Thursday, January 10, 2013

Thoughts on Team USA at the U-17 tournament

  Christmas Holidays are always fun, you get to see the expanded family and spend some time with them. You take part in countless of parties too. But this year my grandmother's rolled-log cake had a hockey taste, as I have watched a ton of hockey, thankfully. After having to watch most games  on average quality streams since the beginning of the year, I finally got to watch live hockey outside of my beloved Phoenix as the Under-17 IIHF world championship was held in Drummondville and Victorivalle.

  Those two towns being at an hour or so of drive from home, I couldn't miss such a great opportunity to see future NHL stars. In total I have watched 4 live games and the Gold medal final on TV. It might not be as much as I would have liked to, as the games were offered for free on , but I'm still pretty happy to have seen those games.

  Here are my thoughts on the U17 tournament.Remember though, I only had a couple of games (at most) of display to evaluate those kids, so I'm not going to project them as NHLers just yet!!!

  In total, I saw 5 teams play, Sweden, Québec, Ontario, USA and Russia. So I'll evaluate players by teams to make it a bit more ordered. This is the first of five articles.

Team USA:     Team USA came into the tournament as a legitimate team to win the tournament, considering their lineup plays and practices on a daily basis as a whole with the USNDT, unlike the Canadian teams for example. Let's not overlook the fact that they produce more and more talent, and you better understand why some experts had them taking gold in the tournament. They started out strong by beating the other top contending team in Team Ontario, and they can thank Jack Eichel for that.

Eichel, a Halifax Mooseheads property( acquired 15th overall in the 2012 QMJHL draft), was nothing less than sublime in that titan clash, which was the opener of the hostilities in the tournament by the way. He seemed to always be on the ice, whether it was a PP, PK, 5on5 , at the beginning of a period or at the end, to protect a lead or when his team needed a goal. And he wasn't used there because there wasn't other options on the bench, but because he's good in all those situations. He was probably the best skater in the tournament(I only saw half the teams though, but it would be surprising someone could outskate him). His technique is very fluid and efficient, it makes him lightning quick to jump on lose pucks or beat defenseman wide. Pair that with slick hands and a good wrist shot and you have a complete player. Eichel in my mind was the best player in the tournament. He would make Halifax a much stronger team, even if he's 16. Good thing Cam Russell didn't convince him, for the other teams of the league, although I would love to see him play in the 'Q. The 6'1 177lbs Right-handed center is very smart with the puck and showed tremendous vision and patience with it. He's unselfish and will give the puck to his teammate if he's in a better position than him. His coach with the U-17 says he's a hardworking kid too, who give it his all all the time, may it be in the gym or on the ice. Did I tell you Eichel had two goals in that particular game? At least two more goals were scored by his team because of him.

Goes without saying that I was impressed by the Massachusetts native. Sadly he didn't play in the Bronze Final against Team Québec, as I believe he was injured. If this guy stays on track, he will be a special player. I'll keep my eyes on him, and I'll have plenty of time to better evaluate his game as he's draft eligible in 2015.

USA hockey's rising is partly due to Canadians, as some Pro Canadian hockey players spend their career in the states and eventually set there. Those players have kids that usually become pretty good at hockey. This U-17 team wasn't strange to that as a few names were familiar: Wilkie, Turgeon and MacInnis. While Wilkie, the son of former Habs first Rounder David, didn't stand out ( to me), it was a different story for the sons of Al and Pierre. Both are big left-handed centers with good hands. MacInnis is a better skater than Turgeon, although not by much. Turgeon is a better puck distributer, like his dad was. MacInnis scored the game winner in the Gold medal where he showed his quick hands. Turgeon is currently playing for the Portland Winterhawks. The production isn't really there yet for him as he has a shy 3 points in 28 touts, but Portland always have strong teams, so ice-time might be rare for 16 year olds who lack footspeed.

Other standouts for Team USA to me were Sonny Milano, Alex Tuch, Brandon Fortunato, Jack Glover and Johnathan MacLeod.

Milano is a smooth skating talented left winger. He didn't standout much, to me, in the game against Ontario, maybe because I was too busy admiring Eichel, but against Québec he was very good. He doesn't impress with his speed, but at the same time he was outskating defensemen quite easily. His hands might not be as quick as Eichel's, but he had no trouble dangling through the other team's defense. He has work to do away from the puck but he's very smart with it, and doesn't waste it, unlike so many other 16 years old hockey players.

Tuch has work to do on his skating, but he's safe defensively. He's a big right-handed winger that has a heavy wrist-shot. He has no trouble winning board battles with his 6'3 219lbs frame let me tell you.

Fortunato was the smallest D for USA but he was probably their smartest. He was their PP QB and was the one leading the rush with the man-advantage, displaying a good first pass and even taking the blue-line when it was given to him. A very good puck distributor.

Glover and MacLeod play a similar game. Both big right-handed D's with good hockey IQ that love to play physical. They play a simple game, even though they weren't scared to jump into the play when given the chance. MacLeod is meaner than Glover I thought. Loved his game.

Next up is Team Sweden.

Thank you for reading.

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