While the IIHF U20 World Junior Championships and the World Junior A Championships are yet to be played next month, plenty of events took place in November with the break in European play, much of which directly impacts draft status. And those changes are sure to be part of the changes seen in our Winter rankings to be release in early in the new year. In the meantime, here is a summary of those events from the past couple of weeks.
CIBC Canada Russia Series – November 4-14, 2019
One of the premier U20 events leading up to the IIHF World Junior Championships as a showcase for the top NHL draft talent on both Canadian and Russia soil. While few draft eligible prospects suit up more than a few get to show their skills during this six-game exhibition that takes place every November. Canadian winger Alexis Lafreniere, the drafts top prospects, missed the event due to injury but the Rimouski scoring machine is a lock to be on the WJC roster.
Drummondville winger Dawson Mercer was impressive, posting two goals and an assist, as he used his speed, positional awareness and strong shot to be a difference maker. Saint John defender Jeremie Poirier was able to showcase his puck moving ability during his two games. Smooth skating defenseman Justin Barron of Halifax and Shawinigan pivot Mavrik Bourque also played well in the Quebec League portion with less of an impact than the previous mentions two. Cape Breton winger Ryan Francis also played in the first game of the series but was held scoreless and really had little affect on the game.
Our second ranked prospect Quinton Byfield of the Sudbury Wolves played in the two OHL contests and acquitted himself nicely controlling the play at times and utilizing his big, athletic frame to play a strong two-way game. He posted two assists and has a solid chance at the Canadian squad due to the dominant start of his year with the Wolves. Saginaw’s scoring winger Cole Perfetti and Erie’s smooth-skating rearguard Jamie Drysdale played the two games as well and looked strong taking lead roles. Perfetti displaying his offensive skill with a highlight reel goal and Drysdale moving the puck but also shutting down the Russian attack. Both have an outside chance at the Canadian roster for the World Juniors but are sure to be on the 2020 edition. Newly named Sault Ste. Marie captain and feisty two-way defenseman Ryan O’Rourke also saw one game in the OHL portion of play, acquitting himself well.
In the WHL portion the series two 2020 NHL Draft eligible really stood out as two-way center Connor Zary of Kamloops played a strong overall game and contributed a primary assist as well as a few other plays that created scoring opportunities. Big and mobile Brandon blueliner Braden Schneider had nothing on the score sheet but made an impact and was impressive none the less rushing the puck, shooting the pick, playing solid defensively and throwing his weight around.
On the Russian squad two names were highlighted on our roster sheet and both did not disappoint. Salavat Yulaev Ufa finesse winger Rodion Amirov played in five contests and used his speed, quick, darting, change of direction, skilled hands and fiery competitive nature to produce three points while Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk power winger Maxim Groshev played in all six games using his puck protection ability, strong positional awareness and surprising strong speed to get to the net and produce two points.
U20 4-Nations Tournament in Piestany, Slovakia – November 7-9, 2019
This mini three-day, three-game tournament between under-20 teams from the nations of Germany, Norway, Slovakia and Switzerland took place in Piestany, Slovakia earlier in the month and we were able to watch it on video as a few names participating were must-see-TV.
Highly regarded Slovakian winger Martin Chromiak showed off his strong frame that he uses to battle for space, speed both with the puck and while on the forecheck, scoring instincts knowing where to go with and without the puck and work ethic. He produced two points in the three games. Chromiak’s Slovak teammate, two-way defender Sam Knazko of TPS, also had a strong tournament. He moved the puck up ice well and showed strong mobility. His decision making, especially in his own zone looked improved. He added one assist and solid defensive play.
The Germans were boasting a talented 2020 NHL Draft prospect in potential top ten pick Tim Stutzle. Stutzle, a center playing the wing with Adler Mannheim in the DEL this season, has been an almost point per game player and skyrocketing up draft boards all season. He used his speed, skilled hands and creative mind to contribute offensively, three points, while also using his awareness to play both ends. Just a really smart, highly skilled kid.
It was not just Stutzle that had us excited to watch this German squad however as they also brought the talented 2020 eligible John-Jason (JJ) Peterka, Lukas Reichel and Maximilian Glotzl. EHC Munchen winger JJ Peterka is a smooth skating, offensively aggressive, playmaker who can also play a sound defensive role when needed. He had his moments and added a goal and two assists in the three games he played. Eisbaren Berlin winger Lukas Reichel who has impressed our guys all season with his strong two-way play, quick shifty, elusiveness and strong creativity. He did not disappoint in Slovakia. Last is Kolner EC U20 defenseman Maximilian Glotzl who is a strong skating two-way defender with a heavy shot. He played solid defensively and used his frame to close opponents off when able but was not overly involved playing third pairing minutes.
U20 4-Nations Tournament in Helsinki, Finland – November 8-10, 2019
One of the main pre-selection events leading up to the IIHF World Junior Championships, this event had some of the 2020 drafts top ranked prospects participating from the nations of Finland, Russia, Sweden, and the Czech Republic.
Top five draft prospect and current HIFK centre Anton Lundell played on the WJC team for Finland last December and was looking to do so again this season until a recent injury sidelined that plan. He centered the Finns top line at this three-day event but failed to get on the score sheet. He was still able to show his ability to contribute to the offensive game, with strong passes and solid positioning, as well as pay a dependable defensive game.
Assat center Roni Hirvonen, who has been playing on the wing most of this season, was strong in an ever-changing role moving up and down the lineup throughout the three games and depended on for the PK. The hard working forward led his team with three points in the three games. Potential first round prospect Topi Niemela an offensive defenseman playing in the Liiga for Karpat saw top line defensive minutes in two of the three games and looked strong both pushing the puck up ice as well as in defensive zone coverage. He too was seeing time on the Finns PK and used his mobility and quickness to cover up lanes and get his stick on pucks. The Finns had a disappointing tournament at home losing all three games they played.
Over on the Russian squad there were a few names we were keeping our eyes on, but none impressed or made a bigger impact than top goaltender prospect Yaroslav Askarov. The SKA-Neva St. Petersburg stopper has looked impressive in every game we have seen him to date and there was no letdown here. The size, positioning, quickness and battle combo as well as his incredible ability to read the play make him hard to not project as a future superstar NHL goaltender. Over the three days he stopped 57 out of 61 shots (.934 SP) in two starts and ten minutes of mop up duty when the Russians had their other goaltender chased from the game with ten minutes left in the third period against the Swedes. We would be shocked if he were not the starter for the Russian WJC squad.
On the Swedish squad the twins were back at it again as Frolunda’s Lucas Raymond and Djurgarden’s Alexander Holtz once again teamed up on a line to create plenty of scoring opportunities for their team. The dynamic Raymond was showing off his high-level creativity, impressive pucks skills, elite vision and also his quick shot release as he scored a goal on the power-play. Holtz, who is the more naturally gifted goal scorer of the two, seemed to get a few more offensive chances and also produced a goal by getting to the proper position and unleashing his strong shot. He seemed to be skating well and looked a little more dangerous offensively than Raymond at this event. The season has been an up and down one for Raymond and while we feel he will be a very effective NHL scorer, others in this class have outperformed him based on a few of our viewings this season meaning he might be dropping down a couple of spots in our rankings come this time next month. Both are virtual locks to make the WJC this Christmas.
Lastly we have the Czech entry and a name that we were focusing on was HC Litvinov center Jan Mysak,a potential first round prospect, who has been playing the wing in the country’s top men’s league so far this season. It was the same old story with the talented forward showing flashes of excellence – driving the offense, making highlight reel moves, having us believe we have him ranked too low – but not consistently. He was given a support role on this team but also some powerplay time. We would be surprised if he made the World Junior roster in anything but a bottom six, depth role.
While the above summaries cover three U20 pre-World Junior showcases we had our eyes on, two other major scouting events took place this November; the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge and U18 5-Nations Tournament from Sweden. Look for DraftPro’s feature reviews on both of those events to drop on the website in the next few days.