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Grading the Montreal Canadiens prospects at the 2019 World Junior Hockey Championship

Seven Habs prospects took part in this year’s tournament. How did they all fare?

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Alexander Romanov, Russia

Grade: A

It was a coming-out party for the Russian defender, showcasing skills that are barely visible in his regular KHL duties with CSKA. He was the puck-moving defender that Russia chose to build their offence from. Romanov displayed his shot, vision, and hockey IQ on more or less every shift he played.

Despite finishing on top of the scoring race among the defenders, it is in the role that he has with CSKA that he will become an NHL player: playing safe, stable, and smart. The offensive upside might have been showcased in this tournament, but it would be wrong to expect him to shine in those areas on a bigger stage.

Romanov was voted onto the tournament All-Star Team, and there is only one grade that the young Russian can receive for that performance.

Jacob Olofsson, Sweden

Grade: D

Eyes On The Prize heard from Swedish coach Tomas Montén that he would use Olofsson in any way he could in the lineup, and that is what happened with the Swedish forward. He played everywhere but in goal and as a centre (his natural position) on a Swedish team that underperformed. He normally played as a winger, but also played as a defenceman in the third period against Kazakhstan.

Olofsson was held to no points and a plus-one rating. His biggest achievement was that he poked the puck loose for the overtime-winner against Team USA in the group stage. Olofsson visibly tried his best, but was used in roles that didn’t appear to fit his skill set, and that’s why he receives this grade.

Jesse Ylönen, Finland

Grade: B+

The Finnish forward started the tournament on the third line and the second power-play unit, but finished on the top line and the first man-advantage group. He increased his presence and confidence all through the tournament to the level where he was essential to the Championship-winning Finnish team. He scored the opening goal against Switzerland in the semifinal, and opened the scoring on a monster shot against the USA in the final.

In his first games, albeit on a struggling Finnish team, he didn’t get the chance to show his strengths, and personally I think he needs to go heavier toward the net in many situations as well as using his good shot more often. Still, his tournament was a success, and while I can’t grade him with an A, he was really close to breaking that barrier.

Ylönen told EOTP that his confidence was building already in November. It will be interesting to see where this confidence boost takes him in Liiga.

Ryan Poehling, USA

Grade: A

Poehling was named to the All-Star Team and voted the tournament MVP in a silver-medal performance that showed his skill to a broader audience. He scored a massive hat trick against Sweden in the round robin, and presented himself as a clutch player to the world of hockey.

The five goals he scored in this tournament were a change of pace from the three he had with St. Cloud State University in this first half of the season. With the puck on his stick, and his team in need of goals, Poehling showed he can become offensively dominant and a goal-scorer. This is what was asked of him at the tournament, and for the most part, the prospect fulfilled the expectations; standing out as a leader for Team USA for the entire duration of the event. He remained steadfast in that role even when the points weren’t coming as easily in the medal round.

Nick Suzuki, Canada

Grade: B+

It’s arguable that Nick Suzuki created just as much offence as Poehling in this tournament. The many chances orchestrated by the prospect simply weren’t converted very often by his linemates. Suzuki’s smarts and playmaking skills were on display in every game he played, and he was clearly one of Team Canada’s best forwards. Due to a lack of chemistry, and sometimes usage, the results weren’t what many expected.

Suzuki’s training camp with the Habs, and now this tournament, showed a tendency in his play: when surrounded by talent, it feels like the forward (who was voted the most sportsmanlike player in the OHL last year) tends to defer to others to put the puck in the net. He has a great shot and individual skill, and the main takeaway from the event is that he will need to learn to be both a driver and a finisher like he is in Owen Sound as the competition around him rises.

Josh Brook, Canada

Grade: B

Brook was not set up to have a great tournament. He received no power-play time and was slotted on his off-side, which makes just about every aspect of the game harder, even if he was not willing to admit it himself. He still managed to show that he can take a lesser role on a team and have relative success. He moved the puck well for the majority of the event, and was a solid enough defensive presence despite the circumstances. There was also the occasional glimpse of his offensive skills and awareness, even if it didn’t result in his name on the scoresheet very often.

Overall, he probably deserved to be relied upon more, and given a better chance to shine. Unfortunately, the story went otherwise.

Cayden Primeau, USA

Grade: A-

Primeau stole the goaltending job from Kyle Keyser and finished the tournament with a .936 save percentage. The goalkeeper carried his team in the final, bowing out on a Kaapo Kakko rebound in the dying minutes of the Gold Medal Game.

Just the fact that Primeau managed to beat his competition and take the starter’s job is a testament to the trust coaches have in him. He is big, he moves well, and is usually a calm presence in the net, showing he can make tough saves at key moments to keep his team in the game.

He didn’t win it all, but it was another performance that will cement him as a top prospect not only in the Habs’ system, but also in the NHL.