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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

2011 WJC player updates Days 2-4

Well, it's Wednesday here in Buffalo and not a great deal of good hockey today to get excited about.

The Finland-Germany game was on par with the game the Finns played against Switzerland yesterday. They won that one by a 4-0 score and beat Germany 4-1 after chasing starter Philipp Grubauer from the net (the second time in three starts he's gotten the hook in the tourney, btw).

Germany is a bad team, but Finland, as efficient as they are, just seem to suck the life out of their games. They wait for opponents to make mistakes and capitalize. This is much of a contrast to the blistering speed of the aggressive Swedish and Russian teams in Sweden's 2-0 win last night.

The Canada-Norway game later this evening didn't hold much hope for excitement...unless you're a Canadian and like Sega Genesis EA Sports NHL 94-like blowouts or something. And true to form, it was a total laugher, aided in the 1st period by horrendous goaltending from Soberg (who pulled himself after allowing five- most of them softies) and Volden (who promptly allowed two more softies). The final was 10-1 with Brayden Schenn finishing up a four-goal, five-point night, but not getting voted the game's 1st star by the "media" (I quote that because I am part of the "media" and have yet to get a vote sheet handed my way for any of these games. Not sure who's picking these gems, but I ain't part of it nor is anyone else I know here.)

So, after a not-so-great day of hockey, I'll pust some observations on the key 2011-eligible players here on the heels of three pretty good days with some moribund individual games in between.


Sven Bartschi, LW- This has not been a good tournament so far for the talented winger who is playing with countryman and Swiss team captain Nino Niederreiter in the WHL with Portland. Bartschi has nice wheels and hands, but has been a perimeter player here for the most part. Not very involved in the play beyond some flashes here and there, to say that Bartschi's been a disappointment is an understatement. That said, he's a nice kid who just got some help when he gets back to the Winterhawks in the form of B's prospect Craig Cunningham.

Gregory Hofmann, C-- Playing on the wing here in Buffalo more than up the middle, this kid has been a nice revelation. Possessing OK size, he's a good skater with rapid acceleration and pretty good east-west agility and shiftiness. He was particularly good in the first day win over Germany and less so in the shutout loss to Finland on Day 3. He handles the puck well and has several gears that he uses to go in and out of traffic and control the tempo, He made a terrific pass on Switzerland's first goal of the tournament and most folks you talk to in the scouting community here like him. The knocks? The Bruins have yet to draft a Swiss player in their history. He's playing on a line with a teammate on the Ambri Piotta pro team back home, so he does have some chemistry already established that most WJC players on these teams do not.


Tobias Rieder, LW-- Another disappointment, although Rieder came alive on the tourney's fourth day against Finland. He scored a highlight reel goal on Joni Ortio in the third period to break a 4-0 shutout bid and it was a beauty- he charged in alone at full speed, slowed, then put on a lightning deke backhand-to-forehand-to-backhand, and when Ortio pulled himself out of line with the net, Rieder slid the puck into the yawning cage. The skilled little winger also had several scoring chances against the Finns. That being said, his first two games were pretty poor and until today, he was right with Bartschi for tourney's most disappointing player award if I gave such an award out. His ice time has been sporadic at times, but Rieder simply hasn't done enough consistently to make a big case about it. He's definitely a player in terms of his skating and hands, but the energy I heard about him possessing in Kitchener hasn't been there. I've been left wanting more with him.


Joel Armia, RW-- At 6-3 and about 190, this guy has the size and goal scoring chops that NHL teams crave. He's shown off those raw tools pretty effectively in Buffalo, even though he has nothing to show for it. He got hosed on a goal called back against Switzerland when it should have counted (net knocked off purposely by Swiss player before puck crossed) and he was standing in front of Philipp Grubauer on a screen against Germany and credited with the goal only to have Joonas Nattinen get the nod later in the game for it. In the end, it doesn't really matter because anyone watching Armia closely has seen some good things. Red Line Report chief scout and publisher Kyle Woodlief will be by the B2011DW blog a little later to go into detail about Armia's game for you.


Gabriel Landeskog, RW-- To say that I'm choked about not getting to see Landeskog in this tourney live is an understatement. Aggravating a high ankle sprain he suffered in his final OHL game last week, this top 2011 draft candidate could be on the shelf for a long time. How will it affect his draft position if at all? We'll have to see. More on him later from Woodlief.

Adam Larsson, D-- Finally got to see him live in a very fast-paced and spirited 2-0 win over the Russians on Day 3 and wasn't disappointed. Again, I'll let Woodlief break down his game for you, and he really gave me a ton of stuff on him. But, bottom line- Larsson's looked like a high first-round pick this week and just needs to keep building on it. Now, having said that, some may be surprised to hear what Red Line's chief scout thinks about Larsson's upside/NHL projection. Kyle might be right, and he might be off, but the internet hype machine is a detriment to someone like Larsson because for the past 1.5 yrs, people have been thinking he's a future Niklas Lidstrom-type franchise cornerstone, and that simply may not be the case. He was good for me, but not fabulous. So therein lies the dilemma for scouts.

Rickard Rakell, RW-- When Gabriel Landeskog was lost for the WJC with a high ankle sprain, Team Sweden needed people to step up, and no player did more than Rakell against the Russians. Although only averaged sized, he was fast, intense, gritty, physical and really distinguished himself in all facets of the game except on the scoresheet. But one can't help but wonder whether with his speed and quick stick, whether some nice offensive performances are right around the corner. He's been good in Plymouth from what I hear, but if he maintains this sandpaper, edgy aspect to his game, Rakell will be a first-round pick in June.


Anton Burdasov, C--
Passed over twice in the draft, one can only wonder why, because even with the transfer/signability concerns, what NHL team doesn't want a guy who stands about 6-3, can really skate, handle the puck and play with a lot of energy. This guy, along with Vladimir Tarasenko, have been Russia's best players in the tourney. Others, like Evgeny Kuznetsov and Dmitry Orlov, have left me wanting more...a lot more. Burdasov may have some skeletons in the closet or something, but from a pure hockey standpoint, this guy seems like a third- or fourth-rounder to me. But, I'm not a pro scout, either.


Tomas Jurco, RW--
This very skilled kid hasn't gotten much of a chance as one of the younger players on Team Slovakia, which is a shame. Fast, extremely deft with the puck and creative, in limited shifts, he managed to create several quality/noticeable scoring chances against the Germans in a 2-1 overtime victory. He's already well acquainted with the North American aspects of hockey having spent a year-plus with the QMJHL's Saint John Sea Dogs and just seems to have all the tools to be an offensive threat in the NHL one day. He's not huge and has a lot of filling out to do.

Peter Ceresnak, D-- The seventh D hasn't played but with Martin Marincin suspended for his hit to the head of Jason Zucker over the next four games, the big, shutdown defender will get his chance here in Buffalo.


Sean Couturier, C--
Considered by many to be the one candidate most likely for top billing in 2011 hasn't done much in the tournament. Some of it is a reflection of his role and ice time as Canada's youngest player, but some of it is Couturier. He's just kind of there. He was fine in the first win over Russia, but has been barely noticeable in the victories over Czech Republic and Norway. He doesn't look like a very dominant player right now-- he's got the size and moves OK, but his play has been on the tentative side as if he doesn't want to make a mistake. He was barely noticeable in the 10-1 shellacking of Norway and this after he got more ice time with the absence of Jaden Schwartz and Matt Kassian (and even Cody Eakin who got injured in the 1st and did not return)from the lineup.(Note- to save the the time of outraged readers who will post comments to inevitably point out that he scored his first goal of the WJC in this game-- well, yes, he did. But it's what he didn't do in the first two periods I was talking about. He's capable of so much more than we got tonight.)

I'll be back with more detailed reports on these players and others when the tournament concludes, but it's a good start.

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