After starting the U18 tournament with consecutive wins over Latvia and Switzerland, Team Canada faced their first real test while taking on Czech Republic.
Canada is the much deeper team, however, Czech Republic does have some high-end talent led by projected top-10 pick Pavel Zacha.
In this game I tracked draft eligible forwards Pavel Zacha and Filip Chlapik for the Czech, while I kept my eyes on Mathew Barzal and Jansen Harkins for Canada.
Final score: 3-2 Canada.
Jansen Harkins didn’t play much in the 1st period, but was used more as the game went on. He’s generally an effective forward at both ends of the rink – he plays on both special team units as a result – so I don’t think the coaching staff was overly concerned with a) where he started his shifts or; b) who he was squaring off against.
Mathew Barzal and his linemates played primarily against Czech Republic’s best player in Pavel Zacha, who started most of his shifts – particularly in the first two frames – in the offensive zone. As a result Barzal started a big chunk of his shifts in his own zone.
Filip Chlapik is a good prospect, but he doesn’t have the skill set or ability to drive play up ice the way Zacha does, which likely factored into his usage.
Mathew Barzal and Pavel Zacha were the key neutral zone players in this one. Barzal is an excellent skater with very high top-end speed, so Czech Republic’s defense was forced to respect his speed, and they backed off several occasions as a result.
Zacha was absolutely dominant through the neutral zone. He’s a very good skater and is extremely powerful. Even when Canada tried to meet him at the line he skated through contact, anyway.
And then there was this.
Harkins didn’t fare too well in possession considering he only started two shifts in his own zone, however, Czech Republic put pucks on net whenever they gained the line, whereas Canada tried to sustain pressure by cycling down low, so that could have factored in. Nevertheless, he wasn’t great – at least at even-strength – in this one.
Barzal played primarily against one of the best draft eligible players in the world in Zacha, and started a good chunk of his shifts in the defensive zone. As a result, he came out below 50% in possession, but he tallied a couple nice assists, and was very good through the neutral zone.
Zacha was perfect through the neutral zone, and he fired pucks at the net every chance he had. Given the power in his shot, it wasn’t the worst idea in the world. He started more in the offensive zone than defensive zone, and he certainly made the most of it.
Chlapik was spoon fed offensive zone starts, but really didn’t generate a whole lot in this one. It wasn’t a great performance from him, but he was facing tougher competition than he had to work with, which didn’t help his cause.
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