Lighting It Up – January Edition

By Glenn Gawronski

Hockey’s Future is pleased to welcome back into the fold Glenn Gawronski, who will be taking over the “Lighting It Up” column. Gawronski, who has contributed to Hockey’s Future in the past, is the former scouting director of the Prospect Advisor. He is currently working as a scouting consultant.

With the close of the World Junior Championships heralding the unofficial beginning of the second half of the scouting season, it’s time to take a quick look back. First, some of the notes gathered during the WJC:

I can’t remember the last time I saw a more dominating performance than Canada delivered at this year’s tourney. They were simply at the top of their game. The squad played with a singular focus and showed confidence and maturity. It was obvious that each player bought into the system and was willing to contribute in whatever capacity was needed. Success in this tournament is quite often linked to getting players to accept certain roles that they normally wouldn’t be expected to play. This year’s team functioned as a seamless unit.

Team Canada may not rank as the most talented team that we’ve seen at the WJC, but the key was that they played as a team. It was a classic case of covering up the deficiencies and doing the little things well. Coach Brent Sutter and his staff did an excellent job of laying out the strategy early and making subtle changes during the games. The way that this team was assembled, coached and managed should serve as a blueprint for future teams.

As for individual tournament performances, there were some definite winners. There’s not much to be said about Sidney Crosby that hasn’t already been said. The WJC simply gave Crosby another platform on which to show he is a world class player. Scouts have seen enough of him over the past few years to know he’s someone that you can build a franchise around.

Philadelphia Flyers GM Bob Clarke has to be smiling after seeing some of his organization’s top prospects deliver. Jeff Carter continues to show that he can develop into a legitimate first-line NHL player. Put another 15 pounds of muscle on his frame, and you’ll have a potential 30-goal scorer who will create some real match-up problems for the opposition. And Mike Richards is a true character player. He’s the type of player that every Stanley Cup team seems to have in their lineup. He’s one of those guys that you just don’t like to play against. Clarke also had to be pleased with Slovakian forward Stefan Ruzicka who impressed us with his scoring ability.

Russia’s electrifying duo of Alexander Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin didn’t disappoint, again showing why they were the top two picks last June. For much of the time, these two carried the Russian team. I especially liked how Malkin showed more offensive playmaking ability and forced the issue on several occasions.

And while we’re on the topic of the Russian squad, I can’t help but comment on their on-ice behavior. Exuberance and spontaneous outbursts of emotion are one thing. And to be honest with you, I don’t mind the odd occurrence of showmanship every now and again. But do we need to try to antagonize the opponent and show him up after practically every goal? Yet another example of how there is not necessarily a correlation between talent and maturity.

Getting back to some of the other bright spots during the tournament, I really liked what I saw from the USA’s Drew Stafford and Phil Kessel. Stafford is a potential two-way forward who plays a fine all-around game. He has improved some of his puck skills over the last two seasons, so he may have more offensive upside than I had originally anticipated. And Kessel showed why he is a top prospect for the 2006 draft. His speed, quickness and acceleration are top notch and he has that innate ability to make plays without losing a step.

You can’t help but enjoy watching Dion Phaneuf play the game. His intensity and passion are infectious and for a player known for bone-jarring hits, he’s rarely out of position. Phaneuf and Shea Weber really anchored the Canadian blue line.

Some other players who stood out, some obvious and others not, were Patrice Bergeron, Marek Schwarz, Dmitri Vorobiev, Johannes Salmonsson, Lukas Bolf, Elias Granath, and Konstantin Zakharov.

Overshadowed by the World Juniors was the Under-17 tournament held in Lethbridge, Alberta. A showcase for the 2006 and 2007 draft prospects, a number of players served notice that they will be major factors. Heading the group was Jonathan Toews.

The tourney’s leading goal scorer, Toews is a highly gifted forward with size and a ton of skill. A dominant player at Shattuck St. Mary’s this season, some observers told me that they thought Toews was even more impressive in Lethbridge. CHL fans are disappointed that Toews will not be going the major junior route, having instead announced his intention to go to North Dakota. When he finally strolls onto a college campus, Toews will be an impact freshman.

Having been on both sides of the major junior vs. college hockey argument, I really try not to get involved in critiquing a player’s decision. And in the case of Toews’ long-term development, I don’t think it really matters where he plays. He’s already good and he’s going to get even better.

For future reference, here’s a batch of names that impressed scouts at the U-17 tourney. Some of these guys have the tools to become big time prospects in the near future. Also included is the player’s current team. Players are listed alphabetically (not ranked) by position:

Goalies: Leland Irving (Everett), Ryan Neiszner (Moose Jaw)

Defensemen: James Delory (Oshawa), Jesse Dudas (Lethbridge), Erik Johnson (Holy Angels HS), Jason Legault (Victoriaville), Nathan Martine (Barrie)

Forwards: Myles Applebaum (Kitchener), Kyle Bortis (Saskatoon AAA), Francois Bouchard (Baie Comeau), Benjamin Breault (Baie Comeau), Ryan Flynn (Centennial HS), Blake Geoffrion (Culver Academy), Zach Hamill (Everett), Patrick Kane (Honeybaked Midget), Ben Maxwell (Kootenay), Ryan McDonough (Sudbury), Jim O’Brien (Little Caesar’s), Kyle Okposo (Shattuck), Juuso Puustinen (Finland), James Sheppard (Cape Breton), Jordan Staal (Peterborough), Tyler Swystun (Camrose), Jiri Tlusty (Czech Republic), Andrew White (Pembroke), Ryan White (Calgary)

Copyright 2004 Hockey’s Future. Do not duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.