame then the Los Angeles Kings have a nice prospect on their hands.

Ranking time....

1.Phillipe Myers(16)
2.Taylor Raddysh(32)
3.Blake Speers(22)
4.Julien Gauthier(20)
 5.Dylan Strome(27)
6..Thomas Chabot(16)
7..Noah Juulsen(15)
8.Pierre-Luc Dubois(28)
9.Matt Barzal(20)
10.Mathieu Joseph(34)
11.Kale Clague(31)
12.Michael McLeod(40)
13.Nicholas Roy(32)
14.Anthony Cirelli(21)
15.Dante Fabbro(55)
16.Tyson Jost(38)
17.Jeremy Lauzon(36)
18.Dillon Dube(51)
19.Jake Bean(38)

Mitchell Stephens(DNP)

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Canada/Slovakia Observations

In game two in what I'll consider a series in which I chronicle each Canadian game at the 2017 World Junior Hockey Championship. In tonight's tilt, a game I was able to view on tape delay was a rout featuring the Canadians and the lowly Slovakians.

It's hard to read much into this hockey game. For what it's worth as evidenced by a previous post I forged prognosticating this championship I don't think highly of the Slovaks as I predict we'll see the Latvians upending the Slovaks thus dropping them down to relegation which from what I know now could be a scary proposition with the Fins in danger of playing in that game. Getting back to the particular goaltending matchup, with the shots 44-6 in favor of Canada, University of Connecticut goaltender Adam Huska was bombarded and had very little chance on any goal. The only point I'll make regarding Huska is the disappointment I have in the Canadian Hockey League for not taking advantage of the European goaltending market as all it's done is push the NCAA's agenda as it's provided them a recruitment chip to lure the best backstoppers internationally. The objective from "banning' European netminders was to further develop the North American tender but in all actuality it's had the opposite effect. Pertaining to Conor Ingram,there's nothing insightful to report here other then to say if I was the man in charged I'm giving Ingram the start versus Latvia but I suspect Hart will called upon.

Does Dominque Ducharme read this masterpiece? Evidently so as I was pleading that Anthony Cirelli receive an extended role and Ducharme delivered on this wish as Cirelli was much more noticeable in all situations and my further down player rankings will showcase how substantially his effort enhanced in all areas. I think Cirelli could admirably inherit a first line role as linemates Dillon Dube and Blake  Speers didn't do a lot from  my vantage point to compliment the work ethic of the Oshawa General. Let's face it, back in 2009 and 2010 Jordan Eberle was renowned for scoring big goals and Anthony is no stranger to scoring in the clutch as he potted the golden goal in the 2015 Memorial Cup Final. However, for whatever reason Cirelli doesn't seem to garner the notoriety that Ebs once did and hopefully with tournament stardom will come exposure. Two games has told enough of the story that Tyson Jost and Julien Gauthier haven't found the chemistry and shouldn't be linemates, it's time to test the compatibility of Jost and Cirelli.  The Slovaks played a style particularly in that first period that was all about sitting back and waiting for mistakes. When you're the inferior representative that's not a valid strategy. Aggressiveness enhances the chance that you may get blown out worse then the Cleveland Browns on any given Sunday but conversely allows you to take risks that could lead to the unorthodox goal. For Slovakia tonight it was abundantly clear that very few stood out aside from Boris Sadecky. After observing his season statistics courtesy of I was surprised to notice he's only accumulated four points in thirteen games. This is most definitely an indictment of the Slovakian Hockey Association and how they need to do a better job of promoting offence.

I was rather harsh on the play of Kale Clague on opening night. The smallish soft as butter defenceman came out with an edge today and will need that the rest of the way. Admittely I haven't been the biggest Clague fan in my viewings of the Brandon Wheat Kings but will say the thing that's always stood out has been his willingness to jump into rushes and not be afraid to make a mistake fully understanding that physical limitations make it impossible for him to stay on a level playing field. He was more proactive in attempting to lay out the big hit tonight and was smart in picking his spots. Getting back to my belief that Ducharme must read this(tongue in cheek),Jeremy Lauzon was afforded a larger role although the score could've dictated that. A lot of complaints were vocalize that this team was too Eastern Canadian heavy on defence specifically with the conspiracy theory being that they wanted to cater to the Eastern Canadian bias with it being hosted by Toronto/Montreal. Lauzon was the poster child for this criticism but hasn't looked out of place one bit. As the tournament progresses and the wins continue to be compiled Lauzon's responsibility will only pullulate. Latvia will be a tricky test with the game plans being built around stymieing San Jose Shark prospect Rudolf Balcers and if the trend of Lauzon replacing Fabbro in key situations, Lauzon and the two other Quebecois defenceman best prepare for a high dosage of Balcers.

Now off to the game rankings.....(in parentheses will be the players overall score for the tournament)

1.Anthony Cirelli(7)
2.Kale Clague(20)
3.Noah Juulsen(8)
4.Julien Gauthier(16)
5.Jeremy Lauzon(19)
6.Thomas Chabot(10)
7.Mathieu Joseph(24)
8.Jake Bean(19)
9.Matt Barzal(11)
10.Pierre-Luc Dubois(20)
11.Blake Speers(19)
12.Michael McLeod(28)
13.Dylan Strome(22)
14.Phillipe Myers(15)
15.Tyson Jost(22)
16.Nicholas Roy(19)
17.Taylor Raddysh(30)
18.Dillon Dube(33)
19.Mitchell Stephens....injury situation unclear as of this writing(38)
20.Dante Fabbro(40)

Monday, December 26, 2016

Canada/Russia observations

As will be the case with every Team Canada contest at the 2017 World Junior Hockey Championship I will attempt to pen a personalized game summary whilst at the end in highly subjective fashion rank the players based off off performance from 1-20 excluding goaltenders.

In net tonight even though on the losing end of the spectrum it was easy to ascertain that Ilya Samsonov was the better of the two goaltenders. The Washington Capital goaltending prospect faced the more dangerous scoring chances the entire game and was equal to the task. It's not as if I've spent much time analyzing the tendencies of Ilya but what caught my attention in this tilt was his propensity to give up  a lot of  the top half of the net. Side to side he's Tom Goodwin-esque fast but that athleticism he possesses can also be a hinderance because he reverts to the butterfly far too often without regard for the high glove side particularly. For Canada Carter Hart did very little to increased the confidence of Head Coach Dominique Ducharme.  The Kaprizov goal can't be charged to the imcompetence of Carter but the other two are goals that the Canadian side can ill afford especially with medal round contests that are played tight knit and close to the vest. In brings into question and of this writing I have yet to read any post game comments from Ducharme but with Slovakia on deck tomorrow one could presume that Imperial,Saskatchewan native Conor Ingram will get the nod but that's complete conjecture on my behalf.  Goaltending controversies are a yearly occurence at no fault to anyone because with how the tournament format is constructed with very game holding high importance(not as high as yester-year since regretfully removing the bye) each game is scrutinized profusely and deserving or not, an average showing from Hart will open the door to others. The Slovakian game is a given(I think), the real determinant will be who has their name called in the third game beyond.

Defence wins championships. Not this Team Canada defence with the way it exerted itself today any way. My biggest complaint, and truly a grudge that has carried over from the exhibition game is the way the defenceman were manufactured, the pairings that Ducharme has signed off aren't complimenting one another. A pet peeve just not from myself was the diminutive nature of this group. I don't think Russia is the most physically intimidating team in the tournament but when retrieving data from this one off you could've fooled me. Dennis Gurianov has been a hot button prospect ever since having his name called by the Dallas Stars twelfth overall in the 2015 draft. Some question his hockey I.Q and those questions will run rampant after some foolishly undisciplined penalties but from a size perspective he utilized his burly attributes to perfection by being  strong on his skates and causing nightmares from some of the smaller d-men. I referenced the lack of height qualms in the beginning of this paragraph but I ask this simple question, why at any point are Kale Clague and Jake Bean on the ice together? I'm not exactly how often this occurred but can difinitively say it happened a few times and everytime the two saw ice together, specifically when the likes of Gurianov were on the ice they were like a fish out of water.  I will never suggest and if at any point I do call me out for it immediately that Phillipe Myers and Thomas Chabot aren't Canada's two best defenceman but for that very reason accounting for the undersized nature of this collection as a whole I would love to see the coaching staff jiggle the pairings.I'm a proponent of Noah Juulsen see time with Phillipe Myers with Jake Bean pairing next to Thomas Chabot. Additionally, I can't help but scratch my head as to why Jeremy  Lauzon is being criminally misused. Dante Fabbro and Kale Clague had rough games as will be evidenced from my below game rankings and to bring forth accountability to the aforementioned two it would be a logical endeavour to parlay an extended role to Lauzon so Clague and Fabbro don't take this Team Canada assignment for granted. I love Chabot and Myers and the game tonight did nothing to dissaude this notion but we need more production from the rest to remain serious contenders.

From all accounts even from his own mouth Matt Barzal didn't come running out of the gates upon his return to the Seattle Thunderbirds. It doesn't necessarily surprise me however as motivation can sometimes be elusive for those returning from the National Hockey League but tonight Barzal returned home to the big stage and never missed a beat. Here was my assessment of Barzal as the tournament began, dynamic with the puck, legendary shiftiness and one of the best passers for his age group.Conversely the knock on Matt is and was that he becomes laxidazical at certain moments and hasn't mastered the defensively responsible art. All that being said he took the platform he was given tonight and was unarguably Canada's best forward. When he twists and turns at the speed he's able he makes opposing defenders nauseous as it would be very difficult to keep up with the puck and the open space he created to gift Dylan Strome was a belated Christmas present. Speaking of Strome I thought he showed flashes tonight. I've been awfully critical in past postings on how I perceive Strome as a player. I generally feel he's lethargic out on the ice and doesn't  do much else aside from hanging out in the slot waiting for primo set ups. In fairness to my previous feelings I will give credit where credit is due by vocalizing that he was engaged the entire night and by extension opened up more free space for Pierre-Luc Dubois who had his moments. Ducharme made the late pre-tournament lineup change by swapping Blake Speers who now finds himself on a line with Dillon Dube and Anthony Cirelli and Mitchell Stephens who was awarded top line duties. I don't believe the swap paid dividends today. Stephens was largely ineffective and what boggles me is why Taylor Raddysh and Dylan Strome, teammates in Erie aren't thrown out on the same unit. The counter argument to all of this would be why meddle with Dylan Strome's productivity but keep in mind  a lot of his effectiveness was on special teams and the pre developed chemistry could serve both young lads well. Stephens is a C level skater(as is Strome) but doesn't read the game like Dylan does so to get Dylan and Taylor going 5 on 5 it's advisable they're put together. The other alarming facet tonight that reared it's ugly head was the glaring scoring depth outside the top two lines. Strome can't score unless it's on the PP, Barzal has not been handed a finisher on his line and for whatever the reason the best overall line, that being the third line of Julien Gauthier, Nicholas Roy and Tyson Jost sees sparing special team time even though they create on almost every shift. The last remark I'd like to serenade my ever growing audience with is Oshawa Generals stud Anthony Cirelli deserves a bigger role but these kind of desires happen frequently when you compile the countries best players under one roof.

Now time for the rankings.........

1.Phillipe Myers
2.Matt Barzal
3.Nicholas Roy
4.Thomas Chabot
5.Noah Juulsen
6.Anthony Cirelli
7.Tyson Jost
8.Blake Speers
9.Dylan Strome
10.Pierre-Luc Dubois
11.Jake Bean
12.Julien Gauthier
13.Taylor Raddysh
14.Jeremy Lauzon
15.Dillon Dube
16.Michael McLeod
17.Mathieu Joseph
18.Kale Clague
19.Mitchell Stephens
20.Dante Fabbro