We are two thirds through the preliminary round of the 2013 IIHF U20 World Junior Championships and there has been much to cover so far. No one in North America probably would have thought that the best, most competitive hockey being played at this time of year would be in Ufa, Russia but it is.
Every NHL team has prospects on one of the teams if not prospects on multiple teams. The Blackhawks have prospects on teams Canada, Finland and Russia. All of the teams probably have undrafted or 2013 draft eligible prospects that the Blackhawks staffs are scouting as we speak.
Team Canada is currently atop the highly competitive group B which also has the Russian team & team USA. They have nine points in the standings with three wins over Germany 9-3 and a very tough Slovakian team that they had to battle back from behind to win 6-3. Early this morning team Canada had a goaltending duel with the USA and came away with the 2-1 win. That win puts Canada into the next round and if the beat Russia it also secures them a spot in the Semis as leader of group B.
There is no question that the strength of the Canadian team is up front in their skilled forwards like Edmonton Oilers’ Ryan Nugent Hopkins, NY Islanders 2011 prospect Ryan Strome and Florida Panthers top 2011 prospect Jonathan Huberdeau.
Chicago Blackhawks’ 2011 first rd prospects Phillip Danault and Mark McNeill are primarily third and fourth liners and used on penalty kills for team Canada. Neither have broken the stat sheets yet but here are some things to keep in mind and observations from yours truly.
Phillip Danault is logging a lot of penalty kill time due to team Canada taking a lot of penalties. Canada leads all teams in PIM. This has put Danault and most of team Canada in not the best positions. Danault is -1 on the stats which considering he’s out on almost all of Canada’s PK’s is not bad as they have had some 5 on 3’s against them. He is typically centering the third line when not on the PK.
Danault has great finish to his game and there is no quit in this kid. He brings A++ effort every night and has a very strong two way game which speaks to his being utilized on the PK. He always has an active stick. For Blackhawks fans who have not seen Danault, think of Dave Bolland tenacity and grit mixed with Jonathan Toews determination and two –way game only at 18 years old.
Mark McNeill was a last minute substitution when injury occurred to Charles Hudon. Like Danault McNeill is used on PK’s and third and fourth line duties for team Canada. He is alternated between Center and Winger positions. He also has yet to ink the stat sheet and sits with 0 +/- rating.
McNeill had a rough start in Canada’s game vs Germany he made an inopportune pass in his own zone that lead to a turnover right in front of his goal that resulted in goal for Germany. McNeill has all the physical tools and size to really impact a game and become a power forward ala Marian Hossa. Because of the tight officiating McNeill has not yet asserted his physical game. This is a great experience for both Danault and McNeill in honing their defensive games and should serve the Blackhawks well in the future.
Team Finland has the Blackhawks’ top 2012 prospect 18 year old Teuvo Teravainen. Team Finland surprisingly sits third/ fourth in Group A and was recently upset by Czech Republic team. They are now tried with the Swiss and could face elimination if they do not defeat Sweden in their next game.
Teravainen has 3 goals, one in the losing effort against the Czechs and two in a come from behind SO win over the Swiss 5-4. He is +2. Teravainen is being used at Center and is an offensive threat every time he is on the ice. He leads his team with shots on goals which lets you know Teravainen is always looking to light the lamp. He is a dynamic player with very slick stick handling and a deceptively heavy shot. He is the Finnish version of Patrick Kane. Look for Teravainen to keep improving as the tournament goes on. He will be the key to team Finlands success.
Team Russia like team Canada is chalked full of offensive talents like Edmonton Oilers’ 2012 #1 overall pick Nail Yakupov and Buffalo’s top 2012 pick Mikhail Grigorenko. The Russian team has skill and power and are favored in this tourney to win gold. They also have Blackhawks 2011 prospect Maxim Shalunov.
If McNeill got off to a rough start Shalunov got off to a catastrophic start. He took a double minor penalty for highsticking in the waning minutes of Team Russia’s game vs Slovakia which cost his team a point as Slovakia was able to tie the game and push it to OT. By pushing the game into OT it cost team Russia 1 point which is why they currently sit in second behind team Canada in points.
The penalty was a bad one which also cost him being suspended for one game by the IIHF. While the IIHF has been calling these games tight this penalty would have been called in the NHL and he would probably have been suspended in the NHL as well. Highsticks to the face are a big NO NO.
Shalunov has only played in two out of the three team Russia games due to his suspension. He sat out the game against the USA and team Russia could have used his offensive skills as they eked past the Americans 2-1. It was good to see him come back in Team Russia’s trouncing of Germany 7-0 with an assist in a shorthanded situation when he was on a breakaway with team mate Kosov. He made a picture perfect pass to Kosov for him to get a hat trick, very unselfish play. Shalunov is +1 overall.
In viewing these games one has to be impressed with the skills these kids have already. Remember folks this is U20 so most of the players are only teenagers. They still have a lot of learning and to do before they take that NHL step so mistakes are bound to be made. Overall the play has been top notch whether we are all NHL deprived or not. They are the future of the NHL and some will turn their franchises around which makes this event exciting and worth tuning in for. Blackhawk fans when these kids make it to the UC you will be in for a treat.
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