Yesterday was the start of the U20 World Junior Championship, which is the biggest prospect event of the year, and both participating New York Rangers prospects opened up the tournament with wins.
Brady Skjei, representing the USA, was +1 in a 5-1 win over the Czech Republic. He did not factor into the game much offensively, though he did make a few nice plays in the offensive zone. Instead, Skjei was given the task of shutting down the Czech Republic's top line, including their top forward and 2012 13th overall pick, Radek Faksa. He did slip up a few times, getting beat by Faksa to the outside on a couple of occasions, but he made no glaring errors and ultimately anchored a defense that let up only one goal, which was on the powerplay.
Skjei's skating ability was evident, but what I liked most about Skjei's performance was his willingness to make plays with his body and throw some checks. There have been some concerns with the tentative nature to Skjei's game. Yesterday was a good step for him in showing that he is capable and willing to play a shutdown role and battle physically.
Above are the game's highlights. Keep reading for more on Buchnevich's performance as well as the Wolfpack's win last night.
Pavel Buchnevich, drafted in the third round last summer, played on Russia's top line alongside Oilers prospect Anton Slepsyhev and Sabres manchild Mikhail Grigorenko as the team crushed Norway 11-0. Buchnevich earned two assists in the first period and showed off some of his speed and skill. Still, it's hard to really gain much insight from a game like this. Good on Buchnevich and the Russians for putting away a team they should easily defeat, and they can only play the game the schedule hands them, but there would really not be much of an excuse for Russia's top players not dominating against a much inferior opponent. Russia plays Switzlerland next, who is a better team than Norway, but Buchnevich might not face his first real test until the 30th against Finland. Here are a few of the highlights, including Buchnevich's first assist. Buchnevich is wearing 19.
The Wolfpack finally ended a losing streak that reached nine games, defeating the Bridgeport Sound Tigers (NYI affiliate) 3-1. The standout player was Oscar Lindberg, who played his usual competent game defensively but made one of his best efforts offensively on the season, scoring a powerplay goal from a rebound as well as getting a secondary assist on the game's final goal. Lindberg's presence was felt in the offensive zone on a number of occasions. Though I would not say that Lindberg has struggled with Hartford by any means, he definitely has needed some time to adjust to the North American game and get comfortable.
The other goal scorers were Jesper Fast (PP) and Connor Allen. It was Fast's first goal on the season in only his sixth game with the Wolfpack. His initial stint with the NHL club as well as an ankle injury has limited his playing time with the Wolfpack, but he finally got on the board with a one-timer after a well-placed feed from Danny Kristo, whose assist was his only point on the night. Allen's shot was, in all honesty, a relatively soft toss towards the net and it probably should have been stopped. Nonetheless, he did not have much of a play to make and did well enough to put a puck on net. Allen now has five goals and 13 points on the season in 29 games, which is a nice statline for a rookie.
It is also worth noting that Samuel Noreau, 20, was called up from the ECHL and played in his first AHL game. The 2011 5th round pick was previously rumored to be headed back to the QMJHL for an overage season, but any truth to that rumor was killed at least for now in part thanks to McIlrath's injury. Noreau did not spand out in the game, which is perhaps a modest compliment for a young defenseman in that position. Noreau is a big, physical defenseman who is certainly a project and will require a lot of mentoring in the minors. He does have some upside as a potential bottom-pairing, defensive defenseman though.
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