So far in Team Canada's pre-competition games, I have been very impressed with the play of likely first overall draft pick, Taylor Hall.
The rule of thumb is that a draft eligible player cannot hurt himself with a poor performance at the World Junior Championship because it is a tournament dominated by older players and NHL scouts don't expect a young guy to step up and immediately be dominant. However, a player can really help his draft stock if he is able to step up and dominate, and in Game 1 against Sweden, Hall scored a highlight reel goal. He followed that up with another strong effort against the Finns. Once, he found the dead area on the ice, a la Brett Hull, and scored from such a bad angle that most players would have had a tough time getting the puck on net.
Taylor Hall isn't like most players. He is a tremendous natural goal scorer and he is also a fantastic skater with great hands. He possesses unbelievable tenacity and is willing to go to the “dirty” areas to score goals.
He sometimes gets a little too confident with the puck and tries to do too much, and does not share the puck as well as he should with his line mates, but the fact that he is playing with his Windsor Spitfire teammates really helps. If they see that he is not distributing the puck well enough, they will feel comfortable telling him to move the puck around to best take advantage of his speed.
Even though Hall is ranked first overall, Tyler Seguin, who didn't make this team, is still in the running for the top spot next summer's draft. They play two different positions and they are two different styles of player. It could well be a positional pick come the draft.
A Year Older, A Year Better
Alex Pietrangelo's improved play so far has a lot to do with the natural maturation process of a player. He is physically more mature, has developed a thicker skin and is a little tougher mentally in all aspects of the game this year.
I feel that Pietrangelo was Canada's best player in the game against Sweden and I believe that the Canadian coaching staff felt much the same way. He was able to display all of his skills. He showed great control of his body as he kept a puck in the offensive zone, took advantage of screens in front to unload his big shot and, as Pierre McGuire pointed out, displayed the ability to make a great outlet pass.
Pietrangelo has it all. He has size, he has range and he has skating ability. He can make a solid pass, he has a great shot from the point and he's getting better defensively all the time in five-on-five situations. Right now he and Jared Cowen are the best defensive pairing for Canada five-on-five. They are both big guys who skate well and both move the puck extremely well.
The Good with the Bad
Two games in to the pre-tournament action there is plenty of good news, but also some bad.
First the good. Team Canada's best offensive players are stepping up for them in a big way. Pietrangelo looks solid both on offense and defence for Canada. Hall has two goals in two games and looks dynamic, and Jordan Eberle and Brandon McMillan combined to score a pretty goal to put it away for Canada against the Finns.
The bad news is the amount of penalties that Canada is taking so far. They went to the penalty box early and often against Finland. Head coach Willie Desjardins can't be pleased with his team's lack of discipline. The Finns had nine powerplays in this game, and that's at least five too many in Willie's world.