Hlinka features plenty of top talent for 2017

Aaron Vickers2017 Draft Center, IIHF, International Events, OHL, QMJHL, USHL, WHL

The march to the 2017 NHL Draft has started.

Eight countries and over 150 skaters eligible for the 2017 NHL Draft will descend on Breclav, Czech Republic and Bratislava, Slovakia, from Aug. 8-13 to participate in the 2016 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Cup.

The tournament features plenty of high-end talent to watch for 2017.

A lot of it is centralized on Canada, who is seeking a ninth straight gold medal finish at the Hlinka Memorial. Canada has won gold in eight straight, 11 of 12, and 18 of the past 20 Ivan Hlinka tournaments since 1996. The United States won gold in 2003 and Sweden won in 2007.

Canada will be led by Owen Tippett and Maxime Comtois, fourth and fifth in Future Considerations preliminary ranking for the 2017 draft.

Tippett, who represented Canada at the 2016 IIHF World Under-18 Championship in April, had 15 goals and 20 points in 48 games with the Mississauga Steelheads of the Ontario Hockey League last season. The 17-year-old is a strongly built, scoring winger who possesses that natural scorer’s touch and isn’t shy to go to the right areas of the ice both with and without the puck.

Comtois is a big-bodied, poised winger who is dependable in all zones, and can generate the speed to separate from defenders and has the agility and balance to maintain possession in traffic. In 62 games with the Victoriaville Tigres, Comtois 26 goals and 60 points.

Matthew Strome (No. 16), Shane Bowers (No. 27), and Michael Rasmussen (No. 28), will also represent Canada at the tournament.

The top-ranked player in the tournament belongs to Sweden. Timothy Liljegren, second only to Canada’s Nolan Patrick in Future Considerations preliminary ranking, is an active, offensive-minded rearguard who likes the puck on his stick. He skates with strong fluidity and agility, getting from one point to the next effortlessly as his feet always seem to be in motion.

As a member of Rogle BK J20, Liljegren had seven goals and 22 points in 29 games in 2015-16.

Urho Vaakanainen, eighth in Future Considerations preliminary ranking, will lead Finland into the tournament. Vaakananein, a 6-foot-1, 185-pound defenseman, had two goals and 13 points in 18 games with Blues U20 in the Jr. A SM-liiga. He’s an intelligent, two-way defender who reads the play really well, has his head up all the time and makes quick decisions with the puck. Vaakanainen is great at turning the puck up ice with awareness of the play around him.

Klim Kostin, the first overall pick in the 2016 Canadian Hockey League Import Draft in July, will represent Russia in the tournament. In 2015-16, he had eight goals and 21 points in 30 games with HK MVD Balashikha. He’s a big-bodied power winger with strong work ethic who can dominate for stretches with his cycle game and puck-protection skills. Kostin can carry defenders around the ice with his power and balance, or stickhandle around them with a deke or two as he goes to the net.

Nico Hishier, taken sixth overall in the CHL Import Draft, had 11 goals and 28 points in 18 games for Bern U20 last year, and is ranked 20th in the preliminary ranking. Hischier is a smooth-skating, playmaking center…good skating agility and top speed, and is able to make quick turns and displays good lateral movement.