The annual Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament is the first big event of the scouting season and generally is the ‘welcome back’ point for the scouting community after a month’s vacation from hockey rinks.
The scouting season is upon us.
It also represents the ‘gentleman start your engines’ moment for the 30 NHL teams in the 10 month race to see as much of these potential prospects before next June when teams have to make that difficult decisions on whom to select at the NHL Entry Draft proceedings.
The tournament hosting arenas in Piestany, Slovakia and Breclav, Czech Republic can be some of the most scarcely attended junior games in terms of fans but is a must see for most NHL personnel. The drab, damp and often foggy venues give a great European cold war spy game backdrop for the tight lipped scouting community in attendance. The scouts scattered through the stands are there for one reason; to see the raw, still developing prospects that could possibly become a big part of their organizations on-ice success down the road.
The 2011 event started off with a bang as the heavily favorite Canadian team lost its first game handily to a spunky and skilled Swedish squad. However after that game the Canadians showed that their overwhelming talent was too much to handle as they finished off by defeating that same skilled Swede bunch in the gold medal game.
Here are some reports on some of the more notable performances from the big five nations at this year’s event.
On the Canadian side, left winger Andreas Athanasiou was impressive throughout the Canadian U18 camp in Calgary and carried that performance thought the games in Europe. His combination of high end speed, on-ice headiness, willingness to drive the net and pro style shot made him a dangerous offensive weapon every time he pulled on the Canadian jersey. Likely not to make as big a jump up the draft board as some scouts or media have indicated he could take as he does have a bit of a one-dimensional feel to his game. Luckily for him that that dimension is goal scoring.
Charles Hudon was Canada’s most consistent offensive performer. A skilled and speedy playmaker with elite vision and anticipation, possesses soft hands that allow his puck distribution to be are both accurate and timely. Despite his five-foot-eight frame, Hudon was willing to go into traffic for a chance and showed his ability to rip the puck himself when given something to shoot at. Hudon proved he knows where to be on the ice in almost every situation and finished second in tournament scoring with nine points, however his lack of size will likely still push him out of the first round of the draft come next June.
Simply put, defenseman Matt Dumba was one of Canada’s most explosive players in the tournament. His elite skating ability coupled with impressive hands and shot made him dangerous each time he touches the puck. Dumba was also given the chore of shutting down the oppositions top guns and he was able to do so admirably throughout the last four games.
Dumba, though, did leave some questions regarding his offensive zone vision as he missed some opportunities when pinching down into the zone as a handful of teammates were open for high percentage scoring chances around the slot but went unseen. He can get caught trying to do too much with the puck and get distracted with trying to beat multiple defenders instead of keeping an eye for open scoring chances. Remembering that the skilled defender is still very young and will likely develop that offensive awareness; this tournament will likely see him get a boost in his draft ranking.
Fellow Canadian defender Morgan Rielly was one of the tournament’s top draft eligible performers as he used his puck poise, elite speed, one-ice vision and leadership abilities to really control the flow of the game every time he was on the ice. His error free defensive game, timely offensive contributions and defense partner support was not lost on the many scouts in attendance.
Daniel Altshuller who was Canada’s undisputed No.1 goaltender from the get go, never had to win a game for his team but was highly effective in his teams last four contests staying focused and stopping the limited shots that came his way. While questions still abound as to where he will play this season one thing for curtain is that he will be a highly regarded goalie heading into the 2012 NHL Entry Draft.
Canadian forward Matia Marcantuoni and defenseman Griffin Reinhart, both potential high draft picks for the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, left something to be desired as the hope was for them to come into the tournament, dominate the competition and validate the top ten discussions of late.
Marcantuoni, who was expected to be a key offensive cog, was injured in his first contest and didn’t see the ice after that, while Reinhart had his struggles in getting his physical and offensive games going and was overshadowed by some other draft eligible performers.
Over on the Swedish roster left winger Filip Forsberg, Sweden’s captain, played a consistently hard working game where he used his size and speed on the fore check to create havoc for the opposition, causing multiple turnovers and rushed passes. Forsberg also showed his outstanding offensive skills, including quick hands and a bullet shot, as a highly skilled thorn in the side of his teams opposition. A likely top-10 or even top-5 draft selection if he can keep up the pace of game he showed at the Hlinka Tournament.
Sniper right wing Sebastian Collberg, was ‘Johnny on the spot’ for many a scoring chance and displayed his nice shot and offensive reads early and often. He consistently showed his quick feet, quick release and impressive accuracy as he and Forsberg paced Sweden in the scoring department. His play at this tournament leads most to conclude that he could challenge Forsberg for the honor of the top Swede in the 2012 NHL draft class.
Other Swedes to impress included defenseman Jesper Pettersson, who was a bit of an unknown commodity before seeing his game in the Czech Republic. The undersized defender made some timely offensive contributions, dependable defensive zone play and even showed a bit of a physical edge despite his lack of size, with some timely hits as opportunities presented themselves.
Swedish goaltender Oscar Dansk played big when he needed to, especially in shutting down the Canadians in the first game which Sweden won handily. Using his sound positioning and big frame he kept his squad in each game he played and made most of the saves he was supposed to make.
A talented team Finland had one of the better performances by that country in a long time and they were led by forward Teuvo Teravainen. Teravainen is a smallish right wing, at five-foot-10 and a shade under 160-pounds, but is highly skilled offensively. Teravainen showed good speed, on-ice elusiveness, strong vision, outstanding playmaking ability and an underrated shot to lead the Finnish squad into medal contention and the tournament in scoring. Because of his lack of size he may still be seen as a mid-round draft option by most NHL teams.
Ville Pokka, the top draft eligible Finnish defender at the tournament, also showed some big game ability with timely contributions especially in the offensive end of the ice. You can see from Pokka’s game that he wants the puck on his stick and with his outstanding shot and puck skills is a big time weapon from the point. He is a big minute munching defender with a strong work ethic and passion for the game.
Shifty left winger Juuso Ikonen showed his spunky and determined game despite a severe lack of size at just five-foot-seven. Ikonen skates real well with excellent acceleration and jump and can blow by larger defenders if they are not careful. He has good hands and can both snipe a shot as well as he can set-up a linemate and was a big point producer who if can grow a couple inches by next year, his NHL draft year, could be a top prospect for 2013.
Centre Aleksandr Barkov was arguably the top performer for Finland’s U18 squad contributing on both sides of the puck. Impressive size at six-foot-two with good strength and skill for were showcased each game as Barkov led the Finnish attack, not bad for a prospect not yet even 16-year-old. He reads and anticipates the play very well and can use his large frame to win most puck battles. While not draft eligible until 2013, he should be a hot commodity for scouts to keep track of after this impressive appearance.
Another 2013 eligible prospect, defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen, also proved to be not just one of Finland’s top performers but also one of the Hlinka tournaments top defenders, the six-foot-three blue liner was a force for the Fins as he used his size and mobility to play a physical game in his own zone as well as showing off some offensive skill and instinct as he contributed on the score sheet as well.
Big centre Cristoval Nieves had some impressive moments in Slovakia that made the scouts in attendance take note of his pro potential as he used his good size and powerful fleet footed skating ability to his advantage on a couple occasions to create some offense. His consistency level however had them also wondering if he could put it all together on a game-by-game basis.
Jordan Masters, a left winger, was the most consistent offensive threat in Slovakia for the USA squad. Masters was another ‘right-place-right-time’ guy who was able to score some big goals an overmatches US squad. Despite his lack of ideal size he went to prime scoring areas without hesitation and was rewarded with boatloads of scoring chances. His quick shot helped him become a difference maker while his grit and determination made him a popular teammate. Masters, who plays for the Muskegon Lumberjacks of the USHL, could have pushed his name into the draft picture with a few NHL teams after this performance.
Potential top-5 draft prospect Alexander Galchenyuk, was invisible for long stretches and when he was in view it was often for the wrong reasons, losing his cool and putting his team on the penalty kill. Offensively, Galchenyuk showed his skills in small flashes but was just a shell of his usually consistent Sarnia Sting offensive dynamo self in Slovakia.
Russian centre Mikhail Grigorenko, another potential top five prospect, did not take the opportunity to dominate the score sheet like he did last spring at the IIHF U18 tournament but he did help his team in almost every other way. Grigorenko’s playmaking abilities were on display as he set-up some nice goals and waged puck battles along the walls, winning a good amount of them using his size when the opportunity was there. There were some problems seen in Grigorenko’s effort level in a couple games as most of his Russian teammates played with lackadaisical efforts, doing just enough to get by, towards the end of the tournament.
Russian winger Denis Kamaev was able to show off his intriguing speed and puck dangling ability to the scouts in attendance as he led the Russians in scoring. Like many of his teammates his effort level wavered and that will likely hurt his draft stock despite putting up some points.
Draft eligible and athletic goaltender Andrei Vasilevski was one of the few Russian prospects who left it all out on the ice as he stood on his head in a few spots but ultimately was picked apart with a Swiss cheese defense in front of him.
While the Hlinka did help a couple big name prospects like Forsberg and Reilly perform better than expected in front of the scouts, it did not have any absolutely dominating individual performances as in some previous years.
The 2011 tournament did help some lesser known prospects like Athanasiou, Pokka, Pettersson and Masters who might not have been that in focus of the draft picture up until their performances here in Europe.
They’ll be focused on for the next 10 months.
The scouting season is upon us.
Dan Stewart is the scouting director at Future Considerations and can be found on Twitter. For all the latest Future Considerations news and posts, follow FC’s Official Twitter Feed, on YouTube and on Facebook!