Eligibles impress at Hlinka Memorial

Special To FC2018 Draft Center, International Events

Photo by Terry Wilson | CHL Images

The race is on.

The march to the 2018 NHL Draft is officially underway with the completition of the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Cup in early August.

Here’s who impressed in the Bratislava-based games:

Olivier Rodrigue, G, Canada, 6-0, 155, 7-6-2000
Rodrigue took over the starter position in the course of the tournament with good consistency in his game. He played composed, moved around quickly and showed good speed in his pads. He also took away angles for shooters and positioned himself effectively in the crease making it hard for shooters to find gaps.

Ryan Merkley, D, Canada, 5-11, 170, 8-14-2000
On a very stacked defence in Canada’s team, Merkley was one that stood out most. He showed his offensive talent, especially on the power play. So gifted when carrying the puck up ice with mobility, quick hands and speed, Merkley can jump rushes and play the long outlet pass. He sees the ice extremely well and can maneuver the puck in tight, always seemed to know what to do with the puck.

Ty Smith, D, Canada, 5-10, 175, 3-24-2000
Similar to Merkley, also fellow puckmoving defenseman in Smith convinced and had a strong tournament. He orchestrated the second power play unit and displayed his strong puck skills playing opening long outlet passes. Smith is a fine puckhandler and great skater and played in important role in Canada’s offensive game as he kept joining rushes.

Barrett Hayton, F, Canada, 6-1, 185, 6-9-2000
Hayton surprised, playing dominant in the opponent’s offensive zone, mostly in a top-six forward role. He impressed with a tenaciousness in puck battles and played with a decent overall competitiveness. Strong on the stick, Hayton was hard to beat in battles and displayed fine puckhandling skills as he did not require a lot of space, bought himself time with smart moves and toe-drags.

Akil Thomas, F, Canada, 5-11, 170, 1-2-2000
Thomas showed very strong on his skate and stick and won a lot of battles. With strength on skates, he can take the puck directly to the net and was effective around the crease. He was good in digging out pucks and can create havoc with good skating, strength and his good shooting tools.

Joe Veleno, F, Canada, 6-1, 195, 1-13, 2000
Veleno plays with an above-average compete level, very strong on the puck and excellent when circling in the offensive zone as he was hard to separate from the puck with his strength and speed. He is equipped with a good work ethic and a powerful shot. Veleno was hard to control for opponent teams and had an impact in most shifts. One of the top players in this draft and tournament.

Amir Miftakhov, G, Russia, 6-0, 154, 04-26-2000
Miftakhov impressed in all of the games, saved the Russians against Canada with big stops and gave them a chance to win the game in the shootout. He displayed strong glove saves and a solid rebound control and gave his team mates a safe feeling throughout the tournament.

Ruslan Iskhakov, F, Russia, 5-8, 152, 7-22-2000
Iskhakov is a strong puck-handler who possesses quick hands, which he uses to set up plays and dance through opposing defensemen. He’s always played with his head up and possessing strong vision, a real offensive catalyst. Size and physical play will be an issue, and playing in the Slovak junior league won’t help his development.

Nikita Rtishchev, F, 6-1, 190, 5-23-2000
Rtishchev, a favorite to watch, is a smart player who uses his hockey IQ to make plays. He showed great game awareness and distributed the puck calmly. His vision and understanding of game situations made up for his average skating. Rtishchev is capable of playing a strong two-way game and is aware of his defensive responsibilities. Big, smart and strong puck skills equal attention at the upcoming draft.

Dmitri Zavgorodny, F, 5-9, 160, 8-11-2000
The smallish, but dynamic forward led the tournament in points with 10 in five games, and was probably the player that stood out the most and rose his draft status like no other. He was a treat to watch in nearly every game, strong puck and skating skills. Zavgorodny always created offense in his shifts and kept opposing defensemen on their heels. He was real good in one-on-one situations, and showed he is an above-average puck-handler. Size might be an issue as well for him, but he has showed that he can be productive against some top defenders of the tournament.

Toni Utunen, D, Finland, 5-11, 175, 4-27-2000
Captain of the Finnish team and by far the best defenceman of his nation, Utunen often calmed the game for Finland with his composed playing style and not committing any mistakes. He did not contribute big time offensively, however, possesses a strong shot from the point. Utunen is a reliable and matured defender, who really knows how to use an active stick and was hard to surpass.

Santeri Salmela, D, Finland, 6-1, 195, 6-10, 2000
Similar to Utunen, Salmela plays composed in his own zone and is reliable in defending. Offensively, not the biggest contributor, but possesses a hard shot. He is hard to pass by as he plays a good positioning game and with his long reach, he can interfere plays with an active stick.

Rasmus Kupari, F, Finland, 6-1, 185, 3-15-2000
Without doubt, the most eye-catching Finnish forward. Especially when weaker opponent teams gave him more space and time, he played a dominant offensive game. He had five of his seven points against Slovakia where he set up plays as well as finished them off, some in a highlight-reel style. Big in size, quick and equipped with smooth hands, Kupari can do damage in multiple ways. Wasn’t as dominant against bigger nations, though. Still one of the more exciting players to watch.

Sampo Ranta, F, Finland, 6-1, 190, 5-31-2000
Ranta spent last season in the USHL and that was noticed in his game as he played a North American type of game. He used his size well to protect the puck, was hard to knock off the puck and circled nicely in the offensive zone. Played physical and finished checks, also displayed decent skating skills.

Jeremi Gerber, F, Switzerland, 6-0, 175, 3-1-2000
A big forward and playing a power forward type of game is Gerber. He played physical and had multiple open-ice hits. Although he is decent in size, Gerber possesses decent hands and puck-handling skills, was able to dangle through high traffic areas.

Martin Fasko-Rudas, F, 6-0, 160, 8-10-2000
The smallish but energetic forward convinced with his work ethic and high compete level. He skates quickly and with determination, Fasko-Rudas did compete hard in every shift and did not shy away from contact, although he is not the biggest. He tried to get things going, one of the only Slovak players who tried something even when down by some goals.

Oliver Okuliar, F, Slovakia, 6-1, 170, 5-24-2000
Okuliar went into dirty areas and did not shy away from throwing around his body. He possesses powerful strides but lacks a blazing top speed. However, he was able to create things on his own and was one of the most active Slovak forwards.

Adam Boqvist, D, Sweden, 5-11, 170, 8-15-2000
Boqvist was one of the shining stars at the Hlinka and did not disappoint. So gifted and quick with the puck, he is a real strong puck-mover and can dance through opposing defensemen with ease. Equipped with high hockey IQ and smartness, Boqvist is an exciting talent and very strong offensive defenseman. Possesses a good shot, outstanding skating skills and overall competitiveness.

Lukas Wernblom, F, 5-9, 170, 7-22-2000
Undersized but gritty Wernblom was a tough challenger and was in opponent’s face all the time with his net drive and feisty playing style. Loves to battle and is present in after whistle scrums, Wernblom is also gifted with the puck and displayed quick skating, accelerated quickly.

Article by Dennis Schellenberg