The New York Rangers had six prospects playing at the 2007 U20 World Junior Championships in Leksand and Mora, Sweden from Dec. 26 through Jan. 5. The Rangers were tied for the highest number of prospect participants in the tournament among NHL teams, and included skaters for Team Canada, the Czech Republic, Russia, and Slovakia. Four of the players, Marc-Andre Cliche, Tom Pyatt, Marc Staal, and Artem Anisimov, competed for the gold medal, and when the dust settled last Friday evening, three Canadians (Cliche, Pyatt, and Staal) had gold medals around their necks. It was the third consecutive win for Team Canada and the second gold medal for each of Pyatt and Staal.
Marc-Andre Cliche, F
Drafted: 2005 2nd Round, # 56 overall
2006-07 Team: Lewiston MAINEiacs (QMJHL)
When Cliche was invited to attend the Canadian selection camp last month, he was no sure thing to make the team. He had been overlooked in the past, and there were many other talented forwards who had more international experience than the Quebec forward. A hardworking, speedy winger with good hands, it was Cliche’s last opportunity to make the Canadian team, as he will turn 20 in March. Excellent on face-offs and able to play in shorthanded situations, Cliche went into the tournament with excellent 2006-07 regular season numbers. In 30 regular season games, Cliche has recorded 35 points (15 goals, 20 assists), with 28 PIM and a +13 plus/minus for the MAINEiacs.
After he performed very well in the three Canadian selection camp games in Calgary in December, Cliche garnered a spot on the Canadian team. Although he showed some real offensive abilities in the selection camp, Cliche was cast mostly in a defensive forward role in Sweden, and he played on the third and fourth lines, as well as on the penalty kill, throughout the WJCs. For the most part he played unspectacularly, with only five shots on goal in the entire tournament and on the ice for only one of Canada’s goals in the team’s six games. While offense was not really required of Cliche with all the firepower on the Canadian team, he showed none of the spark that had been very apparent in the selection camp. With the additional occasional defensive lapses, Cliche’s individual performance over the course of the tournament had to be disappointing. However, his personal lackluster performance was overshadowed by the team’s third consecutive gold medal.
Tom Pyatt, F
Drafted: 2005 4th Round, #107 overall
2006-07 Team: Saginaw Spirit (OHL)
This was Pyatt’s second year on the Canadian U20 World Junior Team, and the tournament was an excellent opportunity for him to demonstrate his self-professed more offensively-minded attitude. There is no question that Pyatt has for last few years grown into an excellent defensive forward. However, this season he has set out to play a much more aggressively offensive-minded game, and the execution of this decision has very positively impacted his statistics. (In 31 games with the Saginaw Spirit this season, he has recorded 45 points while maintaining a +19 plus/minus.) Pyatt took his new attitude to Sweden for the WJCs, and was arguably one of the five best players that Team Canada had on the ice for the tournament.
When the tournament began, however, the coaching staff had Pyatt playing on the fourth line, with Darren Helm (DET) and Dan Bertram (CHI). By the second game though, he was moved to the third line, and there, he had his best game of the tournament. This was one of the most important preliminary round games, against the United States, and Pyatt stepped his game up accordingly. He scored a goal and an assist, and his on-ice vision and positioning were outstanding. In subsequent games, he was moved to the second line, playing with Andrew Cogliano (EDM) and Ryan O’Marra (NYI), while skating on both the power play and penalty kill. He played well with Cogliano and O’Marra, but did not have another big game during the tournament. In total, Pyatt had four points (1 goal, 3 assists) in Canada’s six games, and his play revealed continuing growth in both offensive skill and on-ice decision-making.
Marc Staal, D
Drafted: 2005 1st Round, #12 overall
2006-07 Team: Sudbury Wolves (OHL)
Staal won the Directorate Award for Best Defenseman in the 2006 WJCs in British Columbia, so it was with very high expectations that he took the ice for Canada in this year’s tournament. After a rocky start to his season, where Staal was one of the final cuts from the Rangers’ training camp this fall and he had some difficulty adjusting to his return to junior hockey, Staal needed a good WJC to raise his confidence level.
Staal and his team Canada defensive partner Ryan Parent (NAS) had played together in last year’s tournament and were the first defensive pair in the first two games. After an excellent first game against Sweden, both defensemen did not play well in Game 2. Staal responded with excellent work on the blueline in Games 3 and 4, and continued to play well during the medal round (after he and Parent were once again the first defensive pair). What Staal displayed, which was very impressive, was an increased maturity (coming back after a bad game) and quicker on-ice reactions and decision-making. While he did not win any awards this tournament, Staal’s game has obviously matured over the last year. He now appears ready to take the step into professional hockey, which is only about three or four months away.
Artem Anisimov, C
Drafted: 2006 2nd Round, #54 overall
2006-07 Team: Yaroslavl Lokomotiv (Russia)
After being drafted by the Rangers in June, Anisimov has continued to play in Russia in 2006-07. He has not shown much offensive prowess during his games in the Russian Super League either this season or in 2005-06. However, when skating against players in his own age group on the international stage, Anisimov has demonstrated why he is such a highly-touted prospect. He played in the 4 Nations Tournament in the Czech Republic this past November and in three games, registered two points (1 goal, 1 assist). Overall, in 21 international tournament games in five tournaments during the 2005-06 season, Anisimov recorded seven goals and 12 assists, while maintaining a +23 plus/minus.
However, Anisimov was playing in his first U20 WJCs in Sweden, so it was not clear whether he would continue to shine at this level. Characteristically, Anisimov rose to the occasion, registering three points (2 goals, 1 assists) in six games. He played on the third line, along with 18-year-old prospect Alexander Vasyunov (NJ) on his wing. Anisimov played a wonderful game against Switzerland in the preliminary round (1 goal, 1 assist), and in the medal round, was named the Player of the Game for Russia in its semi-final win over Sweden. In all, an excellent performance for the Rangers prospect, who is still finding his way in the Russian Super League.
David Kveton, RW
Drafted: 2006, 4th Round, #104 overall
2006-07 Team: Vsetin (Czech)/Gatineau (QMJHL)
Kveton is also a player who is trying to find his way this season. He began the 2006-07 season as a member of the QMJHL Gatineau Olympiques. After five games, he returned to his native Czech Republic in October to skate with Vsetin of the Czech Extraliga. In 19 games with Vsetin, Kveton has scored two goals.
Despite Kveton’s young age and rather tumultuous year, there were expectations that the forward would perform well in the U20s. Last April, he attracted the Rangers’ attention at the 2006 World U18, where Kveton recorded seven points (2 goals, 5 assists) in as many tournament games. However, the Rangers’ prospect did not register a point in the tournament and only was able to manage a –3 plus/minus. Playing on the fourth line, and not getting much ice time, Kveton did nothing to earn more time and often looked a little lost when he was out there. It was not a successful WJCs for the young winger. There is rumor that he will return to Gatineau of the QMJHL this coming week. Hopefully, he will settle in to wherever he intends to play out the season and not lose this year of development.
Tomas Zaborsky, LW
Drafted: 2006 5th Round, # 137 overall
2006-07 Team: Saginaw Spirit (OHL)
Unlike Kveton, Zaborsky was certain that he wanted to play in North America this season. Filled with an unrelenting passion to play in the NHL, Zaborsky is a man on a mission, however, playing in Saginaw with some of the highest quality skaters in the OHL, Zaborsky has had to be patient. Although mostly playing on the third line, in 31 games this season, Zaborsky has registered 21 points (6 goals, 15 assists), while maintaining a +8 plus/minus. He was very much looking forward to showcasing his skills in Sweden, hoping to demonstrate his ability to make plays and shoot the puck.
Zaborsky was at first placed on the fourth line of the Slovakian team. However, in each game, he was moved to a higher line, eventually playing on the team’s first line. He skated in all situations, including on the penalty kill. With three points (1 goal, 2 assists) in six games, Zaborsky saved his best performance for the final game, where Slovakia was facing relegation. In the 9-0 defeat of Belarus, Zaborsky was a big contributor, the winger recorded one goal and one assist, with six shots on goal.
Zaborsky returns to Saginaw later this week (any statistics to the contrary are incorrect), to find any even more talented Spirit lineup. Where he will fit in remains to be seen.
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