Jets Young Stars Game One: Pure skill

Kevin McCartney
September 13 2014 02:39PM

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Jets double pin below goal line on PK.

The Nations Network sent this Jets Nation writer to the Young Stars Tournament in Penticton, BC. I'm judging your team and bringing you the view from the Press Box.

The Jets opened the Young Stars Tournament against the Flames in a thrilling, high-tempo game with a lot more offensive skill than defensive interest. The Jets struggled badly to manage the Flames' cycle, but in transition, opened the floodgates on Calgary's blueline to create a lot of chances. 

Inside we'll begin where we left off last year - systems stuff at the top and then a review of every player to follow. I missed the first period of this game and haven't watched it streaming yet, so anything I missed goes in the comments, please! You can see the game on YouTube here.

Team Play

In prospect tournaments, we're conditioned to imagine that most of the difference in the score or on the shot clock is related to personnel. No doubt, it plays a big part as we'll get into. But team organization and system discipline matter as much or possible more to the outcome. Indeed, in this game, the difference was the Jets' lack of structural discipline in their own end that cost them the win. (That, and Johnny Gaudreau being born.)

It's a short tournament and these guys don't play together regularly, so the systems are relatively simple - things that exist in Bantam and are the core of more complex structural ideas. Last year, the Jets moved from a centre-low zone defence (page 2 in Hockey Canada's how-to) in game one to a strong-side overload that they were using in the NHL under Claude Noel in game three. It's a smooth transition from point A to B in that case, and just required some practice time to work out the reads when the puck gets moved horizontally on the overload. 

This season, it's possible we got to see an early introduction to the core of what Paul Maurice intends to implement. Typically in a centre-low zone, the centre works a triangle that roughly goes from the top of the crease out to each face-off dot. He's responsible for the low slot and to take away the shooting lane when the cycle comes off the boards. 

In last night's case, the centre's job included the back of the net. What's more, they used two-man pressure below the goal line, much like the Oilers' swarm from a year ago. This is where it gets confusing for me as the viewer. The Jets had Petan, Lowry, Olsen, and Blomqvist listed at centre, but it was Kosmachuk who played centre in the defensive zone for his line instead of Olsen, and Blomqvist and Lodge who played defensive centre for their line. It's possible there was just mass confusion as a result. If not just a mistake, it seemed that the Jets were using a vertical rectangle zone for the centre instead of the triangle we just discussed. His defensive territory would stretch from the blue line to the end boards, all between the hashmarks. It pulled their defence apart badly, and we saw a few goals where the Jets' defender was below the goal line, the centre was above the top of the circles, and the Flames had rebound after rebound on Hellebyuck. Ugly. We'll have to wait another game to find out what they intended, though they didn't work on it at all in practice on day 2. 

At the other end, things were a little better, but most of their offence came in transition and on the powerplay. The Flames used an overload in the neutral zone with two pressure points - the first before the red line that the Jets did well to pass out of, and the second just inside the blue line where the Jets ate them alive. They used a layered entry where F1 slows into the pressure zone but feeds the puck just behind the pressuring player to F2 who has accelerated past the defender. F3 is moving to the back lane to push the other defender(s) back, and it left the Jets oodles of room. Ehlers had an amazing wrist-shot goal from that play, and the Lodge/Blomqvist/Walker line created a lot from it as well. 

On the powerplay, the Jets' skill really showed. It was a centre-post umbrella set, but the impressive part was the puck movement and rotation, with Petan, Ehlers, De Leo, Morrissey, Kostalek, and Kichton all showing really impressively. On the PK, they used a very aggressive system with a double pin below the goal line. When the play was behind the goal line, both defenders went low, the weak-side forward stayed in front, and the strong-side forward parked below the faceoff dot. They showed a diamond rotation as well, but it may have been incidental as it wasn't consistent. 

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Jets PK with double force below goal line exposes open shooter at top of circles.

Defence

#30 Connor Hellebyuck: It my first ever viewing of Hellebyuck live, and he lived up to his billing as a big, calm netminder. Good lateral movement, plays that deep-wall style of Luongo. The Flames had a lot of high quality scoring chances, including multiple rebounds, short breakaways, and open rotations off the cycle. Hellebyuck faced 36 official shots and was beaten by 5. I don't think another goalie would have done better.  

#36 Josh Morrissey: Morrissey was paired with Kostalek and played heavy minutes well. Had a number of shifts where he looked pretty casual, but also pulled out a spin move on the powerplay to show he still has those edges we fell in love with last year. Had terrific body positioning in contact and mostly exceptional gaps in transition. His skating looked quite awkward in practice on day two, but it's hard to know if it's a deficiency he's been covering for with his brain, or if there is something wrong. 

#53 Jan Kostalek: It's clear the Jets trust this player, and this game showed all the reasons why. His gap work is impeccable, he's physical all over the ice (including some opportunistic hits), his first pass is superb and he brings a little offensive awareness too. In-zone, he was the Jets best defender, reading the cycle and playing boards to net with excellent patience and consistency.

#59 Brenden Kichton: Defined smooth in this game. His passing, especially on the PP, was superb. He skates with constant contact to the ice, showing exceptional control. Played with Freibergs, who I'm not sure was necessary. He has some pro tendencies from his season in the AHL, jumping into the rush more opportunistically than last year. I know some were concerned about his turnovers, but I don't see it. The play runs through him on the back end and you can't touch the puck 100 times without a few mistakes. 

#62 Nelson Nogier: I don't understand this player yet. Even Aaron Rome scored in Junior, but it's obvious why Nogier doesn't. His gaps are big to cover for his less advanced (for this level) skating technique. He's a up-right skater with slow feet. I think he's smart? But he doesn't support the play up ice and is effectively not involved in the game much. He doesn't step up far enough to manage transition space and he's conservative about his range around the net. 

#79 Nikolas Brouillard: Nogier's partner was caught on a few puck mistakes (turnovers), but showed some strong edge work and had to manage the neutral zone alone (since Nogier just abandons it). Need another viewing. I have a handful of notes about him taking poor lines in defending, and, of course, he literally placed the puck under Lipon's skate while Lipon was circling in the NZ. It's not a resume that screams 'polish' so far. 

Forwards

#38 Nik Petan: I can't gush enough about Petan, but I'll try. His puck support is way above this level, his small space skills are outrageous, and he's always dangerous. His lateral mobility from standing and at speed are exceptional and unmatched. His vision is obvious and constantly used. He thinks the game way ahead of where it's happening and uses his quickness (hands and feet) to open the lanes he wants to make plays no one has read are available. At the same time, he was quite bad in defensive zone coverage in this game. He refused to stop on the cycle and the Flames made them pay. Again, it may have been individual error or by design. Hard to tell, but I lean toward the former in this case.

#42 Nik Ehlers: Did you notice him? I know he was constantly busy creating offence. His puck skills are excellent, but what was most impressive was his use of space. He found space Everywhere and the puck found him as a result. On his crossing wrister, it was Kosmachuk who made the room for him. He used both wings while hunting for offence, but wasn't out of position. His range and sense for the play is exceptional. Great first few steps, lower top-end speed than expected. As he builds muscle, he will gain even more tools to get that space he uses so well.

#45 Jim Lodge: Very impressive game. His line created easy zone entry, and it was Lodge who stirred their very full pot offensively. He walked one top corner after a Blomqvist entry that announced he was a dangerous and not just pretty offensive player. His defensive position was strong, he got up the ice well. One challenge is that he never stood in (took a hit) to make a play. He lost every loose puck battle I saw him in. 

#46 JC Lipon: Bit of a quiet game for Lipon to my eye. I expected more given his year in the AHL. Still, showed pro level attack angles - always through the passing lane, made contact with a hit and pin. We know he has the skills and he wasn't left behind on a line with De Leo and Petan. 

#56 Adam Lowry: Has come a long way in a year. His skating is much more smooth and collected. He's more purposeful around the ice. Still great range, uses his size well. Fought some no name for hitting Ehlers (I think it was). 

#57 Chase De Leo: Impressive physicality. Very balanced skater on each of his edges. He stood in lanes and crashed defenders to create space for Lipon and Petan (the Lipon job, one would think). He moves out of corners well, attesting to his strength on the puck, and he reads lanes well horizontally. Would like to see more from his vertical offensive work, as he doesn't support off the end boards or find his defender's shooting lanes (for traffic) well. 

#61 Austen Brassard: Had a tap in goal, got up the ice well. Not a particularly effective game for the rugged winger, though, as he was rarely on time to make anything happen. Took a few bad lines in the neutral zone force, and struggled with containment off his wing.

#65 Axel Blomqvist: Terrific game for Blomqvist. His line with invite Ben Walker and Lodge was the Jets' best at gaining the zone. Given two assists, both on entry plays if my memory serves. Used his big body to create space for his team mates as well as to protect the puck. Transition game was solid though his speed is still only average at this tournament, and his line struggled the least against the Calgary cycle in part because of his reach. 

#68 Ryan Olsen: Unremarkable game for Olsen. The team didn't trust him to play centre in the defensive zone, but he didn't manage transition well from the wing. His offensive instincts are simple, but he's not willing or not put in a position to be able to create a lot of traffic. Notably, Olsen spends a lot of time defending. Strong skater, but only in straight lines. 

#72 Scott Kosmachuk: The team asked way too much from this player. He played mostly with Ryan Olsen and AHL player Chase Balisy to my eye, and was given centre duties in the D-zone, while Olsen took faceoffs and played centre in the O-zone. Also played LW with Ehlers on right and Lowry at centre for a shift. Three positions in one game with new teammates and no system. He struggled on the defensive side - officially a team worst -3. The first Flames goal saw Kosmachuk rotate from left wing to centre at the point. Olsen shifted over but Ferland was left alone in front. That said, he did all the things we expect and more. His straight ahead speed is excellent, he attacks from the wing well, he creates space for his team mates, and he engages physically in the offensive zone.

#83 Chase Basily: I had Basily as a tryout, but the paperwork here lists him as signed. He's got terrific speed off the wing and good hands. Wants to get very close before shooting and struggled to do so in this game. Poor defensive timing in this game, with gaps closed too late. He doesn't manage lanes in defensive transition, making him a fairly ineffective defender from the wings. It's early days at his tournament. 

#93 Ben Walker: A tryout who impressed in game one. His puck skills are not noteworthy, but he does little things well - protects the puck well, retrieves off the end boards with a plan - and has good speed for this level. He's a smart hockey player but lacks the high end physical skills we normally get excited about. This year's Blomqvist already - he might earn himself a contract. 

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Kevin is a regular contributor to Jets Nation. His work has been featured on Bleacher Report, The Sporting News, and around the Nations Network. An enthusiastic over-analyst, his background and interests are diverse, but you might notice he's obsessed with hockey. Track him down on twitter @kevinmccart
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#1 One Voline
September 13 2014, 03:39PM
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No Freibergs? Am I being greedy?

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#2 Gary
September 14 2014, 06:24PM
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Good article that provides some insight. I appreciate this so much more than reading the endless two nauseating stories that every lazy sports writer supplies when referring to the Jets. (Kane and Pavelec).

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#3 X
September 15 2014, 08:18AM
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I missed game #1 but I noticed Walker against the Canucks and I feel like I saw the same thing you saw in him in game 1. He looks like he's got a little more in the way of physical gifts than an Eric O'Dell but he fits the mould of the smart player that makes up for his lack of skills with sensible play. The kind of guy that can't anchor an A/NHL line but can be a positive contributor on a good one.

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