The Nations Network sent Kevin McCartney and Brett Martin from Jets Nation to the Young Stars Tournament in Penticton, BC. They’re evaluating your team and bringing you the view from the Press Box.
The Flames continue to impress in the tournament, outscoring their opponents 9-3 through two games. Against a disorganized, under-prepared Oilers group, the Calgary kids looked dominant – controlling play, pace, and, of course, the puck for almost the entire contest. To be honest, I wasn’t convinced the Calgary squad was as good as they looked given the disarray they played against.
Over at Oilers Nation, I talked about the tactics the Flames used to beat the Oilers in detail, and it’s mostly simple, classic offence (which makes sense for a prospect tournament). A layered attack off the wing was effective partly because the Flames (and in particular Monahan) were passing extremely well, and partly because the Oilers were absent from the middle lane and slot. Baertschi and Knight were running a low-to-high play in game one that the Oilers just never figured out, chasing the puck around until Baertschi found space. The Granlund/Ferland/Hanowski line cycled like it was a practice, and pushed the Oiler defenders back by simply beating the Oiler forwards through the neutral zone.
So the real test, I thought, would be Vancouver’s star-studded forward group. Against San Jose, Vancouver had played a professional looking game (albeit with a poor defence group). They were well organized and executed with speed. The pace was extremely high in Vancouver’s first game, and the physicality was remarkable as well. Indeed, Vancouver did give us a better insight into the Flames prospect group than did the Oilers. And it was still good news for the most part.
The first star of the Flames’ second game was clearly Joni Ortio, who made controlled sprawling saves on two instances in which the pro-Canucks crowd was already cheering the coming goal to punctuate an effective positional game. His more impressive skill was his rebound control. He directed the puck away from danger with ease, and was tracking his rebounds better than any goalie in the tournament so far.
That said, the story of the game for me was how the Flames adapted. I talk about this over at Canucks Army today too, so bare with me if some of this sounds familiar.
For starters, the Canucks centres did well to cover the slot where the Flames generated so much of their offence in game one. As well, Vancouver wingers collapsed deep, but stayed in the inside passing lane, negating the layered attack that Monahan and Poirier had used to dismantle Edmonton’s defence. In fact, Monahan had a quiet first period in part because he had to adjust to a much more contested offensive zone.
The first rounders did adjust his game to take advantage of soft zones on the half-wall and along the top of the zone, and it could be seen in the Flames first goal early in period two. Monahan came over the boards, collected the puck, crossed through the soft zone along the blue line, fired, collected in the corner and moved up through the soft zone on the side back to the soft zone on the top where he fired again – this time gloved and held by Eriksson. It was a powerplay, mind you, but to my eye was the first moment he figured out the Canucks zone coverage.
In contrast, Sven Baertschi was frustrated on almost every shift. His preference is for a low-to-high pass into the high slot as he floats in just off-centre, and then he toe-drags into a heavy wrister with a disguised release point. The Canucks made passing to that area almost impossible with a defenceman overload that put one defender after the puck, a second defender on the strong side at the goal line, the centre at the low circle, and the strong side winger off the boards parallel to the face-off dot. Corban Knight appeared to struggle with possession as Baertschi didn’t adjust to a more traditional cycle game.
The Flames powerplay showed less movement than against the Oilers, and was set in a very classic, learn-it-in-Bantam box+1. That is, two forwards low, parallel, and outside the PK box, two defenders parallel at the blue line and in line vertically with the forwards (a bigger box!), and the third forward in the low slot, just inside the PK box rather than in front of the net. The point is to make the box stand still while PP players move into shooting lanes, or to convince someone to give chase. Regardless of who chases, the middle lane forward always ends up open, forcing the PK to abandon the box or collapse.
On the PK, the Flames are the only team at the tournament not using a 1-3 formation, instead using a 1-1-2 in which the lead forward gives up-ice pressure. It’s very clever, given that these powerplay groups are not well practiced. Hanowski caused a number of turnovers for the Flames (especially on Guimond) and provided excellent puck pressure against the power play transition.
Okay – on to the player reviews for game two! For some more thoughts on the special teams systems battle, check out my article at Canucks Army.
#37 Joni Ortio: Ortio stole the show in game two, and put a fine performance by Brossoit on the back burner. 40 shots against, 39 saves including a couple of the variety that make me yell at video games for being ‘unrealistic.’
Clearly an athletic goalie and too small to play a probabilistic style. Still, his rebound control was honestly incredible, and at one point in the 3rd he intentionally cleared the Flames zone by directing a hard shot high into the corner glass and down the ice. His play was calm, and he anticipated extremely well against a dynamic Canucks group. Shinkaruk attacks well from below the goal line, and Ortio anticipated. The Canucks PP continuously found attacking lanes, but Ortio was always equal to it. A show stopping game.
#49 John Ramage: Despite an assist in game one, I didn’t notice Ramage much. Against Vancouver, however, he was among the Flames best players. As an older player (22) fresh out of college, we can expect a certain level of maturity to his game. His skating is at a plus level for the tournament, and he uses his range to support at both ends of the rink. It was his escapes that impressed me the most, followed by his transition puck movement. On one play in the third, he stood up a Vancouver forward, executed an escape to protect the puck, skated behind the net to trap the forechecker, and made a terrific outlet pass from his off-handed side. His goal was a nice shot, but Eriksson, who completely lost his angle on the shot, probably wants it back.
#56 Tyler Wotherspoon: A player of interest to me coming into the tournament, he’s had a quiet two games. He appears to be a low-event player with few mistakes and strong positioning. He rarely challenges the puck carrier at the line, and uses the support of his forwards to close out lanes. Not a guy who appears ready to make a jump to the NHL with adequate skating for this tournament and a lack of power in transition strides.
#67 Ryan Culkin: Culkin played the game with Kanzig in game two and had another solid if unspectacular outing. His feet look a little quicker next to Kanzig than they did next to Ramage, but his skating is only above average at this level. He’s a generally aware player, and played a different gap and more conservative style with Kanzig. He continued to play in all three disciplines without looking out of place. He did have a shift in which he pinched into the offensive corner, made a hesitant push on the Canucks player, lost the puck battle, and chased the play back to his zone. In other words, he can over-think some plays and hesitate in their execution. Hard to see why Feaster sees him making the jump so soon, but certainly has out-played his draft pedigree already.
#72 Zach Davies: I thought Davies had an awful game. His offensive blue line play was hesitant at best, and he let Zach Hall scare him out of the zone just by standing at the boards near the blue line during a contested zone exit. On the PK, when the Flames had finally solved the Canucks point shot, he started wandering, which allowed the Canucks to attack from the goal line. Not a strong outlet pass, prone to impatience in zone coverage, and too slow to manage the Canucks transition game.
#73 Keegan Kanzig: This guy is making me a fan. He’s much, much smarter than advertised, reading back door plays and anticipating puck movement well. He led the team with a +2 rating. His challenge is his skating. He turns extremely slowly and has limited technical control of his transition skating. His gaps are very large, which he overcomes slightly with his long reach, but is nevertheless problematic at times. He’s strong and big, but I’ve been most impressed by his range. His straight ahead speed is quite good for his size, and he supports the offensive play better than expected. One of the Flames best defenders on the night.
#84 Eric Roy: In contrast to Davies, I thought Roy had a game that distinguished him well. His goal aside, he showed how he got 17 goals the year before last by consistently getting the puck through to the net. He recorded three shots to lead Flames defencemen. His skating is strong in transition, and he was able to control his gap well against the fast Canucks forwards. His in-zone play was patient and controlled at both ends.
#10 Corban Knight: As mentioned above, Knight’s game was not as impressive against the Canucks. He struggled with possession and was chasing in the offensive zone often. His passes didn’t connect, and he found more success when he gave up trying to find Baertschi and started playing a more grinding game with Elson. As another 22 year old, I actually expected a little more.
#23 Sean Monahan: This kid continued to impress me. Was a bit invisible in the first period, but not ineffective. He still managed the play well, he just didn’t have possession often. It looked like he missed Poirier, but by the end of the game, Poirier looked like he missed Monahan. Monahan is a cerebral player who needs to work on his play away from the puck, but at 18 is able to create offense through his anticipation and awareness. It’s hard not to feel like he will put together a complete package soon, given how fast he learns out there.
#47 Sven Baertschi: Looked frustrated. Had one great shift at the end of the second period in which he took a dangerous shot, slowed the Vancouver defence down with a delay play on the half-boards, and then ripped a see-eye, cross rink pass tape to tape. Apart from that shift, he looked out matched physically against a tough Vancouver squad, and over-handled the puck whenever he got it.
#57 Emile Poirier: Played with Granlund and Hanowski to form the best Flames line of the first period – a grinding forecheck and explosive net-attack. By the second period, Poirier looked out of sync and confused, getting in Hanowski’s way during a 3-man cycle in period 2. In contrast, he managed a successful 2-man cycle often with Monahan in game one. Poirier is at his best as a vertical attacker, and seemed to struggle in the half-court offence. That said, he still attacked the net well and showed the offensive sense and hands that we saw in game one.
#58 Ben Hanowski: One of the Flames best, Hanowski killed penalties extremely well, and used his speed (in spit of an awkward stride) all over the rink to pressure the puck and generate turnovers. Great cycle player. Though not very dangerous on his own, creates a lot of offence for his linemates.
#59 Max Reinhart: Shift one, Reinhart showed a ton of speed. I have no idea when his next shifts were. He recorded three shots and an assist but was largely invisible to me. So perhaps I simply had blinders on for 59. Even if I’m being an unreasonable observer, as a 21 year old with a season of pro experience, I expected he’d stand out more this tournament.
#60 Markus Granlund: Another supremely effective game for the dangerous goal scorer. The Canucks had a hard time containing him, and he used his body to create turnovers and his puck skills to make those turnovers dangerous. His line struggled a bit in the latter half of the game, but he remains prominent (in a positive way) in every shift.
#65 Turner Elson: Another impressive game as the third-wheel on a scoring line. He’s very strong in transition and supports the puck well. He’s physical and attacks the puck with an angle to win battles rather than punish. He’s clearly got hands and offensive smarts, but just hasn’t shown much in the way of clean offensive plays yet. Hope to see him in game 3.
#79 Michael Ferland: A powerful vertical attacker and forechecker, Ferland looked better with Granlund in a low cycle game than he did with the more creative Monahan. I caught him floating a few times, waiting for the play to happen. That said, his line created a lot as the game wore on.
#85 Dylan Smoskowitz: A ’93 birthday who had a really impressive game with Monahan and Ferland. His powerplay goal was only the result of strong offensive presence throughout the game. The kid isn’t even in the program, so he was a surprise to me.
#86 Josh Jooris: One of those players that made me go, ‘man, who’s 86?!’ over and over. Smart, quick, all over the ice. He’s the oldest player on the team, though, so we can expect some physical skill development. He’s physical and focused, played solid defence both in transition and against the Canucks set-offence. Played a checking role with Reinhart and Penner. Didn’t generate much.
#93 Linden Penner: Appeared occasionally with a big hit, but equally with a misread play, including struggling to find his lane on the breakout. He was an early and active collapser in the defensive zone, and it left him scrambling to keep up with the break out. Had a very strong shift with Monahan and Smoskowitz in the second period, driving the play though the neutral zone and creating space for his skilled mates with his speed and size (6’4”) as they crossed the blue line. Strong skater for his body, and huge (220lbs) for a ’95 birthday. Didn’t show too much in the way of scoring sense, but was far from a liability. Pretty good for an invite from the AJHL.