USING NUMBERS TO LOOK AT THE NHL'S FUTURE STARS
USA entered the gold medal game against Finland looking to win for the 6th time in seven years.
The U.S. have a much deeper, talented roster so I tracked three of their players while I followed just one Finnish player.
For the Americans I kept my eyes on a pair of 2015 draft eligible forwards in Colin White and Jeremy Bracco, as well as 2016 draft eligible Auston Matthews. On Finland I tracked numbers for 2016 eligible forward Jesse Puljujarvi.
Score: 2-1 USA (OT)
Colin White and Jeremy Bracco formed 2/3 of a line that USA seemed adamant about getting on the ice in offensive situations. Finland was outplayed from start to finish, and they iced the puck extremely frequently, so that skewed the offensive zone start numbers a little bit.
Auston Matthews was utilized as USA’s two-way stud, but since USA carried play at such a decisive rate he still had a ton of offensive zone starts. He’s probably the best player at the tournament, though, so that’s certainly not a bad thing.
As was the case against Canada, Jesse Puljujarvi started more shifts in his own zone than the offensive zone. He’s very good at driving play up ice, which could be a factor.
As a team USA put on an absolute clinic through the neutral zone. Part of it was because it was a back and forth game so there were odd man rushes for easy carry-ins. Part of it is the two teams played 13 minutes of 4 vs 4 in overtime. The biggest factor, I think, was their team speed. All of these guys are good skaters – in some cases great – so Finland was forced to back off and respect their speed numerous times. In Bracco’s case, one thing he did was come through the neutral zone with speed and slow right down at the line, giving him some time and space to make a play after an easy entry.
Puljujarvi put forth a good neutral zone effort. A couple of his entries were blocked at the line, but there were times he wouldn’t allow himself to be stopped.
Considering Bracco’s efficiency carrying the puck safely into the offensive zone and the amount of OZ starts he had I was actually surprised his possession numbers weren’t higher. Still, it was a very good game from Bracco, who made a beautiful play while assisting on Colin White’s OT winner.
Matthews was a stud from start to finish. He made several great individual efforts to create chances for himself, and he showed good playmaking ability as well. He was also a beast through the neutral zone. This was as dominant of a game as you’ll see.
White played on a line with Bracco so their numbers were almost identical. White made plays at both ends of the ice and – to a lesser extent than Bracco – was also very good through the neutral zone. White’s strong U18 tournament likely has him rising up a lot of draft boards.
Finland was outshot 62-20 in 73 minutes of play, so to come out anywhere close to 50% is impressive. Puljujarvi did just that despite starting the majority of his shifts in the defensive zone. He’s going to be really good.
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