With the preliminary round complete at the 2016 IIHF Men’s World Hockey Championships, the Toronto Maple Leafs have two roster players, and one signed *prospect*in a position to compete for a medal, while one saw his medal hopes come to an end on the last day of round robin play.
Martin Marincin, who had a decent tournament for Slovakia, was beat out of a quarterfinal position by the United States, despite winning their final game vs USA in overtime. Slovakia needed to win the game in 60 minutes of play to edge USA out but, they fell just short. He finished the tournament with 2 assists and 18 shots on goal. He’s always been a relatively quiet player, but in the limited games I saw of his, he was good enough on a Slovakian team that was expected to challenge for a quarterfinal spot, which they did, but, not expected to go far in the tournament. He did, however, make a few really great plays against Patrik Laine and Auston Matthews that led to scoring chances for his team. Even when his team was losing in games, his seemingly calm, effortless presence while under pressure made him a valuable asset to his undermanned team – on which he was playing top pairing minutes. He played a very disciplined game, only taking two penalties in seven games, and finished the tournament with a +/- rating of 3, on a team that gave up 23 goals (assuming my math is correct, I haven’t studied it in about 6 years). I’m not one to take +/- ratings too seriously but I was fairly impressed to see that his rating wasn’t higher with the minutes he was logging against the Finns and Canadian – two very offensively talented teams.
Leo Komarov has been a force with Finland, as he normally is when wearing Blue and White. Something special triggers him when he plays for his home country, and it’s so entertaining you can’t help but get excited about them. It certainly helps that they have one of the tournament’s most dazzling scorers in Patrik Laine. He’s been a force for Finland in games that tested how successful this team could be in the tournament, stealing the spotlight from the Finnish *superstars* against Canada and the United States. He has 6 points in 7 games, and two game winning goals. Not bad for the guy supposed to be playing a supporting role to guys like Barkov, Koivu, Rantanen and Laine. Everyone loves Uncle Leo but, he’s even easier to love (if only by Finns) when he’s helping his country go for the sweep in IIHF Men’s tournaments this year.
Admittedly, I wasn’t entirely sure of Nikita Zaitsev until recently when the Leafs signed him. I had read about Ryan Whitney saying he was going to be an NHL star one day but, that was the extent of it. With the limited attention paid to the KHL in North America, I figured he would either turn out to be a Russian that would come to North America for a few years and decide that he preferred Russia, or he’d become one of the really good Russians that finds a lot of success in the NHL and ends up loving it here. While his future in Toronto has yet to unfold, he’s played very well for a Russian team that looks like the real deal playing on home soil, after dropping their first game to the Czech Republic (or is it Czechia now?) He been described by Russian TV analyst, Alexander Khananov as being the best Russian defenceman outside the NHL. When asked, Mike Babcock said that he believes he’ll be a good addition to the Leafs blueline – as he’s a good skater and has good hockey sense. The accolades he’s received from his current teammates too, make it seem like he would be a solid fit in Toronto, who is still looking for another top defenceman that can play big, reliable minutes. In this tournament, he’s been raising some eyebrows with his ability to jump up into the rush as the fourth forward to create offensive opportunities and, his disciplined game, despite being in a weaker pool in this tournament. He finishes the round robin with 1 goal, 3 assists, one penalty and 10 shots on goal. He, and the Russian team have been looking stronger and stronger as the tournament goes on – especially after getting a huge boost from Ovechkin, Kuznetsov and Orlov after Washington was defeated in the second round of the NHL Playoffs.
Lastly, there’s Morgan Rielly. He’s been playing top pairing minutes for Canada, and he’s played them well. Though, he hasn’t been exceptional. I’ve found myself wanting more from him but, admittedly, I hold him to very high standards. He’s had some good moments, I’ve been impressed with the way he’s been used on the powerplay (before the addition of Ryan Ellis), and when Canada’s maintained strong offensive pressure. He’s been able to get his shot from the point through, and made the simple adjustments to his game to make himself more reliable defensively but, he’s had a few really horrible giveaways that could have proven more costly for Canada than they’ve ended up. I found that he’s looked much more relaxed since the addition of Ryan Ellis, as he’s taken up some of his minutes. He’s made better decisions in those two games but that one giveaway to Patrik Laine against Finland in Canada’s final preliminary round game was one of the worst plays I’ve ever seen him make. I’m borderline disappointed TSN didn’t show Mr. Rielly’s (his father) reaction to that play. Overall, I’d have to say he’s been among Canada’s top defenceman and, Mike Babcock seems to agree with me when I say that I can see him eventually becoming one of the best in the game.
The leafs management and coaching staff has been well represented at the Men’s World Championships for the past few weeks, not only to scout their first overall pick but, also to keep tabs on their own signed players or guys they could potentially add to their roster in the months/years to come. That being said, based on the AHL playoffs, and their current players in Russia, the future is looking bright.