David Rundblad had an impressive showing with Team Sweden at the World Junior Championship. (Photo by Mark Wilson)
“Tavares put his team on his shoulders and made the difference and Hedman didn’t do that. But overall, Hedman might have contributed more, but at the same time, Tavares was MVP. I don’t think it’s clear-cut. I think most minds are leaning towards Tavares right now and I wouldn’t disagree.” – NHL scout on the race for No. 1 pick in the ’09 NHL draft.
The scouts left the junior showcase in Ottawa with a clearer picture of the top end of the 2009 draft, but with at least three months to play, questions still remain.
John Tavares was amazing. He saved Canada and made big-league plays, namely against the USA when he brought his team back from the dead. His performance won him the MVP, but he wasn’t flawless in front of a professional eye.
“When they played the Russians it’s like he had no legs, he’s an average player,” a scout pointed out. “That’s the concern I have. I wonder if that game against the Americans took that much out of him. At the NHL level, that’s the way it is, you’re on the ice all the time and it’s fast. This guy has Sidney Crosby hockey sense and skill, but he doesn’t skate like Crosby.”
On the flip side, concerns coming into the tournament surrounding Swedish defenseman Victor Hedman dealt with his shyness from physical play. But despite a suspected injury sustained early on, Hedman showed evidence of physical aggression that manifested in a beatdown on Angelo Esposito in the final.
“It’s there, he just doesn’t know how to...he’s not a Canadian, you know? It might come,” a scout said.
Besides, in a tournament like this, a defenseman has to be wary of playing an overly intimidating style and risk taking a penalty. And keep in mind, Chris Pronger wasn’t always the rough, physical force he is today.
“In Hedman you’d like to see him playing with more toughness and grit and in Tavares you’d like to see his skating improve,” an NHL scout said. “If both can improve in those areas they’re franchise hockey players. Both of them.”
So the argument is still up for debate and don’t forget, there’s still plenty of hockey to be played. A lot of jockeying for position goes on at the world juniors, but this tournament by no means solidifies anything. It’s a coming-out party for some and a wake-up call for others.
Here are a couple of players who impressed scouts at the world juniors enough to move up the draft list, for now, and why they stood out:
Evander Kane, C, Canada – Determination, effort
“Particularly in the Russia game, I think he really elevated his stock. He set up two really nice goals off aggressive forechecks and in games of that magnitude when kids wearing cages are sticking out that much, it speaks volumes for what their upside is.”
Magnus Svensson-Paajarvi, LW, Sweden – Came to play
“The only question I have with him is, ‘can he score?’ He’s a great skater, strong and can fly. There’s guys out there who are quick and fast, but lack strength, so you can slow them up a bit, but then there’s guys who have a lot of power in their speed and that’s what this guy has.”
Tomas Tatar, LW, Slovakia - Go-to guy
“I really felt he had some big games against some really good teams in this tournament and scored some big goals. It was unbelievable, if you watched Slovakia early in the tournament it took 10 minutes into the game before they played their kid line – which was (Marek) Viedensky, (Richard) Panik and Tatar – and by the end of it, he’s the kid with seven goals.”
David Rundblad, D, Sweden – Held his own
“He really showed his skill and his good size. I think he needs to improve his skating a bit, but he’s got a good offensive sense and talent so we’re pleased with him.”
Not everyone can have a good day, though; some players exited the tournament with work to do. Don’t kid yourself, these guys are still excellent players and tremendous NHL prospects to have in your cupboard, but it’ll be interesting to watch the rest of their season unfold to see if they improve on their holiday performance.
Jordan Schroeder, RW, USA – Didn’t stand out
“It’s almost like we’re dealing with a small guy who’s been very good all his life, but now all these guys have caught up to him and, in my opinion, are going by him. He was eliminated from the play very easily, knocked off the puck easily and in the Czech game he was punished by the defense and replaced on his line. However, he made some plays and he’s a clever and crafty player.”
Richard Panik, C, Slovakia – Riding Tatar’s coattails
“I hear he might end up in Windsor (of the Ontario League) after this tournament, which would be a very good thing for him. I thought Panik as an under-ager last year was really good and exciting, but he didn’t play hard at all this year; I was disappointed with Panik. He’s talented, but he didn’t need a shower after the game.”
The holidays are over and the curtain has fallen on this big stage. It’s time for the scouts to hit the road again and get prepared for their team’s mid-winter meetings to discuss what’s on tap for the stretch drive in preparation for the next big show: The 2009 NHL Entry Draft.
A Scout's Life is a weekly look at the world of minor and pro scouting throughout North America. Each week we'll talk to different scouts from all levels of the game, getting a first-hand perspective of the different aspects of talent evaluation.