USING NUMBERS TO LOOK AT THE NHL'S FUTURE STARS
After winning their first three games against Latvia, Switzerland and Czech Republic, Canada faced their toughest test, as they took on an undefeated Finland team in their group stage finale.
For the Finns I kept my eye on underage forward Jesse Puljujarvi (a projected top-5 pick in 2016) while I tracked draft eligibles Mathew Barzal, Jansen Harkins and Graham Knott for Team Canada.
Score: 3-2 Canada.
Jansen Harkins is one of the better two-way forwards on Team Canada, and the coaching staff really trusts him, so naturally he was used in a more defensive role.
Graham Knott started the game in the bottom-6, but after Anthony Beauvillier went down with an injury Knott took his spot on the top line alongside Mathew Barzal and Mitch Stephens. His zone starts are similar to Barzal’s as a result.
Jesse Puljujarvi is one of the younger players in the tournament, and was still trusted in a defensive role. He was clearly capable of taking on the tougher assignments, though, as you’ll see below.
Barzal was dominant through the neutral zone. He’s an excellent puck handler as well as a very good skater, and was regularly able to gain Finland’s line with ease.
Puljujarvi was also quite good through the neutral zone. Given his ability to drive play up ice it makes sense that he wasn’t spoon fed offensive zone starts. Gaining the line with possession is an underrated trait that impacts hockey games a lot more than you’d think.
Harkins came out a negative in possession, but overall posted pretty good numbers considering he only had one offensive zone start at even-strength.
Graham Knott started 70% of his shifts in the offensive zone, and barely came out even in possession. Part of it is that he played a handful of shifts against Puljujarvi, but I think one reason for it is that he continually dumped the puck in, and Finland grabbed it and went the other way more often than not.
Barzal played a very good game. He was given plenty of offensive zone starts, but he made the most of it generating the majority of the shot attempts at even-strength. He also tallied a couple points on the man advantage, including this snipe.
Puljujarvi was excellent in this game. He drove possession at a good clip, was effective carrying the puck through the neutral zone, and he recorded an assist against an elite team while playing as an underager.
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