A HUNGRY BEAR, SWIFT RUSSIAN & ONE BIG AMERICAN – THREE KINGS AT THE 2011 WJC
I asked a friend of the site who is at the World Junior Championships and comes with a wealth of hockey background, knowledge and contacts to give us an update and his observations on The Three Kings, Schenn, Kitsyn and Forbort. He came through. The following comes from the notes he sent me, which I have brought to life for our readers. Enjoy.
It’s good to have a correspondent, or in this case a friend of the site and a liaison who can gather information that may escape the typical dry reporting by major media. As luck would have it, we just happen to have that very guy…what did our guy find out? Let’s find out together.
Everybody knows that Brayden Schenn is a talented two way physical center who doesn’t back down from anyone or anything. What many are discovering is that he is also one of the more talented puck handlers and gifted offensive forwards among his peers. A player that many pundits see as being Russia’s most talented player at the tournament, Vladimir Tarasenko, called Schenn “голодный медведь” or what loosely translates into english as “a hungry bear.” High praise from Tarasenko when you consider the comment was made directly after his team lost 6-3 to Schenn and team Canada. Even more so when you consider Schenn was criticized by most of the Canadian faithful for having a terrible game against the Russians, mostly because he was credited with producing only one goal and one assist.
Did Schenn look out of place in the first game? Maybe. Want to know why? Keep reading. Our guy did a lot of watching and a little digging. Those “experts” around him believed Brayden was pushing the play too much and trying too hard to make the big play at both ends of the ice. This, they will tell you, lasted for about two periods of the game versus Russia until, the experts espouse, the real Brayden Schenn showed up.
Our guy doesn’t buy this theory. Here is his: Schenn’s line mates where simply at least two steps behind the speed and vision Schenn had expected. The best way to sum up what actually happened was Brayden Schenn had an awakening. You could see it occur from one shift to another. At first, Brayden was ahead of the play, trying to buy time so his line mates could catch up to him. In the next shift, Schenn found a way to let the game, and his line mates, come to him. It started in the second period of the game versus Russia, took root in the third and has continued since.
The second game had Schenn facing off against a very hard-nosed and gritty team from the Czech Republic. It took almost no time to silence his detractors and prove himself again to be one of the most talented young players in the world with hard work, the right reads, 1 goal and 4 assists for a 5 point night.
Schenn simply dominated against the next opponent, Norway, with another 5 point game where he scored 4 goals and added 1 assist.
One element you didn’t see on television, but our guy did, was Schenn’s propensity to lead with his voice as well as his game. At the end of the Czech game, two of their players (Straka and Osarva) started trash talking to the Canadian bench. Brayden Schenn leaned over the boards and retorted “sorry, we don’t speak loser around here, go try and sell it to the Russians!” Straka…well, he looked pissed off and Orsava just skated away shaking his head.
That’s our boy.
How about our Russian? Our liaison had a short talk with Maxim Kitsyn, a fun and witty young kid with potential. He has followed Maxim’s progress over the last year or so and is looking forward to seeing Kitsyn earn his way to the NHL, assuming of course the league can work through the red tape that keeps talented players like Maxim from playing juniors and working their way up to the professional ranks.
Our liaison asked Maxim shortly after he was drafted if he was happy to be a Los Angeles King. Maxim responded, “I will be as fast as possible. Go make room for me!” Pretty cocky, no? A slightly different question was asked at the WJC recently. He asked Maxim when he thinks he’ll be ready for the NHL. Kitsyn responded, “already ready now except for my scoring and skating” to both of their laughter. The two answers show a maturity process, one you will see as you keep reading transcends into his on ice game as well.
Kitsyn is a strong and physical player. He is a big 6’2″ 192 pound budding power forward. Our guy was fortunate enough to see him play a few games in person during his draft season and what he saw then compared to the WJCs is a significant maturation in every aspect of his game. Maxim is intense. He comes from Novokuznetsk, Russia which is a place known for its hockey and long cold winters. His game plan is simple: Go to the front of the net, cause as much chaos as possible and then clean up any garbage left for him. It’s a strategy that has worked for several NHL players since the new rules and Kitsyn is making it work for him. Our liaison also observed that Kitsyn has exceptionally gifted hands for a power forward and it is showing in his 4 points (3 goals, 1 assist) in the first four WJC games.
I wanted to know about his skating. Our liaison told me something I didn’t expect. Maxim is a good skater and at times will surprise you with his speed and dexterity but his game is that of a power forward and not a player that will blow past you unless he is heading to the net – think Dustin Brown. So, if you’re expecting a flashy player who dangles the puck and makes nifty little moves to free himself for scoring chances, don’t look Kitsyn’s way. If you crave an iconic figure from the Russian empire who plants himself in front of the net swinging his stick as if it were a giant red war hammer and driving home anything thrown in his direction, then prepare to fall in love.
Our liaison sees Maxim as still being three years away from taking a legitimate shot at the NHL although the pace of his development could land him here sooner. When he does, don’t be surprised if he makes the most of it.
On that note, he and Kitsyn talked about Los Angeles and what it is like to be a hockey player here. He assured Maxim that he would love it and that for the most part you go unnoticed as we are not the fish bowl that many players swim within around the league. Kitsyn of course asked about the girls. He was told they were all there waiting for him and all he had to do was work on his game and he will get them all once he becomes a King.
Onto Derek Forbort. For that, our resourceful correspondent talked with team USA assistant coach, Joe Exter. Exter explained that Forbort is playing with a sore left hand but he doesn’t seem affected by it much. Exter heralded Forbort has shown real leadership qualities and is a team favorite both among his team mates and the coaching staff. No shock there. That fits Dean Lombardi’s mandatory condition precedent to any young player he brings to the club. Our guy asked what he thought of Forbort’s development. Exter responded that he believes Forbort will become a sure-fire 2nd pairing NHL defenseman. He has a rocket of a shot (which is well-known) but what isn’t known is Forbort spends a considerable amount of time working on his stick handling and his short stride skating.
Derek Forbort is big. At 6’5″ 200(+) pounds, he is already an imposing figure. Put skates under him and he looks like a giant among boys. He is an impressive skater for his size and uses exceptional foot speed and open ice vision to make himself a very difficult player to skate against. One of the most impressive things about his game that often goes unnoticed is his passing ability which reminded our liaison the most of a young Rob Blake in its accuracy and speed. His physical game is smart in that where most big men tend to use their size as leverage in front of the net, Forbort uses his balance and timing to simply slide opposing players out of contention for the puck or net. He, when necessary, also brings the hammer but he picks his spots more than a player of his age may and that shows a maturity and an understanding of the game beyond his years.
During the 2011 WJCs, Forbort has been called on mostly as shut down defenseman. So far, so good. When will he be ready? Don’t be surprised if it is only a couple of years.
Hope you enjoyed this article. We hope to get more information and quotes as the days come. Until then, keep watching The Three Kings.