The Nations Network sent some Jets Nation writers to the Young Stars Tournament in Penticton, BC this year. We’ll have game reviews and practice notes throughout the weekend around the Network and on twitter @nhljetsnation, @kevinmccart, and @brettmartinlive
The Jets prospects had an impressive debut in their first game of the Young Stars tournament last night against the San Jose Sharks’ prospects. In a 5-3 victory, the Jets put on a dynamic offensive performance, including two goals by former Islander Brenden Kichton. Though Scheifele wore the captain’s "C," the team was led by the performance of Lowry, linemates JC Lipon and Nic Petan, and their blueline. Inside we’ll go over some of the tactical aspects of the game and then look how each Jet played.
This was my first live viewing of most of the Jets’ prospects, and I was surprised by what I saw in many cases. Though the talent pool is still not a whole team deep, the top-end of the roster boasted players that would compete for best in the tournament.
The tactics of the Jets squad were mostly simple, with a few wrinkles. As most teams have, the Jets played centre-low in the offensive end, and a triangle in the offensive end to keep F3 high. Ryan Olsen played his x’s and o’s, but Nic Petan was especially effective from the F3 position, pressuing the Sharks breakout into moving vertically and isolating the puck carrier to give his defenceman a chance to step up and end the rush. Scheifele and Lowry often cheated low in this scenario and trusted their speed to allow them to catch the play by the time it hit the Jets blueline, but it meant zone entries were easier against those lines. Kosmachuk tried to cover for Schiefele at times, but strangely stayed on his wing, making the exercise somewhat futile.
Every team except Calgary is using a 1-3 neutral zone trap on the penalty kill, but where most teams stack their two defencemen on the strong side and the second forward ‘loose’ on the weak side, the Jets play with their second forward in the middle. That player is still loose, meaning he makes a read to choose his play, but by putting him in the middle, his play is typically to pressure the puck carrier’s lane and force him into the defenceman on the strong side.
Once the zone was established against the PK, the Jets again went off script. Their forwards were very active at the blue line, challenging for pucks, tying up defenders, and trying to cause turnovers at the top of the zone. Though occassionally successful, it left a huge gap behind the Jets forwards and essentially abandoned the Jets PK defencemen to constant 3 and 4 on 2 situations. Moreover, the Sharks took advantage by outnumbering the Jets defenders in the low slot, even when attacking from the side boards. The gap between the Jets forwards and defencemen meant there was a frequent passing lane. It was the most chaotic part of the Jets game, and had limited success.
Offensively, the Jets benefited from having creative puck movers on the back end. Trouba, Morrissey, Kichton, and Kostalek were all leaned on to support the cycle and rotate the play into space, much the same way Enstrom and Byfuglien do at the NHL level. Nevertheless, most of the Jets offensive attempts came on outside-inside passes into the slot with varying success. As the Jets defence drew defenders out to point and then cycled the puck down the boards, space opened up for the forwards to move the puck laterally in the zone. The Sharks made few real errors in coverage, and excitingly for Jets fans, it was the quickness and execution of the Jets’ prospects that made the play effective.
On to player reviews!
#1 Juho Olkinuora: Threw a great hit on the Sharks’ Nieto along the half boars while covering for Trouba who was beaten flat-footed at the opposing blue line. Showed great confidence, especially with the puck. Strong awareness to cover for some high-event defencemen. Didn’t communicate well, as Morrissey took a rough hit into the end boards on a play where the second Sharks forward was calling "back, back!" to trick Morrissey into an ill-advised reverse. Calm movement, strong positioning.
#3 Jacob Trouba: Shaky in the early going, Trouba made a few flubbed passed and needed Morrissey to move the puck up the ice. He became visibly frustrated with his performance and began to play with more abandon mid-way through the first. After crossing Morrissey to hit a Shark player with his head down, Trouba took off on the PK, eating up the neutral zone in his first of what became many rushes throughout the game. On a bad change by Kichton, Trouba made a sprawling poke check to challenge a dangerous shot, and then drew a penalty on his next shift. He shows plus skating for this level, and exceptional strength and balance. His read of the play is very obviously exceptional, but his intensity led to some poor choices. Fearless at the offensive blue line, Trouba was caught flat footed and fighting for the puck several times in the game. He took a dumb penalty while on the PP when a San Jose penalty killer checked him closely. He simply got frustrated and threw the San Jose player to the ice. His shot is not NHL level. It’s not particularly hard, slow to release, and not well targeted or timed. He hit players in front of him, and sent a few soft ones into the offensive end to no effect. His speed pushed San Jose off the blue line all night, and on one rush selflessly engaged a defender to drop the puck to Lipon in space. He wants to be the centre of the play and frequently called for the puck when it wasn’t on his stick. He may be ready physically for the NHL, but he will need to learn more patience and discipline to play at higher levels. If in the NHL this year, expect a puzzling pattern of great games and awful ones as his hot-headed decision making leads to high-event play. Still, he’s very obviously a high-end prospect.
#36 Josh Morrissey: The adjective ‘smooth’ doesn’t begin to describe Morrissey’s complete control on skates. Faking a pass to a hollaring Trouba, Morrissey spun around a defender in the first to deliver a butter-soft pass to the low-slot. But more than simply finesse, Morrissey used leverage and positioning to close out lanes physically and separate his man from the puck. On a bouncing puck in the first, he used his body to knock it down but then immediately took the body on the San Jose forward who challenged him rather than trying the win the puck with his stick. His lead passes were excellent, he walked the line with confidence and control, and he distributed well on the powerplay. His size was hardly a problem as he used his skating to avoid contact and move the puck before getting trapped in a melee. A very impressive game in every respect.
#53 Jan Kostalek: A very high-event game for Kostalek. Made a poor choice to stand up an attacking San Jose in open ice and got beat to the dumped puck on his first shift. A little later in the period while 4 on 4, Kostalek made a risky pinch, held the line, then threw a huge open-ice hit on the Sharks’ forward trying to leave the zone. You win some, you lose some. Also first period, his cross-box pass on the PP showed impressive vision and execution. His turnover on the Sharks’ second goal made him more hesitant, he struggled to box-out on the PK, but he still showed excellent skating, good strength, and a real sense for the play – even if he took more risks than I might like. Made some great plays at the offensive blue line and got his shots through in every attempt.
#59 Brenden Kichton: I am very curious to know how his game looked from a television. I saw a number of mentions on twitter for him as first star, and no doubt his two goals were earned through really electrifying offensive play. Still, I have 5 separate notes of times he was ahead of the forwards on the breakout and one bad change that almost caused a goal against. Don’t get me wrong – it was a very impressive debut for the new Jet. His skating is elite in this tournament, and his offensive anticipation is plus. He placed both his goals very well, took hits to make outlet plays, and even looked adequate on the penalty kill in spite of a system that left the defence stranded. He’s my 3rd star of the game.
#64 Cody Sol: In a brief moment in which Sol wasn’t in the penalty box, I wrote "What is Cody Sol doing?" I stand by that analysis. He badly misunderstood his positioning and would float to the end boards to try to break up a cycle that was attacking from above the goal line. Despite his size, he didn’t box out well in front – including on the Abeltshauser goal. You may remember a play when Olkinuora made a leg save to his left and then had to scramble to cover the puck near the post. Well, it was because Olkinuora placed the rebound for where Sol should have been, but Sol had wandered away to literally take a penalty. His feet are heavy, his decisions slow, and his puck skills non-existent at this level. We knew why he was in the tournament, but it wasn’t a good sign for the 22 year old.
#73 Ty Stanton: Played 12-14 minutes with limited effect. On one play in the second, closed a gap that led to a Kostalek breakout. Seemed lost at other times.
#38 Nic Petan: Not only my first start of the game, but my pick for best individual performance of the tournament so far. Petan showed singular puck support and awareness without the puck. Moreover, with the puck he controlled the Sharks’ 5-man unit and distributed expertly from the middle. His anticipation appeared elite in this game. He was often two events ahead of the play and one event ahead of the other players. His pucks skills were edge-of-your-seat good, and his awareness for his linemates exceptional. His shot has a quick release with a variety of release points, and his skating is plus or elite in this tournament. I’ve read accounts of his assist in which he is claimed to have tried to tuck the puck fruitlessly into the empty cage, but in fact it was an obvious pass between goalie and post with a curler’s weight to slow at the top of the crease. He rarely made a wrong read in defensive coverage and swung low to support his defencemen on the breakout. Apart from overhandling into the corner on an empty net attempt, Petan was dangerous every time he touched the puck. A truly memorable debut for the 18 year old.
#46 JC Lipon: I wrote on twitter that Lipon had made me a fan. The play came late in the first when he and Petan began a two-man cycle on the left boards (their left). It was very effective until Petan broke loose and Lipon was left without any options. He took a painful hit from behind to push the puck into the corner, and Petan got clobbered by Max Iafrate to collect and win the puck battle. Lipon’s response was to spear Iafrate in the mouth and then fight him on the basis of understanding who Petan is just 17 minutes into the game. Far from just pugilism, Lipon showed good puck skills and above average sense for offence. He was in the second tier of scorers, clearly, but pushed the puck in the right direction, tracked well on the backcheck, and played his role to a T. He even won the faceoff that led to Morrissey’s goal on the powerplay. Too many penalties resulted from a style slightly outside the bounds of a friendly tournament, but by the end of the game, he actually scared some Sharks into playing differently.
#47 Lukas Sutter: Sutter began the game on the top line with Scheifele and Kosmachuk. He received a push all game, but did little with it. On one shift he broke two sticks and then skated slowly to the bench while the play moved around him. He chases, and causes chaos even among his own team – blocking more than one passing lane for his more skilled and thoughtful linemates. He did attack the net well in the second, and had a play in which he fought across the top of the zone after entry to avoid being funneled into a turnover. He was a fixture on the penalty kill, which was the worst feature of the Jets game. Took two bad penalties and lost a fight to Kyle Bigos.
#52 Ivan Telegin: A welcome back game for Telegin that couldn’t have gone better. Telegin’s speed was on display all night as he pushed the pace, controlled the neutral zone, and took he blue line with ease. Not only his straight ahead speed, but his transition skating is elite at this tournament. He changes directions at speed and generates power through turns and pivots. Played in all three disciplines effectively. In one shift with 55 and 72, he took a crossing pass from Kosmachuk and put a one-touch pass into space for Scheifele that suggested he was not struggling with rust at all. Occassionally he tried to do too much himself, and looked to attack first and pass second.
#55 Mark Scheifele: It was a frustrating game for Scheifele, who used his obvious talent, skills, and strength to try to do too much. He took a lot of unnecessary contact in the game, trying to power move through neutral zone traps and double teams, and it seemed like the puck was always bouncing as he tried to force the play. In the third he had a shift where he made a giveaway on a no-look pass to the point right after a giveaway on a no-look pass through his own skates. He’s fast, big, and thinks the game at a high level. His shot is so hard you have to call it ‘heavy’ and his passing is plus at this tournament. Wearing the ‘C,’ coming in with expectations to dominate, and centring a line without much offensive help, Scheifele just looked like he was one step away from being successful 1-on-5. Impressive, but not effective.
#56 Adam Lowry: My choice for the Jets’ second star of the game. Lowry centred Verrier and Blomqvist and still drove the play all night. He used his size to control the middle of the ice, and showed incredible 200-ft range to his game. He hit until the final buzzer but didn’t (to my eye) give up positioning for contact. He attacked vertically well, and though the line struggled to maintain possession, he still generated (or took) a shot attempt in almost every shift. Most impressive to me was his skating, as he ate up the ice with straight away speed as well as turning and pivoting with excellent agility and quickness for his size. His balance was part of his skating package, and in one play in which he was chased outside the offensive blue line fighting for the puck, the Sharks player had leverage to push him over by his chest but simply couldn’t as Lowry pulled his torso over his legs and kicked the puck back into the zone. It might seem silly to say, but Lowry’s core strength is advanced and so his skating stride compact and efficient.
#61 Austen Brassard: The Jets played so well that even Brassard had some positive moments. Very eager for contact, he was a frequent mess in the neutral zone. But his give-and-go 2-on-1 with Kosmachuk was a skilled play and a good read, both to get up ice to support Kosmachuk, and to put the puck back to him. Brassard played one shift with Olsen and Petan in the second when the Sharks started head-hunting Petan. It was clear the coaching staff had a role in mind.
#65 Axel Blomqvist: Really huge – looked a bit ungainly at times with extra movement in his acceleration. He used his reach well at times. A ’95 birthday and a big body, so very early in his development. Only scored 7 goals in 59 WHL games last year and didn’t show much to suggest that was an aberration. Might be a player of interest in 2-3 years.
#68 Ryan Olsen: Olsen opened his game with a hit in the neutral zone, a chip into the offensive zone, and another hit along the end boards. Apart from a willingness to play a physical style, Olsen was also showing good range and his preference for a simple game. He mostly played with Telegin and Brassard, but moved around the line up as the game wore on. Played in all three disciplines as well, with Lowry on the PK and his EV line on the PP. An effective game with few highlights or lowlights.
#72 Scott Kosmachuk: Showed some frustration through the game and was moved down the lineup quickly, despite Sutter being the sore thumb on the top line. His goal was a nice one, but was just one of a handful of nice offensive plays, including the aforementioned pass to Telegin. In his first shift, he shrugged Riley Brace off in the offensive corner, swung around with power and passed to opposite point for a shot with Scheifele in front. Some PK time. Was a bit scrambled in transition, but I’m not clear on why he was demoted. Seemed to be cast as a defensive specialist while clearly more comfortable in the offensive zone. Perhaps a mix up in his role earned him some time with the pine.
#88 Mitchell Theoret: Beneficiary of Petan’s play on the game’s first goal. A 20 year-old former Islander draft pick with 60 points in 60 OHL games last year. Was underwhelming as an over-age player.
#89 Jerome Verrier: Was invisible to me, a passenger on his line.