Canada Wins Exhibition Series Against Russia, Lightning Prospects
Canada 1 vs Russia 0 (OT)
After Team Canada won 4-2 in regulation in Halifax on Tuesday night to knot the four-game series at two wins apiece, both teams began a special overtime session in hopes of a series-deciding victory. The Canadians, the distinct aggressors throughout much of the three periods played previously that night, kept pressing their Russian counterparts and were rewarded with the clinching goal just a few minutes into sudden-death. On the play, Canada's Ty Rattie managed to keep the puck in Russia's end, which led to Ryan Strome getting the puck on his stick near the top of the left face-off circle, where he didn't waste any time using some crafty stick-work to make his way to a better angle in the high slot where, with a quick release, he fired a wrist shot that found its mark past Vasilevski.
After providing game-specific critiques for each of the three Lightning prospects, it seemed appropriate to take a step back and look at their performance with the bigger picture in mind.
D Nikita Nesterov, RUS: 0-2-2, 6 PIM
The Lightning's 2011 5th round selection may not have wowed anybody in this series but he did yeoman's work for Team Russia, highlighting his dependability with plenty of quality minutes and his versatility by skating in all situations. Nesterov caught the eye of Cody Nickolet, a color commentator for the Saskatoon Blades who runs the blog WHL From Above and is a scout for Future Considerations, who told us he thought Nesterov stood out for the Russians:
"He didn't seem to show many flashes of brilliance in one aspect of his game, but he proved that he's a smooth skater and a fairly well rounded defender overall. The Lightning were very high on him when they drafted him in the 5th round in 2011 and it's clear that he's continued his growth as a player while staying in Russia. He may not project as a top 3 defender on a team going forward, but he's an underrated prospect at this point and a player that should be close to cracking the Bolts roster sooner than some might think."
D Artem Sergeev, RUS: 0-2-2, 2 PIM
Signed just last month, the new Lightning prospect made an indelible impression as a quality skater who boasts a powerful yet fluid stride that makes him look at ease whether moving the puck on the attack or out of danger. Throughout the series Sergeev showcased a heady, talented offensive instincts at even-strength and particularly while anchoring the Russian power play that, combined with the prowess and poise he displayed in his own end, should bode well for his future in the Lightning's system. Nickolet heaped substantial praise upon Sergeev, whose performance, of the three Lightning prospects, he was surprised by the most:
"He showed off a variety of skills during the Canada-Russia Challenge and that might not have been that big of a shock to some others considering he has spent the last 3 seasons developing in North America. I was very impressed with his ability to skate, move the puck and generate offense through his mobility. For a guy that's listed at around 6'2, these are impressive skills to have. He also wasn't afraid to block shots and play physically and that is a great sign in his development going forward. I expect this kid to challenge for a roster spot on the Lightning sooner than some expect."
For Brendan Ross, who writes for DobberProspects and The Hockey Writers, what he saw from Sergeev was enough to warrant a spot in his Top-5 Russian Players in his write-up on the series. Ross was, like Nickolet, particularly taken with Sergeev's combination of size and mobility and thought he showed "excellent puck-moving abilities" as "Russia's go-to quarterback on the powerplay."
Cory Pronman, who covers prospects for Hockey Prospectus and ESPN, also weighed in favorably on Sergeev, calling him a "smart, skilled puck-mover" who "was better defensively than I've seen from him before although his strength is clearly on offense."
G Andrei Vasilevski, RUS: 2 Losses, 66 saves on 73 shots (in regulation play)
After being drafted by the Lightning in the 1st round in June's draft, it's understandable if the highly-touted goalie prospect faces some extra scrutiny after losing both of his starts in the series. Vasilevski may still be somewhat raw and there are undoubtedly elements of his technique that will be refinemed in coming years but, whatever the perceptible flaws, there's no denying he held the fort for the Russians with little in the way of offensive support, especially in Game 4. For Nickolet, Vasilevski's performance was a mixed bag:
"He showed glimpses of solid play, but overall he left me wanting a bit more when it came to his play between the pipes. With that being said, he's still a top notch prospect to have going forward. I like his size and his athleticism for a player that is 6'3. He plays his angles well and controlled his rebounds for the most part. But, he did seem to have trouble on low shots through traffic and struggled from time to time when Canada crashed the crease. He definitely needs more refining in many areas, but Tampa Bay could have a fantastic goalie on their roster in a few short years.
Ross, on the other hand, included Vasilevski on his list of Russian notables without any real criticisms, calling Vasilevski "excellent" and citing his performance in the final game as reason the Russians were not blown out.
If you missed any or all of the action, TSN has the entire series available, if you're interested, for online viewing:
Canada 1, Russia 0 - Series-Deciding Overtime