Every November dating back to 2003, the Canadian Hockey Leagues best have taken on a group of Russian Selects of the same age group in a six game series, with Russia playing two games against each of the CHLs three leagues. The CHL has dominated this annual serieswhich has changed names several timesfor the most part. Coming into 2010, they had won 36 of the series 42 games. However this year, the tables turned and Team Russia won four of the six games to defeat the CHL for the first time after bringing over a group of older, more developed players with only one draft eligible player (Zakhar Arzamastsev).
Los Angeles Kings prospect Maxim Kitsyn was the star of the tournament, logging four goals and six points in six games played. This wasnt a case either of a players performance not correlating to play on the ice due to a short sample, Kitsyn was the best player for the Russians in just about every game. While he fell to the sixth roundwhich was likely due to the Russian FactorKitsyn was a consensus top 100 talent in the 2010 draft, with a considerable number of experts considering him a top 75 talent. He displayed an impressive combination of skating, puck skills and physicality that could all be considered pro level. Kitsyns performance in the tournament has sparked questions about whether or not he will come overseas to play for Mississauga in their Memorial Cup run, to which hes said he is interested if he can get out of his KHL contract.
Joey Hishon, who to some was a surprise first round pick of Colorado in 2010, showed why the Avs thought so highly of him. He flashed plus puck skills, with an emphasis on hands and creativity with the puck. He was able to manipulate the opposition based on his stick movement to create more space for himself. The skating was fine, although hovering at an average level for a forward who isnt that gifted in the physical game is always a concern. Hishon can score and he can dangle though, and those are the tools he will be relied on to carry to the next level.
Erik Gudbranson, who was the third overall pick last June, showed enough offensive upside to ease some concerns about his high selectionhence why I was down on him on draft day and had Fowler at #3. Gud likely wont be a top pairing point producerand no one ever advertised him as suchbut he was used on Kingstons power play last season, and in the Super Series he showed passing ability that can be sustainable at the NHL level. His puck abilities arent at an above average level, but he can move the puck well enough to execute the power play from the point. Combined with his very heavy shot, he can project as a second unit contributor on the man advantage at the moment. Defensively, I was impressed with Gudbransons ability to switch from physical play and stickchecking depending on the situation.
If we could redo draft day of 2010, I highly doubt Ryan Martindale would go at #61 to the Oilers. He might not go in the first round, but hes improved his skating from last year to the point where hed be considered a second round talent now. Martindale is a very good passer, with a fine frame, and has been on fire in recent weeks. As of November 24th, Martindale has 11 goals and 26 points in the past 12 games. Im normally wary of nineteen year olds having a breakout season in the CHL due to physical maturity, but Martindales improved skating is the thing that convinces me he can have some hope when he turns pro.
In Hockey Prospectus 2010-11, I noted about defenseman Jared Cowen that his knee strength and skating were the major issues to monitor going into this year. After viewing Cowen several times this season, and in the series, I can safely say that its no longer an issue. And not only isnt his skating a liability, Id go as far to say that its an asset now and thats not even taking into account the real estate he can take up with his reach as well with his mobility. He also isnt shy to jump into the rush or pinch down low and get involved on the attack. Overall, Cowen looks great and I would not be surprised to see him crack the Senators lineup next season.
Sharks 2009 draft pick Taylor Doherty has had better games on the back end, as he was the main culprit on a goal against due to a giveaway. Normally, I wouldnt say a bad turnover or two is notable due to sample size issues, but this has been a reoccurring trend with Taylor. Doherty is a mountain of a man at 68, 230 lbs. and has pretty good puck skills for a guy of that stature, but his skating and decision-making skills are fringe at the moment.
2011 Draft Talk
The Super Series was a great showcase for some of the top draft prospects in 2011. From the QMJHL Couturier, Huberdeau, Danault, Ouellet, Beaulieu and Phillips played. Jenner, Lessio, Harrington, Murphy, Puempel, Hamilton and Strome played for Team OHL, while Nugent-Hopkins and Rattie were the notable WHL representatives.
In terms of the top talentsCouturier, Murphy and NugentHopkinsI saw more from the latter two than I did from Couturier. NugentHopkins features plus puck skillsat times flashing plus plusand his ability to see the ice, handle the puck and distribute it is at a high level. He is an average skater in terms of speed, but very agile and strong on his feet. Murphy has some dynamic tools with both his skating and puck skills being plus or better but the question mark on him still is how he projects as an overall player at the next level. Couturier was involved in several scoring chances and showed several above average qualities to his game, but after seeing him several times, nothing really separates him in terms of a high level tool.
Forward Philip Danault was actually playing quite well in the series before he went face first into the opposing crossbar and had to depart. Danault has been a quiet riser this year and is worth noting going forward.
Ty Rattie has been on a tear to start the season for the powerhouse Winterhawks. His 0.60 goals per game and his 1.60 points per game in 25 games are significantly ahead of teammate and fourth overall pick in 2010 Ryan Johansen (0.55 goals per game and 1.14 points per game in 22 games). Rattie is a very skilled player with plus hands and has shown above average skating and scoring prowess whose production thus far has catapulted him into the upper half of the first round discussion. In the series, his hands and creation abilities were on display as he was just able to make things happen when he had the puck.
A player who caught my attention from the Russians was Anton Burdasov, an undrafted 91 birth date who has been logging fourth line minutes in the KHL, not registering a point there in the last two seasons spanning 27 games. Burdasov did manage to register two goals and three points in this tournament and while one would expect him to be flawed, there were some interesting qualities to his game. His skating technique is messy, but he manages to get up and down the ice at an average level, and for a guy producing no offense overseas, he displayed some solidaverage hands. His frame of around 63, 200 lbs. was pretty filled out too, although his questionable balance on his skates makes those physical attributes less useful. Overall, while I dont think Burdasov screams top six forward talent, I think if he gets a chance to play with Russia at the World Juniors, he could at the very least get some semiquality minutes to strut his stuff.
Defenseman Ryan Murray, who at the moment is touted as a potential top five or top ten talent in the 2012 draft, was mightily impressive during the one game I saw of him. His reads are very advanced for a guy his age, and he combines it with notable puck and skating skills that make him a player who can log significant minutes in all situations and be very effective.
Corey Pronman is an author of Hockey Prospectus.
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