Its feeling a lot like tournament season. And the season has been kicked off by the Under-18 Five Nations Tournament in the Czech Republic. The tournament is a tune-up for draft prospects to show their wares before the IIHF World U18 Championships in April.
Many prospects have used this five day event to improve their draft status in the past and the players participating this year were looking to do the same.
The 2011 round robin tournament attended heavily by scouts and agents matched five strong hockey nations against one another where the best record after the four games is declared the champion.
The final order of finish in 2011 saw a well balanced US squad take home first place, Finland finishing with the silver, Sweden in a disappointing third place and the Czechs beating Russia for fourth place. The Americans, who sent their National Team Development Programs U18 squad, dominated the field scoring 26 goals in four games.
And as with any tournament, the event wasn’t without its shining stars.
Name: Reid Boucher
Position: LW / Country: USA
HT: 5’-9” / WT: 180 Lbs
Notes: The future Michigan State Spartan had an offensively dominant tournament for an offensively dominant team USA in the Czech Republic. Boucher led all players in scoring with five goals and four assists for nine points in four games. He and linemate Rocco Grimaldi fed off each other and are the two top offensive threats on the US NTDP Under-18 squad. NHL scouts have been concerned with the small stature of Boucher but if he continues to have strong showings like this one, they will no doubt list him higher on their draft lists come June. Boucher is a long-term project some team will be willing to take a chance on and could be greatly rewarded down the road in doing so.
Name: Rocco Grimaldi
Position: C / Country: USA
HT: 5’-6” / WT: 165 Lbs
Notes: For the first time in a long time, Rocco Grimaldi did not pace the U.S. U18 squad in scoring during international play. Grimaldi started the tournament off on fire, firing home a hat trick against Sweden and followed that up with two goals against Russia before cooling off drastically in the last two games. His drastic size issues are the only thing from keeping this scoring dynamo out of the 2011 drafts top-5. NHL scouts will have a hard time sticking their necks out and selling why their team should pick Grimaldi for fear that he will not be able to fight through checks against stronger, bigger competition. Someone will take that gamble though and that team could have a franchise player similar to Martin St. Louis on their hands.
Name: Blake Pietila
Position: LW / Country: USA
HT: 5’-10” / WT: 185 Lbs
Notes: The normally hard working, grind-it-out type forward team USA thought they had turned in a solid offensive performance at the Five Nations producing an impressive five goals and seven points. He was a consistent force in every contest and scored at least one goal in each game while continuing to play a strong two-way game for coach Rolston. Pietila was not seen as a potential high round pick before the tournament and likely the same can be said after this performance although these kinds of showings can really turn the heads of NHL scouts and open the door for further draft status improvement if he keeps his strong two-way play up back in the USHL.
Name: Markus Granlund
Position: C / Country: Finland
HT: 5’-10” / WT: 165 Lbs
Notes: Paced a very competitive Finnish squad at the Five Nations with five goals and six points. His quick hands, agility and offensive instincts were on display in the Czech Republic. While Granlund is blessed with some strong offensive skills he is cursed with the family’s small stature and does not have the hockey sense or elite vision his brother and Minnesota first rounder Mikael possesses. He has played a little bit everywhere this season and has been impressive in each level of competition more often than not. NHL scouts see him as a solid mid-round selection with some future potential come draft day.
Name: Nikita Kucherov
Position: RW / Country: Russia
HT: 5’-10” / WT: 155 Lbs
Notes: The smallish Russian showed signs of feisty play as well as some offensive pop as he led the Russians with six points. The fleet-footed and quick darting, offensively gifted winger played with more emotion and competitiveness than any other Russian player in what ended up being another underwhelming Russian international performance. Kucherov has been doing it all season in the MHL as well putting up 1.5 points-per-game playing against his peers. His draft status remains in doubt as his size and birth certificate both are playing against him but producing in these kind of tournament go a long way to getting your name at least in the draft discussion.
Finnish goaltender Samu Perhonen did his best to carry his teammates in the tournament but met a USA squad that was just too strong in the end. His performance as one of the better goalies in the event did nothing but improve his draft status.
U.S. Goaltender John Gibson, who split tendering duties with fellow U18 teammate Matt McNeely, also played well in his crease time for the eventual champs. Gibson stopped 56 of the 59 shots he faced in his two games and did nothing but boost his draft stock as the top goalie available in 2011.
Oft injured American defenseman Connor Murphy did not put up a ton of points in the tournament, just one assist earned in their 10-4 drubbing of Russia, but his overall play and potential were on full display. NHL scouts will keep a close eye on him to see if that history of injury sneaks back up before the draft.
Murphy’s teammates, scoring winger Jonathan Miller and especially hard hitting Tyler Biggs, also showed well, both using their natural physical size advantage to create time and space for themselves as well as teammates. Neither had a breakout performance offensively however Miller did tally six points, five of which were assists but is nothing of the offensive dynamo his teammate Grimaldi is or even Boucher for that matter.
Small skilled Swedish winger Victor Arvidsson had a productive tournament for an underwhelimg Swedish team that boasted potential high draft picks Nermark, Rask, Brodin and Zibanejad. Arvidsson matched the output of all three of the higher profile draft eligible forwars as he put up five points in the Czech Republic.
Dan Stewart is the scouting director of 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!