Robin Figren's move is the talk of the World Junior Championships, but how much stock should you put into dazzling individual performances at the tourney? Enjoy a trip down Memory Lane. Plus: Borat who? Kazakhstan's newest star export will have you saying "Nice!"
Chances are you've seen it by now: a goal so rare and so beautiful that even ESPN has to mention it in between poker and lawn bowling coverage. Sure, kids have been doing it down at the rink ever since YouTube popularized Mike Legg's exploits at the University of Michigan, but in-game usage is few and far between.
But before you go making him an immediate waiver-wire pickup in your keeper league or trading the farm for him, let's analyze some similar showboat'n shenanigansat the WJCs.
3. Jani Rita scores 8 in 7 (2001)
After a decade of bad drafting- really bad drafting- Oilers fans thought they'd finally caught a break with Jani Rita. Drafted 13th overall in 1999 on the strength of a man's frame and wrist shot, the budding power winger closed out his junior career with a monster performance at the 2001 World Juniors. In just seven games, the 19 year-old Finn potted eight goals- the most in the tournament. Making it even more impressive was the fact those eight goals were double as many as WHL scoring phenom Pavel Brendl. Instantly ordained a pro, Oilers fans waited on bated breath for their future top line forward.
They're still waiting.
Six years later and despite a stint on Sidney Crosby's line, Rita is firmly writing his own chapter in the Book of Busts. The Finnish league's leading scorer in 2006-07, Rita is even busting there. He has just eighteen points- twenty-two fewer than Jokerit Helsinki's leading scorer.
Verdict: It's no coincidence that Bust and Rita are four-letter words.
2. Manny Legace Foils Forsberg (1993)
It wasn't supposed to be close. Future NHL superstars Markus Naslund and Peter Forsberg were simply destroying the WJC record books, with Forsberg tallying 31 points in just seven games. The team was so dominant that Peter the (Future) Great guaranteed a win over Canada in the Gold-medal game.
Enter Manny Legace. An outstanding goaltender for Niagara of the OHL, Legace was nevertheless an afterthought due to his 5'9, 165 lbs frame- and Canada an afterthought for anything more than Silver. All that changed in one magical night. A 50 save performance spoiled Forsberg's promise.
Verdict: Legace wasn't a bust, but he wasn't someone you'd pick up in most keepers.
1. Toews Tames USA (2007)
American fans call it cheap. Canadians call it a win. Either way, it was hugely entertaining. Tied after sixty, USA and Canada headed to a shootout to decide the 2007 Group A semi-finals. Thanks to international rules, Team Canada leader Jonathan Toews was allowed three opportunities to shoot. And three times, he scored.
Verdict: One year into his NHL career and Toews looks okay.
So there you have it. Every kind of player's done it- stars, so-sos and scrubs. But what of Figren himself? A 3rd round selection of the Islanders in '06, Figren's one of a handful of Swedes playing major junior in Canada. As an Edmonton Oil King, I've seen him play more than most.
Pros: Never-stop motor, great speed, adept puckhandler at top gear, quick release. Everything he does is quick and precise. Terrific creativity. Extremely responsible in every zone, and willing to backcheck and play in traffic. A leader with terrific work ethic.
Cons: Small frame makes him vulnerable to injuries and hits; doesn't own elite offensive instincts so will live and die off working hard.
Projection: 2nd/3rd line energy forward, 25-20-45; 50 at peak. Figren will be the guy who flashes skill but doesn't score as much as it looks he could.
Speaking of top-flight international performances, goalies from no-name countries are always interesting to watch. This year, the honor of best unknown goes to Mikhail Smolnikov. Pulled earlier today during 5-0 loss to Finland, Smolnikov has nevertheless been Kazakhstan's best player. Despite being 0-2 prior to today's match, Smolnikov was POTG in a 55-save performance against Russia, and deserved an honorable mention for a 44-save outing in a loss against the United States.
Will he be drafted? An '88-born and thus eligible for two years without being selected, Smolnikov will likely sit a third year before becoming a free agent. However, stranger things have happened. German standout Timo Pielmeier was a third round pick, 83rd overall, in 2007 after a heroic performance at the U18s.