The 2017 World Junior (Under-20) Championship started on Dec. 26 in Toronto and Montreal for Groups A & B in the round robin portion of the annual NHL prospect extravaganza that will run into the first week of January.
The Boston Bruins have five players (four defensemen and one goaltender) currently competing in the tourney: USA’s Charlie McAvoy and Ryan Lindgren; Jeremy Lauzon on Team Canada, Czech Republic D Jakub Zboril and goaltender Daniel Vladar round out the group. Guys who did not make the cut for their respective countries: Zach Senyshyn (Canada) and Oskar Steen (Sweden). Trent Frederic was not invited to the USA evaluation camp portion, but he was coming off of a hand injury that might have influenced USA Hockey’s decision to have him return to school. We don’t know for sure, but watch for Frederic to be solidly in the mix for the 2018 USA WJC squad. Canada did not even invite Jesse Gabrielle to the eval camp, which is probably more of a reflection of his not being part of the Canada Program of Excellence than anything else- you would think that a gritty power forward who can score and affect game flow with his physicality would be of value, but apparently not enough in Canada’s eyes. With both Canada and USA winning their opening games, the rosters look fine for now.
McAvoy is Boston’s prized prospect and he showed off the good and not so good in his game in USA’s decisive 6-1 win against overmatched Latvia on Monday.
There is no doubting the raw talent in his game- he skates well and aggressively pushes the pace. Superficially, he grabs your attention in a good way because he’s noticeable in the way he gets up and down the ice. Things he needs to work on continue to be in the consistency of decisions and judgment. There are times when he makes the risky play when it would better serve him to dial it back and take that extra split second to find better options. McAvoy is a hell of a player, but if we’re going to have an honest conversation about his NHL future, we cannot simply just focus on the good he does without acknowledging that he is still very much a work in progress. There’s much to be pleased about from the Boston perspective with this player, in our view- the organization’s top prospect by a good margin…but that’s not to say that he’s ready to just step in and be a star in the NHL right away.
Here’s what his coach at BU, David Quinn, had to say about him earlier this month:
“Charlie’s been very good for us this year so far,” Quinn said. “He’s a guy that plays in all situations. The thing that I see lately is that I think his power play play has improved. That was an area he wanted to get better at and he needed to get better at. That’s an area that I think he can help us in moving forward and being a good power play player at the next level.”
But that ‘c’ word- consistency- is something not lost on Coach Quinn and his staff, either:
“He’s understanding that he needs to let the game come to him instead of trying to force it,” the coach added. “Sometimes that comes with someone who takes a lot of responsibility on his shoulders and wants to do so well not only individually but as a team. But, there’s really not much he can’t do- he can skate, he can shoot, he can pass…he’s got great hockey vision. And like most young hockey players, consistency is an area he’s got to get better at.”
McAvoy didn’t register a point on USA’s six goals, but he did lead all players in ice time with just north of 20 minutes. He’s going to be a prime horse for America’s gold medal aspirations, so it was a good, positive first step- but we’d be disingenuous if we sat here and pumped the tires without pointing out that there was a lot of room for improvement.
For our money, McAvoy will likely sign with the Bruins and turn pro when his BU season is done this spring (along with fellow Terrier Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson). The 14th overall selection in 2016 might even see a game or two in the NHL depending on the timing of everything, but even with all the positives, fans should temper their expectations. McAvoy is legit, but he’s far from a finished product.
Lindgren, as an 18-year-old in his first taste of WJC action, was pretty conservative in his play with more limited minutes. The 49th overall selection last June has good mobility and some real jam in his game, but we didn’t see it emerge. Watch for him to assert himself more physically as he gains confidence and a comfort zone in Toronto.
Zboril and his Czech mates got off to a good start, defeating Finland by a 2-1 score. Boston’s top pick in 2015 had an assist- thus far the only B’s prospect to register offense. Vladar was backing up 2018 draft prospect Jakub Skarek (late ’99), who had a very good game. Vladar will see some action, but it looks like Skarek is going to get the bulk of the playing time for now.
Lauzon saw very limited action for Canada as a 7th defender who played but not all that much. Fans obviously would like to see him get more minutes going forward, but Canada was pretty solid in a decisive 5-3 win over Russia to kick things off.
All in all, Boston is tied for second with five players at the WJC, with the Philadelphia Flyers leading all clubs with nine. The WJC is a fun tournament to watch, but the biggest fallacy we see fans (and certain pundits) engaging in each and every year is putting far too much emphasis on the competition as a definitive predictor of NHL success. Sure, there are players who will go on to justify the WJC hype, but every year, we see players who do well or not so well who go on to flip the script. WJC is a factor in a player’s development, and you obviously want your guys at the tournament as opposed to sitting home. However, no one should mistake the roster selection process as altruistic and reflective of having only the best players there. A level of politics and bias enters into it in those cases where you have more talent than roster spots- USA left Alex DeBrincat and Logan Brown home…Canada cut Senyshyn and Sam Steel…maybe they made the right choices, maybe not. We’ll eventually find out.
But anyone who just points to those WJC rosters as definitive proof of an agenda supporting certain conclusions about recent NHL drafts is reaching. The 2017 WJC is not going to decide if the Bruins were better or worse off for the decisions they made 1-2 years ago. That debate has a ways to go before it gets settled.
Amateur Prospects as of 12/27/16
|Jesse Gabrielle, Prince George||WHL||28||19||13||32||36|
|Anders Bjork, Notre Dame||HE-NCAA||17||13||15||28||8|
|Zach Senyshyn, SSM||OHL||25||17||11||28||17|
|Jakub Zboril, Saint John||QMJHL||20||6||12||18||12|
|Ryan Fitzgerald, BC||HE-NCAA||16||5||11||16||22|
|Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson, BU||HE- NCAA||17||3||12||15||14|
|Ryan Donato, Harvard
|Cameron Hughes, Wisconsin
|Trent Frederic, Wisconsin||Big10- NCAA||10||5||7||12||8|
|Charlie McAvoy, BU||HE-NCAA||16||1||11||12||16|
|Jeremy Lauzon, Rouyn-Noranda
|Jack Becker, Sioux Falls
|Wiley Sherman, Harvard
|Cameron Clarke, Ferris St.
|Ryan Lindgren, Minnesota
Pro and European Prospects
|Joona Koppanen, Ilves Jr.||U20- Finland||20||12||17||29||2|
|Peter Cehlarik, Providence
|Danton Heinen, Providence||AHL||18||7||8||15||0
|Matt Grzelcyk, Providence
|Jake DeBrusk, Providence||AHL||30||7||8||15||11
|Colby Cave, Providence
|Anton Blidh, Providence#
|Sean Kuraly, Providence
|Colton Hargrove, Providence
|Emil Johansson, Djurgarden IF
|Rob O’Gara, Providence
|Austin Czarnik, Providence#
|Chris Casto, Providence
|Justin Hickman, Providence
|Oskar Steen, Farjestad
|Linus Arnesson, Providence*
|Brian Ferlin, Providence*
|Zane McIntyre, Providence
|Dan Vladar, Providence
|Malcolm Subban, Providence
# Czarnik, Blidh recalled to Boston