The blog has gone quiet for some time and apologies for that.
My schedule at the Under-18 hockey championship tourney was not conducive to posting each day, but quite a bit has happened since then, so I have some catching up to do. I’ll weigh in on the two after-season press conferences in Boston in a bit, but I need to gather my thoughts, as I want to make sure that I am neither playing to the crowd or opening myself up to the various trolls who aren’t interested in a thoughtful discussion.
For the past week, I’ve been focused on the future of the NHL, watching the 2016 IIHF World Under-18s at the gorgeous Ralph Engelstad Arena, home of the 2016 NCAA champion University of North Dakota Fighting (Sioux) Hawks. It’s a true hockey cathedral and even though the tourney was not well-attended, we enjoyed being in a beautiful facility nonetheless.
So before I switch gears and post about the state of the Bruins, here are some thoughts on the top players at the U-18s. I am not listing any of the 2017-eligible players who performed admirably in Grand Forks- and there were quite a few! These are the players I had the most time for (in order) and aren’t necessarily the “top” or “sexy” names everyone else is talking about:
1. Dante Fabbro, D Canada- Legit two-way defender with some major upside at the next level. I cannot state enough how much I liked Fabbro’s performance in the four preliminary round games- he did a little bit of everything.
2. Tyson Jost, C Canada- The yin to Fabbro’s yang- exciting, dynamic, dangerous. He just might have played his way into the top-10.
3. Clayton Keller, C USA- I’ll admit it- late to the party on this kid, but he’s a player. Speedy, uber-smart and a dynamic playmaker. There was a lot of NHL buzz on the Illinois native and BU recruit coming in, but it’s warranted.
4. Markus Niemelainen, D Finland- Huge at 6-5 and a superb skater. Size and wheels alone isn’t a reason to take this Finn (the only 2016 draft eligible on a squad of seven D- all late ’98 or ’99-born guys) but his potential late-blooming offensive potential could push it over the edge. Anyone who has him ranked well out of the first-round is missing the boat on him in my view.
5. Kieffer Bellows, LW USA- The son of former NHL 500-goal, 1000-point man Brian Bellows has a ferocious shot, but when he’s playing physical and with a burr up under his saddle as he did here, he’s a force.
6. Logan Brown, C USA- The 6-foot-6 son of Ottawa 67’s coach and NHL D Jeff Brown (btw- he’s nowhere near 6-6 in height) is a heck of a prospect in terms of his pure talent and physical attributes. He doesn’t look like he’s working all that hard and then boom! He’s got a pair of nifty assists on creative plays after you didn’t think he was accomplishing much. He could go off the board much higher than expected, but right now is tracking at/around 15th overall.
7. Mikhail Sergachev, D Russia- Absolutely recognize (and love) the skill: skating, passing/puck skills are first rate. However, Sergachev didn’t assert himself or take control much in this one beyond a few impressive flashes. It may have had to do with the younger team around him, but he was good in this one, not great.
8. Jakob Chychrun, D Canada- See Sergachev. Chychrun has been so highly-rated for so long that it might be nitpicking at this point. He’s got great tools, but kept waiting for him to take charge of games and he never did. That distinction belonged to Fabbro, his defense partner.
9. Ryan Lindgren, D USA- He might be average-sized and lacking in a high-end skill set that jumps out at you, but boy- is this guy ever smart and driven! Team USA captain did nothing but make plays throughout the preliminary round, and it’s not tough to see why he has the ‘C’. He’s going to be a fine value pick in June.
10. Evan Fitzpatrick, G Canada- I didn’t want to like this guy based on some things I had seen during his QMJHL season with Sherbrooke, but man- he was dialed in. Especially against the Finns, when he had a memorable stop in the second period against Otto Somppi.
Boris Katchouk, RW Canada- Not fancy, but just plays the game in straight lines and is effective. Made an immediate splash in his 1st game (of two in the opening round) against Slovakia.
Alex Nylander, LW Sweden- Love the talent, but need more consistency, especially against the better foes.
Livio Stadler, D Switzlerland- Smallish defender is smart and gritty. Some may not see any NHL upside but as a late project pick, a team could do far worse than the Swiss captain.
Mareks Mitens, G Latvia “Mittens”- Nearly presided over an epic upset of the Swedes, and if nothing else- gave us an entire game’s worth of entertainment as the Legend of Mittens grew with each save.
Brett Howden, LW Canada- All he did was snipe goals and create opportunistic offense. His three-zone game didn’t stand out, but around the net, he was deadly.
Samuel Solensky, C Slovakia- Small but energetic and creative forward hustles and plays hard. He was not up to the task vs. Canada, so he’ll remain a mid-round project instead of raising his draft profile significantly.
Limited viewing (1 game):
Jesse Puljujarvi, LW Finland- He looked a little tired and not 100%, but his big-time potential emerged when the Finns were skating with the man advantage. He’s a load- not hard to understand why he’s considered a top-three draft prospect.