U18 World Junior Tournament Disappointments
After all of the cheerful buzz, let's bring things down with some disappointing performances by teenagers far more talented than I'll ever be at a sport I know nothing about!
Vasili Podkolzin – Right Winger, 6’1 190lbs, 7gp 1g 3a 4p for Russia
I’m going to preface this by saying that I really like Podkolzin as a player, this is an expectations game. Podkolzin is ranked at Number 3 by Bob McKenzie. Number 3. The Captain of Team Russia has a lot of hype and expectations surrounding him, but does it come through? I thought he had a very good tournament overall. He was very noticeable in every game and he had good chemistry with Rodion Amirov…however he wasn’t 3rd Overall in a draft noticeable. He’s very physical, loves to barge into the net like a psychopath and is extremely defensively aware. That’s what I got most out of him in this tournament. Podkolzin is probably the best Russian prospect in his own zone since Nikolai Kulyomin (weird flex, but ok). He was the first man back for his line every time and a master of forcing turnovers.
All these traits are great and things I want to see in a player, but aside from his power move to his forehand while crashing the net, I didn’t see anything to really suggest high end skills. What I’m getting at here is that I’m getting some Jake Virtanen feels about him. A straight line skater who likes to crash the net, is responsible defensively and likes to hit people, but does he have the offensive skill package to put it together in the NHL? He’s got some pretty decent hands and I like that he tries to change angles a lot. I just wasn’t that impressed overall with his shooting ability. Interesting player for sure, but if I’m in the top-5, I would look elsewhere.
Tobias Björnfot – Left Defenseman, 6’0 203lbs, 7gp 0g 1a 1p for Sweden
It’s hard to have the Captain of the Gold winning team as a disappointment, but I really wasn’t seeing the hype. Nothing really stood out to me. He was solid in his own zone, but not even in the top-4 on his own squad in terms of ability in that regard. He was an okay puck transporter, but again, he was blown away by Broberg and Söderström in that regard. He got burned badly in the Russian game by Podkolzin and his line. Podkolzin in particular roughed him up and just ran through him smashing into Alnefelt. Björnfot has the “Jack of all trades and master of none” feeling about him that really worries me. Much in the same way when Brandon Gormley was drafted. You can’t point to a thing he’s great at. It’s that issue that I feel has him all over the map in terms of the draft. From 17th to 45th. If there’s a strength, it’s his ability to get the puck on net. All in all I thought he was ineffective when he was played physically and that’s an issue in my mind going forward…especially for a player of his size and stature for his age.
Roope Taponen – Goaltender, 6’0 165lbs, 4gp 3.53GAA .877SV% for Finland
You have to feel bad for Roope. Finland’s overall prospect production has constantly been improving in most aspects. They’re developing top end forwards, defensemen and a goalie or two now and then. Taponen was shelled in one of the worst Tournaments the Finns have performed in in a long time. He lost to Belarus letting in 3 goals on 19 shots. He looked small out there and I was having flashbacks of a mixture of Vesa Toskala merging with Jonathan Bernier. He was decent against Canada, but overall he got slammed. He’s the 6th ranked European Goalie in this draft and from his performance, I’d say Central Scouting should swap him with the Latvian fellow who stole the show. Very disappointing performance, though maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised as he was piss poor in the Hlinka Tournament as well. The fact that he was named a Top-3 Player on his team was a bit of a joke in my opinion.
Ryan Suzuki – Centreman, 6’0 176lbs, 5gp 0g 1a 1p
There are some centremen that can play any position and succeed. Look no further than Claude Giroux, Leon Draisaitl or Steven Stamkos. There are some that are terrible at this such as Nazem Kadri and Paul Stastny if you can remember either of those brief experiments. You put them on the wing and they fall apart. Suzuki was put on the wing for Canada as an extra man and…well…ugg. If this doesn’t hurt his draft position, I will be surprised. He was lost most games and cannot play wing, period. He was played on the third line and didn’t seem to have a real role. I thought he got pushed around a lot and on the wings, he just deferred to the perimeter.
While his brother Nick (Habs) was earning a reputation as a big game player, Ryan was falling down the lineup and even losing his spot a few games. I still like him as a prospect and think he will be a good pick if you have a late first or early second. Kasperi Kapanen had a disastrous U18’s in his draft year and he’s turned out, so it’s not the end of the world. Just disappointing.
Mikko Kokkonen – Left Defenseman, 5’11 198lbs, 5gp 0g 1a 1p for Finland
Much like Podkolzin, this is a situation where I really like the player and they just under performed. The slick skating defenseman was very ineffective this tournament and a lot of his defensive foibles were on display. He had about 5 really poorly timed pinches that were painful to watch. not sure what he was going for. I didn't see enough offensive creativity to warrant the ambitious plays he was making. It's not like he's Karlsson where you roll the dice on a bad flub or a brilliant play. The Finns as a whole were pretty underwhelming, but Kokkonen, who is expected to be one of the best Finns in this draft, was not very good.
Thanks for reading.