well the selections have been made (whether they were right or wrong is another matter), the exhibition games have been played and the biggest annual hockey tournament this side of the Stanley Cup Playoffs is about to begin on December 26th. I am speaking of the U-20 World Junior Championships, being held this year in Ottawa. Here are some story lines to watch and what to expect from our players, as well as some under the radar draft eligible players that I like.
1) Did Canada make the right move in net?
This one will be questioned for years if it backfires, with Caniac Nation and OHL followers serving up a healthy dose of “I told you so” the entire time. The goaltending position could mean the difference between Gold and Bronze this year for Team Canada with so many of their best eligible players for this tournament currently in the NHL. So you would think they would go with the hot hand, right? Well they did with one of their goalies: Dustin Tokarski from Spokane, who is putting up solid numbers this season (16-9-0-2, 1.97GAA, 93.8%). However the omission of OHL standout Mike Murphy, our 6th round draft pick this past season, from even making the training camp roster is making people in the know shake their heads in disgust. Murphy is putting up better numbers (20-4-2-2, 1.97GAA, 94.4%) in a more offensive league and looks like a lock to repeat as OHL goalie of the year, if not taking CHL goalie of the year outright, which would give the Canes their first CHL goalie of the year prospect since Cam Ward. While Chet Pickard, the player Canada took over Murphy, is defending CHL goalie of the year his numbers this year aren’t nearly as good as they were last year and this tournament is often won by the hot hand. Right now there is nobody hotter in net then Mike Murphy, and with this being the strongest American team in a long time this may come back to bite Canada hard. Along with other questionable moves, such as the inclusion of Angelo Esposito, Canada may be in trouble.
2) Is this US team for real?
We’ve heard it a couple times since the US victory in 04, that “this will be the year we take it again” from the US fans. And each year, with the exception of 2007, which was unfortunately decided in a shootout after an epic Semi-Final match with Canada, the US has disappointed. So what’s the difference with this years team? Well, two things: 1) they finally have a solid goalie in Thomas McCollum (2.13GAA, 92.8% in the OHL) that can go save for save with the best Canada or Sweden can offer. 2) They finally have secondary scoring and are built like a team. Combine the dominant 5-1 result against Russia in exhibition with a weakened team Canada squad; this may in fact be the year we take it again.
3) Tavares or Hedman?
Towering defenseman Victor Hedman, who is projected by many as the #1 pick at the moment, is expected to lead what is arguably the strongest U-20 Team Sweden since the Cold War era. However in the pre-tournament exhibition it was Tavares that looked like the one deserving of the #1 pick as Canada stomped Sweden severly outclassing the Swedish team. Still, it would be insane to say that Sweden isn’t a threat to take in the gold this year. But the best story line between which of the 3 favorites that look pretty equal on paper (USA, Canada, Sweden) will be which of the two highly touted draft eligibles makes the biggest move towards being the #1 overall pick in this tournament. One thing to note is that Hedman is coming off an injury, and may have in fact been re-injured in that game against Canada.
My projected finish:
LW/C Drayson Bowman (United States) – While he was a foolish omission by a US team that was desparate for secondary scoring last year, he wasn’t snubbed a second time. Bowman is among the players that the US will be relying on the most to compliment their top line of JVR-Wilson-Schroeder, and with his Spokane linemate Wahl also on the team Bowman has some built in chemisty on a line already. He might not put up huge numbers but, at the very least, expect him to make a name for himself.
LW/C Zach Boychuk (Canada) – While Bowman is one of the secondary threats for the US team, Boychuk was outright dominant in exhibition play for Canada with 3 goals and 2 assists in 3 games playing on a line with Cody Hodgson and Jordan Eberle. If Canada is to have any chance they need players like Boychuk to really step up and put up numbers like this throughout the tournament. I expect him to do so and expect him to skyrocket up prospect rankings everywhere in the process.
D Michal Jordan (Czech Republic) – While the name itself is rather epic, the kid can play as well. He’s building off last season nicely as Plymouth’s top defenseman this year with 3 goals and 18 points in 29 games to go with a +3 rating. Good size and good mobility go with it for the Czech national. He was on last years Czech WJC team and played a rather solid game for a team that seems to be on the decline in the past few years. Look for him to build off that performance and potentially for the Czechs to make a surprise run to the Semi-Finals.
Draft Eligibles to watch:
F Evander Kane (Canada), RW Jordan Schroeder (USA), LW Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson (Sweden), D Ryan Ellis (Canada), D Dmitry Kulikov (Russia), C Jacob Josefson (Sweden), C Tomas Knotek (Czech Republic), RW Tomas Vincour (Czech Republic), LW Marcus Johansson (Sweden), RW Andrej Nestrasil (Czech Republic), D Tomi Kovisto (Finland), G Danil Alistratov (Russia), F Yakov Vorobiev (Kazakhstan), D Evgeny Bolyakin (Kazakhstan), C Richard Panik (Czech Republic), D David Rundblad (Sweden), LW Toni Rajala (Finland), D Tim Erixson (Sweden).
In a tournament that is typically dominated by 19 year olds, if any of these players have a high impact for their teams they are likely worth paying close attention to throughout the rest of the season. Draft stock for players such as Patrick Kane have taken off after solid performances in this tournament in the recent past.
So with all that said, Merry Christmas everyone, and enjoy some of the best hockey of the year starting on the 26th. I’ll be there in person next year, so hopefully we can expect some in-person reports from the tournament.
The last time I wrote Zac Dalpe had moved from being a lock to play for Ohio State to being undecided. Well, the Canes 2nd round pick has signed the dotted line with the Buckeyes. However, as reported by Alexander, the Canes offered the prospect a contract. If he had signed that would has killed all NCAA eligibility for Dalpe and ensured he would play one of three places: Plymouth (Major Junior), Albany or for the Canes. With Zac still developing, not to mention still growing, I’m pretty sure we all know what option it would have been. Yet another case of conflicting interests between the Plymouth Whalers and the Hurricanes.
This means that the best chance people would have had to see Zac in action was at the prospect camp as he’s most likely not going to pay his own way to training camp. Rutherford stated that the Canes plan to re-visit their talks with Dalpe next year and that they are still high on the prospect. Hopefully that doesn’t mean that they plan on re-visiting talks by calling in the middle of class shortly after the World Junior Championships. If that happens again I’m sure LA will be waiting with another package of a decent young defenseman and a third line center that will half-ass it after deciding he doesn’t like being stuck behind Staal and Brind’Amour on the depth chart.
One correction from my previous entry needs to be addressed though. PK is not the only owner of CHL and NHL franchises. Daryl Katz, the Edmonton Oilers owner, also the own of the Edmonton Oil Kings, which joined the WHL just last season. In fact the President and CEO of the Oilers, Patrick LaForge, also serves as the Governor of the Oil Kings. Whether they try to run the Oil Kings as the Junior Oilers, much as the same way PK treats the Whalers as the Junior Canes, remains to be seen.
Well it happened again, the Canes draft someone out of the “Plymouth Pipeline” that has churned out “great” players for us such as Jonas Fiedler, Jared Newman, Damian Surma and Kevin Holdridge. In fact since the Canes have moved to NC they have made Plymouth Whalers 14 of their 114 selections. Combined all these picks have a grand total of 45 NHL games played, a rate of just over 3 games per player. Yet the Canes keep coming back to the organization in the draft despite this, and this is mostly the doing of Karmanos. Why am I getting at this? Because they just used their 4th round pick on yet another Whaler, Michal Jordan, this past weekend in Ottawa. Now the name itself is an epic win and maybe I shouldn’t be too hard on the Plymouth Pipeline since we had not even tapped it since a round that doesn’t even exist anymore in 2004 until last year, taking both Chris Terry and Bret Bellemore, who both look pretty good as prospects right now. But I really do have to wonder if there’s another organization in the league that has used more then 10% of their draft picks on one junior team with such an incredible record of failure.
Now don’t get me wrong, they found a gem that passed through the draft a few times in Chad LaRose, who signed with the Canes after finishing his junior career in Plymouth. LaRose has played over twice as many games as the Canes 14 Plymouth picks put together and it’s likely he would have gone unsigned had he played for any other team. LaRose has become one of a few notable Whalers in the NHL right now, which include David Legwand, Bryan Berard, Justin Williams, Stephen Weiss and Paul Mara. But all of those players have one thing in common; they weren’t drafted by the Canes.
But the biggest reason for this rant has nothing to do with Jordan, who may yet prove to be a decent pickup if his performance at last years World Juniors is any indication. No, it has to do with something far more underhanded: the way PK does his business, specifically as it relates to the relationship between the Hurricanes, the Plymouth Whalers and our recently drafted RW/C prospect Zac Dalpe. Now, Dalpe falling to the Hurricanes at #45 was possibly one of the biggest surprises of the entire draft, really he probably should have gone in the first round and there’s absolutely no way he should have fallen to the middle of the second. Every single publication had him as a late first and the Hurricanes had him at #16 on their list, that’s the type of thing, like Paul Stastny falling in 05, that has the potential to make at least 20 other teams look like total idiots somewhere down the line.
If you’re asking yourself why this is a bad thing, for the Canes it’s not, but for Zac Dalpe it might as well be the kiss of death. You see, he was drafted by the Plymouth Whalers in the 2nd round of the OHL Priority Draft. The big deal with that is the OHL Priority Draft was for ’92 born players this year, Dalpe is an ’89, so when a team uses a 2nd rounder on a guy like that who has already committed to college you know they’re going to do absolutely everything in their power to get the guy to change his mind and go the Major Junior route. Now that he’s Hurricanes property he’s going to be getting the full court press from every direction, Stefan in Plymouth, JR, PK, I wouldn’t be shocked if even Ronnie himself were pushing for him to forget OSU and go to Plymouth. Still, nothing has changed for Dalpe, and he has even stated as much. That won’t stop the Canes from putting the pressure on Dalpe though. Plymouth should have a good team next year and Dalpe could be a key player for them, likely being their top center if he signs.
You have to give Dalpe credit for being a man of his word, and just as much you have to wonder about the conflict of interests that exist between the Plymouth Whalers and Carolina Hurricanes. Karmanos remains the only owner of an NHL team that also owns a Major Junior one, and while the Plymouth Whalers aren’t a farm team for the Canes as that is prohibited, it sure seems that the organization acts like they are one. And while Plymouth is by no means an NHL prospect factory, Ohio State isn’t exactly lighting up the NHL ranks either with their most notable alumni in the league being a tossup between Ryan Kesler and R.J. Umberger, not exactly a ringing endorsement of the program. I mean we’re not exactly talking about trying to snag a kid from Minnesota, Denver or even St. Cloud State here. But the fact of the matter is that the pressure is on from both parts of the Karmanos camp, despite the fact that Dalpe has stated that he has no intentions of playing for someone other then OSU next season.
I will say that OSU’s coach, John Markell, is doing himself no favors with some of the comments he’s been making to the press over the issue. According to him: “They’re the only team in the league that does that. Most NHL teams wouldn’t do that, but they’ve chosen to do it.” Well, unless he’s talking running a junior team simultaneously, odds are he’s off base with that. I mean, I guess there was absolutely no pressure from the Isles to get Okposo to leave Minnesota in the middle of the season right after the WJC’s. And I’m sure that none of the other players that jumped from the NCAAs to Major Juniors had any pressure from the team that drafted them to do so. Not to mention that when Ronnie met with McBain this past year Francis was one of the people encouraging McBain to go back for his junior year. I can respect where Markell is coming from, but when he says stuff like that it seems disingenuous at best.
Obviously both sides are concerned about what they feel is best for their player, but frankly that is the kind of thing that is up for Zac and Zac alone to decide.