With a 7-14-3-3 record so far, the Mississauga Steelheads sit tied for last place in the OHL’s Eastern Conference. Yet, while the club is struggling as they kick off December, there are those individuals who are making the most of their opportunities, and that includes Los Angeles Kings prospect Jacob Moverare.
After his first two months of play on this side of the Atlantic, the 18-year-old blueliner has really come into his own – so much so that, for the significant majority of his team’s games, he starts on the top defensive pairing.
Moverare had missed the first few games of the OHL season as he was in Los Angeles at the Kings’ rookie camp. But, after being sent back to Mississauga, the Kings gave Moverare a few areas to improve upon.
“Mostly my skating and getting stronger,” the rookie defenseman told me back in early October, referring to what he needs to work on this season.
While the addition of strength has been met quite nicely thus far, Moverare did enter this season being notorious for being a fairly weak skater. While not terrible by any means, the blueliner’s footwork on the ice could have used some significant improvement. Fortunately, Moverare has made tremendous strides — pun very much intended — in his skating game.
“I feel a lot of my strides have gotten better now and how I skate forward especially,” Moverare told me on Friday night. “I know more with my edge, how to keep the ice and get more power from my strides. [Steelheads head coach] James Richmond has been teaching me a lot of good things. He’s been helping me really good.”
Week after week, the 18-year-old has become gradually better with his fluidity, transforming himself into one of the better skaters on a young Mississauga squad. In fact, Moverare’s improved footwork has helped him chase down loose pucks, maximize his presence on both sides of the special teams department and it has even given him an opportunity to get creative with the puck and elude opponents by making a few dekes and the occasional spin. This creativity may not have resulted in many points thus far but you can be certain that those will come in due time.
Yet, while he isn’t best known for collecting points, Moverare did record two assists on Friday night – and three in the past week – as he has been paired with speedy blueliner Vili Saarijarvi, who just recently made his Steelheads debut after starting the season recovering from a broken arm.
I asked Moverare how he enjoys playing with Saarijarvi thus far, especially after having good chemistry with fellow Steelheads defenseman Stefan LeBlanc.
“I think it’s really fun to play with Vili,” Moverare said on Friday. “He’s a really skilled guy. He’s done so well on skates. Really good, too. I like playing with [Saarijarvi and LeBlanc]. But [playing with Saarijarvi] has been great. I love him.”
At 5-foot-10, 165 pounds, Saarijarvi, a native of Rovaniemi, Finland, has not let his size — or lack thereof — deter him. In just six games so far, the 19-year-old already has three goals and four assists.
This is Saarijarvi’s second season in the OHL having spent last year with the Flint Firebirds where he scored 12 goals and 43 points in 59 games. He was drafted by the Detroit Red Wings (73rd overall) in 2015.
As for Moverare, who was taken 112th overall by the Kings in 2016, one of his greatest strengths this season has gone more-or-less unnoticed.
Prior to Friday’s game against the Peterborough Petes, Moverare had just two penalty minutes. Unfortunately for the youngster, his second penalty, which he took during Friday’s game, resulted in a power play goal for the visiting Petes. Still, Moverare’s discipline is certainly noteworthy and something that has really helped the Steelheads thus far.
I asked Moverare how he’s able to stay so disciplined, especially after learning to get more physical in recent weeks.
“Just trying to move my feet so I don’t get tripping or hooking,” Moverare explained. “Just trying to play off the rules.”
After losing their ninth-straight game on Friday, the Steelheads were able to bounce back in Ottawa on Sunday as they defeated the 67’s by a 6-3 count.
To make matters even better, on Monday morning, it was announced that Moverare was chosen to represent his native Sweden at the upcoming World Juniors. This will be Moverare’s first time at the World Juniors but not his first time representing his home country as he suited up for Sweden’s Under-18 team last year and their Under-17 team the year before.
— OHL Steelheads (@OHLSteelheads) December 5, 2016
But Moverare isn’t the only Steelhead going to the World Juniors as the aforementioned Vili Saarijarvi has been chosen to represent his native Finland at the annual tournament.
While he may not be expected to put up points on a regular basis, Moverare has registered a very decent 15 points in 25 games thus far. As previously mentioned, though, putting his name on the scoresheet is not what the Ostersund, Sweden, native is best at.
Upon being drafted, he was notorious for his less-than-stellar skating. Now, Jacob Moverare looks more graceful on his feet than he did just a few weeks ago. He was also notorious for not using his 6-foot-2 frame to his advantage. Now, Jacob Moverare is a huge physical presence, especially along the boards.
Additionally, Moverare has strengthened his already-promising defensive game by becoming more aggressive as he shows no fear when sacrificing his body to block a shot. Such confidence reminds this writer of former Kings defensive stalwart Rob Scuderi, who was an instrumental force in winning two Stanley Cups — first with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2009 and then, of course, with the silver-and-black in 2012.
There is still a long way to go in the 2016-17 season but if his first two months were any indication, then expect Kings prospect Jacob Moverare to take his game to new levels in the new year.
And to think… he’s still a rookie.