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Meltzer: Prospects soar in Finale

O'Brien highlights final game of World Junior Showcase with a pair of goals

by Bill Meltzer @billmeltzer

The 2018 World Junior Summer Showcase (WJSS) in Kamloops, BC, closed out on Saturday with Team Canada edging out Team USA, 6-5, and Sweden overcoming a pair of one-goal deficits to defeat arch-rival Finland, 5-3.

From a Flyers' standpoint, what made the final day of the tournament notable was that prospects drafted by the organization stood at the forefront of both games. 

In the Canada vs. USA game, four of the five U.S. goals were scored by Flyers draftees (two by Jay O'Brien and one apiece for Joel Farabee and Noah Cates). In the Sweden vs. Finland game, shutdown defenseman Adam Ginning got into the scoring act with what proved to be the game-winning goal.

Caveat: The WJSS is merely an early August exhibition series, and a small sampling of games. There are no medal awarded and no roster spots won or lost. What it does, however, is to provides some early hints about how rosters and roles may play out down the line. It gives players an introduction to the coaches and an early measuring stick about the competition they'll face come December.

With that in mind, here's a look at how each of the eight Flyers prospects in the tournament performed.

USA

LW - Joel Farabee: Farabee skated on the top USA line and first power play unit throughout the tournament, centered by dynamic regular linemate Jack Hughes. Farabee showed off his usual combination of skill and hockey sense in three of his four outings. Statistically, he produced three goals and one assist in four games.

Actually, Farabee should have been credited with another assist in Team USA's comeback 5-4 OT win against Sweden on Aug. 2. From inside the left point, Farabee made the first, cross-ice pass of a two-pass sequence in which Jack Hughes then took a feed from his brother, Quinn Hughes, and snapped home a shot from the top of the right circle. Inexplicably, only one assist was awarded from the continuous sequence of U.S. puck possession leading up to the goal.

Farabee and Hughes read off each other very well. Throughout the tourney, they worked numerous clever little give-and-go sequences. Part of what makes Farabee an effective winger is that he keeps defenses honest by disguising whether he will pass or shoot; and he does both well. 

Farabee showed some of his tenacity around the puck and his willingness to go to the "greasy" areas. He is typically diligent on the backcheck although there were a couple sequences without the puck during the WJSS where there were miscues on Farabee's side of the ice among the USA breakdowns on sequences that led to opposition goals. Equally notable, however, was that mistakes did not compound. Farabee turned over a few pucks, but more often than not recovered and got back into the play.  

Although the World Junior Championships is historically a tournament geared toward draft-plus-two players, Flyers 2018 first-round pick Farabee is a virtual lock for a spot on Team USA when the break rolls around in December during his freshman season at Boston University.

Tournament highlight: Farabee captured Player of the Game honors for his side in Team USA White's 7-5 win over Canada Red. Farabee scored back-to-back goals early in the second period to put the Americans in control of the game. In the tournament finale against Canada, Farabee scored the lone U.S. goal of the first period as he converted an out-numbered opportunity set up by Brady Tkachuk.

 

C/RW - Jay O'Brien: There may not have been a more tenacious player on Team USA both on the forecheck and the backcheck than the incoming Providence College freshman. O'Brien showed a combination of speed, skill, hockey sense and feistiness during the tournament. Statistically, he finished with two goals and two assists in three games. 

O'Brien played center in his first game in the tournament and then was moved to right wing on the third line. He did not receive power play time during the tournament -- all of his points came either at 5-on-5 or 5-on-6 (empty net) -- but he was effective on both sides of the puck. 

Entering the 2018 Draft, the main concern about O'Brien was that he had limited exposure to playing against higher-grade opposition than he faced at Thayer Academy. While the WJSS is an exhibition tourney, O'Brien showed that he is not at all out place against and among some of the hockey world's top players in his age group. 

Tournament highlight: O'Brien was named the Player of the Game for Team USA in the finale against Canada, by virtue of his two-goal performance. The first was scored off an odd-man rush as he elected to shoot rather than pass. The latter saw O'Brien make good plays at both ends of the ice. He exhibited strong defensive positioning after USA won a defensive battle (against Frost's line) behind the net. In the attack zone, O'Brien then finished off a chance created by dynamic offensive defenseman Quinn Hughes.

 

LW/C - Noah Cates: Cates may have entered the WJCC as a "bubble" candidate for the Team USA roster come December but he took a strong step toward potentially winning a spot. Playing a third-line role throughout the tournament, Cates did all the little things well -- he was excellent on the boards, very effective in applying pressure forecheck and made numerous strong plays within the defensive zone. Most notably, Cates was a stalwart penalty killer for the U.S. side, including duties on 5-on-3 kills. 

At both the high school and USHL levels, Cates was accustomed to playing a leading offensive role. However, if the incoming Minnesota-Duluth freshman is to make Team USA for the World Juniors, the tasks at which he excelled at the WJCC will be his ticket to a roster spot. In the meantime, Cates also made a few nice offensive plays during the tournament. He assisted on the Americans' first goal of the tourney and he scored the third U.S. goal in the comeback bid against Canada in the final game. Against Sweden, Cates received a shift during the 3-on-3 overtime. 

Tournament highlight: Cates' goal against Canada was a nifty one on a loose puck in front. He had the creativity and presence of mind to put the puck between his skates and then found the back of the net; a reminder that he has some skill to his game as well as the ability he showed to effectively perform vital but unglamorous tasks for his team.

 

CANADA

C/LW - Morgan Frost: The WJSS was not the best week of hockey for the 2017-18 Ontario Hockey League MVP runner-up. Playing his first career international tournament for Team Canada, he did not have the puck on his stick nearly as much as he is accustomed. Frost struggled at times in battles against opponents who took away space from him. 

Frost skated on Canada's top 5-on-5 line in his first and second outings, Pretty much exclusively a center for the OHL's Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, Frost was moved to third-line left wing in the finale against Team USA on a line centered by Greyhounds' teammate, Barrett Hayton. When the two sporadically played as linemates for Sault Ste. Marie last year, Frost remained at center while Hayton moved to wing.

In his first game, Frost skated on the first power play unit, and recorded his lone point in three outings in the tourney. He was on the second unit against Sweden, and did not see any power-play duty at all in the finale against Team USA. 

However, Frost was a regular on the Team Canada penalty kill in the final game against the Americans. He came up with a couple of clears and was consistently in good position with his stick and body. Actually, he also had several effective but subtle little plays at five-on-five in each of his three games but nothing developed from them subsequently.

Frost had some penalty issues of his own in the tournament. He was called for three stick-related minors -- two slashing penalties and a hooking infraction -- in his first game. In his second outing, he was sent off on a marginal interference penalty behind the net in the offensive zone on what looked to be a legal hit.

Frost is a virtual lock for Canada's World Junior Championships roster despite not being at his best at the WJSS. The same could be said of other notables who did not have their "A" game this past week, including Vegas Knights prospect Nick Suzuki on Team Canada and New York Islanders prospect Oliver Wahlstrom on Team USA, among others.

Tournament highlight: He didn't score on the play but Frost showed during the first period of Saturday's game against Team USA why he was named the OHL's best stickhandler last season in the league's annual Coaches' Poll. Frost gained the offensive blueline and stickhandled his way to the slot. Unfortunately, he lost control of the puck just as he went to shoot. Even so, that sequence was much more like what Frost brings when he's on top of his game.

 

LW - Isaac Ratcliffe: Ratcliffe did not dress in the final game against USA, as Team Canada rotated the players of its initial Canada White/Canada Red split squad rosters over the concluding set of three games in three days. Ratcliffe played a more prominent role in the lineup during the split-squad phase, when he skated on Canada Red. However, Ratcliffe did see penalty killing ice time throughout the tournament.

Ratcliffe showed some of advancements in using his size and strength to his advantage. He kept things pretty simple overall but played well within the structure that was expected of him. For the OHL's Guelph Storm, whom he will captain this season, Ratcliffe is rapidly emerging as the team's go-to guy when they need offense and he can play either wing. His role in the WJSS was a bit different.

Ratcliffe exits the WJSS having put in a decent showing. He remains in the mix for a WJC roster spot, which will be determined by his play over the course of the fall, the annual CHL series against the Russian junior national team and into Team Canada's selection camp in December. 

Tournament highlight: Ratcliffe scored the tying goal of the Canada Red vs. USA White game on July 31. He came up with a bouncing loose puck near the net and put it home on a second effort to knot the score at 5-5. USA White eventually prevailed, 7-5.

 

SWEDEN

LW - Olle Lycksell: Lycksell played among Sweden's top-six forward group throughout the tournament, showing hints of why he established himself last season as a professional player in Sweden's SHL. Lycksell is another player who is strong on hockey sense and plays effectively on both sides of the puck. 

For much of the tournament, Lycksell played left wing on a line centered by Anaheim Ducks 2018 first-round pick Isac Lundestrom. Statistically, Lycksell produced one goal and one assist in four games.

Tournament highlight: Lycksell earned a nifty assist on a third-period go-ahead goal for Sweden against Team USA. On the rush, he made a strong cut moving-one-on-one against and then fed the puck across to New Jersey Devils prospect Fabian Zetterlund for a slam-dunk. Previously, in the first of Sweden's two games against Finland, Lycksell scored a breakaway goal early in the second period.

 

D - Adam Ginning: Ginning brought the expected brand of physical defensive play and underrated mobility that has made him a regular for the Swedish junior national team at various age categories and also enabled him to graduate last season to Sweden's domestic pro level. 

Ginning was paired regularly with New York Rangers 2018 first-round pick Nils Lundkvist at the WJSS. He killed penalties and saw shifts against the likes of the Jack Hughes line and against Finland's Rasmus Kupari.

Tournament highlight: Sweden's 4-1 loss to Canada on Aug. 3 was not particularly inspired hockey on either side but Ginning played a solid game for his team. He recorded his lone point in the rematch against Finland, and it turned out to be the game-winning goal.

 

G - Samuel Ersson: Ersson only appeared in one game in the tournament, coming out on the losing end of a 4-3 shootout outcome against Finland on July 31. Ersson stopped 30 of 33 shots during regulation and overtime before yielding twice on four shots in the shootout.

Tournament highlight: A bang-bang glove save on Finnish standout Aarne Talvitie and a 12-save first period were the high points of Ersson's outing. He also earned a secondary assist on Lycksell's goal.

 
Photo Credit: Matthew Murnaghan/Hockey Canada
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