December is an exciting time of the year for some hockey prospects. Especially for those that participate in the World Junior Championships. The Vancouver Canucks representation at the WJC consisted of four players fortunate enough to partake in the event. Other prospects continued to take great strides in their development, and for some, it was a quieter month due to the Christmas break.
Two of the Canucks prospects managed to win medals. However, they were not the colour they’d hoped. Despite their tournaments ending in disappointment, Canucks fans should be very encouraged by what they witnessed.
Nils Hoglander was dazzling throughout the event and finished third in tournament scoring, having registered five goals and six assists in seven games. That total might have been higher if it hadn’t been for a game- misconduct that he received for a reckless headshot that he delivered early in the semi-final game versus Russia. Sweden won the bronze medal.
A stunning comeback by Team Canada ruined the party for Russia and Canucks prospect Vasili Podkolzin. Canada overcame a 3-1 third-period deficit to earn the gold medal, while a disheartened Russian squad took home the silver medal. Podkolzin saw action in all situations and played admirably in all three zones. His vigorous play along the boards was particularly noticeable. Podkolzin managed to produce 5 points in the tournament.
After finishing with the gold medal at the 2019 WJC Team Finland failed to reach the podium at this year’s event. Defenceman Toni Utunen had one assist while providing consistent play in the defensive zone. Ultimately, that’s what his game is all about.
Injuries afforded Karel Plasek Jr. with an opportunity to get into the lineup. Plasek sat out game one as the extra forward, but he played every game after that, finishing the tournament with one assist. The Czech Republic lost 5-0 to Sweden in the quarter-finals, thus ending their medal bid.
An injury to Thatcher Demko meant a promotion to the Canucks for Michael DiPietro. Although he only appeared in one game, coming off the bench to replace Jacob Markstrom, Dipietro gained valuable experience while with the big club. Getting to work with goaltending coach Ian Clark and gain exposure to the game at the NHL level should prove beneficial to the young netminder. Dipietro saw limited playing time with the Comets as a result of his time with the Canucks, going 2-1 in his brief time in Utica.
Similar to their parent club, the Canucks, the most notable improvement in the Comets this season is the mobility of their defence. The transition game and quality of their zone exits have vastly improved. Much of that is due to the addition of Brogan Rafferty. Rafferty continues to rack up points in this his rookie season, leading all AHL defensemen in scoring with 32 points in 37 games. He is also third in the entire league in plus/minus with a rating of +18. Rafferty is full marks for his all-star selection. He also recorded 16 points in December earning Rookie of the Month honours.
The second-highest point total from defensemen on the Comets comes from Olli Juolevi with 14. His excellent first pass also factors into the improved zone exits of the club. Juolevi quarterbacks the second powerplay unit and blocks a lot of shots on the penalty kill. His defensive zone coverage is a work in progress and needs to improve before he is ready for prime time, as does his overall foot speed.
Not much needs to be said concerning the play of Guillaume Brisebois, Jalen Chatfield, or Ashton Sautner. They continue to be steady, reliable defenders with minimal offensive contributions. All three are adequate depth replacements should the Canucks sustain any injuries. Should any of the trio secure regular NHL duty in the future, it likely would be as a bottom pairing or seventh defenceman role. The Comets are currently in a playoff position, and they will gain valuable experience down the stretch.
First-year players, Josh Teves and Mitch Eliot have seen limited duty with the Comets over the past month. Both have been healthy scratches for the majority of games but continue to practice with the team patiently awaiting a chance to play.
Watching the Comets play this season, I am very encouraged by the play of Kole Lind. Not only is he producing regularly, but his ability to win board battles is a vast improvement over his rookie season. Lind is also seeing time playing center on the first powerplay unit and recently played that position 5-on-5 as well. He has ten goals and 30 points in 37 games this season.
Jonah Gadjovich had a month on good health and produced five points in his last 14 games. He is currently seeing duty on the fourth line and second powerplay unit. In my opinion, the most noticeable improvement in his game over the past season is his skating. If that area continues to improve, a future bottom-six NHL role is a strong possibility.
Limited game action due to an NHL call-up is what best describes the past month for Zack MacEwen. He appeared in only two games for the Comets in December. However, receiving an NHL paycheque while learning the game at that level is beneficial. When the injured Canucks forwards return to the lineup, I expect MacEwen to return to the Comets lineup for their stretch drive.
The top plus-minus rating among forwards on the Comets belongs to Lukas Jasek at +11. The defensively responsible Jasek has equalled his goal total of last season with nine in 27 fewer games.
Francis Perron recorded only two points in ten games during December before sustaining an eye injury.
The past month has been relatively quiet for collegiate hockey players with the Christmas break. Northeastern University has only played four games since the end of November through the first week of January. However, Tyler Madden continues to be impressive despite the lack of game action. Madden produced seven points in his last three outings, scoring one goal in each of those three games. Currently, he sits third in NCAA scoring and Northeastern are tied for the top spot in the Hockey East standings.
Madden’s teammate Aidan McDonough has proven deadly on the powerplay. All eight of his goals have come with the man advantage. His quick release and deadly accurate shot are his top attributes as he continues his point-per-game pace. McDonough has 18 points in 17 games to this point in the season.
The schedule for Harvard was a little busier than that of Northeastern, having played seven times since the end of November. After a torrid start to their season, the Crimson have slipped to third in the ECAC conference. Regardless, Jack Rathbone has managed to stay at near a point-per-game pace with 13 points in 14 contests. He had points in five of his last six games.
More was expected of captain Will Lockwood and the Michigan Wolverines this season. The Wolverines are currently seventh in the Big Ten Conference. Lockwood’s production has been disappointing for the senior, having produced only nine points in 20 games thus far.
Cornell University has dropped to the number two ranking in the country. Freshman Jack Malone has recorded five points in 12 contests for the season as he continues to develop.
The Calgary Hitmen sit securely in the first wildcard position, and Canucks prospects Jett Woo and Carson Focht have been prominent. Woo with eight points in the last eight games has 23 points in 37 games, while Focht has six points in the previous six games and 32 points in 34 games on the season. Woo was recently named to the Vaughn CHL Team of the Week and will be counted on heavily with the recent injury to Egor Zamula.
After finishing last in the Western Conference of the Ontario Hockey League last season, the Flint Firebirds appear to be on their way to a playoff position this year. The Firebirds are currently third in the West Division. Ethan Keppen has 12 goals and nine assists in 33 games to date.
After a superb start to his season Arturs Silovs is on a personal five game losing streak. He has nine wins and nine losses for the season with a 4.04 goals-against average and an .880 save percentage for the Barrie Colts. However, the Colts sit in second spot in a weak Central Division.
Remaining European Prospects
Petrus Palmu continues to produce at near a point-per-game pace in the Finnish Liiga. The diminutive forward has nine goals and 24 points in 26 games for JYP. Palmu recently played in an international tournament in Europe for Finland, recording one assist in two games.
Artyom Manukyan remained out with an injury and did not play in December.
Streaky forward, Dmitri Zhukenov is on a bit of a roll once again, having contributed four points in the last three games. He currently leads Gornyak Uchaly in goals and is second in points for the VHL club.
Canucks prospect Arvid Costmar is currently on loan to Mora of the Swedish Allsvenskan. He is yet to produce any points and is being used sparingly by his new club through five games. Previously while playing in the junior SuperElit league with Linkopings, Costmar managed 26 points in 17 games.
Karlskrona forward Linus Karlsson seems to have found his stride, producing eight points in the last ten games. He currently sits third in team scoring with 22 points in 36 games.
Rick Warman is a Vancouver Canucks and prospects contributor for Overtime Heroics. Follow him @statman1956 on Twitter
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