After another dramatic chapter in the rivalry between Canada and Russia closed out the 2011 world juniors, I thought it would be appropriate to go back over the tournament and discuss some of the notable players, as well as how the performance of a few prospects will affect the draft order. I have put together a list of undrafted all-stars from the tournament and although the selections do not necessarily reflect potential draft order, they are, in my opinion, an accurate evaluation of who really stepped up their game and left a mark.
Canada’s Sean Couturier and Sweden’s Adam Larsson are unlikely to see their stock drop, as both were more than serviceable for their countries for the duration of the tournament. With Swede Gabriel Landeskog going down to injury early in the tournament, he was unable to showcase his skill set enough to intensify the No. 1 overall debate and that’s the only real threat to his standing as a very high draft pick. Both forward Couturier and defenseman Larsson made their way onto my All-Tournament Undrafted Prospect Team. Although neither player demonstrated much beyond their expectations, they were solid for their teams and occupied some crucial minutes. When you are a top prospect, meeting expectations is a good thing, unless someone else comes along and pushes that bar a little higher. But at this point, Larsson and Couturier have managed to maintain possession of that bar.
In goal, undrafted Benjamin Conz was once again an impressive player and has really carved out a nice reputation for himself when it comes to international play. It would not be surprising to see an NHL club reach out and give the diminutive Swiss netminder a chance in the near future. His poise and desire are the stuff of legend and, for this scout, will certainly rank high in the memories of this tournament. Once again, Conz has proven he deserves a shot at the next level.
Rounding out the defenders is another undrafted player, Finnish rearguard Jyrki Jokipakka. Jokipakka is the definition of a late-bloomer and was a big topic of conversation amongst scouting groups during the tournament. The debate now turns to whether or not a team should gamble and burn a draft pick on the multi-dimensional Finn or sit back and hope he is available as a free agent. My advice is to use the pick and lock him up.
Joining Couturier at forward is a Swiss prospect – and this may be a surprising pick, because it’s not Sven Bartschi. Nothing against Bartschi, as he is an exceptional prospect who is knocking on the door to be a first round pick, but during the tournament another young Swiss player stole some of his spotlight: Gregory Hofmann. Hofmann has put together quite an impressive run during international competitions of late, posting good numbers at both the World Junior A Challenge and last year’s Under-18 World Championship. Hofmann is a great shooter whose feet move a mile a minute and he’s ultra-tenacious around loose pucks near the net. Hofmann’s performance during this year’s WJC should vault him up the draft board, but he’ll still more than likely hear his name called after Bartschi.
The final spot on my All-Tournament Undrafted Prospect Team is a difficult one to determine, as there were several deserving young players. In the end I was unable to pick between two of them, so they are both earning the spot (it’s my blog, I can do what I want…right?).
Sweden’s Max Friberg and Finland’s Miikka Salomaki both had excellent showings. Friberg is just a ball of energy with tremendous hands and was a consistently dangerous offensive threat for the Swedes throughout the WJC. Salomaki managed to go from building experience simply by being on the bench to becoming the catalyst for Finland’s competitiveness during the late round robin games. He plays both ends of the ice extremely well and is a dangerous and effective shooter. His well-rounded style leaves opponents scratching their heads as to whether he is on the ice to defend and shut down their top lines or whether they need to account for his offensive abilities and send someone out to shut him down. Both Friberg and Salomaki will benefit from their strong performances during the tournament and should climb the draft rankings considerably.
Honorable mentions go to Finland’s Joel Armia and Germany’s Tobias Rieder, who both showcased their abilities during the tournament. They will likely maintain their already-high rankings on the draft board despite being slightly upstaged by the likes of Salomaki and Friberg. As is the case with Bartschi, expect the draft stocks of both Armia and Rieder to remain well ahead of Salomaki and Friberg…for now.
Looking forward, Czech Martin Frk and Finn Olli Maatta both played well during the tournament, but are not eligible for the NHL draft until 2012. Keep an eye out for both players, as they will certainly make some noise when it comes time to amp up the debate for next year’s best young prospects.
Congratulations to all the players who put on a tremendous show once again and to Russia for displaying undying passion and character in reclaiming its place at the top.
Ross MacLean is the head scout for International Scouting Services and is considered one of the rising stars of the business. A young, diverse and versatile hockey mind, MacLean leads ISS’ network of scouts and puts his domestic and international hockey experience and knowledge towards ranking and providing industry-leading profiles and information on draft eligible players around the world.