Saturday, January 8, 2011

2011 WJC Review: Schenn, Forbort, & Kitsyn

What A Game
I don’t blame you if you don’t care much about the IIHF U-20 World Junior Championships.  Canada is the only country keeping this tournament going.  With that said, you owe it to yourself as a hockey fan to watch the Gold Medal Game between Canada and Russia.  And read this article.  

The Kings had three players at this year’s tournament: Brayden Schenn, Derek Forbort, and Maxim Kitsyn.  Check out Dean Lombardi's comments on the kids.  I’m no scout but here’s my impressions of the three Kings prospects and how they fared at this year's WJC.

BRAYDEN SCHENN (Canada) 5th Overall, 2009
The pressure was on Schenn to lead Canada this year.  One of only four returnees from last year’s squad (and the only returning forward); Canada relied heavily on the 19-year old to carry the offense.  He responded with one of the most dominating performances in WJC history; recording 18 points (8 G, 10 A) in the tournament, tying Canada’s all-time record in a tournament.  He was selected as the tournament’s MVP, Best Forward, and earned a spot on the tournament’s All-Star Team.

No Taylor Hall.  No Tyler Seguin.  No Problem.  Schenn-sational.  Schenn was by far the best player at the tournament.  His two-way game and ability to play in all situations for Canada should have Kings fans extremely excited.  His vision, poise with the puck, and playmaking ability are NHL-ready.   He led the tournament with eight goals; opportunities that were being denied during his eight-game NHL stint earlier this year were finding the back of the net in Buffalo. The majority of his eight goals came from outworking defenders in front of the net for rebound opportunities.  His four-goal performance against Norway was impressive but three of the goals went right thru the goaltender (which you see a lot in a tournament like this).

They’re saying Schenn will miss the next two weeks to recover from a separated shoulder suffered in Canada’s victory over the Swiss. Where Schenn continues to play this season is anyone’s guess. There’s been widespread speculation that the Kings would prefer that Schenn be traded from the last-place Wheat Kings.  Schenn’s hometown Saskatoon Blades currently sit atop the WHL standings; adding Schenn might guarantee them a spot in the Memorial Cup.

You have to appreciate everything about Schenn’s performance.  After being in limbo for nearly a month in Los Angeles, traveling to Manchester for a two-week ‘conditioning stint’, being returned to Brandon, and then responding with a record-setting individual performance while playing through an injury speaks volumes about the character makeup of this kid.  The possibilities of having Kopitar and Schenn down the middle for the next decade should have Kings fans extremely excited.

DEREK FORBORT ( USA) 15th overall, 2010
Forbort had a pretty uneventful performance for the underachieving Americans.   I tuned in to watch Forbort in the USA-Sweden Bronze Medal game and couldn’t find him on-the-ice.  The WJC rules allow for teams to dress 20 skaters (as opposed to the usual 18) which means an additional defenseman and forward on the bench.   Forbort seemed to slip on the depth chart as the tournament progressed.  For a player to dress for six games and not record a single statistic: SOG, +/-, PIM is quite a feat.   I actually had to go back to the archives on TSN to get a glimpse of Forbort.

When the tournament began Forbort was consistently paired with Nick Leddy, an offensive-minded D prospect for the the Chicago Blackhawks.   Forbort was Leddy’s safety net. The more I watched Forbort; the more I thought I was watching Rob Scuderi.

At 6’5, you’d like to see Forbort be a more physical force on the blueline.  Instead, he utilizes his long reach and an active stick to stop attacking forwards.  He skates well for his size although his first stride is always back towards his own net; he never strayed too far from there.  Hence, he was always well-positioned in the defensive zone.  He didn’t show much of an offensive game, often choosing to chip the puck off the boards instead of skating it out of the zone himself or trying to hit a streaking forward with a pass.

When the competition ratcheted up against Canada; Forbort was a bit more exposed.  Somewhat of a gentle giant, he consistently lost battles along the boards against the more physical Canadians.  Dean Lombardi is obviously high on Forbort’s upside; DL gave up one of his coveted second-round picks to move up four spots in last year’s draft to select him.   With that said, I was more impressed in the tournament by the forwards drafted with the Kings original draft picks: Nick Bjugstad (19th overall) and Jason Zucker (59th overall). But as the line always goes: It takes longer for defensemen to develop.  Being the second youngest defender on Team USA’s blueline, Forbort will get an opportunity next year to take on a bigger role for the Americans.

MAXIM KITSYN (Russia) 158th overall, 2010
Drafting Kitsyn in the 6th round (158th overall) at last year’s draft was an absolute no-brainer for the Kings.  Kitsyn’s KHL contract probably scared off a lot NHL GM's but after watching Kitsyn’s impressive WJC performance; there are more than a few GM's kicking themselves for passing on this kid.  Kitsyn gave North American fans a glimpse of his promise back in November by leading Team Russia to victory in the 2010 SUBWAY Super Series. Kitsyn led the series in scoring with six points (4 G, 2 A) in six games.

At this year’s WJC, Kitsyn took more of a supporting role behind his highly touted linemates Vladimir Tarasenko and Evgeny Kuznetsov. The two first-round picks carried the play for Russia but Kitsyn didn't look out of place one bit.  The Russian Trio combined to form the most dominating forward line in the entire tournament. The line combined for 31 points in seven games (13 G, 18 A, +22, 77 SOG). Kitsyn finished the WJC with nine points (5 G, 4 A) in seven games.

At 6’2, Kitsyn skates very well for his size and possesses good offensive instincts.  He has an obvious knack for scoring.  He was consistently buzzing around the net all tournament long banging home rebounds and passes from Kuznetsov and Tarasenko.  His hands and ability to finish around the net reminded me a lot of Alexander Frolov.  It’ll be interesting to see how Kitsyn’s game looks when he’s not skating with two gamebreakers like Tarasenko and Kuznetsov.

The speculation began in early-December that Kitsyn would stay in North America following the WJC and join the Mississauga St. Michael's Majors of the OHL.  It was confirmed on Thursday that he will in fact suit up for the Majors.  Ironically enough, Kitsyn will be playing for Dave Cameron, the head coach of Team Canada’s WJC team.  The Majors are currently the top team in the OHL and hosting this year’s Memorial Cup.  His career path may remind a lot of Kings fans of another Russian prospect Andrei Loktionov who joined the Windsor Spitfires in time to win the 2009 Memorial Cup.

Dimitri Chesnokov confirmed on Hockey Night In Canada Radio that Kitsyn would join the Majors for the remainder of this season but also speculated that a possible agreement had been reached between Kitsyn’s KHL club, Novokuznetsk Metallurg and the Majors that Kitsyn would be returned back to the KHL at the end of the season. Only time will tell but it should be exciting to see what Kitsyn can accomplish over the next four months in the OHL.

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