Welcome back to Top Shelf Prospects, the column looking at Hockey’s Stars. Over the next week or so we will be previewing the 2014 World Junior Championships, a tournament that will be played in Malmo Sweden from December 26, 2013 to January 5, 2014. As always, you can check out the previous Top Shelf Prospects articles here.
Today we start by picking the roster for Team Canada. Last year Canada came home from the World Juniors in Sochi, Russia empty-handed, failing to win a medal for the first time since 1998. However winning medals isn’t the goal for Canada, its winning THE MEDAL, the one with the golden hue, that is the goal for any Canadian team. In this respect the country is in a bit of a drought, unable to take the big one home since the 2009 Championship.
I am going to assume that any players currently in the NHL would not be released from their club, with one exception (the reason for which will be explained below).
Zach Fucale and Jake Paterson
Fucale was the first goalie taken in the 2013 NHL Draft, a second round pick of the Montreal Canadiens. Some will criticize his save percentage, but remember he plays behind a Halifax team that has been all run and gun for a while now. When he does face chances, they are often extremely high quality, wide open shots in the slot, breakaways, odd-man rushes and the like. He’s also got a ton of international experience and was trusted by Canada to lead them in the Ivan Hlinka in 2012. He also comes up his biggest in key moments (such as the Hlinka, the QMJHL Playoffs, and the Memorial Cup) and has been the epitome of “just win baby.” Fucale is an athletic, butterfly-style goaltender. He is very quick, especially with his legs as he does an excellent job taking away the bottom of the net while his glove takes away the top of the net. He excels in his rebound control and cutting down angles. Overall, Fucale shows very strong technique.
Paterson was the third goalie for Team Canada last year, and that experience will give him a leg up on winning one of the jobs this year. He was a Red Wings third round pick in the 2012 NHL Draft. He has good size and plays a butterfly style. Paterson has good skating which allows him to come out of the crease to challenge shooters, but recover backwards if they go for the deke. He has quick legs and takes away the bottom of the net, and his athleticism leads to a strong glove and blocker to take away the top shelf. Like many young goalies, he sometimes has issues with his rebound control. He is calm and poised in net and doesn’t let a bad goal rattle him. Paterson is seeing a lot of rubber for the Saginaw Spirit this season, and his play is one of the key reasons that the club is keeping their heads above water this season.
Honorable Mention: Eric Comrie
Canada has a wealth of defencemen available for this tourney and even with Morgan Rielly currently playing in the NHL, the depth of defence in the 2012 NHL draft will be highlighted on this squad.
Griffin Reinhart – Mathew Dumba
The 4th overall pick of the New York Islanders in 2012, Griffin Reinhart played on Team Canada last year and still has a couple of games to serve in a suspension he received in that tournament. Being preliminary round games, I don’t think that will stop Canada from taking him as he should be the leader of this team’s defensive corps. Reinhart is already 6’4 and over 200 lbs, he is a huge presence in the defensive zone. However while he sometimes throws big hits, he really doesn’t play that physical game as consistently as he could. Despite this, Reinhart is still a true shut-down defender, with excellent positioning, and his big frame and long stick allow him to block shots and effectively cut down passing lanes. He uses his size and strength to keep the Oil Kings’ crease clear and win board battles. Reinhart has a booming slapshot and excellent wrist shot. He makes quality passes both as part of his team’s breakout, and in the offensive zone. He is very mobile for his size, and will be tasked with playing huge minutes.
Matt Dumba, 2012’s 7th overall pick, is currently on the Minnesota Wild roster and is the player I’m going to assume will be released from his NHL club to play in the World Juniors. The fact is that despite the huge injuries the Wild have suffered on the blue line this year, he has only played nine games for the club. The debate over whether to let him play a tenth game (and thus burn a year off his ELC) still rages in Minnesota. Whether they keep him or send him back to Red Deer, I’m going to guess he goes to the World Juniors as he just can’t keep sitting in the Wild press box. Dumba is a fabulous skater whose puck moving ability will be a huge asset on the big international sized ice. He has greatly improved his defensive game and won’t be seen as a liability as he was last year in camp. His ability to throw thunderous hits will be an asset to Team Canada.
Matt Finn – Damon Severson
Matt Finn, a Leafs second round pick in 2012, is having a fantastic start to the year for the Guelph Storm. He has five goals and 18 points in his first 17 games this season. Finn is an incredibly intelligent defenceman in both ends of the ice. Finn uses his high=end hockey sense to be an effective two way player who makes smart reads and very good decisions in all three zones. Offensively, Finn understands the proper time to pinch in at the line, and is effective in picking his spots to join the rush. He is able to find holes in the opponents defence and exploit gaps to sneak in from the blueline and create a high quality scoring chance. Defensively Finn reads the play well, effectively shutting many plays down before opponents get the opportunity to set up. He is a quick and agile skater. In the offensive zone Finn has a good slapshot, which he keeps low and gets through to the net. Finn is also able to effectively use his wrist shot when he needs to get the puck off quickly. It is hard and accurate, and his release is quick. He is an intelligent Power Play Quarterback using his vision and skills to make great tape-to-tape passes and to set up teammates with good scoring opportunities.
Damon Severson was once thought of as a shut down defender. Severson is a fluid skater with a great first step and very good acceleration. He reaches his top speed quickly, and this helps him to shake off forecheckers in the defensive zone. However, he is more quick than fast, as his top end skating speed is only slightly above average. He does have good mobility, as he is agile and makes good pivots and changes of direction. This allows him to cover a lot of ice and will be useful on wide ice. Severson has a great point shot, including a very hard one-timer. He’s put up 17 points in 14 games this seaosn showing this offensive element. However he is aslso a great deferender. He is a great shot blocker. While not usually a big hitter, Severson is physical in battling hard along the boards and working to keep the front of the net clear. His agility and mobility allows him to keep plays to the outside and in front of him. His strong hockey sense allows him to diagnose plays and anticipate plays and shut them down before they get started.
Adam Pelech – Josh Morrissey,
Adam Pelech is a shut down defender who has just gotten better and better since being drafted in the third round of the 2012 draft by the New York Islanders. He plays a ton of minutes for the Erie Otters, and is primarily used against the other teams top line.Pelech has ideal NHL size as he is already 6’3″ 210 lbs. He is a big, strong defenceman, who overpowers players along the boards and infront of his own net. Pelech plays the game rough, and truculent as he loves to battle with opposing forwards. He also has good defensive hockey IQ, and smart positioning, which allow him to defend against passes, and to effectively block shots. His skating has greatly improved over the last two years.
A first round pick of the Winnipeg Jets, the key to Morrissey’s games is outstanding skating ability. His stride is fluid, and he has excellent top speed both backwards and forward. His first step is quick, and he accelerates well. His agility, edgework, and pivots are strong and fluid, giving him excellent mobility in all aspects of the game. Morrissey is very slick offensively. He combines very good stickhandling with his great skating to carry the puck through the neutral zone and lead the rush. If not leading the rush, he can join as a trailer, and has good instincts for jumping into the play. He also has great vision, and pinpoint passing skill either on the rush or or in quarterbacking the play. Morrissey has a decent slap shot, but is not overpowering. Instead he knows to keep his shot low and on net. He does have a really good wrist shot, and excellent release. Morrissey has all the tools to be a high level offensive defenceman. In his own zone, Morrissey just keeps improving. He plays an effective positional game, always keeping opponents in front of him, and taking away time and space. He doesn’t run around looking for hits, but has shown that when the opportunity arises he can be extremely physical. However most of the time, Morrissey is content not to gamble. Instead he plays smart positional defence; he cuts off passing and shooting lanes, and eventually forces his opponent into a turnover, and quick transition. He was a huge part of Canada’s U18 team last spring and is the loan 2013 pick in the defence corps I have picked.
Extra: Derrick Pouliot
Derrick Pouliot was the 8th overall pick of the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2012. Pouliot is a skilled offensive defenceman. He has excellent skating and is very fast in both directions and has great acceleration. He also has excellent balance and agility. Pouliot uses his edges extremely well and has good pivots and is able to change directions quickly. The outstanding mobility helps him in all aspects, whether it be creating offense off the rush, walking the line in the offensive zone and opening up shooting and passing lanes or containing opponents defensively. Pouliot is very skilled with the puck on his stick capable of making deceptive moves around opponents. He makes tape-to-tape passes both in starting the breakout and in setting up his teammates with excellent chances in the offensive zone. Pouliot’s shot doesn’t have the power of some other top offensive defence prospects but he makes up for that with a lightning quick release on his wrist shot and deadly accuracy. He’s able to keep his slap shot low and get it on net, which is essential for any power play quarterback as it creates good opportunities for teammates to tip in shots or pounce on rebounds. Pouliot however is very much a work in progress in the defensive end of the ice and so we put him as the 7th defenceman and an offensive specialist. He can be overpowered by bigger, stronger opponents. Pouliot’s defensive positioning also needs some serious work. He often makes errors in coverage and misses his assignments leading to quality scoring chances against.
Honorable Mentions: Darnell Nurse, Ryan Pulock, Dillon Heatherington,
Click here to check out my picks for the forwards on Team Canada.
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Main photo credit: Jussi Nukari / Lehtikava