Welcome to today’s edition of “Top Shelf Prospects”. If you missed any of my previous articles you can find a complete listing of my them here.
With the CHL seasons now well over a month old, I thought now would be a good time to look at the potential lineups for the World Junior Championships. On Wednesday I started with Team Canada and yesterday moved on to Team USA.
Today I look at the Rest of Pool B, which includes Russia, Slovakia, and Germany. Now I’m not going to be able to do an entire lineup the way I did with Canada and the United States, as unfortunately my viewings of European Junior Leagues is not near as extensive as my viewings of the CHL, USHL, and NCAA. As a result, instead I’m going to focus on a few players to watch today.
Based on the latest in the NHL lockout, I am going to assume that the NHL and NHLPA will not resolve their issues and that premium talent will be available. I’m also going to assume that AHL clubs who have some of these junior aged players will release them for the tournament.
So lets get started.
Germany: Germany is back in the top division of the World Junior Championships, but have unfortunately found themselves in the tougher of the two pools with Canada, USA, and Russia all having Gold Medal hopes. Expect to see the Germans fighting in the relegation round of the tournament as its unlikely they can knock off the top dogs this year. However they will be hoping to stay in the top division for 2014.
Tobias Rieder, Centre/Left Wing: Rieder will clearly be Germany’s biggest threat in this tournament and should lead the team in all areas. He plays for the Kitchener Rangers of the OHL, and had 42 goals and 85 points for the team last season. This year Rieder is back on the Kitchener top line and has 15 points in 15 games. The Edmonton Oilers draftee, Rieder is offensively talented with a very good wrist shot and release, along with an excellent one timer. He also has good vision and can be a playmaker even from the wing. He’s also a good defensive player who backchecks hard, plays on the Rangers PK, and is pretty good at faceoffs when ht gets the chance. The knock on Rieder is that he’s undersized at 5’10”. It will be interesting to see how he performs in this tournament but keep in mind most teams will check him closely and he has very little in terms of support on the German club.
Slovakia: Much like Germany, Slovakia is not likely to advance to the medal round in this group as they just can’t challenge the group’s big 3. Expect to see the Slovakian squad also playing to avoid relegation as the tournament moves on.
Marek Tvrdon, Left Wing: The Vancouver Giants Leaft Wing and Detroit Red Wings draftee will be expected to lead the offence for Team Slovakia. He is a power winger who plays a tough and gritty game. A natural goal scorer Tvrdon can take the puck to the net and bury his chances in tight, or can score with his hard, heavy wrist shot, and quick release. His work in the corners digging out pucks and wining board battles keeps plays alive and gives him an added dimension as a setup man. He had 31 goals and 74 points in 60 games for the Giants last year and has 10 points in his first 10 games this season.
Martin Gernat, Defence: The Edmoton Oil Kings defenceman, and Edmonton Oilers draftee has not yet played a game this season as he injured his shoulder in training camp. Initial word when he got hurt was that he would be back in October, then there was word he would be back in November. Now this week we are hearing his recovery may even head into the New Year. This has put his participation in the tournament in doubt. Slovakia are desperately hoping that he can return in time for the tournament though, as his puck moving skills, and offensive ability from the blue line just cannot be replaced.
Russia: Hosts of the tournament, the Russians will be bringing a strong team. Last year they were silver medalists, losing 1-0 to Sweden on an Overtime goal by Mika Zibanejad. Two years ago, they pulled a shocking 3rd period comeback to defeat Team Canada in the Gold Medal game. This year they will be looking to reach their third straight final, and to take the gold again. They certainly should have a powerful team.
Nail Yakupov, Right Wing: The first overall pick from this past June’s NHL Entry Draft, Yakupov would surely be playing for the Edmonton Oilers and unavailable for the tournament if not for the NHL lockout. Instead he is playing in the KHL where the sniper has 8 goals and 10 points in 11 games so far, extremely impressive numbers. He’s an incredible skater with great hands, and a great shot and is not afraid to get his nose dirty to score goals. Yakupov could be the most dangerous player in the tournament and will certainly get a ton of attention in the opposition’s game plans. If Russia is to realize their goal of winning gold on home ice than Yakupov will need to play to his potential and be one of the best forwards in the tournament. He’s certainly capable of doing so, and being the ultimate gamechanger/gamebreaker for the squad.
Mikhail Grigorenko, Centre: The Quebec Remparts centre and Buffalo Sabres draftee will be Yakupov’s partner in what should be a dynamic duo for the Russian Squad. The two should mesh well as Grigorenko is a talented playmaker, and of course Yakupov is the sniper. Grigorenko comes into the tournament with a major chip on his shoulder after falling from a potential top 2 draft pick all the way down to 12th overall and having his heart and desire questioned. A major tournament like this could be the coming out party for Grigorenko to show that it was the combination of an injured ankle and a bout mononucleosis that were bothering him down the stretch and into the playoffs last year in the QMJHL, and that the Buffalo Sabres got a major steal on draft day. He’s playing well right now with 30 points in his first 15 games for the Remparts.
Alexander Khokhlachev, Centre/Left Wing: Everyone is talking about the big duo on this squad, and rightly so, but with players like Khokhlachev the Russians will be nan offensive powerhouse and have strong secondary scoring as well. He’s a fast skated with good acceleration and top end speed which makes him extremely dangerous off the rush. He’s also a good stick-handler and has an excellent shot and release making him a dangerous sniper whether he plays in the middle or off the wing. If there is a weakness here though, its his defensive game, and other squads may be able to take advantage of him in his own end, as his positioning is not good, and he just doesn’t seem to give the same effort along the boards in his end of the rink as he does in the offensive end.
Anton Slepyshev, Left Wing/Right Wing: I was absolutely shocked that Slepyshev was not drafted in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft. This is a kid who has the talent to be a late first round pick, but fell due to the KHL factor. The only possible explanation is that NHL teams do not believe he will come over to North America, however this doesn’t change the fact that he’s talented and will be a huge secondary scoring threat for the Russians. He’s a good skater, despite a very choppy technique, as he has good top end speed and acceleration. Slepyshev loves to shoot and his wrist shot and snap shot both are hard, accurate, and feature a quick release. Slepyshev has very good hands, and is able to dangle around defencemen. He’s not afraid to drive the net and generated chances in close with his quick hands. He is a hard worker engaging in and winning numerous puck battles along the boards, and is willing to take abuse in front of the net. He is also strong defensively and could see time on the Russian penalty kill unit. After a string of impressive international performances, one more could get Slepyshev drafted with a later pick in 2013.
Andrei Pedan, Defence: The New York Islanders draftee has had an extremely good start to the season with 13 points in 15 games for the Guelph Storm. Obviously he is a talented offensive player who has good poise with the puck, strong passing skills, and a good, hard point shot. However lets not fall into the trap of thinking Pedan is a one-trick pony either. He’s a talented defensive player as well, playing a strong positional game, and showing grit and physicality at the back end. He’ll be the key component on the Russian defence playing huge minutes, and being used in all situations.
Nikita Zadorov, Defence: The big defenseman has been impressive early in the season for the London Knights. He’s big and mobile and just loves to hit. He’s extremely good defensively especially for a 17 year old 2013 draft eligible prospect. It will be interesting to see how many minutes he gets though, as his inexperience may work against him in what is traditionally a tournament dominated by 19 year olds. Given that he can’t really hurt his draft stock if he has a bad tourney, but a good tourney could really boost him up draft boards.
Andrei Vasilevski/Andrei Makarov Goaltenders: The Russians return the goaltending tandem that led the squad to the silver medal at last year’s tournament. Vasilvevski was incredible for them (a 953 SV% in the tourney) for all but about 20 minutes last year, nearly having a third period collapse in the semi-final against Canada, and turning a 6-1 lead into a narrow 6-5 victory. Makarov had to come in and shut the door on Canada’s comeback attempt, and ended up playing a great game in the gold medal match, only giving up the one goal in overtime. I expect that with another year of experience Vasilevski will take the job and run with it this year. He may be the younger of the two goalies, but he’s also more talented, at least from my perspective. He’s got great size and his good technique and quick legs take away the bottom of the net extremely well. He’s a tremendous athlete with good lateral movement and a great glove hand. The goaltending battle will be intriguing to watch, in this group and in this tournament as Canada has Malcolm Subban and the United States has Jon Gibson meaning that all three clubs should have stellar netminding. The big difference here though is the presence of Makarov, as the Russians have the best backup of the bunch if any of the starters falter.
We’ll move on to Pool A, featuring the Swedes, Finns, and Czechs shortly, but for now, feel free to leave comments below and follow me on twitter @lastwordBKerr.
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