It took overtime to decide the 2012 version of the Summit Series between Canada and Russia's top prospects, but more important to the scouts in attendance than the outcome (a win for Team Canada) were the performances of some recent top draft picks.
Canada's entire roster already has been drafted, with the exception of two young stars who will no doubt hear their names called next June. Nine of the Russians already have been claimed by NHL teams, headed by 2012 No. 1 overall pick Nail Yakupov (Edmonton Oilers). When this much talent is on the ice, expectations can be raised, but there is still the summer hockey factor to consider. Talented as these players are, it's unlikely they're playing at their peak at this time of year. So the reports you'll get aren't going to be too comprehensive. Still, there was plenty to examine when I -- and a number of NHL scouts and GMs -- took in the second leg of the series in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Here are my quick impressions on some of the standouts.
Murphy was the most talked about performer in Halifax. His ability to grab the puck and skate it out of trouble and make things happen in the offensive zone stands alone. He remains an all-or-nothing type of defenseman and lacks defensive awareness but brings a lot to the table and was a threat on most shifts.
Rielly may not have been as exciting as Murphy but, to me, looks like a more NHL-ready D-man. His skating is dimensional and his ability to join the rush from the back end -- rather than carrying the puck from end to end all the time -- made him a viable threat offensively every time he stepped onto the ice.
Murray is a combination of both the above players but much more reserved, and certainly played a stronger level of defense. It is Murray's maturity and his ability to play both sides of the puck, which he showed in this series, that has many thinking he will crack the Blue Jackets' lineup this fall.
D Dougie Hamilton (Boston Bruins, first/2011)
Hamilton could turn out to be the best of the bunch on the blue line for Canada. His elite size of 6-foot-5 combined with his skating and willingness to compete defensively and his overall range on the ice makes him an excellent prospect. He may not play as much or as soon as some of his above-mentioned teammates, but over time I see Hamilton playing big minutes and proving he has both a defensive game and an offensive component.
Boston GM Peter Chiarelli was in attendance and certainly should be happy not only with Hamilton's play, but with another of his prospects as well.
G Malcolm Subban (Boston, first/2012)
For now Subban has taken the starting position for Team Canada. He got both wins in the series and was called on to play the deciding do-or-die game. There is much to work with in this young goaltender, whose athletic ability was evident, as he showed great flexibility and quickness.
F Charles Hudon (Montreal Canadiens, fifth/2012)
Hudon was clearly one of the best players on the ice. His energy level was high and I always have known his skill level was good enough. Combine the two and Canada saw a kid who really wants to make the World Juniors team. In this series, he proved he has a heavy shot and the individual skill to make things happen. He also killed penalties very well.
F Tom Wilson (Washington Capitals, first/2012)
It comes as no surprise to me, but Wilson had many in attendance talking. Said one Eastern Conference scout: "Damn, I wish we drafted that kid." His physical presence and top-end speed and size made him noticeable all over the ice. The Russian defense knew every time he stepped onto the ice, as the number of turnovers increased when he was bearing down on them.
F Ty Rattie (St. Louis, second/2011)
Rattie was a key member of the forward unit in helping solidify the series title. His knack for scoring continued with two goals in the final game. He uses a very long stick for a 5-11 player and he certainly knows how to use it to his advantage, displaying excellent skills and shooting.
F Lucas Lessio (Phoenix Coyotes, second/2011)
Lessio used his skating and physical play to be noticed and was rewarded by putting up some offensive numbers.
F Sean Monahan (Ottawa, OHL, 2013 Draft Eligible)
One of two undrafted Canadian players trying out, Monahan has the potential to be a top-five pick in 2013 and in this exhibition series proved he is an elite player. He has size and skating, but most impressive was his play with and without the puck. That should allow him to make this World Juniors team.
F Hunter Shinkaruk (Medicine Hat, WHL, 2013 Draft Eligible)
Shinkaruk was the other non-drafted player in the lineup for Canada. His size is working against him (he's just 5-10) but he is a goal scorer. He came away with nothing to show for his effort in Game 4 and was not dressed for the first of two games held in Halifax.
Now the "summer hockey" factor.
F Jonathan Huberdeau (Florida Panthers, first/2011)
F Ryan Strome (New York Islanders, first, 2011)
These three players are all returnees to the World Juniors team and had too much "average" associated to their games. I don't think that's going to be the case later this season, however. They will be key components on Team Canada ... if they are not playing in the NHL in December.
Nail Yakupov (Edmonton Oilers, first/2012)
Yakupov was the first player selected in this past draft, and with that distinction comes great pressure and comparisons. I felt this skilled forward played fine and like his overall game. In fact, there were moments that he looked like a star. The expectation level is always high, but he showed his true care for the game by putting in an honest effort.
Grigorenko was not as impressive. Like Yakupov, the skill set is there to be a top NHL forward, but unlike the first overall pick, Yakupov's body of work is not consistent -- likely a big reason he fell to 12th. I still believe he will play in the NHL, but the Sabres will need to get this corrected as they develop him.
F Anton Zlobin (Pittsburgh Penguins, sixth/2012)
The third member of the top Russian line, Zlobin is quickly becoming a talked-about player. His skill and skating are good, but the biggest difference is his compete level now. In his first year playing in North America he was passed over in the draft. Last year he dramatically improved his overall work ethic, and now his assets are at the forefront. He could be a steal for the Pens.
G Andrei Vasilevski (Tampa Bay Lightning, first/2012)
Vasilevski got tagged with the loss in the deciding game, but he looks poised -- in time -- to be a solid starting goaltender with a great combination of size and athletic ability. He is so big in the net he appears intimidating when he challenges shooters.
D Nikita Nesterov (Tampa Bay, fifth/2011)
Nesterov continues to improve his game, which highlights his skating and grit. Very strong for his size and willing to use it, he defended well against Canada with a high toughness level.
F Anton Slepyshev (Metallurg Novokuznetsk, KHL)
Slepyshev played like he was trying to prove all 30 NHL teams wrong for passing on drafting him. "Summer hockey" worked in reverse for this player, as he seemed ready to prove to everyone he is an elite player, and at times his play proved it. Once again consistency is the key. If he plays as well this season as he did in the series, I predict he will be drafted in 2013.
F Vladimir Tkachyov (Bars Kazan, MHL)
Every time I watch the Russians play, it seems like a player comes out of nowhere to grab my attention. Tkachyov was very impressive. His skill and determination stood out for me in the two games in Halifax, and I was impressed with how strong on the puck he was, often times battling with bigger players. He is a late birthdate, 1993-born player who may just find a way to be on an NHL roster at some point.
F Daniil Romantsev (Lokomotiv Yaroslavl, VHL)
Romantsev stands 6-foot-3 and impressed me with a solid work ethic and a willingness to play physical hockey. Not as skilled as Tkachyov, he too is non-drafted and could easily be on an NHL team's radar with this type of performance.
F Nikolai Prokhorkin (Los Angeles Kings, fourth/2012)
Prokhorkin did not make the lineup for the final game but, for me, was very impressive in Game 3 with size, skill and offensive ability. I could not believe he did not play the final game.
F Yaroslav Kosov (Florida Panthers, fifth/2011)
He played on the silver-medal team a year ago and continues to look good. In Halifax he showed off powerful skating and good use of his size along the wall and in front of the net.
In all, it was a great exhibition with a lot of talent on the ice. The play will mean more -- both to the two countries and NHL scouts -- when these teams suit up again in Ufa, Russia, this December for the World Junior Championships.