Welcome back to Top Shelf Prospects, the column looking at Hockey’s Future Stars. The World Junior Championships are right around the corner, and this year’s tournament will be played in Malmo, Sweden from December 26, 2013 to January 5, 2014. We have already looked at the Players to Watch on Team Canada, and those on Team USA, and today we look at the rest of Pool A, which features two North American Countries as well as Germany, Slovakia and the Czech Republic.
As always, you can check out the previous Top Shelf Prospects articles here.
Germany: The Germans are expected to be amongst the weaker teams in the tournament and will be working just to avoid relegation to the second division tournament for 2014. That said, they do have an elite talent, however, it comes in the form of a younger player, a 17-year old expected to be a top 10 pick in the 2014 NHL Draft.
Leon Draisaitl, Centre, (6’2″ 198 lbs): The 2nd overall pick in the 2013 CHL Import Draft, Draisaitl is looking to be the highest ever drafted German hockey player when the 2014 NHL Draft comes around. A big centre with excellent reach and stickhandling ability, Draisaitl protects the puck very well, and then finds an open teammate with a quick and accurate pass. He also has a strong and accurate wrist shot, with a very good release, leading to goal scoring ability. Draisaitl is not afraid to take the puck to the net, and has the soft hands to finish when he gets there. Draisaitl has greatly improved his skating since coming to North America and it is no longer a weakness. He seems to be a better skater every time I see him. What is most impressive though is his ability to read the play, and be in the right spot at the right time. Draisaitl has very impressive hockey sense. He has put up 18 goals and 51 points in 33 games for Prince Albert this season. This tournament may be tough on him, as he won’t be surrounded by a lot of talent, and as an underager he already faces the challenge of competing in a tournament traditionally dominated by 19-year olds. With loads of talent, the scouts will be out in full force to see how he play with this adversity.
Slovakia: The Slovaks and the Czechs are expected to be battling hard to take the third playoff spot in Pool A. With Canada and the United States widely expected to finish 1-2 in this pool, as these two teams seem to be better than the Germans, but not quite good enough to hang with the elite in the pool. That said, this tournament has always been full of upsets and anything can happen in the round robin.
Marko Dano, Right Wing, (6’0″, 198 lbs): Dano was a first round pick of the Columbus Blue Jackets at the 2013 NHL Draft. He’s He already has extensive international experience, In 2012, playing inferior competition at the Division 1a Under 18s, Dano put up 13 points in 5 games, helping Slovakia win the tournament and earn placement back in the World Group. He’s been brilliant in the last two World Juniors as well. Last spring, Dano went to the Mens World Championships and picked up 1 goal 1 assist in 5 games for Slovakia, despite limited ice time. That is pretty impressive performance (especially since his goal was key in a win over USA in the preliminary round) for a player his age at the Mens Worlds.
Dano is a very good skater. His top end speed is good, and his acceleration is excellent. His stride is powerful, and his edgework crisp. He has the balance to fight through checks and to play the game in the dirty areas of the ice. Dano’s quickness allows him to be first on the forecheck where he loves to get into the zone and create havoc. His game is a great combination of skill and grit. He just loves to hit and involve himself physically in the play. He plays a much bigger game than his size would indicate, battling in the corners and in front of the net. He is in the middle of every scrum, playing the agitator role and just loving to get under the skin of his opponents. He marries this with good instincts, an ability to find holes in the opposing defence, strong passing and playmaking skill, and a good shot and release. Dano’s best offensive attribute though are his soft hands which he can use to stick handle and protect the puck from defenders and to score goals in tight. Dano also plays a strong defensive game, bringing his brand of physical hockey to his own end of the rink. He is involved in all aspects of the backcheck, but is especially adept at creating turnovers and starting the transition game.
Martin Reway, Left Wing (5’10” 174 lbs): An undersized winger with a ton of skill, the Slovakian prospect was a 4th round pick of the Montreal Canadiens in the 2013 NHL Draft. Reway has absolutely outstanding stickhandling, with quick, soft hands that can dangle in a phone booth. He also is a very quick and agile skater, he’s shifty and slippery making him extremely hard to contain off the rush, or even off the cycle game in his own zone. Reway has a hard, accurate shot and a quick release which makes him extremely dangerous as a goal scorer. He also has good vision and passing abilities. An offensive dynamo, Reway does need some work on his defensive game though. Still we should expect to see him in a top line role, where Slovakia will rely on him to bring a one-two punch with Dano. He is playing in the QMJHL for Gatineau and has been sensational this season with 14 goals and 41 points in 25 games.
Czech Republic: The Czechs are bringing just three NHL Draftees with them to Malmo. Like the Slovaks, they aren’t expected to truly compete for medals in the tournament, but they do have the type of team that can play an industrious game and could upset someone if they get hot goaltending.
Radek Faksa, Centre, (6’3″ 203 lbs): A first-round pick (13th overall) by the Dallas Stars in 2012, Faksa hasn’t dominated the OHL like many expected when he was taken so high. This season he has just 25 points in 29 games so far this season. He hasn’t been bad, but he hasn’t really shown offensive progression from where he was at 17 and where he is today. At his best, Faksa pairs excellent hockey sense and offensive instincts, with very good vision and passing skills to be an excellent playmaker. He also has a good wrist shot with a quick release. Faksa is an above average skater, with good speed and strong balance which makes him difficult to knock off the puck. He isn’t afraid to go into traffic and to take hits to make plays for the Rangers. Faksa has the size that many NHL teams covet down the middle. Faksa uses that size effectively to protect the puck and to establish position in the offensive zone. I do however think that Faksa can use his size more effectively and I’d like to see him drive the net harder with the puck on his stick. I’d also like to see Faksa use his size advantage to be a more effective body checker, especially on the forecheck.
Faksa is already an excellent defensive player and continues to improve this aspect of his game He is often used to check the opponent’s top line, and is a key penalty killer for Kitchener. Faksa makes quick decisions and is equally adept at breaking up plays in both the neutral zone and his defensive end. He uses his size and smarts to angle opponents to the outside and keep them from dangerous areas. His long reach is an important asset in closing down passing lanes as well.
Last year, Faksa struggled at the World Juniors as he played the tournament despite a shoulder injury. This year the Czechs will need him to lead the offence as the only NHL prospect amongst the forward group. Faksa will need to have a strong tournament if the Czechs are to make any noise in Malmo.
Jakub Vrana, Centre (6’0″ 180 lbs): This young Czech centre plays his club hockey in Sweden for Linkopings. Vrana already has a ton of international experience with eight points in six games at the 2012 IIHF Under 18 Championships, and appearances for the Czech Republic at the 2013 World Juniors, 2013 Under 18s and this summer’s Hlinka. Has very good top-end speed, but its his elite acceleration and change of pace ability that really sets him apart and allows him to beat defenders one on one. He has good vision and passing skills to be a creative playmaker. His wrist shot is very accurate, and he has an excellent release. He’s recently moved up to the SHL but like many 17-year-olds in the league, ice time and points have been hard to come by early. He’s a potential top 10 pick in the 2014 NHL Draft, and like Draisaitl will have plenty of scouts watching at this tournament.
Jan Kostalek, Defence, (6’0″ 176 lbs): A fourth-round pick of the Winnipeg Jets in the 2013 NHL Draft, Kostalek is the only NHL drafted prospect on the Czech defence. Kostalek is a strong skater and excellent two way defender who plays in all situations for Rimouski in the QMJHL. He’s picked up his offensive game this year and his 18 points in 27 games has already matched his career high. While he doesn’t have a huge point shot, he does have great playmaking ability. Kostalek is poised with the puck on his stick and makes an excellent first pass to start the transition game in his own zone, and is a strong powerplay quarterback. He’s also a good defender who plays extremely well one-on-one and is willing to throw the big hit. His excellent mobility in all directions and quick stick make him very hard to beat off the rush. He is willing to work a physical game in front of the net and in the corners. Kostalek will be a huge minute eater on the Czech defence, expect to see him playing close to thirty minutes a game.
Check back later when I will take a look at the players to watch in Pool B, featuring the host Swedes, the pesky Finns, the talented Russians, the industrious Swiss, and the just happy to be here Norwegians.
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