For many, the day after the calendar flipped to 2009 marked a return to reality and a time to get back to business.
But for hockey fans, the conclusion of the World Junior Championship marks the end to a celebration of a different kind of religious origin.
It isn’t surprise Canada won gold given its WJC history and the fact the team played against an NHL draft-deep Swedish squad didn’t turn any heads. John Tavares led the tournament in goals, which he was supposed to do, while Nikita Filatov – who tied Tavares – showed off NHL-caliber skill in a showcase for junior moves.
Taking a step out of the spotlight and away from the camera shots, here are a few players from medaling teams who caught my eye this year for playing a strong game, without being honored as a tournament team all-star.
Patrice Cormier, Center, Canada
He plays the type of game I love; hard in the corners, tough along the boards and suffocating in his own zone – basically, he’s a relentless attacker.
Cormier was brought onto Team Canada with the idea he would be a lightning rod of energy paired with Stefan Della Rovere. With Della Rovere unable to keep his emotions in check and taking a few careless penalties, Cormier’s load became much more responsible, but stayed just as intense.
Cormier was a source of intimidation and a key cog in Canada’s runaway train.
Evander Kane, Center, Canada
How good is this guy going to be when he builds on his 160-pound frame? Kane won’t be a power forward, but he will be an explosive NHL player. Kane has good speed and isn’t afraid to cut hard towards the net coming in off a rush down the wing.
In the junior ranks, he’ll run over you if he needs to and as he grows and learns, his offensive totals will continue to bloom as they have in the Western League. And speaking of where he is coming from, the Vancouver Giants and coach Don Hay – himself a WJC champion coach – know how to produce NHL players and Kane is coming along nicely with Jonathon Blum, who suited up for Team USA.
Evgeny Grachev, Center, Russia
This guy is big, has tremendous power and uses it to his advantage. Grachev looked like a man playing among boys and steamrolled a number of outmatched opponents on his way to five points in seven games and a plus-3 rating.
Since he’s already showed a desire to play in North America by choosing to leave Russia for the Ontario League, the New York Rangers look to have third-round steal on their hands.
To be sure, Grachev’s game still needs fine-tuning in the defensive end before he’s ready to jump to the big time, but since he already houses an NHL-sized frame, Grachev’s development just needs to be guided, which it will be by Stan Butler in Brampton.
David Rundblad, Defenseman, Sweden
While the gold medal game was a tough one, Rundblad showed leadership by not allowing a poorly timed broken stick – that led to an Angelo Esposito goal – blur his focus. After that unfortunate incident, it didn’t take long for Rundblad to come back down and create his own scoring chance.
The 2009 draft eligible defenseman was rarely – if ever – mentioned, but is Sweden’s second-highest rated defender for June’s draft. With Victor Hedman suspected to have been playing the WJC with a sore or injured shoulder, Rundblad became an on-ice leader among the youngsters and surely outplayed the next highest rated Swedish defenseman, Tim Erixon.
Rundblad played strong shutdown hockey along the boards and often left those battles with the puck and without his disgruntled opponent. On offense, he was part of the power play alongside Hedman and displayed smart creativity that helped keep Sweden the favorite in the minds of many.
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