PENTICTON, B.C. – While the best in the world play at the World Cup of Hockey, some of the best prospects in the sport convened for the annual Young Stars tournament.
Edmonton Oilers prospect Jesse Puljujarvi dominated, Vancouver’s Olli Juolevi was polished, Flames forward Matthew Tkachuk rattled everybody he played against and Winnipeg’s Jack Roslovic and Kyle Connor managed moments of brilliance despite an immobile corps of Jets defencemen who struggled to move the puck.
Here’s notes, conversations and spare thoughts from the Young Stars event:
Matthew Tkachuk: super pest
Tkachuk plays such an agitating, inhospitable brand of hockey that Flames president Brian Burke might need a bigger thesaurus.
“Those are the games I like to play, where I flirt with the line,” Tkachuk said after he was thrown out of the tournament’s opening game on Friday following a line brawl. “I guess I went over it a couple times.”
Tkachuk pushed his limits during the next game too, earning a double minor and drawing three penalties. He seemed to get under the skin of any and every opponent he faced this weekend.
Even on Monday, in a game where Tkachuk was relatively restrained and was only assessed a minor penalty, the American-born forward caused havoc. In a first period scrum, he skated slowly towards the Canucks net, elbowed Vancouver prospect Cole Cassels in the back, then made sure to lose his balance and used that opportunity to grab Canucks goaltender Thatcher Demko’s mask and fall on top of him. No penalty was assessed on the sequence.
“I just know the game, kind of,” Tkachuk explained of how he picks his spots. “I’m smart with some things I do and some things I take a risk, but hopefully I can get away with some (things).”
Though the pest-type scoring forward certainly racked up the penalty minutes – 22 minutes in three games – he also demonstrated a relatively mature understanding of how to play that style.
“He can’t lose that side of him – that’s what makes him a special player and an elite player,” said Calgary’s AHL coach Ryan Huska, who was running the Flames’ bench this weekend. “Learning that fine line and how to cross… how to stay on it, I should say, and not cross it, is hard for young players. It’s important that they know kind of where they can and can’t go.
“You don’t want to create a reputation for yourself as someone who is already over on the other side, because then referees won’t give you the benefit of the doubt. In time he’s really going to learn how to use it to his advantage.”
Roslovic and Connor
Connor was easily the fastest player at the Young Stars tournament and Roslovic looked like the best distributor aside from Puljujarvi.
“I’m definitely a pass-first kind of guy,” Roslovic said prior to the tournament. “I can shoot it but I look for the pass first.”
Ten of Roslovic’s 26 points for the Univeristy of Miami (Ohio) last season came on the power play and he was tasked with manning the half wall in Penticton where he looked mature and polished doing so.
“It’s my vision, I’m able to think the game and think the game fast,” Roslovic said. “It wasn’t all me (in Miami) last season, it’s a lot about what my teammates can do to get open. I can find them when they do.”
Roslovic spent the entire tournament on a line with Connor and the duo were able find a good level of chemistry. They combined for a goal on Monday that was as good as any scored at the tournament.
Connor seems likely to open the season in the NHL and if Roslovic doesn’t join him then he’ll either be assigned to the Manitoba Moose of the AHL or the defending Memorial Cup champion London Knights.
There was Puljujarvi and then there was everybody else at the Young Stars tournament.
The fourth-overall pick at the 2016 NHL Draft dominated throughout. His two-way game looked mature, his passing looked top-end, and his ability to stickhandle in traffic and beat goaltenders with a quick release was uncanny.
At one point during the weekend, an NHL scout suggested to me that Roslovic had been the best forward in Penticton. When I asked credulously, “not Puljujarvi?” he responded: “I mean, among the mortals.”
Jon Gillies and Thatcher Demko are friends, fellow collegiate athletes and were the two best goaltenders in Penticton this weekend. Both are also coming off hip impingement surgery.
As the physical demands of the goaltending position – and the demands on the hip joint in particular – have increased as a result of technical innovations like the butterfly and reverse-vh (among other post-integration techniques), hip impingement surgery has become commonplace for young goaltenders. It is for goalies what Tommy John surgery is for pitchers.
“I leaned on Thatcher Demko,” Gillies said of his lengthy recovery. “He had double hip surgery and he’s one of my good friends, so, the thing he said was that it just feels crappy and then all of a sudden you’ll just feel better after surgery.
“It was still stiff and clicking and catching throughout the summer. One day it locked up in early August and I was skating on it the next day and it just felt amazing. Everything on the post felt so much better.”
Prior to the procedure, Demko couldn’t even use post-integration techniques in his first two years at Boston College due to the pain it cause. Though his recovery went more smoothly than Gillies’ – Gillies sustained a setback at Flames development camp in July – it still wasn’t easy.
“I remember when I was on crutches, I fell a couple of times,” Demko said. “You can’t really help yourself (when you fall) because you’re not allowed to walk, so you just have to eat it.”
As for the advice that Demko gave Gillies when he went down this past fall, Demko simply insisted that the procedure was worthwhile.
“Get it,” Demko recalls telling Gillies. “Sooner rather than later.”