The Detroit Red Wings’ prospects wrapped up eight days’ worth of games and practices at USA Hockey Arena on Saturday, concluding the World Junior Summer Showcase with a pair of entertaining games.
Team Sweden finally earned their first win in 5 tries, defeating Team USA White 7-1;
Defenseman William Wallinder had 2 assists and was +3 for Sweden, and Theodor Niederbach, playing on the wing, had an assist and was +2 for Sweden…
For the U.S. side, defenseman Shai Buium had a good game despite finishing at -3, and Cross Hanas had a quiet game due to all the special teams play, finishing at -2.
In terms of highlights, IceHockeyGifs covered the game, and here are the plays in which Wallinder and Niederbach had assists:
After the game, Sweden’s coach, Tomas Monten, spoke with the media (including The Athletic’s Max Bultman, The Athletic’s Abbey Mastracco, and Hockeybuzz’s Julie Robenhymer) regarding the play of a good half of his roster, including Wallinder (who Monten sees as a 3rd-pair defenseman, despite his offensive skills) and Niederbach (who Monten feeles is best-suited to playing on the wing):
Niederbach also spoke with Bultman and me, discussing what he learned this week, and whether the lessons learned playing on the smaller rink–in particular, being more demonstrative and quicker in his decision-making–can translate to going back to the big ice to play with the Frolunda Indians’ men’s team after dominating the J20 league this past season. Niederbach also told us that he’s familiar with Simon Edvinsson and Liam Dower Nilsson, who are both Frolunda-based Wings prospects:
In the second game, Finland did to USA Blue what Sweden did to USA White, only in a much more Finnish way–that is to say that the Americans were defeated 4-2, in methodical, Finnish fashion, over the course of a grinding, gritty and sometimes very nasty game. The game ended with a 5-on-5 brawl!
Neither Red Savage nor Carter Mazur posted points over the course of their loss, but Savage played a key role on a team rolling 3 lines, serving as the 2nd line center and a frequent penalty-killer. When the Finns tried to mix things up, Savage was sometimes in the middle of things, taking a penalty for rough stuff at 11:52 of the 3rd period…But, most of the time, he worked his tail off charging up and down the ice, stifling Finnish scoring chances when possible, and trying to generate chances of his own by going to the front of the net.
Mazur was slated as an “extra forward,” so he didn’t get as much ice time, but when he skated, he played with a particularly hard edge, and he was downright nasty at times with an ornery Finnish squad. In a game where the chirps flew between teams and at the officiating, Mazur was a factor in limited action.
After the game, coach Nate Leaman gave his ever-serious take on the World Junior Summer Showcase as a whole, the play of Savage and Mazur, the U.S. teams’ struggles to impress their coaches maybe a bit too much on the last day, and the talent base he has to work with come the World Juniors:
Red Savage also spoke with the assembled media, discussing his two games played at the WJSS, his love for winning battles on the ice as a highly competitive player and penalty-killer, his meetings with the Wings’ staff over the past week, his take on living in Metro Detroit as a Northville native for the past 5 seasons, having watched his fair share of Red Wings games, and his hope that in two or three years, he’s putting on the Winged Wheel:
In terms of the players who took part in the WJSS, on a whole-week’s-worth-of-observations basis:
William Wallinder, Defense: A 2020 draft pick, Wallinder displayed a lot of promise this past week due to his superior skating. The 6’4,” 193-pound defenseman will attempt to make the jump from the Allsvenskan, which is essentially the Swedish AHL, to the men’s league with Rogle this upcoming season. Wallinder really needs to work on his physical strength, but he’s a heads-up, “headsy” defenseman who anticipates plays before they happen and gets his body in the right position to make the “simple play” most of the time.
I’m not sure if he’s going to have an elite offensive skill set, but he managed to post a handful of assists over the course of Sweden’s final two games at the tournament, and he looked better and better in terms of his overall situational awareness and anticipation as the week wore on. That’s what you want to see from a defenseman playing on a North American-width rink for the first time…
And while he was spare at best during his interviews, Wallinder is clearly a “thinking man’s” defenseman, and at that, a “thinking man” whose mobility is at an elite level (even if his coach thinks that Wallinder is best-served playing as a defensive defenseman on the Swedish World Junior team). He has to work on his gap control and work on playing simpler, more efficient hockey, but there’s room for progress to be made.
Theodor Niederbach, Forward: Another 2020 draft pick, Niederbach, who stands at a very lanky 5’11,” absolutely dominated playing in the J20 league for Frolunda last season, and the center/winger is looking to make the jump to SHL play this upcoming season. It looks like he’s going to have a…transition period, let’s put it that way, because, as coach Tomas Monten said after the game, Niederbach likes to slow down the game, when he’s probably best-served by continuing to make good offensive plays (be they passes, shots or strong board battles) at a high rate of speed and a high level of urgency.
Niederbach isn’t physical at all, but he can handle himself fairly well in traffic, and Niederbach has room to grow in terms of both the maturity of his game and the physical maturity of his body strength-wise.
The fact that this past week was a learning experience for him is okay, because this was his first time playing on smaller ice (the NHL plays on 85-foot-wide rinks, while international play is on 100-foot-by-200-foot rinks), and he’s still adjusting to “playing above his weight” in terms of playing with men instead of boys, so this week’s worth of fumbled pucks and struggles to finish were all made playing against top prospects (i.e. a step up from the J20 level).
Niederbach could end up being a steal, and he could end up being another one of those Swedish kids who never makes the jump because he’s not interested in physical play. We’ll have to watch him develop over time.
Shai Buium, Defense: Unlike the Swedes, Buium has been a member of the Red Wings’ family for all of a week, and the massive wingspan of the 6’3,” 219-pound defenseman is matched by an impressively efficient skating stride. Buium gets where he needs to go fast, because he’s all arms and legs right now.
His skating and overall comfort level improved over the course of the week of hockey at USA Hockey Arena, and that’s very good, because there were times that the gazelle-like defenseman looked incredibly uncomfortable, and there were other times when his ability to glide and make steady, simple and smart hockey plays gave him a dominant edge over his peers.
Buium was fantastic and fantastically inconsistent at the same time, and, again, that’s okay, because he’s all of 18 and is heading to the University of Denver, one of the premier NCAA hockey schools, this fall, where he’ll count fellow 2021 draft pick Carter Mazur and defenseman Antti Tuomisto among his teammates.
Buium comes from a unique hockey background as a kid who grew up in San Diego, and while my glimpses of him were very raw and very “early”–kind of like the state of his overall game–the Red Wings moved up to draft him early in the second round because he’s got real potential as a middle-pair defender who can do everything well (think Brad Stuart).
Cross Hanas, Left Wing: Hanas left me puzzled after a week’s worth of watching the 6’1,” 176-pound sniper from the Western Hockey League’s Portland Winterhawks spend the vast majority of his week focusing on penalty-killing and two-way play instead of trying to score goals.
Now it’s entirely possible that Hanas, a Texas native, was told that he’d have a better chance of making the team if he displayed two-way responsibility than he would making the team as a sniper, but he had a really rough season split between the USHL and WHL this past year, and Hanas needs to get his confidence back, because there is goal-scoring potential in his mitts, and enough of a skating stride to get himself into proper position.
He’ll head back to Portland for his 19-year-old season, and will probably play a season after that in the WHL, but then the Wings have to decide whether to sign him, so it’s up to Hanas to “seize the day.”
Red Savage, Center: Savage wasn’t at 100% during either of the 2 games that he played as he was recovering from a virus, but the 2021 draft pick isn’t particularly big at 5’11” and 181 pounds, but is particularly plucky and full of heart. Savage loves to charge up and down the ice and play strong defense, work on his transition game, and then generate offense by going to the front of the net and staying there. He wins faceoffs, he blocks shots, he makes demonstrative plays, he hauls his ass and he busts his hump working hard.
He was the captain of the U.S. Under-18 Worlds team, he’s an outgoing, chatty young man with a ton of enthusiasm for every part of the game, and he loves being a good teammate in all situations. He was enthusiastic as hell on the penalty-kill today, grinding his tail off.
Savage is headed to Miami of Ohio, where his father played, and his older brother currently plays, and while Savage is not necessarily an elite offensive center in the making, he’s certainly a heart-and-soul player and a leader-and-a-half, and you can’t have too many players whose heart, soul and effort are measured by the metric ton.
Carter Mazur, Center: Mazur was drafted as a 19-year-old out of the USHL, where he posted 44 points in 47 games as the captain of the Tri-City Storm. Much like Savage, the Jackson, MI native isn’t particularly big at 6′ and 183 pounds, but he possesses a nasty edge to a gritty game; Mazur skates well, and the former Little Caesars product knows Wings director of amateur scouting Kris Draper as well as Savage knows his family friend, so he’s got quite the voice to lean upon.
Mazur is headed to the University of Denver with his pal, Buium, and I don’t see him projecting as the same kind of small power forward and/or defensive specialist that Savage could become, but Mazur is incredibly analogous to a young Kirk Maltby. He’s a shift disturber, a scrappy winger, and a tough customer who doesn’t need to drop his gloves to play hard, grinding, wear-down-your-opponents hockey (while loving every minute of it).
Just like Savage, his leadership qualities are evident, and his enthusiasm for putting in hard work is a quality that you cannot have too much of at any level of play.
I don’t know if Savage or Mazur project to be anything more than grinding, heart-and-soul guys, but having enthusiastic support players who want to embrace that kind of role is absolutely essential to building a winning team.
Eemil Viro, Defense: Viro didn’t play in Finland’s final two games because he was nursing a minor injury, and, because TPS Turku starts its exhibition season in the middle of August, it made no sense to ask a 19-year-old to “play hurt” when he’s got a potentially pivotal season in a men’s league in front of him.
Like Wallinder, Viro, a 6,’ 183-pound defenseman, possesses superior mobility, and while he has to work a little harder to churn his hips and get up and down the ice, he’s a reliable, steady and useful two-way defender.
Viro is playing for one of the best organizations in Europe in TPS, he’s got a hell of a mentor in Mikko Koivu to lean on, he’s learning from Niklas Kronwall as well (he was gushy about Kronwall’s influence), and Viro has the tendency to score the odd particularly big goal.
I’m not sure whether his offensive game is going to find another level, but it’s passable, and, mostly, he’s a very useful defenseman who can get away with not being the most physical player because his skating in all three directions is superb. He’s not quite as gifted as Wallinder skating-wise, but Viro is much more demonstrative in his play as someone with pro experience, and, like I said, there is the tantalizing quality that is his long bomb.
Overall, this was the only chance I had to see these players before they head back to college and/or European pro leagues, so while I was far from 100% in terms of my recovery from laparoscopic gallbladder surgery, I felt that it was essential to come here and represent my fellow fans if the opportunity presented itself (and it did).
I’m exhausted this evening, my tummy is a little sore, and the draft and free agency really took a lot of energy out of me, but some six weeks before the prospect tournament and main training camp begin, I’m happy.
As I said this morning, on Twitter…
I’m sitting at USA Hockey Arena in Plymouth, MI, writing about the Bertuzzi deal. Matty Beniers is chatting with Team USA’s skills coach as he does some on-ice work.
It is such a privilege to be able to go to the rink for a job. I never forget how unbelievably lucky I am.— George Malik (@georgemalik) July 31, 2021
Doing this job is a compulsion, an addiction, a frustrating burden sometimes, and it’s certainly exhausting sometimes, but it is so very worth everything I put in for the sake of my fellow Red Wings fan.
I just want to say, “Thank you” to those of you who’ve read along over the past week.
This has been great, and I’m ready to take a break after the busiest week of the offseason, for sure, but then I want to get ready for a healthier and happier season to come, for all of us.