Spencer Stastney: World Junior Championship Recap
Stastney had a great opportunity to showcase his game alongside K’Andre Miller
While the Nashville Predators were taking part in Winter Classic festivities and, eventually, firing Peter Laviolette and Kevin McCarthy, prospect Spencer Stastney was skating at the 2020 World Junior Championship for Team USA.
Nashville’s fifth-round pick at the 2018 NHL Entry Draft was selected as one of seven defenders to skate for the U.S. at the world’s best prospect tournament. It was Stastney’s first appearance at the Under-20 WJC, and he was just barely eligible, turning 20 just last week.
After a silver-medal finish last year, the U.S. went overseas looking to finish one pedestal higher but disappointed throughout the tournament and bowed out after a quarterfinal loss to Finland. Below I’ll take a look at Stastney’s season to date and break down his performance in the Czech Republic.
South Bend Stats
Stastney has spent the 2019-20 season skating as a sophomore for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. Through 20 games, he is third among team defenders with eight points (2 goals, 6 assists), playing nightly on Notre Dame’s second pair. He’s recorded a primary point on 20% of the even-strength goals he’s been on ice for this season.
|Team USA (U20)||5||0||0||0||1||0.00%||0.00||0.00||0.00%||1.55||0.78||77.25|
I’ve been able to manually track just two of Stastney’s collegiate games this season so far, but I’ve provided that data below alongside the data I tracked from his five appearances at the World Junior Championship.
|Team||GT||Corsi %||CF/60||CA/60||Cont. Exit %||Entry Against %||HDSA/60||iCF/60||Take- aways||Give- aways|
|Team USA (U20)||5||49.52%||40.39||41.17||42.42%||46.15%||6.21||3.88||8||4|
[Note: All statistics tracked are at even-strength except for goals, points, shots, shooting percentage and goals per 60 minutes. As a clarification of terms, iP1P is the rate of on-ice even-strength goals a player recorded a primary point on; HDSA/60 is high-danger shots against per 60 minutes; iCF/60 is individual Corsi attempts per 60 minutes.]
The U.S. kept their defensive pairings rather consistent throughout the tournament. From pre-competition practices onward, Stastney was paired with Rangers 2018 first-round pick K’Andre Miller. There was no regular first pair as that distinction rotated most often between Miller-Stastney and Mattias Samuelsson-Jordan Harris.
While the Nashville prospect did have the benefit of exposure playing alongside a highly-touted prospect like Miller, his ice time did falter at moments so the team could include seventh defender Cam York. York often took over for Stastney on the power play and saw increased ice time against Russia, when Stastney skated just 12:13, and against the Czech Republic, where Stastney played 14:22 in a game with over 21 total power play minutes.
|Game||TOI||Corsi %||CF/60||CA/60||Cont. Exit %||Entry Against %||HDSA/60||iCF/60||Take- aways||Give- aways|
Stastney was negligible offensively, recording just one shot on net and no points the entire tournament, so I’ll be focusing on the data I tracked for each game seen above.
Stastney struggled against Canada to open the tournament, but, after a solid first period, so did the entire U.S. squad. He generated his most individual Corsi For attempts per game in the tournament (2), but the Canadians burned the U.S. on special teams. Stastney was featured prominently on the penalty kill that was summoned five times in the game. Unfortunately that unit allowed three power play goals, including one while Stastney was on the ice and one while he was serving one of his two penalties.
Against Germany, the U.S. shone in one of their best efforts of the competition. Stastney impressed, too, registering his highest Corsi rating of the tournament (56.0%), exiting the zone with possession much more than against Canada and recording two individual Corsi For attempts, too. The three high-danger shots he allowed all came on one dominant shift by the Germans.
It was the Russia game where Stastney’s tournament performance hit its lowest point. Committing two more penalties sunk his ice time to just over 12 minutes, he posted an abysmal 30.0% Corsi rating, and he was allowing opponents to enter the zone with puck possession 57.14% of the time—all while contributing to a 60-minute rate of just 14.84 Corsi For.
The blame for some of these performances doesn’t sit solely on Stastney’s shoulders. It was clear in some shifts against Canada and Russia in particular that he and K’Andre Miller were not on the same page. Stastney’s assignment among the two was clear: if Miller had an avenue to break out the puck then he should be the default option to do so. But, while Stastney ultimately played an objectively okay tournament, some egregious turnovers by Miller and their positional response as a pair to overwhelming shifts by their opponents clouded his performance.
In his final two games, Stastney was quiet and a non-liability. In fact, against Finland in the quarterfinals, Stastney was excellent, posting a 53.57% Corsi share and exiting the defensive zone with possession 57.14% of the time. Against the Czech Republic, Stastney allowed opponents a controlled entry just 14.29% of the time.
Ultimately, each of Team USA’s pairs struggled defensively throughout the tournament. Despite his invisibility on the score sheet, I broke down some good and bad instances of Stastney’s play below (Stastney wore #7 for the U.S.).
Stastney looked solid in the first period of the U.S.’s outing against Canada. In the clip above, I like his quick tap pass to exit the zone, and he ultimately registers one of his few individual Corsi attempts of the tournament with a good, low shot towards the goal.
The Nashville prospect had a few other opportunities for points during the tournament with a handful of shot assists like the one above. But in most instances when he would receive the puck on the line, Stastney would either dump it deep or offload it to Miller.
Stastney accrued a handful of penalties throughout the tournament but was also a mainstay on Team USA’s penalty-killing unit. Above, I like the gap he maintains against Alexis Lafreniere (one of the tournament’s best players) and how he refuses to leave his feet while closing off rotating passing lanes.
I mentioned that Stastney accrued a handful of penalties throughout the tournament and some were costly. All of them, however, were questionable in my opinion. IIHF referees consistently call a tighter game than in the NHL, but the above call for hooking seems a bit much.
Despite good penalty-killing ability like in the clip from the Canada game, Stastney had some hiccups, too. I like his positioning for the most part during the kill shown above, but he completely loses his man, who sits patiently behind him for an easy goal.
Once again, I find Stastney’s gap control to be quite impressive and consistent. He also manages to tie up two Finnish players well in front of the net on the power play chance above.
Despite maintaining a good defense against the perimeter, Stastney errs here by trying to force his way through two net-front Czech players instead of taking away their rebound ability via a stick-check. Miller’s dive towards the puck-carrier didn’t help either.
First and foremost, this was an excellent defensive play from Stastney. While stagnant at the blue line, he adjusts well to a stop-and-go zone entry and keeps Grigori Denisenko to the outside while knocking away possession, too. The tripping penalty was merely a byproduct of the puck battle.
Stastney was one of Team USA’s best skaters and it really shows on the play above. His backwards skating looks effortless as he maintains excellent gap control with Liam Foudy, keeping him to the outside and forcing a loss of possession, if only momentarily.
I said above that Stastney and K’Andre Miller looked, at times, alien to each other. Miller certainly took more risks throughout the tournament as the primary puck-mover among the two but mistakes like the one above—just seconds after the U.S. had tied the game—are baffling.
This clip shows a good mix of Stastney’s physicality, his stick work and his strong crossover starts that allow him to maintain good positioning with quick skaters.
But above is another instance of Miller and Stastney working without great communication: the former leaves his feet in a lazy defensive move and while the play stabilizes, Stastney is too entranced by the puck-carrier to prevent a high-danger chance.
Stastney still managed to utilize his defensive intelligence often during the tournament. He plays this odd-man rush expertly; while he does leave his feet somewhat, he opens up to cover the pass and ultimately blocks it.
Furthermore, Stastney makes one of his best plays of the tournament, recovering for K’Andre Miller’s mistake, in the clip above. Beautiful skating, excellent stick work and a penalty-free defensive play.
Stastney likes to play an interesting man-to-man style coverage in the defensive zone—it’s almost basketball-like at times. In the clip above, I like how he challenges his gap right off the face off and forces the Finnish player into a decision. He fights off the high-danger opportunity as best as he can seeing as the center is nowhere near his assignment, and then continues to apply that man-to-man pressure throughout the zone for the duration of the shift.
As expected, however, Stastney (and the U.S. defense as a whole) faced too many odd-man rushes. I’m not sure he noticed the backdoor forward here, but I like how he plays the puck-carrier anyway. Unfortunately, he’s too slow to pivot and almost surrenders a goal.
The most frustrating aspect of Stastney’s game at the WJC was his breakouts. As mentioned above, he’s a terrific skater and often displays efficient controlled zone exits at Notre Dame. At the WJC, it felt like he was hesitant to make the breakout play he knew was there like forcing a pass up the boards instead to a teammate with space—here, #15.
Conversely, in this clip, Stastney plays Bowen Byram well as he enters the zone and then provides a quick jump out of the zone with possession before dumping the puck in during the ensuing line change.
Stastney gets lucky on the above defensive breakup; his active stick shows good awareness, and, despite its risk, I do understand the temptation to leave your feet on this play. He almost exhausts himself covering so much of the zone, but it’s his ability to jump from behind the net to the high slot that ultimately forces a turnover.
Though it may not seem like much, the above clip shows one of my favorite plays from Stastney at the WJC. He swings behind the net and reads how his teammates are breaking out of the zone in layers. After registering his time and space, he perfectly places a pass up the boards for a tip to John Beecher that leads to a 2-on-1 opportunity.
This was another good play that highlights Stastney’s abilities with the puck. Despite an incoming forechecker, he uses his speed to provide a good zone exit before dumping the puck in as the Russians tightened at the blue line.
Something I didn’t see often from Stastney were breakout attempts through the middle of the ice. It was certainly noticeable that he favored a chip up the boards rathee than any options through the center. Although I appreciate his attempt above, he lines Shane Pinto up to be in a dangerous position.
Ultimately, the U.S. fell drastically short of their tournament expectations and many took aim at roster construction as a contributing factor. Hannah Stuart provides an excellent criticism of Team USA here and mentions Stastney as one of the curious non-offensively inclined defenders selected.
While I generally agree with this, I think the U.S. could have won with this roster but, as Stuart also mentions, line combinations and ice time allotment spelled doom from the start.
I find it may be easy to tab Stastney as having a challenging tournament—he was one of the least-known prospects on this roster—but it would be unfair to pin the U.S.’s horrid penalty killing and inability to respond to dominant shifts at times squarely on him.
Throughout most of the competition, Stastney provided a steady, smooth-skating presence on the back end while his partner took offensive risks. At times, Stastney was an ace defensively and was able to manage oncoming chances in ways other pairings could not.
In short, it would be difficult to say Stastney fell totally short of expectations given his deployment and Team USA’s overall struggles. I thought he displayed some of the better and quieter strengths of his game while playing all right defensively at even strength.
All statistics are courtesy of iihf.com, eliteprospects.com or manually tracked by myself.