Picked 16th overall by St. Louis in last June's draft, Vladimir Tarasenko is turning heads early at the WJC. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
With the WJC now in full swing and having had the opportunity to see each team play, there are a few things that have jumped out and some things to pay attention to from each team.
The obvious starting point is with Canada's top prospect, Sean Couturier. Couturier's intelligence is obvious, as are his physical and technical skills, but what I have found most impressive and urge you to pay attention to is his timing and movement away from the puck in the offensive zone. It can be difficult to gauge from the TV screen, but you will be able to see it from time to time. If you are lucky enough to see it live, you will be flooded with the evidence.
Couturier seems to be able to perfectly time when to move into a particular area of the ice in the offensive zone. Most of the time he becomes a secondary or tertiary option, but with so many skilled players surrounding him, that option can be lethal. Watch how he stays in front of the net and then moves off to the sides or behind the net at the perfect time to elude coverage. It's an exceptional skill that a lot of elite players have yet to master.
The Czechs have a couple of interesting players. First is undrafted speedster Antonin Honejsek, who has been their most consistent offensive threat so far. Honejsek has good hands and is an opportunistic offensive force. His game has evolved well in his two years with the Moose Jaw Warriors of the Western League and he may be a player who could garner himself an NHL tryout in the coming years.
Martin Frk of the Halifax Mooseheads is also an interesting player. Frk is competitive and tenacious around the puck and he is physical as well. As one of the youngest players in the tournament, Frk is not eligible for the NHL draft until 2012. He is adapting to the North American style quickly, however.
Moving on to the Finns, Joel Armia is an impressive player who will no doubt go in the first round of this summer's NHL draft. Still a green player, Armia has dominant physical abilities to go with slick offensive skills. His release on his shot is unbelievable and if you can DVR it and slow it down you will witness near perfection.
Another impressive Finn is Jyrki Jokipakka. This under-the-radar and undrafted player has proven he can play at elite levels and is a well-rounded and intelligent player. He was exceptional against the United States and has evolved into that solid, reliable and consistent two-way defender teams cherish when they have them. Keep your eye on him during this tournament.
The Germans have an experienced and well-rounded roster and have already proven to be a difficult opponent. With a few NHL draft picks already, Germany looks poised to have a few more after scouts get the opportunity to watch them play again. Tobias Rieder is a near lock to be selected after proving himself more than capable of playing in the Ontario League. Marcel Noebels is an interesting player who fell through the cracks last year and should have been drafted. That mistake will not happen twice.
Norway goaltender Lars Volden will see a lot of action in this tournament and, although his stats will likely be inflated because of it, he will have the opportunity to display his sound technical abilities and style. Volden is a hard-working, no-quit style of goalie and, despite not being drafted last year, has some pro potential that could even translate into an NHL job at some point. It is very difficult to evaluate a goaltender on a team that is over-matched so often, but Volden, along with Sondre Olden and a few of the other Norwegian skaters, is capable of being competitive and is blazing a trail for one of the fastest rising hockey programs in the world. Don't count Norway out - they are starting to produce some serious talent.
Russia is a bit of a disappointment in terms of scouting, having left off their most exciting draft eligible players such as potential 2012 first overall candidate Nail Yakupov and 2011 potential first-rounders Alexander Khokhlachev and Vladislav Namestnikov. What is worth watching is the dominant abilities of their captain, Vladimir Tarasenko. A 2010 St. Louis Blues first-rounder, Tarasenko is a game-breaker and is as explosive as they come. If you want an example of elite acceleration, look no further than Tarasenko.
Tomas Jurco and Peter Ceresnak are Slovakia's best hopes to get drafted to the NHL this year and both should do so in the first half of the draft. Jurco is a talented puck magician who has learned how to get dirty and score ugly goals along with his beautiful highlight-reel plays. Ceresnak is a defensive gem. What is exciting about Ceresnak is how well he moves laterally and also how well he recovers after engaging opponents. Young defenders should take note of the way Ceresnak chases down his target, but quickly retreats to the slot area when the time is right. His defensive awareness is not something that will quickly jump out at you, but if you get the chance, keep an eye out for it.
I will be back with some more thoughts, including those concerning the Swedes, Swiss and Americans later this week. But in the meantime, I hope these observations will give you more to look for and enhance your experience during this already exciting tournament.
Ross MacLean is the head scout for International Scouting Services and is considered one of the rising stars of the business. A young, diverse and versatile hockey mind, MacLean leads ISS' network of scouts and puts his domestic and international hockey experience and knowledge towards ranking and providing industry-leading profiles and information on draft eligible players around the world.
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