The word “young” in Young Stars can be a bit of a relative term. The Vancouver Canucks brought an older, more experienced group to this year’s prospect tournament, including several players with NHL experience.
It’s not too surprising, then, that the Canucks beat a younger Calgary Flames team in their first game on Friday. It might be surprising just how much they dominated the game, however.
It started right from puck drop, as the Canucks poured on the pressure from the outset, out-shooting the Flames 18-to-2 in the opening frame. That lopsided possession continued all game, as the Canucks out-shot the Flames 36-to-13 overall.
It was an all-around effort from the Canucks, who got contributions from every line, with seven different players scored goals in the 7-1 win.
Of course, a prospects tournament isn’t really about the results, though they certainly feel good for the players on the ice. In this environment, prospects are looking to prove themselves to a team’s management, whether they’re hoping to build up steam for training camp, make a good impression on their AHL coach, or earn a contract.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at who stood out in Friday’s game with the Young Stars 3 Stars, along with some stray observations.
Third Star: Cole McWard
Cole McWard is one of the players on the Canucks’ Young Stars roster with a pinch of NHL experience and he looked like it on Friday night, quickly making me regret leaving him off my list of ten prospects to watch this weekend.
McWard picked up an assist on the first goal of the game with a point shot that Vilmer Alriksson tipped in front.
He then added a goal of his own in the third period after a clean faceoff win by Max Sasson. McWard got a fortunate deflection off a Flames stick up high, sending the puck top shelf over goaltender Matt Radomsky.
But it wasn’t really the points that stood out for McWard but his ability to transition the puck up ice, which played a big role in the Flames only getting 13 shots all game. He made it look effortless to get the puck through the neutral zone and into the Flames’ end.
McWard might be unlikely to make the Canucks out of camp but he’s got a good shot of being the first call-up option on the right side.
Second Star: Akito Hirose
Akito Hirose isn’t flashy but he’s effective. With the caveat that he’s already 24, so ought to be a top player in a prospect tournament, Hirose calmly and quietly tilted the ice all game long.
Hirose repeatedly ended Flames rushes. It wasn’t highlight-reel stuff, just solid gap control with a good stick, but it stymied the Flames time and time again.
In the offensive zone, Hirose again played a big role in the Canucks keeping the pressure on. He made smart pinches down the boards, held the line effectively, and was deceptive with the puck to draw in opposing forwards to create openings elsewhere on the ice.
Again, there’s nothing flashy there — just the kind of smart, simple plays that help make a team better.
Of course, Hirose also had two assists. He was startlingly effective at quarterbacking the power play, particularly in a third period opportunity where he had the Flames’ penalty killers falling all over themselves. That led to Hirose putting the puck right in Filip Johansson’s wheelhouse for a one-timer bomb to make it 6-1.
That’s the exact type of game you hope for from Hirose, who has an outside shot at making the Canucks as the left-side defenceman on the third pairing.
First Star: Aidan McDonough
Part of a dominant line with Max Sasson and Danila Klimovich, Aidan McDonough was the Canucks’ best player on the ice for long stretches of the game.
It wasn’t just that McDonough got scoring chances but that he looked like an NHL player when he got those chances. He wasn’t content to just take wild shots on net; instead, he looked to change the angle, open up the goaltender, and find holes.
McDonough only got the one goal but it was an elite snipe. Hirose moved the puck to Sasson in the middle of the ice and he relayed the puck to McDonough at the right side. He got the penalty killer to hit the deck, then stepped inside and rifled the puck into the top corner.
That’s an NHL-caliber goal, pure and simple.
Beyond the goal, McDonough did everything right away from the puck. He found open space for his linemates to find him for chances. He closed quickly on the forecheck, allaying some of the concerns about his skating. He battled well along the boards, making the most of his size.
The one caveat to McDonough’s performance is that he turns 24 in just a couple of months, so, like Hirose, he’s one of the oldest players at the Young Stars Classic. Still, he played like an NHL forward, which is exactly what the Canucks want to see from him.
- It’s tough to pick three stars in a 7-1 victory as pretty much everyone played quite well. Sasson and Klimovich were a big part of the Canucks’ dominance on McDonough’s line and Sasson arguably deserved to be one of three stars of the game with his two assists but I wanted to give credit to the Canucks’ defencemen that helped tilt the ice so severely.
- Klimovich also deserves credit for how much of a nightmare he was on the forecheck. His puck pursuit in this game was phenomenal. He might not have ended up on the scoresheet but he was a big part of his line’s dominance.
- I thought Hunter Brzustewicz had a strong game. He got overpowered a couple of times in battles along the boards but his ability to escape pressure in the defensive zone played a big role in the Canucks’ territorial dominance.
- Johansson had the power play goal with the big one-timer but he had his struggles defensively, particularly on the Flames’ lone goal. Johansson was at the end of a long shift and missed a chance to change, resulting in him getting twisted inside out by Jaden Lipinski, then went to the ice instead of pressuring Adam Klapka, leading to a wide-open shot and a lucky bounce of Lucas Ciona into the net to close the lead to 2-1 for the Canucks.
- That’s the only puck that got behind 6’6” goaltender Nikita Tolopilo, who wasn’t tested much but successfully passed each of those tests. His best save came in the second period when it was still a one-goal game, absolutely robbing defenceman Mikael Diotte when he jumped up in the rush and McDonough and McWard got their wires crossed about who was supposed to pick him up (they’ve had exactly one practice, I’ll cut them some slack).
- Marc Gatcomb scored a fantastic goal to make it 3-1, taking advantage of a sliding Flames defenceman to toe-drag into the slot and fire the puck inside the far post. Sawyer Mynio also deserves credit for the long bank pass from his own goal line that sprung the 2-on-1.
- Jacob Maillet was the lone invitee to get on the scoresheet. He did all the right things after a Flames giveaway, charging towards the middle of the ice, then finding a gap in Radomsky under the arm.
- Karel Plasek wrapped up the scoring with the 7-1 goal on a rebound from an Aatu Räty shot. It was a nice play by Räty to step around his man at the point to get a clean shot away, then Plasek stuck with his initial whiff that popped the puck into the air, neatly knocking the puck in before it hit the ice.
- Final point tallies for the Canucks:
Cole McWard 1 goal, 1 assist
Max Sasson 2 assists
Akito Hirose 2 assists
Vilmer Alriksson 1 goal
Aidan McDonough 1 goal
Marc Gatcomb 1 goal
Jacob Maillet 1 goal
Filip Johansson 1 goal
Karel Plasek 1 goal
Sawyer Mynio 1 assist
Aatu Räty 1 assist