January 8, 2003
Postcard: A scout's take on the World Juniors

An NHL scout, on the condition of anonymity, agreed to share with Inside College Hockey his thoughts on the performance of the collegians that represented the U.S. at the recent World Junior Championship. Here’s what he told us, with a focus on the players eligible for the 2003 NHL Entry Draft:

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U.S. National Junior Team roster

On North Dakota’s Zach Parise: He works so hard, just relentless on the puck. I was so impressed because he never gave up, just worked and worked and worked. He’s obviously a smart player, he’s got good hands and all those other things, but his work ethic is tremendous. Had they had everybody on the team work as hard as he did, they probably would have been a little more successful.

On Ohio State’s Ryan Kesler: Kesler is a big guy, skates well. He competed hard, too. Battled in the corners, went to the net with the puck. Smart player, and a good skater. Had a little more size than a lot of the American players, and he can really skate. He’s got a nice long stride and good speed. Really smart. I watched him as far as playing the systems they were playing or situations that would arise during the game, and he adapted to them. Skill level is pretty good, he had his points, but it was more his speed and his hockey sense and his effort that impressed me. Probably similar to Parise, but in a different package – one’s big and one’s small. I wouldn’t say they’re overly, highly skilled players as compared to, say, some of the Russians I saw, but they do have skill.

On the U.S. goaltending: (Jim) Howard seemed to struggle a bit in goal. He’s played very well this year at Maine, so that was a surprise. He must have lost his confidence in the Russian game. He played a little bit against Belarus, then they started him in the last game but they pulled him at the end of the first period, down 2-0. Not that it was his fault, I just think the coach was trying to change the momentum or do something differently. He just looked uncomfortable, like he didn’t have his confidence.

(Providence’s Bob) Goepfert played really well. I thought he had a very good game against Canada in the semifinals. Sometimes a guy like Howard, who’s draft-eligible, feels a little more pressure to perform. He thinks maybe his stock in the draft will go up or down depending on how he plays. Really, he shouldn’t think that way, but I think it’s hard not to. The other guy is already drafted, so he’s probably a little more carefree, a little looser, probably doesn’t press as much and just goes in and has fun. He played very well.

On the U.S. defense: (Colorado College’s Mark) Stuart, on defense, was pretty good. I thought maybe as the tournament progressed, as they got to better teams, he might have struggled a little bit more with the speed of the game. It’s not easy playing the Canadians – they can all skate, they all have great strength – it’s not like playing your college or your junior teams where maybe one guy on the other team is as good as the guys you are playing against here. But Stuart played well on the whole.

I thought (Ryan) Suter (headed to Wisconsin next year) was pretty good, too, and he’s a 17-year-old playing in what’s probably a 19-year-old’s tournament. The more successful players are usually 19 years old. I thought Suter played fine. He’s probably more dynamic in his regular games with the Under-18 Team – he probably carries the puck more – but I thought the better the game the better he played. He will step into college next year and play very, very well.

(North Dakota’s Matt) Greene was very physical. That must be why they took him, because most of the defensemen weren’t too big, but he and Stuart probably were the biggest and the strongest. They really battled hard in the corners and in front of the net.

On some disappointments: (Minnesota’s Gino) Guyer, (Boston College’s Ryan) Shannon and (Colorado College’s Brett) Sterling really seemed to struggle with the speed and the pace and the strength of the players they were playing against. Those three guys were probably the bigger disappointments for me. Guyer, Shannon and Sterling were just not quite at that level – not yet anyway – and it was reflected in how they were used.

On the tournament’s impact: Do you want to see them play a little bit better in the World Junior? Sure you do. But you also have to understand what’s going on. Sometimes players get put in a role where they’re asked to be a checker and play more of a defensive role. If the guy doesn’t score a bunch of points, don’t get excited about it – they didn’t want him to do that. They didn’t play him on the power play, but they let him kill all the penalties, that sort of thing. It’s another piece of the puzzle. It is a really good tournament, there’s lots of good competition, so I think you’d have problems if you thought they played poorly. If you think, I’ve seen him play better, or he could have played better, that’s a lot different from saying, well, the guy had trouble skating at this level or maybe he shouldn’t have been here.

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