When you’re the consensus ‘best player in the tournament’ and coming home without a medal, it can be difficult to find a silver lining. For Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, the scoring title (pending, but likely) will be of little consolation; what do we make of his performance? Yakupov’s?
Lets look at the scoring totals for the Oilers five teenagers at the tournament:
- Ryan Nugent-Hopkins 6, 4-11-15 +6. 4th place finish aside, I think these boxcars are the kind of totals we’d expect from the best player in the tournament. His 2.5 points per game included a goal in a 2-1 win over USA on December 30; 3 assists in a 4-1 win over Russia December 31; no points in a 5-1 loss to USA on January 3; and a goal and three assists in the loss to the Russians this morning. I don’t think there’s a lot of fault to be found there, but this is Canada and there will be detractors and I’m sure the Nuge will have to live with not medaling for a long time. However, I don’t see a lot to be critical of here. I’ll nick him for the performance in the loss to the American January 3, but watching that game there was clearly something bizarre going on with the icetime. GRADE: A.
- Nail Yakupov 7, 3-5-8 +2. A major story in the Bronze medal game, Yakupov spent much of his WJ’s playing goat to the various Canadian media in attendance. Something about captains always being available after a game for questioning (as I understand it, this is not commonplace in Russia or the WJ’s). It was kind of ridiculous, but was part of this year’s tournament all the same. On the ice, it looked for the most part as though he was delivering max effort with min results, and ‘trying too hard’ would be the buzz phrase for the Russian during the tournament. Had a big game today, I think the Russian coach is a strange fellow. GRADE: B
- Tobias Rieder 6, 3-1-4 -8. He was the best player on the ice for the Germans in every game I saw, and would have had a more successful time of it with better support. I think Rieder may end up being an actual piece to the Oilers puzzle, as his forechecking, skating and skill could be ground into an effective 2-way player to go along with all the gems at forward. Grade: B
- Daniil Zharkov 7, 1-0-1 -1. Played much more than we were led to believe, looked good to me but I think we can identify "hands" as being an issue. Lots of chances, plenty of try and more of a physical presence than I thought he’d display. Grade: C.
- David Musil 6, 0-0-0 +1 The Czechs had some good moments but the people I talked to (including Corey Pronman) felt Musil was not as effective on the big ice as he had been in Calgary a year ago. The deal with Musil is mobility, and it makes sense he’d have more success in tighter quarters. Grade: C.
A few comments about Team Canada and Team Russia. For years now Canada has been taking a bunch of "role" players and then worrying over secondary scoring. I understand a roster needs penalty killers and coverage men, but this edition–and many in the past–have left some real artists behind and I do believe it makes a difference. I honestly believe Team Canada’s roster choices are open to question–every year, not just this one. A change in philosophy may lead to greater success.
Team Russia’s coach made the Russian road more difficult. His goalie rotation, the lack of anything resembling line matching and roster choice in critical points in the game suggests that Russia is lagging behind other nations in a very critical area. It will never happen, but I’d be interested in seeing what a modern coach does with the roster against all of the other strategic coaches at this event.
WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?
Second guessing hockey decisions is the national pastime. I’m going to suggest the Canadian side add some skill and lose some role players–there’s no reason to have so many 6’s, 7’s and 9’s when jacks and kings are readily available.