With the World Juniors underway, maybe just a little reminder that fans shouldn’t get their hopes up too high. It’s not just the yelling and screaming at teenagers – some of whom have been in the NHL already – but it’s just the success rate of prospects.
For a quick little exercise on just how many of even the top performers can flame out, let’s go back through the top-10 scorers from some recent World Junior tournaments:
- 2013 – Marko Dano had as many points (9) as Johnny Gaudreau, and more than Mark Scheifele (8)
- 2014 – Saku Maenalanen (11) had as many points as Anthony Mantha, and more than Jonathan Drouin (9).
- 2015 – Nic Petan had as many points (11) as Connor McDavid.
- 2016 – The year of the incredible top line from Finland, where all three players led the tournament in scoring: Jesse Puljujarvi (17) over Sebastian Aho (14) and Patrik Laine (13).
That’s just four years and a handful of players (at different ages, admittedly) to show how much just ranking by points throughout the tournament can lead fans and analysts astray. Of course, that doesn’t change much for bar room debates, but let’s try to be a little bit more level-headed about this on social media.
Speaking of the World Juniors, now that I’ve read the requisite number of other peoples’ articles (be sure to keep it locked to Dobber Prospects throughout the tournament), I feel comfortable enough to throw out some guys I’m looking forward to watching. They’re players with obvious fantasy upside and seeing how they can perform with the elite of their peers is always a good stepping off point for these kinds of players. Some of these guys will be drafted, some won’t be, but they’re guys to keep an eye on, mostly with dynasty implications.
Ty Smith (D-Canada)
The mid-first round pick from 2018 was a dark horse to make the New Jersey roster right out of camp but was one of the late cuts to the team. He was returned to the WHL, where his point production has declined from his previous two seasons. It’s obvious he figures into the Devils’ plans, and likely as soon as October 2020.
Smith possesses everything that teams want in a future puck-moving defenceman: great skating, great vision, great playmaking. That he’s under-sized is probably why he fell to the middle of the first round rather going near the top-5. As far as this tournament goes, does he control the offence like he’s able? Is he not only starting the rush, but joining the rush? Does he run the power play with efficiency? All questions relevant to his fantasy future.
More than anything, it’s obvious the Devils need puck-moving defencemen in the lineup as soon as possible. Smith fits what they need to a tee.
Raphael Lavoie (C-Canada)
Whether the Oilers prospect ends up as a centre or a winger remains to be seen (my bet is on winger, anyway), but regardless, the Oilers need forward prospect after forward prospect to pan out into impact NHL players. Everyone knows that team is being carried by two players and that’s not the way to sustain success through a single season, let alone building some sort of modern dynasty. The ancillary players need to contribute as well, and Lavoie could be next.
What sticks out to me in my limited viewings of Lavoie are his hands. To be a good goal scorer, there are a lot of skills necessary, one of them isn’t having great hands. But when a good goal scorer does have the ability to maneuver around opponents in tight spaces using their ability to put the puck in areas where only they can get it, well that’s exciting. It’s reminiscent of Anthony Mantha, in a way, with how Lavoie can use his reach at times.
Basically, all I want to see from Lavoie is him in the offensive zone. A rangy player who can play in tight spaces would work well with top-end talent in Edmonton. Let’s see some of that in this tournament.
K’Andre Miller (D-USA)
It’s pretty obvious that any Rangers defense prospect has the ability to move up the depth chart quickly. After Jacob Trouba and Adam Fox, things are pretty wide open on the blue line. Sure, there’s Tony DeAngelo, but it’s not a guarantee he even returns (they should bring him back, but whether they do or not is another matter). Miller, just as much as anyone, could be in the top-4 in October.
I’ll say this much: I wasn’t overly impressed with Miller at last year’s World Juniors. It might be why I’m not as high on him as others are; I just haven’t watched enough of him outside of last year’s WJC.
When looking at Miller for this year’s tournament, I want to see him control the play when he’s on the ice. I don’t want to see him constantly taking the safe outlets or see him hanging back on the rush. I want to see him as involved offensively as he can be. (Whether the coaching staff lets him do that is another matter.) If he can’t do that in his second WJC and turning 20 years old in a month, then maybe he isn’t ready for the NHL in 10 months’ time.
Arthur Kaliyev (W-USA)
It’s no secret that if the Los Angeles Kings have any sliver of hope to recapture some of their past glory while Anze Kopitar and Drew Doughty are still moderately useful, then Kaliyev (among others, one of whom will be mentioned later) needs to be an impact player, and needs to be an impact player soon. This is not a case of where the team can wait until 2022 for Kaliyev to come around.
The problem with Kaliyev, as explained in our Dobber profile on him, is his skating. And, quite honestly, if there’s a skill a player can lack at this point of their career without it being a huge issue, it’s skating. There are lots of instances of players, particularly elite ones, refining that aspect of their game in as little as a year. Recent examples include Leon Draisaitl and Jamie Benn.
For that reason, it’s not Kaliyev’s skating that needs to be scouted here (though it will be). It’s whether he can get himself in dangerous positions consistently. As I outlined at the top, it’s not always a straight line from production in the WJC to production in the NHL, which is why Kaliyev doesn’t need to score five or six goals to impress. He just needs to consistently put himself in a situation to score, whether it be finding soft spots in the defence or exploiting a turnover.
Rasmus Kupari (C-Finland)
The companion player to Kaliyev is Rasmus Kupari. Not because they play for the same nation, but because they could end up playing for the same NHL franchise as soon as October. As mentioned, Los Angeles needs all the players they can to turn into high-end, impact players. Having Kupari settle into the second-line centre role ASAP would go a long way into this team regaining some of its prior highs.
There’s basically nothing that Kupari doesn’t do well so I guess the best I can do is say this: I hope he doesn’t suck this tournament? I hate to say that but unless my reading of Kupari is off, this is a guy who is supposed to be a reliable two-way centre (an actual two-way centre like Nazem Kadri and not someone who has no discernible NHL skills like every player Pierre McGuire values). That’s all I’m looking for from Kupari here: can he help shut down the opposition’s scoring while chipping in some offence himself?
Moritz Seider (D-Germany)
At this point, I’m basically hoping that Seider does what I hope Miller can do: control the play when he’s on the ice. The surprise sixth overall pick of the Detroit Red Wings is having a very solid rookie season in the AHL and if he can control the game when on the ice with elite peers, then that should bode well for his continued development. I just want to see whether or not he’s able to handle the top-end talent now, because I want to see him in the NHL in nine months’ time. How he fares at this World Juniors will tell us a lot about his timeline.