Denton Mateychuk really stood out on defense for me. He only had one assist, which is surprising if you watched him play. I thought he was the best player on the ice in the first game, his poise with the puck really showed through. He’s a one man breakout, able to turn and pivot, then accelerate past forechecking forwards before making a smart pass ahead. You can see why the team held onto that #12 pick rather than trading it for immediate help. I would be willing to bet they had Mateychuk MUCH higher on their list, and he is the one player they would have held onto that pick for. This guy is going to be special, just give him a couple of years to develop. Grade: A
David Jiricek was solid, but I think there’s a lot to work on here. You can see his potential as an all-around defenseman; he can skate well for a big guy, has the big shot, and is pretty good defensively. He just needs a little time to adjust to the North American game. I would also like to see him play meaner in front of the net – he has the size to do so, he just needs to work on winning body position. Consistency is the #1 trait I look for in young defensemen, and that’s another thing David needs to improve upon. He was good enough, but he didn’t dominate like many expected him to. He scored a goal in the final game and it showcases his poise and that big shot … let’s see him get open and use it more. Grade: B-
Stanislav Svozil skated in the tournament for the second straight year, and again showed that he belonged. He has surprisingly good hands for a defenseman and made a really nice play to set up Dumais for the second goal of the tournament. He’s still learning to be a defenseman, making the occasional glaring mistake – but he’s quick to make up for it with a big hit or offensive play. I like his game, he just needs to clean it up a little bit (see: consistency). Grade: B
In all I thought the team performed about as expected. They looked exhausted in the second game and simply got out-matched by a talented Detroit Red Wings squad with hot goaltending. Otherwise, the right players showed up and produced; and the NHL potential on this squad is very exciting.
That said, outside of Johnson and Marchenko, I don’t see any of these players competing for major NHL time this year – aside from maybe defenseman Marcus Bjork, but even that would be as a call-up later in the year. That may be for the better anyway, the potential is huge with guys like Mateychuk and Jiricek, but they need to develop before being thrown into prime NHL roles. If they can reach their full potential, in a few years’ time I think this tandem could be a top pairing together in the NHL. Things are really looking up for the Blue Jackets.