by Corey Pronman
Day 3 in Crimmitschau, Germany at the World Under-18’s featured a match between Finland and Canada. Couple thoughts from the game that Canada won 5-4 with a focus on two key Finnish prospects who both may go in the first round:
- Mark McNeill through the first two games has been the most impressive forward for Team Canada. His skating level is at a solid to above-average level and he’s shown consistently flashed above-average puck skills with heady passes and puck control on the powerplay and flashy distributions at even-strength that keeps defenders guessing. While one can make a stab at McNeill’s offensive skills just by looking at his WHL counting numbers for Prince Albert this season, it’s his defensive work that really caught my eye. McNeill shows great positioning and commitment to supporting his defensemen on top of a good physical game when he needs to engage his assignments. He never leaves the defensive zone until he’s sure there are no threats and then quickly flies up the ice to get involved in the offense. It’s not hard to see why his stock has risen the way it has this year.
- While I’m not paying keen attention to players who are eligible beyond the 2011 draft, it’s hard not to with all the great defensive prospects in this tournament such as Ryan Murray for Canada (2012), Seth Jones for the USA (2013) and in this game a standout was Olli Maatta (2012) for Finland. Maatta showed great poise with the puck for an August 1994 birth date, who controlled the play very well. He extends well through a notable skating stride and he jumped up into the play in the 2nd period and wristed home Finland’s second goal.
- Joel Armia didn’t have a great U-20 tournament, but at the U-18’s he has a better stage to shine and in this game he definitely stood out. While still a fringe skater, Armia still managed to create a fair bit of offense thanks to his superb puck skills that grade as plus. While not only a good stick-handler, he also threaded several impressive cross-ice passes and it got to the point where he may have started to get too over-zealous with those kinds of attempts. He scored on a wrap-around attempt that hit a body and deflected in, and ended the night with four points but I could’ve sworn he had a fifth on Markus Granlund’s third period goal, but the scorekeeper and I did not see the same play I suppose. Armia also had a notable defensive effort and came really low for a winger on several occasions to support his defense.
- Miikka Salomaki is listed as a winger, but for the majority of the game he was lining up at center and while I wasn’t paying keen attention to his draws, from a defensive standpoint he did more than hold his own at the position. Salomaki didn’t really display much throughout the game in regards to puck skills with the odd occasion when he flashed a solid deke, but what he did do was play smart hockey in both ends and show a decent physical game with the way he protected the puck and engaged opponents.