It’s that time again…the 10 days where the best young players from the CHL and Russia come together to renew hockey’s biggest rivalry: Canada vs. Russia. Tonight marks the first game of the Subway Super Series. Each CHL league continually produces top-notch talent and puts together a team capable of achieving great things domestically and internationally. This year is no different.
Last year Russia split the 6-game series beating the QMJHL twice and the WHL once. The OHL battled valiantly to halt the Russian’s winning streak and ended up taking both games in 2011 and is intending to do the same thing this year.
This QMJHL team, led by coaches from Blainville-Boisbriand and Val-d’Or, has 13 confirmed NHL draft picks and 6 players who are looking to be drafted in the 2013 draft. The marquee name on the team is Saint John’s superstar Jonathan Huberdeau who has two Memorial Cup victories to his name. To add to the skill level, the team has the heavy favorite to go 1st overall in 2013, Nathan MacKinnon. Tack on 3 goalies (Zachary Fucale, Francois Broissard and Etienne Marcoux) who are currently tops in the league, and the QMJHL has a better team than we saw last year.
Top to bottom, the team is built with a blend of size, talent, roughness, and determination. Unfortunately, MacKinnon’s linemate, Jonathan Drouin, will be unavailable for the the QMJHL since he is out due to injury. Although the rest of the team is solidly built, an extra skilled player like Drouin wouldn’t hurt. I see the Russian team being a bit too much for the QMJHL and Russia will win both games, just like last year.
The OHL was sitting pretty last year soundly beating Russia 10-7 and 6-3 in their two games in 2011, respectively. The forward corps of this year’s OHL team is built in a Brian-Burke-like style – top six, bottom six. The OHL brought out the big guns for scoring with Ryan Strome, Sean Monahan, Matt Puempel, and “exceptional player” Connor McDavid. The grinder/defensive lines will likely be centered by Boone Jenner and Philadelphia Flyers first round pick, Scott Laughton.
The defense has offensive power (Ryan Murphy) and sound checking pressure (Cody Ceci). The rest of the defenseman are a mixture of two-way players capable of stopping the opposition and chipping in offensively. Backstopped by two goalies who have been showing up big time in the OHL this year – Malcolm Subban and Jordan Binnington – the OHL team might be the best all-around team that is put on the ice in this series. I believe the Russians will put up a great fight against OHL squad, but ultimately lose both games against the OHL.
The first thing that strikes you from this year’s WHL team is the defense. Four of the six defenseman were top 10 picks in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft – three of those four were taken in the top 5 picks. The WHL will be the hardest to score on, not only because of the defense, but because of Eric Comrie, a 2013 draft prospect who has done wonders after taking over the starting role with the Tri-City Americans. An agile goalie, Comrie’s draft-eligible season has started turning some attention to him as one of the best goalies in the entire CHL.
A league that is normally looked at producing great defensive prospects seems to be dipping into the offensive pool, as well. Hunter Shinkaruk, Sam Reinhart, and Curtis Lazar are three of the top point producing forwards in the league and will be looked to provide an offensive spark for a team looking to to secure two victories against their across-the-pond foes. The two-way play will also be looked at to ignite the offensive with two standout forwards, Mark McNeill and Colton Sissons.
The defensive issues will be too much for the Russian team to overcome and I think the WHL will win both of their games.
They’re bringing their A game. Any hockey fan could’ve seen that coming when 1st overall pick, Nail Yakupov joined the team after leaving his KHL team for this tournament. Another big name is Mikhail Grigorenko, whose draft stock started falling, seems to have taken his game to a new level posting almost 2 points per game in the QMJHL this season. The two top Russian prospects played together on a line this summer, but didn’t fare that well. We will have to see how the Russian coach plans to utilize them in the lineup against the QMJHL, but they will be the headline names for this Russian team.
Not to be outdone, former OHLer Alexander Khokhlachev may be paired up with current OHLer Daniil Zharkov to provide another scoring line for the Russians. Also be on the lookout for 2013 hopeful Valeri Nichushkin and Nikita Zadorov on defense. Nichushkin is a shifty forward who isn’t afraid to take risks and do his best to dangle around the defense. Zadorov is a gigantic, bone-crushing defenseman that will be an imposable force that anchors Russia’s defense.
Russia’s top goalie, Andrei Vasilevski will need to have a fantastic showing for Russia to have a chance at winning the majority of the games. In the end, I don’t think Russia will be able to withstand the pressure in the later games against the OHL and WHL. I see them leaving Canada with a 2-4 record.
What does everyone else think?
Follow Shawn Reznik on Twitter (@ShawnReznikTHW).