Last night I attended the first game of the 2017 Rookie Tournament between the Leafs and Habs, which the Habs won 5-2. I had some thoughts about the way the game shuffled out and the players I saw that I wanted to share.
DISCLAIMER: This was the first "game action" (that isn't a scrimmage) that many of these players might have seen since their last seasons ended. There was rust. Also the players almost have zero familiarity with each other, so sometimes it's not about which team is better, but which team can find chemistry the fastest. Also have to consider that for some of these European based players, this may have been the first time they're playing on a smaller rink, so that plays into things as well.
That being said; The Habs were the clearly better team, at least for the majority of the game. The Leafs looked tentative, and the Habs opened the game by hitting anything that moved, while the Leafs didn't really seem to respond with as much enthusiasm. The Leafs seemed like they were having problems connecting with passes early, and they had some pretty bad defensive break downs. Once again; game 1 of a nothing tournament. It's only a game, no reason to panic. There were some positives to be had.
Now some individual player thoughts.
Over the years watching junior hockey I always found myself going home not really knowing what to say about the goalies and the defenders. I always watch the forwards to see their positioning in certain situations in all zones, and watch how they handle different plays developing. So over the years I've found myself paying more attention to the defenders and the goalies than the forwards. So the goalies and the defenders will have more in depth thoughts than the forwards (sorry...)
Kasimir Kaskisuo: Made some big saves early and responded well to action. When he departed the game it was 1-0 for the Habs, but he held the Leafs in it. Couldn't see how cleanly he was beaten on the only goal, but the player essentially split the defence and beat him from the hashmarks off a broken play. Not sure I'd blame him.
Ian Scott: The Leafs most recent goalie draft selection (4th round, 110th overall this summer), came in down 1-0 half way through the second. Made a fantastic sprawling cross crease save early. Seemed to struggle later on, as he did wind up surrendering 4 goals in his 30 or so minutes. Decent sized goalie.
Eemeli Rasanen: Drafted this past summer in the second round (59th overall), started the game partnered with Nielsen. Seems to have some work to do over the next few years. Barb Underhill and the development staff have their work cut out for them to get his skating improved. I didn't think he was the worst skater for the Leafs, but he's awkward. Have you ever seen Lord of the Rings the Two Towers? Remember Treebeard? Dude looks like someone gave Treebeard skates. Big dude who can absorb a hit and used his body (his skating isn't good enough for him to line a guy up cleanly, but if that day ever comes... oooh boy). I did notice his wing span at least twice. Was able to disrupt a couple rushes by getting his stick on the puck. He got hurt early blocking a shot. Hard to see from my angle but it appeared to take him on the inside part of the knee. He left in the first and I didn't see him return.
Keaton Middleton: Leafs 4th round pick (101st overall) in 2016. Big boy who tried to play physical. Was partnered with Liljegren. I thought he was probably had the worst skating ability of the Leafs players, his first step didn't appear as a step as much as it looked like he was trying to get his footing. Him and Liljegren had a rough go of things in this game, so I won't pile on. I liked his physicality (he tossed the body some, and fought a Hab player but left the game after the fight and didn't return). Where Rasanen seemed to use his wing span, I didn't notice Middleton using his reach as much. If he can play tomorrow I'm sure he'll be motivated to play.
Andrew Smart: Free agent invite. Played decently for a defender (my rule of thumb is that if I don't notice you on defence, you're probably not messing up that huge). He was wearing #81 so he did stand out a few times lol. I miss ya Phil...
Timothy Liljegren: We all know where the Leafs got him in the draft lol. He had a rough outing. Could see the tools but he seemed tentative and afraid to make the wrong move (which led to some wrong decisions as it was). Won't pile on him more than that. He got some shots through traffic. Showed his ability to pass on the break out (had a couple tape to tape passes that could've been heard in the concourse with the sound it made hitting the receiving players stick), and he showed some of his skating ability. Just a rough game for him overall though. Him and Middleton were exposed for a few goals. I expect him to be better on Sunday.
Andrew Nielsen: I thought the Leafs best defender, which isn't surprising considering how well he did in the AHL last year. Not much to say about him, except that when he stood out it was normally for good reasons.
As previously mentioned, the forwards aren't as in depth, but here are the things that stood out to me:
- Grundstrom is going to be a favourite of many. Dude skates well, mixes it up, and was all over the puck. He was a positive.
- Bracco has all the tools to have a very good AHL season this year. His vision, passing, shooting, and stick handling ability all showed through. His speed isn't the greatest, but he's slippery. The Habs targeted him early, and while they got little pieces of him, they weren't able to square him up fully.
- I had to go home and hockeydb Jean Dupuy. When I saw he has played the last two seasons in the AHL for Rochester it all made sense. He stood out for good reasons. Made smart little plays, went to the right areas and the puck seemed to follow him.
- Vladimir Bobylev surprised me the most of any player I saw last night. I can't even articulate what it was about his game I liked, but he seemed to be always be in the right spot, doing the right thing. Seemed to have the skating ability and speed as well. Should make for a good Marlie.
- Dzierkals played well. Like his intensity. He scored a quick goal off a broken play. Learned his name rhymes with "circles"... who knew?
-Mason Marchment laid out Jeremiah Addison late in the first period with an open ice hit at the Habs blue line. Played hard, and got the crowd into it.
Other than that, I can't really think of anything else!
Anyone else go? Have thoughts? If you have any questions please feel free to provide them below.