Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is the guy with the puck, but Kristians Pelss is back-checking hard and just might catch him. Photo by Lisa McRitchie.
Having a chance to watch hockey games is a great, and while some might think it crazy to sit down on a sunny September night (at least, it was sunny in Vancouver), getting a chance to watch the prospects we try to follow quite closely mostly through the use of statistics is a most wonderful opportunity indeed. It's interesting to see Philippe Cornet dominate at times and show just how big of a difference a year of pro experience makes; it's exciting to see that Anton Lander really is a cut above most of the other players at this level; and it's just a lot of fun to see Ryan Nugent-Hopkins for the first time. But most of all, it's fascinating to see which under-the-radar guy ends up impressing you the most.
In the most recent Top 25 Under 25 I picked Kristians Pelss as the 43rd best player under 25 in the organization, which is pretty darn poor. Yeah, I knew that 31 of Pelss' 33 points came at even strength, and that the bulk came in the last half of the year, and that he was one of the youngest players drafted in 2010, but that still didn't do it for me. I mean, let's face it, even if you cut him a little bit of slack, and say that the coach should have been playing him on the power play, it's not likely that he'd have scored more than 25 points on the power play (more than the team leader), so we're still talking about a 5'10'' skill forward who can't crack a point per game in the WHL. That's not impressive.
But do you know what was impressive? The game that Pelss had last night. On more than a few occasions, the young Latvian winger was able to win more than his fair share of battles along the boards and was consistently applying excellent pressure in the offensive zone, which forced defenders to make decisions quickly. There's no doubt that playing on a line with Curtis Hamilton and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins helped him to look as good as he did, but Pelss didn't look at all like an Anson-Carter-esque third wheel that let the other men do all the hard work.
It's funny. On the one hand, it's just one game, and I know that I know that I know your opinion shouldn't be swayed that much by just one game, especially an exhibition game that resembles shinny more than it does the organized systems play of a modern NHL team, but I just can't help it. I'm suddenly feeling a lot more optimistic about the chances of Kristians Pelss.