If you’re eager for the return of our regular I Watched This Game feature, you’ll have to wait a little longer. Since the game itself isn’t really the point of the Young Stars tournament, we’re instead looking at the games with a three stars format looking at individual performances and who stood out the most. We’ll be looking at the three best players from among the Canucks prospects as well as making a few other observations.
3rd Star: Nicklas Jensen
Once again, Jensen looked like one of the best players on the ice on every shift. It’s impossible not to notice him. In fact, you could argue that he was the best player on the ice and deserved the first star. The only real problem was that none of his game-high five shots hit the back of the net.
In fact, Jensen somehow ended up with no points on the night, though it appeared that he deserved the primary assist on Sacha Guimond’s gamewinner, after his cross-ice pass deflected out to the point. He contributed in other ways, though, including some nice work forechecking on the penalty kill. The way that Jensen has asserted himself in this tournament, it seems clear to me that he’s the most NHL-ready forward in the Canucks’ prospect pool.
2nd Star: Sacha Guimond
The reigning ECHL defenceman of the year was massively improved from his first appearance in the Young Stars tournament and was noticeably better in the defensive zone. It was his offensive production, however, that earns him the second star. He scored the gamewinning goal with a laser of a wristshot on a 5-on-3. His release and accuracy was unreal on that shot, though it may be worth noting that it only materialized when he had room on the powerplay to use it.
Another of his wristshots led to the insurance marker, as it was tipped up high by Alex Friesen and bounced in. Beyond his two points, though, he just played a solid game, skating the puck out of trouble well and making tape-to-tape passes.
1st Star: Cole Cassels
When the Canucks drafted Cassels in the third round of the 2013 draft, the selection was met with a collective “meh.” Besides being the son of former Canuck, Andrew Cassels, little was known about the center. He projected as a gritty, two-way player who was good at a lot of things but great at nothing, which doesn’t exactly get people excited.
Through three games at the Young Stars tournament in Penticton, however, Cassels has been one of the best Canucks on the ice, demonstrating a willingness to engage physically, intelligent play without the puck, and good vision with the puck. Against the Oilers, Cassels continued his strong play, scoring a goal and adding an assist. His goal was a gritty effort, jumping to the front of the net and chipping the puck in on a rebound.
He was then credited with an assist on Guimond’s gamewinner that really belonged to Jensen. No matter. Cassels was still the best Canuck on this day, excelling in all three zones.
Invitee of the Game
This was an invitee-heavy lineup, with several making a good impression. Daniel Johnston played a much stronger game after some struggles against the Sharks, showcasing his great slapshot and physicality in the defensive zone. One open-ice hit from Johnston drew hoots and hollers from the Canucks bench. Zach Hall showcased some nice passing on the powerplay and took on a bigger opponent during a near-linebrawl in the third period in Travis Ewanyk.
Jesse Mychan was involved physically and nearly scored, getting robbed after quickly bringing the puck in front, creating a scramble that led to Cole Cassels’ second period equalizer. Mychan also made a fantastic play at the end of the game, knocking free a puck at the blue line, then making a nice pass to Myron for an empty net goal. Philippe Maillet battled hard against bigger players, went hard to the net, and scored a very nice goal.
But, considering I gave him the second star of the game, this couldn’t be anyone but Sacha Guimond. If he can consistently provide this kind of offence with the Utica Comets, while staying responsible defensively, he may earn a contract from the Canucks by the end of the season.
There wasn’t anyone really bad in this game, really. Everyone more or less played to their expectations or a bit beyond. So I will regrettably have to give this to Brendan Gaunce for the second time. If it seems odd to rag on a player who had two assists, it is a little odd. Really, Gaunce only had one assist, with his second coming on the same goal that saw Cole Cassels receive an undeserved assist.
The difference between Gaunce and Cassels in this one is that Cassels seemed constantly engaged, while Gaunce seemed more like a passenger on the Nicklas Jensen express. Gaunce constantly played it safe, staying on the defensive side of the puck while in the offensive zone, which is a good way to avoid being burned, but a terrible way to get involved in the offence and get something accomplished.
With all that said, he wasn’t terrible, he just didn’t stand out. Beyond his one real assist, which was a nice one, and his work in the faceoff circle, he wasn’t as good as he’ll need to be in order to earn a spot on the Canucks’ roster. With many hopeful that he might earn the third line centre role out of camp, Gaunce hasn’t lived up that expectation so far. There’s still plenty of time, however, as he’ll likely get a few preseason games after main camp to prove himself.
Tags: Cole Cassels, Nicklas Jensen, Sacha Guimond, young stars, Young Stars Three Stars