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Friday, April 15, 2011

World Under-18 Championship Day 2: USA-Slovakia observations

Team USA played their second game in as many days at the World Under-18 Championship.

As was the case against Switzerland, the Americans started slowly, taking two early penalties and having a hard time generating much offense. However, once the Americans killed their first couple of penalties, they blew the game open en route to an 8-1 beating that gives them a 2-0-0-0 record thus far.

They thought they took a lead in the opening frame when Henrik Samuelsson fired a shot past (goalie) but Blake Pietila was ruled in the crease and it was waved off.

Rocco Grimaldi put action to words from the previous day when he was critical of his own performance against Switzerland, scoring USA's first goal on the power play.

Barret Kaib, D- Made one terrible pass while on the PK, but the Slovaks couldn't capitalize. Has some wheels, but is a small defender without the elite skill set NHL teams want from undersized guys at that position. Kaib may have to make his pro bones going the free agency route after playing at Providence College, because we don't see much of a shot of him being drafted.

Rocco Grimaldi, F- Got his 1st goal of the tourney in the first on the power play when he darted into the slot between the hashmarks and buried the rebound of a Reid Boucher shot. He didn't play poorly in Game 1, but didn't accomplish much and called himself out for not playing well. You have to love his passion and accountability, but we think Roc was being a bit tough on himself. He can really fly and handle the puck at top speed, and you get an appreciate for that when you watch him. If we have an issue with his play int he first couple of games it is that he tends to take the puck wide most times instead of driving into traffic and using his quickness to cross up defenders and open up some space. We know he's an energetic, passionate player, but hanging out on the perimeter isn't the best use of his prodigious talents.

Adam Reid, F- Didn't see much ice in the first game, but did get his first goal of the the tournament on the power play to make it 6-0, USA after the Americans did a terrific job of puck possession and movement, holding the zone and working it smartly before getting a shot on net that Reid put past Patrik Rybar. He's got very good physical tools, but hasn't really put it all together and is a pretty raw project player at this point. At the same time, those measurables are bound to intrigue an NHL team enough to grab him in the draft at some point, we just don't know where that will be. He's not been a key player in this tourney for the Americans thus far.

Travis Boyd, F- This September 14, 1993 born forward made the 2011 cutoff by just one day! He's small but quick and intelligent. He scored a beautiful shorthanded goal after taking a pass from Zac Larraza and beating the Slovak defense through the neutral zone. As he streaked in on goaltender Richard Sabol, he made a quick head fake, then tucked the puck to his backhand and as Sabol bit on the initial fake, slid the puck past the helpless keeper and into the cage. Boyd is another one of USA's many intelligent, skilled, interchangeable forwards. He may not project as a strong NHL prospect right now, but has some interesting attributes.

Reid Boucher, F- Along with Grimaldi, gave Slovakia fits all day with their quickness and aggressive driving to the net. They each tallied, and Reid missed at least one tip-in on a nice cross-ice feed from Grimaldi, but he has the look of a natural scorer with his quick hands, release and good body position when the puck's on his stick in the o-zone. He's not the blazer Grimaldi is, but has excellent anticipation and is able to create on his own.

Dan Carlson, F- Minnesota State- Mankato recruit scored a highlight reel goal when he sliced through the Slovakia defense, but on a quick burst of speed to cut past the last defender and fired a bullet past the netminder for his first goal of the tourney. Not a top-end skater, but has deceptive speed and quickness. More of an energy guy, but after that goal, showed that he can create a little nifty offense. A draft longshot, but may be someone to watch next season and beyond if he doesn't get a call in June.

Connor Murphy, D- It's always good news when your best offensive defenseman is also one of your best defensive players, and that's what Murphy did against the Slovaks. He made a beautiful block on a 2-on-1 in the 1st period to deny a scoring chance, and was in position all day. Showed nice gap control, an active stick and took the body when it warranted. He's big but doesn't lay a lot of crushing hits, yet is still pretty effective in the angles he takes and the defensive awareness he shows. Really nasty on the point during the power play. Moved it smartly with partner Jacob Trouba all game long, forcing the Slovaks to open up the umbrella and create some shooting lanes. USA's success with the man advantage today was no accident and it started with their PP point men: Murphy, Trouba, Seth Jones and Robbie Russo.

Robbie Russo, D- Another strong offensive game for the captain. He ripped a point shot for a goal in the second period, his first of the tournament. Named player of the game for this one, he earned it, playing an effective two-way game and staying involved throughout. Highly effective on the power play in terms of moving the puck well with partner Seth Jones, and made smart decisions. This is the kind of performance from Russo that had certain draft sources projecting him as a second-round pick. He needs to keep it up, but credit where due for games 1 and 2.

Mike Paliotta, D- Steady and unspectacular today as he was in Game 1. Watching these two games, we can appreciate why he's fallen down in the rankings a bit after coming into the season looking at a potential first-round grade. He's got nice size and is a fluid skater with good four-way directional mobility, but he's not the kind of passer/puck-mover that jumps out at you along with some of the higher-profile players in the the class. He plays a pretty conservative game and doesn't jump into the play much. With the power play defensive rotation having so much success and the team on special teams as much as they were against Slovakia, Paliotta's ice time suffered. He's a great kid and character player, but there isn't much upside based on what we've seen in the first two games.

John Gibson, G- Another strong game from the frontrunner to be the first goaltender off the board in June. Wasn't tested a great deal, but sometimes a goalie can make things look easier than they appear. Was in position the entire time, controlled the rebounds and did a great job of making some of the tougher shots look routine. He blanked the Slovaks and gave way to backup McNeely for the third period. In two games, Gibson has given up just one goal in five periods of action.

Matt McNeely, G- Came into the game during garbage time in the third period. Greatly resembled Gibson in terms of size and style- if you didn't catch on to their pad color scheme, you could go the entire game thinking Gibson was in the net the whole time. Gave up a goal on a weird bounce that went to Marko Dano for the layup in front. It was good for him to get into some action even at garbage time, but this is Gibson's team and if the USA is going to three-peat it will have to be Gibson who gets them there.

Martin Gernat, D- Slovakia's best defender has excellent size (6-5) and good mobility for such a big kid. He's fluid in his movements and still a little gangly, but had a couple of memorable plays where he jumped in from the point to get a good shot off, but was denied by Gibson. He was burned on a couple of missed coverages, but overall, was one of Slovakia's better players in a thrashing. Lack of physical play and strength is his biggest shortcoming right now, but he has the kind of projectable upside that makes him a solid sleeper for the 2011 draft.

Peter Ceresnak, D- Nothing major to report on this defense-first player. He kept things pretty simple, but had trouble handling the smaller, quicker U.S. forwards especially when they forced him to move away from the boards and into the open ice. Has a pretty good stick for breaking up plays, but doesn't do a great deal to stand out either way.

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