Ostrava was a blast and the world juniors were compelling, but it’s back to the grind for everyone now. The second half of the season sees a lot of junior players in different uniforms thanks to the CHL trade deadline and we can start thinking about PairWise implications in the NCAA from here on out – though North Dakota, Cornell and Minnesota State are all looking like juggernauts. We’ve also got the AHL All-Star Game coming up in Ontario (the California one), so let’s take a whirl around the world of prospects with a look at one player per NHL franchise. Skip down to the Islanders for details on a very interesting situation involving star goalie Ilya Sorokin.
ANA: There were a lot of questions about usage on Team USA at the WJC and Trevor Zegras was an example. The 2019 first-rounder played just 9:23 in the opener against Canada, then finished with 17:24 in the quarterfinal loss to Finland. Zegras’ team-high nine points – all assists – probably helped.
ARI: Not only was Mathias Maccelli a key member of Finland’s WJC squad, but he has also been a top rookie in the Liiga back home. The talented left winger had been considering the college route last year. “We were thinking of that with my agents and family, but I decided I had to play with older men,” he told me. “They’re stronger and better, so it’s really good for me.” Maccelli did visit Wisconsin and Arizona State during the process.
BOS: Netminder Jeremy Swayman has been good throughout his college career, but the junior is enjoying his best year yet with the University of Maine. The Black Bears starter is rocking a .936 save percentage and 2.27 goals-against average; both career-bests.
BUF: Though he had a quiet WJC for the Czechs, crash-and-banger Matej Pekar gets another shot at glory thanks to a trade at the OHL’s deadline. Pekar went from the rebuilding Barrie Colts to the contending Sudbury Wolves, where top-end 2020 draft prospect Quinton Byfield resides. Pekar has seven points through three games with the Wolves.
CGY: It was always going to take some time for diminutive Matthew Phillips to develop, but with 30 points in 28 games for the Stockton Heat, the right winger is finding his groove. The 21-year-old has also earned his first slot at the AHL All-Star Game.
CAR: Here’s Germany coach Tobias Abstreiter on Dominik Bokk, who led the team in WJC scoring with six goals and eight points in seven games: “Even from a bad angle, he’s aiming at the net and hitting it. He’s always a threat with the puck.”
CHI: He was a fantastic story for gold-medal Finland at the 2019 World Championship and the party has continued for goalie Kevin Lankinen, who earned a spot at the AHL All-Star Game as a member of the Rockford IceHogs. Lankinen has a .908 save percentage for the Hogs.
CBJ: Though Columbus only made three selections in the 2019 draft, center Dmitri Voronkov may turn out to be a great sleeper. The Russian center was a big driver for the WJC silver medallists, with heavy, physical play and a great net-front presence.
COL: Had it not been for his collapse against Canada, goalie Justus Annunen likely would have been named an all-star at the world juniors. Even with that off night, Annunen was still huge in getting Finland past Team USA and his early work in the tournament reflected the great season he’s having back home with Karpat Oulu.
DAL: It feels like center Ty Dellandrea was always in the middle of the battle at the world juniors and maybe it’s because he’s the type of player who lays it all out there. “He works his tail off,” said Canada coach Dale Hunter. “He plays both ends of the ice, he plays hard, he’s hard to play against and he plays heavy.”
DET: We knew defenseman Moritz Seider would be huge for Germany at the WJC and he lived up to billing. This is what coach Tobias Abstreiter had to say in Ostrava: “He’s our leader, he leads the pack. It’s nice to have such a good defenseman back there. From what I’ve seen in our group, he’s one of the best defensemen of the tournament and that means a lot.”
EDM: Sweden had so much talent on the back end, they could afford to experiment. Using big Philip Broberg in a shutdown role with Kings prospect Tobias Bjornfot was one such gambit and it looked pretty successful. Broberg was particularly effective on clearing the puck out of his zone on the penalty-kill.
FLA: Boy, it sure feels like Grigori Denisenko is ready for North America. The left winger captained Russia to silver at the WJC, tallying a team-high nine points in seven games. He’s playing 13 minutes a night in the KHL, but his contract with Yaroslavl ends this April.
LA: Overall the Kings had a great showing at the WJC and Samuel Fagemo was right at the top. The Swedish right winger has moves on top of moves and was even killing penalties at the tourney. His 13 points in seven games led the WJC and earned him an all-star team nod.
MIN: It’s great to see Alexander Khovanov healthy and producing. And boy, did he produce for Russia at the world juniors. The dynamic center had eight points in seven games for the silver medallists, including some key goals.
MTL: By far my favorite quote from the WJC was Germany’s J.J. Peterka on getting trucked by Alexander Romanov on New Year’s Eve: “I talked to a guy I played with last year that told me that guy is always hitting and he said ‘please don’t get hit by him.’ I said ‘OK,’ but then he got me.”
NSH: Talk about a great debut. Center Phil Tomasino was traded from OHL Niagara to Oshawa at the deadline and immediately responded with a five-point debut for the Generals. The speedster was named OHL player of the week with 10 points in three games.
NJ: I liked Ty Smith’s game at the WJC. While the offensively-inclined defenseman didn’t put up a lot of points, he was definitely playing more of a shutdown role for Canada and his ability to get the puck out of the defensive zone was very helpful for the gold medallists.
NYI: From my Russian sources: CSKA Moscow wants to re-sign Ilya Sorokin to one of the most lucrative goalie contracts in KHL history. Sorokin isn’t going to rush into anything however; he has told the team he will wait until the off-season to assess his options with the Islanders.
NYR: As if the Rangers needed another star goalie in their ranks: Tyler Wall just set a UMass-Lowell record with his 52ns career victory, passing Dwayne Roloson in the process. Wall has been on fire for the River Hawks yet again, posting a conference-best .941 save percentage and 1.81 goals-against average.
OTT: If there was a breakout star at the WJC, Shane Pinto was probably the guy. The University of North Dakota center was a great net-front presence for Team USA and his seven points in five games ranked second on the squad.
PHI: While Alexander Romanov got the all-star nod, fellow defenseman Egor Zamula was just as important for Russia at the world juniors – maybe even more so. The Flyers free agent signing played big minutes and looked very strong at both ends of the ice.
PIT: I thought defenseman Calen Addison got better as the world juniors went on, with the gold-medal game being his finest. But Canada coach Dale Hunter said he was a fan of Addison’s the whole way through. The WHL Lethbridge star led the Canadian ‘D’ with nine points in seven games.
SJ: So far, so good for Ryan Merkley in London. Though the offensive defenseman didn’t make Canada’s world junior squad, there haven’t been any problems since he joined the OHL’s Knights and his production (47 points in 38 games) is right in line with his top-end ability.
STL: Big Tyler Tucker was a point-per-gamer for OHL Barrie before getting dealt at the deadline to Flint, where the Firebirds are in a better position than they have been in most years. He’ll bolster a lineup that already had some nice weapons in Ty Dellandrea and Vladislav Kolyachonok.
TB: How did netminder Hugo Alnefelt get so good so fast? He’s been one of the top SHL goalies this season and, one slip-up against Russia aside, was very good at the WJC: “I’ve always worked hard, every day, every practice,” he said. “With hard work you get confidence and with confidence you can keep calm.”
TOR: He won’t be a prospect for much longer, so let’s give props to Rasmus Sandin one last time. The defenseman was incredible for Sweden at the WJC and had they made the final, he would have been my MVP vote. “He’s a tremendous hockey player and a good leader,” said bronze-medal teammate Tobias Bjornfot. “He was great for us.”
VAN: It’s Adam Gaudette all over again: the Canucks appear to have another late-round gem on their hands with Aidan Mcdonough, who also went from USHL Cedar Rapids to Northeastern University. Mcdonough, a seventh-rounder, has a point per game as a freshman with the Huskies.
VGK: I have a feeling that Vegas fans will deal with some ups and downs when it comes to Ivan Morozov, but when he’s on, he is really good. His sniping ability helped push Russia past Sweden in the WJC semifinal, where he scored twice, including the overtime winner.
WSH: Fresh off a WJC appearance with the host Czechs, big defenseman Martin Hugo Has decided to leave his Finnish pro team to play in the OHL. North Bay held his rights, but the Battalion flipped the Caps prospect to Guelph, where the Storm have been an unlikely success story this season.
WPG: Though he hasn’t scored a goal yet, defenseman Dylan Samberg is on pace to have his best offensive season yet at the University of Minnesota-Duluth thanks to 13 assists in 16 games. Samberg had 19 points as a sophomore and the junior is also gunning for a third straight national championship with the Bulldogs.
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