Thursday, January 8, 2009

Sportsology: World Junior Hockey Championships recap

By Rick Morris

Courtesy of our good friends at Sportsology, here is a great recap of hockey's World Junior Championships. The one and only Russ Cohen breaks it all down for you as only he can.

World Junior Championship observations
By Russ Cohen

After watching the World Junior Championships, I wanted to talk about some of the players who really stood out one way or another. I think its important to point out that scouts don't base a kid's talent on just one game or one series -- and neither do I.

This series was played on North American ice and not the larger European surface, so it gave the tournament a different feel, for sure.

Jaroslav Janus –Slovakia- What an undrafted gem of a goaltender. He was fast, aggressive and he was a difference-maker for the surprising Slovakian team. He’s currently playing for the Erie Otters of the OHL (with a solid save percentage of .906) and he will be drafted this time around. I think he will go in the third or fourth round like Reto Berra (St. Louis) did in 2006 after he stood on his head for Switzerland in the 2006 WJC’s.

John Tavares – Canada – Looked better than the previous times that I had seen him. Lets face it, he’s not challenged anymore in the OHL - and maybe getting traded to London will help that -but in this tournament, he was an absolute sniper. He was terrific at faceoffs and he scored in the clutch and played a very good two-way game. He was sensational around the net. I think he will be the top pick in this year’s draft.

Jordan Eberle – Canada - He was the star for Team Canada and he will see his name in lights for a long time, second only to Paul Henderson who was the star of the 1972 Summit Series against Russia. He was courageous, he was a “Johnny on the Spot” kind of player and you noticed him every time he was on the ice. Oilers fans are now salivating waiting for this kid to make the jump to the big club.

Victor Hedman – Sweden - He isn’t my choice for the second overall pick in '09, because his team lost in the finals. He had a shoulder injury in the tournament and he showed that he was still a precision passer and he moves extremely well for a big man. He wasn’t an offensive force, but you could see flashes and he was the most impressive defenseman that I saw hit the ice. He had a cheap-shot punch that didn’t get him a penalty, which shows he’s already getting the star treatment. I think he will take longer to develop than Tavares and the Canadian is a more marketable player, and generally speaking teams near the bottom usually need some help in that area.

Jacob Markström – Sweden - He's a great athlete who can really cover the entire net. He made some spectacular diving saves and the Panthers got a real steal drafting this netminder in the second round last year. I had a chance to interview him for a pre-draft guide last season and I could tell he was a quality person who plays with a lot of confidence on the ice.

Mikael Backlund – Sweden – Calgary’s first-round pick last season may have been the best all-around player in the tournament. He was terrific in all situations, he showed some toughness, he was good at face-offs and now I think he has more offensive upside than I had previously believed.

Magnus Svensson-Pääjärvi - Sweden – He has superior puck control and he attacks the offensive zone with amazing stick skills. He has some very flashy goals because of his great acceleration and drive to the net. He’s 6-0, 192 pounds and he does lack some toughness - and he will need that when he plays in the NHL. With that said, I think he will be picked somewhere in the 6-10 range rather than the top-five.

Erik Karlsson – Sweden - Ottawa’s first round pick in ‘08 didn’t disappoint. This blueliner has a good shot from the point; it's accurate and hard. He was great on the power play and good at even strength. As bad as things are in Ottawa, at least the locals could watch one of their own.

Jordan Schroeder – United States - Before this tournament, I was hearing rumblings that he was an assist man and not a scorer and that’s why he’s not a top-five pick. I understand that he is just 5-9, 180 pounds, but you quickly forget that when he is in the slot showing off a very quick release or making a great pass to setup a goal. He can do it all - and I think he is a top-five pick.

James van Riemsdyk – United States - I thought he had a decent series, but he could have been better had he really tried to use his 6-3, 200-pound frame to his advantage. With all that said, he had the nicest goal when he split the D against the Czech Republic, forehand to backhand, and got taken down but scored. That play showed off his obvious emerging offensive skills.

Thomas McCollum – United States – Detroit’s first-round pick in last year’s draft has a good net presence, but he was victimized by some weird bounces and some rebounds he should have contained better. He is a terrific goaltender and he needs a strong defense in front of him; he didn’t get that in this tournament.

Nikita Filatov - Russia - He was a dynamic offensive force and he showed why he will soon be ready for the NHL! Columbus fans will soon have one of the top scorers in the league on their team to play with Rich Nash and Jakub Voracek.

Evgeny Grachev - Russia - The Rangers took this kid in the third round in '08 and he told me he patterned himself after Evgeni Malkin. While I think he was shooting for the moon, he did a great job of setting up Filatov so he looks like a solid second-line NHLer someday.

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