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Senators Prospects at the World Juniors: Scouting Report

As COVID-19 continues to disrupt our lives and take the sport we love away from us, the World Junior Hockey Championship will still push forward. Even the Omicron and Delta variants won’t stand in the way of the time-honoured tradition of best on best under 20 hockey.

At a time when Canada has withdrawn from the Spengler Cup and the NHL and NHLPA have announced the NHL will not participate in the Olympics in Beijing, it’s nice to know some international hockey will be played.

The Senators have five draft prospects playing this year, and many could end up playing prominent roles for their teams. Here’s a look into the possibly not too distant future and what we can expect to see from them in the tournament.

Of course, Tim Stutzle is eligible to represent Germany in the tournament. However, with the way he has been playing, that’s a hard “Nein” for Deutschland.

1) Jake Sanderson – Team USA - Defence – North Dakota University

Drafted 1st round 5th overall, 2020 Amateur Draft

15 GP - 6G, 13A, 19P

Under the watchful eye of coach Brad Berry, the Senators’ prized pupil has already eclipsed his point total from last season in seven fewer games and making his push for the Hobey Baker award.

The wonders of YouTube have allowed Sens Nation to drool at what might be coming before the NHL trade deadline. His mobility, size and hockey IQ are on full display, and he might just be the best player not playing in the NHL today.

This is his second World Junior tournament and last year, as a member of the gold medal winning squad, he had two assists in seven games. He will play a leadership role on this year’s team and, no doubt, will be expected to carry the load offensively and defensively. The American team, which is expected to be equally tough this year, boasts six returning players.

It would not surprise anyone to see Sanderson named, not only one of his team’s top 3 players in the tournament, but also the all-tournament team. He is coming off an injury leading up to the tournament. However, all signs point to him being 100% healthy and good to go come Boxing Day.

The Canadians better have a plan in place to neutralize him or he will likely be on the middle podium listening to the star-spangled banner.

2) Ridly Greig – Team Canada – Center – Brandon Wheat Kings

Drafted 1st round, 28th overall, 2020 Amateur Draft

19GP – 14G, 14A, 28P

This is Greig’s first tour of duty on the World Junior stage and his offensive upside will be a welcome asset for a team that only boasts one returning forward (Cole Perfetti). Sens Nation can’t help but remember the highlight reel goal he scored against the Jets in pre-season this year.

Greig is already signed to a contract and, depending on when Brandon finishes, and where the Senators season is at, he could either see some time in the NHL, or in Belleville if they make the playoffs. This egg hasn’t hatched yet, but he is close. And with Norris, Stutzle, Pinto and White down the middle as it is, it could get a little crowded at this position sooner rather than later.

What stands out about Greig, aside from his ability to generate points, is the feisty edge to his play. In the World Junior tournament, with international refereeing, this can be a plus and a minus.

His competitive edge will serve him well when the games are on the line. However, this is a kid who, when he finally makes the NHL, will have to sit out his first game because of a cross-checking suspension that he also got in that same game against the Jets in pre-season. Ying and Yang is what jumps to mind here.

Greig is no stranger to the WHL disciplinary committee either. This year, he received his 3rd suspension for a stick infraction in two seasons.

Greig has the ability to be a game changer, but the IIHF will have no compunction about sitting him in the stands when it matters most if he doesn’t the toe the line.

3) Tyler Kleven – Team USA - Defence – North Dakota University

Drafted 2nd round 44th overall, 2020 Amateur Draft

19 GP - 4G, 2A, 6P

Like Sanderson, this is Kleven’s second go around at the World Junior tournament. However, last year, Kleven played in only two games. You can bet he is hoping to have a bigger impact this year.

That said, in following some of the feeds for UND this year, Kleven has found himself in the doghouse for undisciplined play – as evidenced by his 56 PIM in just 19 games. That’s a lot given that fighting in the NCAA carries an automatic ejection and suspension. His frame is tailor-made for the pro game, but don’t look for Kleven to come out with Sanderson. Kleven is likely to stay at least one more year like Jacob Bernard-Docker.

The highlight reels show that for a big kid, Kleven is very mobile and can really wire the puck. His physical play will need to be reeled in with IIHF officiating or, like Greig, he could become a liability for the USA with untimely penalties.

He and Sanderson both shoot left but Sanderson can play both sides. It wouldn’t surprise me if they're paired up together in five-on-five situations.

4) Roby Jarventie – Team Finland – Left Wing – Belleville Senators

Drafted 2nd round 33rd overall, 2020 Amateur Draft

21 GP - 3G, 6A, 9P

Jarventie – unlike the other Senators prospects playing in the tournament – has played professional hockey ever since being drafted. In fact, he played in the pro second division in Finland in his draft year. His development curve has been steady, having had a full year in the first division in Finland last year before moving over to North America full time this year.

Jarventie represented Finland in the tournament last year where he was relatively ineffective. He dressed in 6 games without registering a point. I have only seen highlights on Twitter feeds, and he has the ability to finish. However, I will be keeping an eye out for him this year as I never noticed him last year.

The Finns are loaded with returning players as Jarventie is one of 10. They will be looking to better the bronze medal they got last year, and ice time will need to be earned.

The word was that the Senators stole one based on his first season in division one Finland. However, the North American game is different on the smaller ice and I will need some convincing here.

A trip to Belleville to see him with my own two eyes is on my 2022 to-do list. I need to see if he uses his 6’3 frame to his advantage and that he can skate as advertised. Finland has a reputation for producing players who can play in tight spaces and not shy away from physical play.

This player is likely two years away from being two years away, but maybe a successful World Junior tournament can accelerate his development curve.

5) Leevi Merilainen – Team Finland – Goalie – Kingston Frontenacs

Drafted 3rd round, 71st overall, 2020 Amateur Draft

21GP – 14W 4L 3T GAA 3.14 SV% 0.897

Though Merilainen is the #1 goalie with Frontenacs and having a solid season, one of the 10 returning players to this year’s team is Joel Blomqvist who is a 2nd round selection of the Penguins in the same draft year. He is slated to start the tournament and is having a pretty solid season of his own.

Merilainen has hardly played the last two seasons due to covid-19 so the fact that he is a starter on a good team with a chance to make a run is a real bonus for the Senators and they can observe his development from up close.

Barring injury or disappointing play from his teammates, I don’t expect Merilainen to see any action in this tournament. If he does play, he will have an experienced team in front of him.

If this article proves anything, it’s that the Senators amateur scouting continues to distinguish itself. The 2020 draft is extremely well represented at this year’s tournament.

To show this is typically a 19-year-old dominated tournament, none of the 2021 draft class are playing this year. Tyler Boucher is still finding his way at Boston University and might have a better chance of playing in next year’s tournament for the USA if he finds his way to Ottawa to play for the 67s next year (they own his CHL rights).

Zack Ostapchuk, who signed out of camp this year, will need to wait another year to get to the dance for Canada. Defenseman Ben Roger (2nd round) who joined Merilainen in Kingston this year via trade with London and Oliver Johansson (3rd round) could represent Sweden next year. The latter was on the bubble to make it this year.

There is only so much space in the cupboard and the Senators farm is becoming an embarrassment of riches. The kernels just need to pop.

By Pat Maguire | Sens Nation Hockey


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