The World Junior Showcase is an excellent opportunity for players to make their mark for when the World Junior Championship rolls around in December. However, it’s also an opportunity for NHL teams to get a better look at the prospects and evaluate their play to see how they will progress in their system.
While Team Canada will be the focus for the country, fans in Leafs Nation will be getting a glimpse of a couple players that were selected in this year’s NHL Draft. Swedish defender Timothy Liljegren and Finnish defenseman Eemeli Rasanen will be the focus at this year’s Summer Showcase as they were selected 17th and 59th overall respectively.
With prospects like Travis Dermott and Andrew Nielsen already turning heads in the organization, it’s now time for the Leafs top two picks in the 2017 draft to show what they can bring to the table. Defense was addressed at the draft and the Leafs can see those picks giving the depth they need at a position that constantly had to be addressed last year.
Eemeli Rasanen had himself a draft year to remember, making an impact for the Kingston Frontenacs in his rookie season. His play was noticed by the Leafs and then by the National team. He can bring a strong, two-way game as well as a physical style that the Leafs need for some added grit on the back-end.
While I wasn’t able to watch the game against the United States, we were able to see the physical presence that Rasanen has. Here is a massive hit that he made on American forward Riley Tufte:
— Finnish jr hockey (@FINjrhockey) August 1, 2017
Rasanen wasn’t as noticeable considering the role he was playing in this game, but he was effective in doing his job. He was in a third- pairing role for Finland most of the time, unlike a more prominent role he played for the Frontenacs. In the Showcase, he provided strong, defensive- zone play and hardly ever strayed away from his position. He had a great presence in front of the net and had some grit in rubbing players out along the boards.
On one play during a game against Canada, Canada entered the zone and tried to set things up on the fore- check. Rasanen then followed in and easily eliminated the attacking player along the boards so that a play couldn’t be set up.
In the same game, Rasanen was on the bad end of Samuel Girard’s goal as the puck went off his skate to make it a 1-1 game. While he was on the ice for a goal against, Rasanen was in a great position to take away an opportunity for Canadian forward Jonah Gadjovich at the side of the net, whom the pass was intended for. He was covering his man, it was just an unfortunate bounce.
Although it was a short event, Rasanen wasn’t being used as an offensive presence with the likes of Jusso Valimaki on the team. After tallying 39 points in his rookie season with the Frontenacs, Rasanen was being used predominately in a shut down role in the event. But, this showcase shouldn’t just define him as a shut- down guy. He has a powerful shot and great offensive instincts. While he didn’t see much power-play time, he was a key factor on Kingston’s first unit.
His defensive play and penalty-killing abilities was extremely noticeable and he was hardly ever out of position. He didn’t display any “wow” factors, but his game was simple and effective. Sometimes simplicity is the best thing for a young player trying to make an impression, especially when Mark Hunter and the rest of the Leafs crew are in attendance.
What we’ve seen at this event is that Rasanen has the potential to be a second or third pairing kind of defenseman. He can definitely use his size to his advantage and provide steady play at both ends.
After many teams passed him over in the draft, Liljegren is out to prove everyone wrong. After dealing with mononucleosis and had trouble finding consistency when he returned, the Leafs were the team to swoop in and draft him 17th overall. A potentially top- three pick and seeing his draft stock drop, Liljegren was eager to show to fans what he’s capable of as a high-end, puck-moving defenseman.
Throughout the showcase, Liljegren showed why the Leafs selected and stole him in the draft. He showed off his explosive speed, puck- handling skills and vision that the Leafs desperately wanted in a top pairing defenseman.
In his opening game against the United States, Liljegren was making things happen from the opening puck drop. He didn’t have any points in the game, but his presence was felt by getting five shots on goal.
With his high-end speed, Liljegren was all over the place wanting to do everything he can to get the puck. He displayed his smooth skating, excellent passing and utilizing his shot both on even strength and on the power- play.
— Michael Augello (@MikeInBuffalo) August 2, 2017
It’s well noted that Liljegren wants to improve on his defensive play. In this clip, Liljegren is able to come back into the defensive zone and break up a scoring chance for the Americans. He is then able to locate the loose puck and use his explosive stride to move the play up and carry the puck into the offensive zone. While there was no goal, he was able to get a great shot on net.
It’s plays like this that’ll go a long way for someone who is trying to develop an all- around game in order to be reliable defender at both ends of the ice.
Here is another instance of Liljegren’s speed and vision.
— Michael Augello (@MikeInBuffalo) August 2, 2017
In this clip, Liljegren manages to rush up the middle of the ice and is able to cut through the defensemen. His speed was able to catch everyone of guard. He looses the puck, but is able to regain possession and still gets a shot on net. His puck- handling and patience helped out in this situation.
Liljegren’s offensive presence continued against Canada scoring a goal from the blueline with his accurate shot. His shot, much like Erik Karlsson’s, was able to find the back of the net through traffic. Although he scored, Liljegren said that he had an “up and down game” and that he would like to continue being stronger in the corners.
Liljegren continued to provide the offense by helping set-up Tim Soderlund’s game- winning goal in overtime against Finland. Liljegren finished the Showcase with two goals, two assists and 17 shots on goal in five games.
From what we’ve seen from Liljegren at the Summer Showcase, we know that he always wants to make something happen when he’s on the ice. However, there are times where he does try to make an extra move or gets caught and it ends up costing him. He’ll be able to break those habits and continue to work on his overall game.
Sweden’s head coach Tomas Monten said this about Liljegren after team practice:
“He’s a skilled player and he’s going to make skilled plays. He can’t just force them. He can’t just look for them all the time and just make sure he plays 70 per cent as a defensive defenseman and then everything is going to come.”
It seemed like Liljegren got more comfortable after each game despite having a rough season last year. And for missing a lot of game time and having consistency issues, Liljegren looked back to his usual form when scouts had him in the top three in the draft rankings. Although he still made some mistakes, it’s all part of the learning experience for him. He’s committed to improving as a player and wants to play at his highest potential. It’s always best to go with the “be patient approach”, especially for defenseman. Like a top centre, it’s also difficult to find a reliable puck-moving defenseman that’s reliable at both ends of the ice.
And this is what Monten and Leafs management were trying to get across. It’s one thing for offensive- minded players, like Liljegren, to always try and make fancy plays and wow the crowd. It’s another to try and improve on other aspects of the game so that you’re not a one- dimensional player. Liljegren is trying to be an impact player with and without the puck.
The play of Rasanen and Liljegren at the Summer Showcase are good signs that the Leafs have two strong prospects on the blueline to add to the likes of Dermott and Nielsen. General Manager Lou Lamoriello stated that he the Leafs were “extremely pleased” with the way Liljegren has played as well as the other prospects that were on display at the showcase (including Joseph Woll and J. D. Greenway on Team USA).
While Liljegren and Rasanen had a good showcase, they still need to continue to develop and take the next step forward. It’s a great feeling to hear that the Leafs are happy with the way everything has panned out so far.