Today should be the eve of the 2022 World Junior Championship (WJC) gold-medal match, but...well...you’ve all heard what happened. After an unorganized, unprepared, and unfair (to players and staff) start to the WJC, the tournament was canceled after just two games played for the few Nashville prospects in attendance.
I don’t have enough to do a full WJC recap, so I’m using the December PPR to do so alongside regular prospect updates.
1. Another WJC, another year of disappointment for Yaroslav Askarov. But while the league-wide perception may be firmly against him at this moment, I’ll make a case in his favor. As a whole, Askarov’s three WJC performances have left much to be desired, but we don’t know how the rest of the 2022 tournament would’ve gone for him. In Russia’s first game against a scary Swedish team, Askarov allowed three goals on 16 shots and was pulled after the second period. For game two, head coach Sergei Zubov benched Askarov, specifically citing the third goal he allowed and a need for his team to regroup.
Let’s review each goal. Sweden struck first on the power play via an Oskar Olausson wrist shot. I don’t fault Askarov much here; He was screened, and Olausson has a blistering release. The second goal he allowed came off a shorthanded breakaway from Simon Edvinsson; Askarov’s wide stance opens up his five-hole, and he can’t get enough of the puck with his paddle. On goal three, shown above, Askarov is screened even worse, and there is zero effort by the Russian defense to clear the net. Would you like to see a quicker reaction time on his glove side? Absolutely, but that’s long been a work in progress.
I take issue most with the second goal, and I think Zubov’s lineup decisions (and comments) failed to reflect his decision to leave Russia’s best defenders at home (all because they play in North America).
If we’re being honest, would it be nice to see your star prospect turn in a performance like Jesper Wallstedt’s 48-save shutout against Slovakia? Certainly. But the WJC has never (and will never) been a contest that anyone can draw serious developmental conclusions from. What you should be concerned about are his starts. Obviously, we don’t know how SKA will use Askarov the rest of the season (he should be SKA-Neva’s starter in the VHL), but he needs serious minutes. He started just 17 games across the KHL, VHL, and MHL last season and has ten under his belt in 2021-22. Furthermore, during his starts in the VHL, Askarov has not been tested heavily, facing an average of 25 shots per night.
There are clear deficiencies in his technical skills, and they’re all coachable in some way or another; Former NHL goalie Mike McKenna has more on that here. If Nashville isn’t satisfied with how he’s being developed in St. Petersburg, David Poile could be aggressive in luring him to North America this summer after his current contract expires.
2. Meanwhile, Askarov’s SKA teammate Fyodor Svechkov had a much less volatile WJC performance. The 2021 first-round pick swapped between center and wing on a line with Nikita Chibrikov (WPG) and Kirill Tankov (PIT) and collected one goal in two games for Russia.
Fyodor Svechkov (#Preds) with a fortunate bounce off of a Swede's boot to score Russia's first goal of the tourney. His club teammates, Kirill Tankov (#LetsGoPens) and Nikita Chibrikov (#GoJetsGo) with the helpers.— EP Rinkside (@EPRinkside) December 26, 2021
Not known for his goalscoring prowess, I thought Svechkov’s creativity and patience with the puck were displayed well at the WJC. In just under 32 minutes of even-strength ice time, he finished with a 68.6% Corsi, 60.0% zone exit success rate, 62.5% zone entry success rate (which goes up to 71.4% when only considering controlled entries), three individual shot attempts, and 17.63 primary shot attempt assists per 60.
Whether he’s executing as a playmaker deep in the offensive zone or circling back through the neutral zone to draw defenders out of position and find a better pass or zone entry, Svechkov has intelligence to burn all over the ice. For the rest of the season, Svechkov’s ice time will be something to monitor. He was relegated to the MHL just before the WJC but should be playing with SKA-Neva in the VHL, where he has 11 points in 15 games, the rest of the way.
3. HC Davos forward Simon Knak was supposed to captain the Swiss team at the 2022 WJC but tested positive for COVID-19 when entering Canada, sending the rest of the Swiss team into isolation before the tournament. A second positive test for Knak forced him out of the tournament and into a 10-day quarantine.
Knak was able to return home this past weekend, but Davos is dealing with a COVID outbreak itself and will not return to play until January 14. The sixth-round pick has matched his exact stat line from last season with three goals and eight points in 25 games so far.
4. Rounding out Nashville’s group at the WJC was Swedish defender Anton Olsson. The Malmö Redhawks’ product was pointless in two games, but that’s unsurprising given he’s not known for his offensive output. Partnering with Swedish captain Emil Andrae, had his lows (getting worked by 17-year old phenom Matvei Michkov), but I found his performance to be largely sound and, at times, extremely impressive.
Though he was a negative possession player at even strength (47.6% Corsi), Olsson did allow just two controlled zone entries on nine attempts and allowed just one high-danger shot-on-goal against. More importantly, Olsson was a critical piece of a Swedish penalty kill that denied Slovakia during six power-play opportunities, including a five-minute major and a 6-on-3 advantage.
5. I was recently asked which two defense prospects will be the next to push for full-time roster spots in Nashville after this season. The first obvious answer is Jeremy Davies (who is all but a lock to make the parent club in 2022-23), but I followed that up with 2020 fourth-round pick Adam Wilsby.
This is some textbook rush defense from Adam Wilsby (#2): Matches the forward's crossover steps, challenges with his stick and maintains a tight gap, forces the puck-carrier wide, and leverages his body to force a turnover and take his man out of the play.#Preds pic.twitter.com/QmAUypQvBL— OTF: Preds Prospects (@OnTheFutureOTF) December 21, 2021
Wilsby and Oskar Nilsson have been stapled together on Skellefteå’s second pair, and the former is fourth among team defenders in points (9) and second in shots (36). In five games tracked, he’s recorded a 54.2% Corsi, 9.31 individual shot attempts per 60 minutes, a 64.0% zone exit success rate, and a 39.4% zone entries against rate. Not notated on the stat sheet, however, are the strides Wilsby has taken on defense; His improved skating mechanics have done wonders for closing gaps and defending against the rush brilliantly.
Something to monitor: Wilsby needs to sign his entry-level contract by this summer or he becomes a free agent.
6. Nashville’s sixth-round pick in 2016, Konstantin Volkov, got off to a rough start after moving to the Finnish Liiga this season. Sitting in the penultimate place in the standings, Volkov’s Ässät have struggled massively and have a -21 goal differential this season.
In his first two starts, Volkov gave up five goals on 14 shots and was pulled after 20 minutes and three minutes, respectively. In his first 11 appearances, he won just two games. But in December, Volkov won four of seven, including his last four starts in which he’s averaged a 0.946 save percentage; He’s now up to 1.325 goals-saved above average this season.
7. Nashville’s 2021 fourth-round pick, Jack Matier, has been leading the Ottawa 67’s blueline in his second full OHL season. The Sault Ste. Marie native, who didn’t play last year due to COVID-19, has five goals and 17 points in 31 games, which leads the team’s defenders, but just three of those points are primary ones scored at even strength.
The Predators signed Matier to a three-year entry-level contract back in October.
8. Up in Connecticut, forward Jachym Kondelik is quietly on pace for his best collegiate season. The 6’6” center recorded a career-high 26 points as a freshman and a career-high eight goals as a sophomore. At his current scoring rate, he’d finish his senior year with nine goals and 31 points.
In transition, Kondelik is still relying heavily on dumping the puck in (61.5% of attempts through four games tracked), but his neutral zone and forechecking speed and smarts have improved, allowing the Czech forward a 60.0% zone exit success rate and a 53.9% zone entry success rate at even strength.
9. While his Russian compatriots were at WJC, tournament-veteran Semyon Chistyakov was suiting up for the national team at the Channel One Cup amidst his second season with defending KHL champion, Avangard Omsk.
The hard-hitting defender has skated mostly as Omsk’s extra defender this year, playing in 31 games and recording two assists. While his responsibilities haven’t grown immensely, his average ice time has jumped up from 8:37 per game to 11:12.
What I’m reading:
- Inside the Red Deer bubble at the world juniors: A busy hotel restaurant, open shops and a wedding — The Athletic [$]
- Yaroslav Askarov is going to be fine — On The Forecheck
- McKenna and Quadrelli: Diagnosing the problem with Yaroslav Askarov — Daily Faceoff
- After Years of Waiting, Scott Ford’s NHL Dream Finally Comes True — Forbes
- Michael McCarron et la vie d’après — La Presse