It’s the best time of the year—the World Junior Championships. The two-week period when all armchair scouts form their opinions of prospects their favorite teams probably aren’t going to draft, and decide the ones their favorite team’s rival has drafted are all busts.
Let’s look at some takeaways from day one for the USA and Canada.
Canada versus Finland
My main takeaway from Canada’s opener was that Carter Hart is the difference-maker for this team. Both Canada and Finland were sloppy at times, and disappeared for long stretches. Finland outshot Canada until late in the third, and while their many power plays likely contributed, consistency is still an area of concern (as much as anything can be after one game). Speaking of those power plays, discipline is another area Canada needs to address. Tempting fate by being on the penalty kill that often isn’t an ideal path to gold.
Canada won this game because they took advantage of the opportunities they did get, and because Hart stood on his head. That’s not always sustainable, though I will allow you have a better chance in a tournament setting, especially if you’re Canada. This is a very good team. Y’all don’t need me to tell you that. In the stretches where they were fully engaged, guys made excellent plays up and down the lineup. No doubt Ducharme would prefer to see that for a full 60 minutes.
As far as specific players go, Boris Katchouk really caught my eye, as did Victor Mete, who deservedly received the Player of the Game honor for Canada. I also really liked Dillon Dube playing on the penalty kill. He’s exactly the right amount of aggressive.
USA versus Denmark
Team USA is very fast, and my main takeaway from this game is that they achieved Motzko’s stated objectives of playing well in small spaces and not letting off the gas against a lower-stakes opponent. They also cycled well when set up in Denmark’s zone. The best part for me, though, was the obvious familiarity between players. This is why USA Hockey leans so heavily on former NTDP/U18 national team members. In tournaments you have less time to gel, and this team looks very comfortable playing with one another already.
An aside, and piggybacking off my Dube comment above: one thing I love about Motzko’s system is how it emphasizes attacking on the penalty kill. The USA has the personnel to do it—they’re fast, and they’re smart—and so I was pleased to see this carried over from last year.
Obviously, regarding all of the above, their opponent has to be taken into account. I’m very interested to see if they can carry over these achievements to a higher-stakes game.
Specific player takeaways: it was really great to see the offensively-minded Max Jones, rather than the homicidally-minded Max Jones. I live in hope that he manages to maintain his cool against teams that get under his skin more easily. Also, playing in the WHL has clearly boosted Kieffer Bellows’s confidence, something I think he needed after last year. And boy, is Buffalo going to love Casey Mittelstadt. The kid has hands for days.
Quinn Hughes is magic on the blue line. Don’t be surprised if he plays himself into the top 5 at the 2018 draft. Maybe higher? Apparently multiple scouts have told Corey Pronman of The Athletic that he reminds them of Paul Coffey, and I haven’t watched enough Coffey to confirm or deny, but I can tell you this guy is one of the best skaters I’ve seen since I started watching prospects.