Hlinka sets stage for 2015 draft crop

Dan Stewart2015 Draft Center, International Events

While most of the world is still sitting on a beach soaking in the sun each August, hundreds of hockey scouts congregate on the small European cities of Breclav, Czech Republic and Piestany, Slovakia for the unofficial kick off to the scouting season.

And what a kickoff the Ivan Hlinka Memorial was.

Arguably the second best defenseman available for 2015 was at this event and while Sweden’s Oliver Kylington did not blow away the competition, he did show why he is so highly regarded.

“He is without a doubt deserving of a top-ten spot among prospects for the next draft,” Vavrina said. “Loved his versatility, but I’d say he’s even more offensively gifted than defensively. Elite level skater with smooth hands that are able to carry the puck, pull off a deke or pass it precisely. Great off the puck as well. Loved the way he knew what was going on everywhere on the ice. High end IQ.”

A couple of the Swedish forwards, John Dahlstrom and Filip Ahl, also left solid impressions on our evaluator who liked the determination, willingness to get his nose dirty and underrated offensive skills Dahlstrom showed as well as the size, shot and physical element Ahl brought.

The Russians might have had a disastrous showing at the event, but also had some impressive talent that had scouts in the seats at each of their games.

Forward Kirill Kaprizov was the most impressive of the bunch and a prospect that had our evaluator pushing for first round consideration regardless of the ‘Russian factor’.

“He is the star of his team and one of top forwards at Ivan Hlinka this year,” Vavrina said. “Has all it takes to become an elite NHL forward, including playmaking ability and top-notch vision, wheels and hands to carry the puck effectively and is also a natural goal scorer. Always on the forecheck and even playing physical hockey despite his limiting size. Can throw a big hit that might surprise you. Goes back to his own zone to help out.

“Honestly I think he should be picked in the first round next year and but does need to work on his shift to shift consistency.”

Defenseman Mikhail Sidorov also stood out for Vavrina.

“He was one of the best defensemen of the tournament for me,” he said. “His defensive upside is great, he likes to use both his body and the stick to get the puck away from opposition, doesn’t let anybody go into the crease and obstruct the goalie. Good character player that game in and game out gives his hundred percent, something we’re not always used to with a Russian prospect.”

A couple of the drafts top prospects suited up for the winning Canadian entry in center Travis Konecny and power winger Lawson Crouse.

They were joined by a projected first round defender in the mature and versatile Jeremy Roy.

“Konecny was the absolute leader of the team and the top player on Canada as well, no doubt about that,” Vavrina said. “Great hands, can really pull off any deke he wants. Also possesses a top-notch wrist shot and a great one-timer. His positioning is elite-class and he even tries to be physical when the situation allows for it.

“Crouse is a big powerful forward that impressed me. Used his size in front of the net effectively and was willing to help out his defensemen going back into his own zone. Has some solid vision that enables him to make good passes. Even got to show off his backhand a couple times and that one is a beauty.”

“I loved [Roy] and he might have been the top defenseman of the tourney. Versatile defenseman that isn’t afraid to throw his weight around. Plays smart during power play, great quarterback. His shot is as accurate as they come. Couple laser beams hitting top corner. Virtually no mistakes and just led the defense.”

For Team USA two prospects stood out to Vavrina, including Thomas Novak.

“His shot isn’t really special, but his hands sure are,” he said of Novak, who led the tournament in scoring. “Whether it’s passes, dekes or deflections, he does it perfectly. Plays smart hockey and is not afraid of working hard, forechecks a lot and has great determination. Easy for him to find open space plus he’s really patient. Has courage going to the net and willing to stick up for himself in the rough stuff afterwards.”

The hockey rejuvenated Czechs, who finished second an impressive at this event, also had some nice talent that caught Vavrina’s eye.

And it was hard for him to ignore two-way defender Jakub Zboril.

“His shot is just a beauty; I haven’t seen such a good shot on a Czech junior in years,” Vavrina admitted. “It’s pretty accurate and it’s as hard. The one-timer is a real weapon just about every time he unleashes it. Has great vision and is also a solid carrier of the puck as he joined the rush pretty often. Doesn’t go down easy, but likes to deck a player when the opportunity is there. Plays smart hockey; makes some mistakes but he learns from them.”

Vavrina also came away impressed with the small, but highly skilled Czech forward David Kase.

“The captain of the team and a true leader, showed determined play, was great under pressure and just has a lot of leadership,” he said. “Fast skater that uses his speed when carrying the puck forward and also while backchecking, which he does very often. Great passer with amazing vision, also has really smooth hands. Should fire the puck more than he does and to succeed he’ll also need to become a more consistent performer.”

Finland had some talent at this event despite finishing fifth.

Catching Vavrina’s eye on the club was Sebastian Aho, but it was Vili Saarijarvi who stood out the most.

“(He’s) a great offensive defenseman with a really hard shot for such a small guy,” he said. “His one-timer is outstanding as well. Has smooth hands and his passes are just beautiful. He’s not really bad defensively, but not always effective either; the offense is the part of the game where he specializes. Green Bay of the USHL might have stolen one in him.”

Whether or not an NHL team can steal him next June remains to be seen, with plenty of hockey to be played between August’s Hlinka and the 2015 NHL Draft in June.