U18 Five Nations has plenty of 2017 eligible standouts

Special To FC2017 Draft Center, IIHF, International Events

In the shadow of the IIHF World Junior Championship, each year the World Under-18 5 Nations meet in Zuchwil, Switzerland between Christmas and New Years.

It is a great showcase for young prospects, who do not have the chance to play at U20 level. This year, next to some intriguing 2017 draft class prospects, a couple of top prospects for the 2018 draft had the chance to send an early impression to NHL-scouts.

Here are some names that impressed:

Martin Kaut, F, Czech Republic, 6-1, 161, 10-02-1999*
Kaut has probably been the player that impressed most on a very strong Czech Republic team. He showed the work ethic, two-way game and leadership of a player who is deemed to captain a team one day, and that as a late 99-born not being one of the oldest players on the team. He can really shoot the puck, possesses good shot power and accuracy as well as powerful passes and can play tape-to-tape laser passes. Kaut uses all of his shot arsenal and displays good timing on one-timers. Defensively, he is aware of his role and does not hesitate to go down on his knees to block shots. He backchecks and supports his defence in most of his shifts.

Draft outlook: Kaut is not eligible until the 2018 NHL Draft. However, he played like a leader in this tournament and impressed with his maturity and overall play. He was arguably the best player of the tournament and is a name to keep in mind for next year, where the Czechs will have a strong group of prospects.

Ostap Safin, F, Czech Republic, 6-4, 198, 02-11-1999
Safin was the highest ranked 2017-eligible player (39th in Future Considerations Winter ranking) and he lived up to the expectations of a power forward with lots of offensive upside. He is a goal scorer through and through, shows a good nose for the net and knows where to position himself for a good shooting spot. His wrist shot is powerful and he can fire the puck with accuracy and good velocity. Listed at 6-foot-4 and almost 200 pounds, Safin fulfils the requirements of a power forward. He knows how to use his frame and drives the net while protecting the puck nicely. He likes to go straight to the net with the puck and uses his long reach to keep the puck away from defenders, who had a hard time to handle the big-sized Czech physically. Despite his size, Safin is an agile skater with good edgework and acceleration as he uses powerful strides to hit top speed.

Draft outlook: Safin is a good bet to go in the second round of 2017. He might lack some creativity to make it into the first round and although he tried to be a leader on the team, he didn’t appear to seize hat leadership role more often being one of the oldest players on his team.

Filip Zadina, LW, Czech Republic, 6-0, 190, 11-27-1999*
Zadina was probably the most intriguing prospect ahead of the tournament as he has the potential to be a top-5 pick in 2018. He lived up to that expectations as he showed flashes of his puckhandling skills and vision, however, displayed some issues with consistency as he was invisible in some shifts. His biggest asset are definitely his smooth hands and vision. He is always aware of his linemates and sees the open ice very well. Zadina can be an important part on the power play with this good passing skills and hockey smarts. He has a very good nose for stealing pucks and creating turnovers as he uses his smarts, timing and active stick to steal pucks. Once with the puck, all happens very fast and he makes plays and sets up scoring chances in a hurry.

Draft outlook: Zadina projects as a first rounder in 2018 as of now. Although the 2018-draft class is a strong one and Zadina will need to work on his consistency, he showed that he has the size and skill to be a top prospect next year if he brings all of his skill set to the table.

Patrik Hrehorcak, F, Slovakia, 5-10, 161, 03-18-1999
Hrehorcak is a powerful skater and skates with great determination. He possesses quick acceleration and top speed and a player who can take off in a hurry and out-skate opponents. He is a great team player who is ready to take one for the team if needed and puts the team above all. He is a true battles and loves get involved in all kind of battles and gets things going in most of his shift. Hrehorcak plays an active game and tries to make things happen in his shifts. He possesses leadership skills and communicates well when backchecking in order to have all opponents covered. Hrehorcak can fire the puck with good velocity and possess a good shot release combined with good shot power.

Draft outlook: Hrehorcak counts on his work ethic, skating skills and energy level. However, he also possesses a good shot and would fit a bottom-six role very nicely. He projects as a lower round guy as of now.

Jesse Ylonen, F, Finland, 6-0, 161, 10-03-1999*
Ylonen was a player who caught eyes with his silk-smooth hands and incredible skating abilities. He is a tremendous puck carrier and treats the puck with care and his great hands. He feels very comfortable with the puck on his stick and can dance through opposing defenders with blazing speed and above-average puck skills. Ylonen also showed great pass accuracy and distributed pucks with effectiveness. Skating-wise, he was absolute elite in this tournament as he is very agile and accelerates quickly. Strong poise with the puck and showed good hockey smarts.

Draft outlook: As a late 99-born, Ylonen is eligible in 2018. He definitely has to work on his strength and physical game, but his hands and smarts are above-average, which could make him a nice addition.

Joni Ikonen, RW, Finland, 5-10, 168, 04-14-1999
Ikonen plays a similar game like Ylonen, he is a very skillful player and possesses great hands and puckhandling skills. He tries to walk the puck into the offensive zone and likes to go into one-on-one situations trying to deke opposing players and beat them with speed and puck skills. He is able to draw penalties with his slick hands and speed and is hard to catch when he takes off. Ikonen is a player who wants the puck in the neutral zone just to move into the offensive zone and create havoc. He is a real good skater, agile and smooth.

Draft outlook: Ikonen has the hands and skating to be an intriguing prospect, but he needs to mature and simplify his game. Still, he has the potential to be a second or third round pick.

Adam Liska, LW, Slovakia, 6-0, 176, 10-14-1999*
Liska captained Slovakia played a strong tournament as he helped his team in so many ways. He is a true leader on the ice and possesses strong communication skills. He contributes at both ends of the ice and backchecks hard and with consequence. He has the ability to kill time while shorthanded as he keeps the puck away from his own zone with good puck protection and board game. He is strong on the skates and hard to knock off the puck. He does a lot of small things the right way and puts the team result above everything.

Draft outlook: As a late 99-born, he is only available in 2018 where he projects to be drafted in the middle rounds.

Jesperi Kotkaniemi, C, Finland, 6-0, 172, 07-06-2000*
Kotkaniemi played a man’s game. A big and strong power forward type of player who can contribute offensively. Kotkaniemi has nice shooting skills, being able to beat goaltenders with his powerful wrist shot. He possesses good hands and can play hard and very accurate tape to tape passes. Together with his shooting tools, he can be a dangerous contributor on the power play. He is an agile and powerful skater and has good offensive instincts.

Draft outlook: Kotkaniemi is deemed to be the top 2000-born prospect out of Finland. A late first or early second round seems to be within Kotkaniemi’s reach for 2018, maybe even more.

Article by Dennis Schellenberg