Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Spokane's Yamamoto Shines for USA White at Day Two of the NJEC

The second day of the annual National Junior Evaluation Camp took place Monday in Plymouth, Michigan and plenty of players with Portland Winterhawks and WHL ties were present. Even more WHLers are set to join Wednesday when Canada sends their continent in. I was able to watch both games online and have some thoughts on a bunch of the players. Every single one of the players that I have been following closely survived the cuts to the roster that acted as a way to combine the USA Blue and USA White squads into one team of 17 forwards, 11 defensemen and four goalies (no goalies were cut).

USA Blue 6 Sweden 4:
The split-squad USA Blue team finished with a 2-0 record and scored a total of 14 goals in their two games. St. Louis Blues' prospect Tage Thompson followed up his hat-trick on Sunday with two more goals, including the eventual game-winner. In a reversal of what happened Sunday vs. Team USA White, Sweden jumped out to a 2-0 lead, before allowing USA Blue to storm back and score three in-a-row. From that point, they mostly traded goals, until Thompson put it away late. 
Caleb Jones (USA Blue):
-He played with pretty much every d-man on the USA Blue roster, as the coaches mixed things up searching for some chemistry. Jones looked to have scored to give USA Blue their first lead of the game, but a second look via replay showed that he struck the right post, before the puck bounced off of goalie Adam Werner and to the ice, where Toronto Maple Leafs' prospect Jeremy Bracco poked it home. As nice as the goal would have been, I was most impressed by Jones's ability to read the play and jump on a line-changing Sweden squad, in order to create a three-on-two rush. From there he picked his spot and very nearly potted his first goal of the camp. I am growing increasingly more confident that Jones will make the final Team USA World Juniors' roster, as he has been one of their most consistent d-men at the camp so far. He currently sits fifth on the team in shots on goal through two games with eight and all of those chances that he took, were low-risk, high-reward type looks; when Sweden was changing or out of position and had little hope of counter-attacking against an out-of-position Jones. Perhaps Jones's best play of the game, was paying the price in his own zone, by taking a vicious check into the boards, in order to get the puck out of the zone, leading to Thompson's empty-netter. Caleb's one minus in the game was due to a bad bounce at his own blue line, which ended up with a two-on-zero and Sweden's second goal. In my opinion, he was interfered with on the play as the non-puck carrying Swedish forward picked him off, so his teammate could go in alone. However, the non-call ended up not really playing a role in the final outcome of an exhibition game, so I'll let it go.
Jake Oettinger (USA Blue):
-The Portland prospect was not as great in his second game, particularly on Sweden's first goal, where he seemed to struggle tracking the puck. A wrist shot from the far right, near the blue line, is something I expect an elite junior goalie to stop and he didn't. He did not have much of a chance on the second goal and was not challenged too much beyond that. Overall, he stopped 19 of 21 shots and 32 of 34 shots over his two halves played. That's a 0.942 save percentage against some pretty good competition. I would have to say that right now, he is my favorite to start for Team USA, but overall the positions on this roster, I have been least impressed by the goalies. There is definitely room for someone to come out of nowhere and be invited to the final camp in December.
Evan Sarthou (USA Blue):
-The Tri-City goalie was a little better in game two and he looked more confident out there. He faced better looks than Oettinger did and mostly stood his ground. Sweden did a really good job of creating a lot of traffic around his feet and he was strong in his net and found the garbage before their forwards did. Both of the goals he gave up were of the top-corner variety, where I would have been astounded if he made the stop. Sweden has some elite snipers and they showed off their stuff picking both the right corner and the left corner on their two goals on Sarthou. Late in a tight game, Sarthou stood tall and made three saves in a row during one penalty kill. 

USA White 8 Finland 2:
One day after USA Blue scored eight goals on Finland, USA White did the same. What's strange is both times, Finland scored all of their goals, before their competition scored any. Monday, the Finns scored on the power play and added an even strength goal, before the game was 15 minutes old. Then USA White took over, led by two goals and three assists from N.Y. Islanders' draft pick and Portland prospect Kieffer Bellows and three points from linemate and Arizona Coyotes' draft pick Clayton Keller. The two were paired together, along with USA Blue's Joey Anderson, while playing for the USANTDP and there is some obvious chemistry there.
Henri Jokiharju (Finland):
-The 1999 born defenseman looked a lot more confident in his second game, as he settled into battling a team loaded with elite offensive talent. His only major miscue was on a failed clearance that led to USA White's eighth and final goal. His biggest improvements in his two games, for me, was while playing on the second unit power play. He constantly moved around between the two points and had the puck on his stick multiple times, leading to a couple strong Finnish looks. I also enjoyed his toughness out there as he was giving 30-40 lbs to a lot of the forwards he was battling in front of the net and he just kept battling, showing a lot of lower body strength and good stick positioning in moving some of them out of his goalie's line of sight.
Kailer Yamamoto (USA White):
-He had the highlight of the day for me, as he was carrying the puck, heading away from the net, towards the left corner of the attacking zone, when he stomped on the brakes and spun around towards the net, setting up Bellows for USA White's seventh goal. With his slick move, he left Finnish d-man Jarkko Parikka flat on the ice. It was the hockey equivalent of basketball's: "breaking someone's ankles." Yamamoto also scored a goal as he went to a tough area in front of the net and poked home a pass from Bellows. The Spokane Chief forward has three points in his two games, but more importantly, he keeps getting moved up the line up. He started out the camp on the fourth line and by the end of Monday's game was playing on the top line with Bellows and Keller. USA White had tried out a couple bigger forwards with the smallish Bellows and Keller, but ended up with the 5'8" Yamamoto, who is pound for pound the toughest guy on the team. He provided the net-front presence a few times while his team was on the power play and took a ton of punishment on doing so. He, very likely, has risen on Team USA's depth chart and could find himself representing his country this winter. It certainly does not hurt his draft stock, that he's putting this performance on while some of the NHL's general managers and coaches are watching.
Kieffer Bellows (USA White):
-Bellows led team blue in scoring with six points in two games and is a complete lock for the WJCs. One thing I noticed from this game, was his tenacity. He definitely plays with more of an edge then I was expecting. Several times I noticed him return a check to whomever had just checked him. His one-touch passing with Keller is elite level and the young Finnish d-corps had absolutely no hope of containing them in this game.
Juuso Valimaki (Finland):
-While I have come away, more or less, impressed with most of the players I've been watching closely, Valimaki has not been one of them. This is a great opportunity for him to impress all of the NHL minds in the crowd and he has not done that. It seemed to me like he took Finland getting pushed around in the previous game to heart and went out of his way to throw a lot more checks in this game. Often though, he took himself out of position to make the hit. He was certainly not Finland's worst d-men out there as even their NHL-drafted d-men looked mediocre, but he was out there for several of USA White's goals and was victimized by the Bellows-Keller combo a couple times. He will need a much better game against Canada tomorrow to start to change some of the negative opinions he's likely been creating in the crowd.

USA Cuts:

-Joey Anderson (NHL-drafted by New Jersey, WHL-drafted by Brandon) and Max Jones (NHL-drafted by Anaheim) were the biggest surprises for me of the cuts. Anderson has some natural chemistry with Bellows and Keller  and it seemed that USA might just roll with that as one of their lines. I think if you are Kailer Yamamoto, you can read the Anderson cut as Team USA giving you every opportunity to play with those two and solidify yourselves as a set lien for the WJCs.

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