THURSDAY WJC ROUNDUP
The World Junior Championships get underway today in Malmö, Sweden. There are four games involving Flyers prospects.
As of this writing, Team Canada holds a 6-2 lead over Germany at the second intermission. Flyers left wing prospect Taylor Leier took a high-sticking penalty in the first period that led to a power play goal for the Germans that forged a short-lived 2-2 tie. Center Scott Laughton, Team Canada's captain, has not yet gotten on the scoresheet.
At 11:00 a.m. EST, Team Russia opposes Norway. Flyers defense prospect Valeri Vasiliev, who starts regularly on the third pairing for the KHL's Spartak Moscow (26 GP, 0 G, 2 A, 2 PTS, 12 PIM, 13:10 TOI) will play on Russia's blueline.
At 11:30 a.m. EST, Team USA plays Team Czech Republic. Flyers prospect Anthony Stolarz is a backup goaltender to Calgary Flames' prospect Jon Gillies.
Flyers defense prospect Robert Hägg and Team Sweden take on Switzerland at 1:00 p.m. EST. Hägg will be expected to play a prominent role on the Swedish blueline.
Hägg Making Progress in SHL
Hägg, who only played 33 seconds in his final SHL game before joining the junior national team, is averaging 13:08 of ice time per game for Modo this season. He was averaging around 18 minutes per game in the first couple weeks of the season -- when he was paired at even strength on the top pairing with former NHL defenseman Richie Regehr -- but his ice time dropped as he struggled a bit and moved down in the rotation and was also moved off the power play.
I have seen all or parts of 15 of the 33 games Hägg has played thus far this season. His performance has been quite inconsistent; from game-to-game and sometimes from shift to shift. His skill set is obvious -- excellent skater and passer, quick shot release, big and strong -- but he needs to do a much better job at mentally bearing down on plays. Scoring chances can develop quickly out of seemingly innocent plays, and Hägg has sometimes been his own worst enemy. On the flip side, he also has an ability to make difficult plays seem easier than they are.
Above all when assessing Hägg, it is important to remember that he is a still-inexperienced 18-year-old playing regularly in a good professional league. He just seems like he's an older player because his name has been touted for a few years and his collection of raw skills are very impressive. Even so, he still has to go through the learning curve that virtually all young defensemen experience.
I asked Modo assistant coach Barry Smith how the player has been coming along this season. He said that the team is happy with the player's progress but there are opportunities for further growth.
"Robert has come along way from the start of the year," Smith wrote via email. "My take on him is this: He is very cool under pressure and does not get to excited or over react with the puck. Has a very good strong shot. Now on the other hand he needs to be more intense every shift. Has to raise his compete level. He needs to work on getting his shot away quicker as well. He acts very mature for his age and we sometimes expect more because you tend to forget he is 18 yrs old."
"I think he is going through the growing pains most young defense do when they step up to the pro game. I like his progress. To sum it up, he needs to compete on a consistent level with intensity on both the defensive side of the puck as well as with the puck. But we do like his progress and expect his game to keep growing. He listens and works hard."
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