2016 U18 Ivan Hlinka Tournament

Reign of the Czech

Hosts come up golden to claim first-ever Hlinka crown
Steve Kournianos  |  08/16/2016 |  New York  |  

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Photo courtesy of Jukka Salminen

New York (The Draft Analyst) — The Czech Republic won its first Ivan Hlinka Memorial Cup last Saturday, ending 28 years of frustration in the summer tournament that features top draft-eligible prospects. Serving as hosts of the competition named in honor of the late Czech hockey legend Ivan Hlinka — an international star and NHL head coach — the Czech Republic used a roster loaded with skill and speed to down the United States 4-3 in the championship game in Breclav. With their victory, the Czechs won a major under-18 tournament for the first time in history while exacting a bit of revenge on the Americans, who beat them for gold at the IIHF U18 world championships in 2014.

The eight-nation competition is regarded as one of the preeminent amateur hockey events for prospects eligble for the NHL draft, which will be held in Chicago on June 23-24, 2017.

Czech Republic

Top Player: LW Filip Zadina (2018 Eligible) Although not available to NHL teams until 2018, Zadina was just one of a handful of elite Czech talents who came up big when the situation warranted it. At 6’0, 200 pounds, Zadina combines elite hockey sense with pro-level size and skill. If there was a dagger to be thrust, it was going to be Zadina to do so, as the youngster scored four (3g, 1a) of his seven points in the two most important games — the semis against Sweden and the gold medal game against the Americans. He’s the kind of player where multiple wargame exercises won’t do a thing to stop him, which is why we consider him one of the best — if not THE best — prospect for the 2018 draft.

Key Moment: RHD Jakub Galvas (2017) is a dependable two-way defenseman with top-four upside and a solid option for the power play. But it was his aggressiveness in overtime against the Swedes — coupled with Zadina’s magical vision and passing — that propelled the Czechs to their first-ever Hlinka gold medal game. Galvas jumped into the zone off a change and stepped into a behind-the-net centering pass from the right circle that beat goalie Olle Erikkson Ek and sent Sweden packing. He led all blueliners in tournament scoring with two goals and three assists in five games.

Who Impressed: C Martin Necas (2017) is an exceptional playmaker with dizzying speed who centered the top line and moonlighted as the top point man on the Czech Republic’s first power play unit. He’s a hard-nosed player who plays bigger than his 5’11, 165-pound frame would indicate, and he has an acute grasp of his responsibilities in all three zones. But take our word for it — this kid is an elite offensive force who in 2018 will be at or near the top of a very talented pool of European draft prospects. Towering RW Ostap Safin didn’t produce eye-popping stats, but he used his massive frame and wingspan to cause matchup problems for most, if not all the defenders who tried to check him. He produced three goals and an assist, displaying an excellent shot and the ability to break free into open ice. Both he and Necas should be considered two of the top Czech prospects for the 2017 draft. Goaltender Jakub Skarek (2018) made a name for himself by playing well at the 2015 World U17 Hockey Challenge, but his Hlinka was pretty close to perfect, leading all backstops with a 1.58 goals against and a .943 save percentage.

United States

Top Player: C Ryan Poehling (2017) impressed the daylights out of us, using a blend of size and skill to torment opponents and vault the Americans to their best Hlinka finish since 2013. A Minnesotan who accelerated his studies in order to dress as a freshman for St. Cloud State in the fall, Poehling comes a hockey family and did his country proud, tying for third in tournament scoring with four goals and three assists — including the OT winner against the Finns during group play. He was noticeable every shift and was a key cog in Team USA’s holding a possession advantage over opponents. It’s hard to nail down a singular strength of his since he does so many things at a high level, but he’s clearly one of the top draft-eligible playmakers with legitimate top-six potential.

Key Moment: It may have only been the first game, but the Americans were on their heels against Finland in a tie game for a lengthy stretch of the third period. The Finns tied the game 2-2 on an early power play goal, and the ice immediately tilted in their favor. But power forward LW Mike Pastujov (2017), a Floridian who plays for the NTDP, turned a simple dump-in into a quick turnover, and his bank shot from behind the net gave the U.S. a 3-2 lead. Granted, the Finns would later tie it up, and it took a Poehling goal to win it in OT. But Pastujov’s goal may have prevented an opening-day loss in regulation while putting the remainder of their tournament in doubt.

Who Impressed: RHD Joey Keane (2017) is a 6’1, 190-pound two-way defenseman who was beyond solid while anchoring Team USA’s blue line. Committed to Miami-Ohio, Keane played poised and decisive, using his mobility and smarts to beat back the aggressive forechecks employed by both Finland and the Czech Republic. The Dubuque Fighting Saint (USHL) won’t wow you with explosive traits or finesse, but Keane’s subtlety while completing plays with a high degree of difficulty was a critical reason the U.S. was able to exploit its forwards’ open-ice skills. C Sasha Chmelevski (2017) — the tournament’s leading scorer with 10 points (5g, 5a) — was a thorn in everyone’s side, scoring clutch goals and making opponents pay for their mistakes. He centered the top power play unit and displayed top-end shot accuracy and playmaking skills on the rush. Chmelevski was part of the return package for the Ottawa 67’s (OHL) when they traded star Travis Konecny to the Sarnia Sting, but a broken collarbone cut his rookie season short. Lastly, G Cayden Primeau, a Northeastern University commit, was the tournament’s version of a human highlight reel, make 10-bell save after 10-bell save. The son of former NHL star Keith Primeau, Cayden has excellent side-to-side mobility and plays with extreme confidence.

Russia

Top Player: RW Klim Kostin (2017) is as strong as an ox, always playing with his head up and looks as if he’s identified more than one option as he moves with authority up the ice. Selected first overall by Kootenay in the 2016 CHL Import Draft, he’s an excellent passer for any winger of any size, and he can at the opposing line on a dime before slipping a perfect lead pass for a rush to the cage. At 6’3, 183 pounds, Kostin loves to initiate contact and go shoulder-to-shoulder with larger players during footraces for the puck. But there’s more to his game than physicality, as he kills penalties using size and reach to knock bigger players off the puck. Kostin has a quick-strike mentality on the penalty kill and looks up ice for advancing teammates. His board work in one-on-one scenarios is exceptional, and his strength and puck control forces opponents to vacate slot responsibilities to lend support on the wall. Kostin is skilled enough to identify this odd-man situation and slip a neat pass to the open man to exploit the gap in coverage.

Key Moment: Dependable LHD Dmitry Samorukov (2017) is one of the top Russian-trained defenders for an NHL Draft in quite some time, but it was his costly giveaway right into his own goalmouth that not only allowed Mike Pastujov to pot the overtime winner in the semis, but ended Russia’s chances at winning its first summer U18 tourney since 1995. To be fair, the Americans were buzzing the entire extra session and dizzied the Russians with a lengthy puck-possession weave just prior to the turnover. So Samorukov, among others, was clearly gassed. It was a minor blip when considering how strong his overall tournament was, but you have to think he’d like to have that one back.

Who Impressed: Turnover aside, Samorukov is still an excellent draft prospect, and it showed during the tournament. He’s capable of making hard, accurate stretch passes from as far back as his own goal line, including the turn-around home-run pass to catch opponents in a line change. He played on the top pairing and anchored the top penalty killing unit with additional time on the power play. Samorukov — a high pick in the recent CHL Import Draft (Guelph, OHL) — can fire a heavy, accurate shot off the pass and without much backswing. And though he tends to float away from his crease responsibilities, he throws big hits to scare opposing puck rushers into making poor decisions. Two 2018 eligibles — RW Andrei Svechnikov and C Mikhail Bitsadze — were all over the puck from start to finish. A goal scoring winger with good size, Svechnikov put on quite a show at the recent U18 world championships, and his Hlinka performance (4g, 1a) increased the likelihood that he will be one of the top picks in 2018. Bitsadze is a diminutive two-way center who electrifies with elite puck skills and can orchestrate a power play with effectiveness and flash. And look out if he’s killing penalties — he’s an up-ice threat who always looks to create offense when down a man.

Sweden

Top Player: RW Lucas Elvenes (2017) was a player who caught our eye last season, only to reinforce the positives during the week-long competition in Bratislava. A jack-of-all-trades kind of forward, Elvenes played in every situation, to include manning the point on the power play. He’s a key figure for Rogle’s J20 squad (Superelit), and his two-way play was certainly on display. He showed patience off of defensive-zone draw wins, calmly waiting for things in front of him to properly align. When he didn’t see something he liked, he peeled back and re-engaged with a successful breakout. On several occasions, Elvenes made world-class set-ups, including one occasion when he dished a sweet behind-the-back feed from below the goal line while cutting against the grain in a 3-1 win against Russia. Elvenes uses excellent footwork to skate himself into an area with open lanes to attack, and he’s consistent with pass accuracy whether dishing it hard or soft. He plays with his head up, and the timing on passes are excellent.

Key Moment: The Swedes didn’t have the kind of offensive “oomph” from their forward ranks, so they were by no means the favorites. But winning their first two games with relative ease before meeting Canada in the last game of group play meant a berth in the semis regardless. Still, they were tied with the desperate Canadians 1-1 late into the first before the Swedes were given power play time and an opportunity to go into the Final Four on a high note. Things, however, went south from there, as the Canadians not only scored one shorthanded goal, but added another after taking a second penalty for a 5-on-3. The two goals — scored by Maxime Comtois — were far from crushing, but they revealed a weakness some didn’t think the Swedes had.

Who Impressed: RW Fabian Zetterlund (2017) is a goal scorer with some flash to his game, thanks to quick bursts of speed and a deadly accurate wrist shot. Zetterlund can shoot the puck with authority from anywhere on the ice, and his accuracy is consistent with both one-timers and static launches. He was used on the top power play unit, where he likes to position himself near the circles with the hammer cocked. The scouting report on Zetterlund is pretty simple — he shoots. RHD Tim Liljegren came to the Hlinka with a lot of fanfare after a strong U18 worlds, but he looked as if he made it a point to improve his one-on-one and defensive zone play. What we saw was a polished two-way blueliner ready to tackle the everyday rigors of playing against older, stronger SHL’ers. Liljegren uses an active stick when facing the back of an opponent, but does so in a clean manner. His reads are excellent, as he will anticipate the direction of reverses or leads and steal puck while he’s already in motion — strikingly reminiscent of NHL rearguard Ryan McDonagh. Liljegren, who will play for Rogle’s senior squad, is poised under pressure from forecheckers, and practically all of his breakouts — short or long — were accurate and/or caught a teammate in stride.

Canada

Top Player: C Mike Rasmussen (2017) wasn’t supposed to be Canada’s best player. And you can argue that if he was, then Canada was going to have an up-and-down tournament. Nevertheless, the towering playmaking two-way center performed like a seasoned veteran, anchoring one of the top two lines, taking all the key defensive zone draws and establishing a physical presence when the team needed it. He’s a promising center who plays for the WHL’s Tri-City Americans, and we like his versatility more than most of who the Canadians displayed in Bratislava. Rasmussen (6’5, 200 pounds) likes to crash the net and make subtle, yet effective plays to free his wingers up for quality chances.

Key Moment: During their preliminary-round match with Russia, the Canadians  — who the day prior needed overtime to survive the Slovaks — were just moments away from advancing into the medal round to try and extend their eight-year streak of Hlinka gold. Clinging to a 1-0 lead with under three minutes to go in the game, RW Maxime Comtois (2017), who had a strong tournament, took a costly hooking penalty at 17:25, however, allowing Ivan Chekhovich to tie the score. Klim Kostin executed a nifty give-and-go just 37 seconds later, effectively ending Canada’s eight-year reign on the tournament.

Who Impressed: RHD Ian Mitchell (2017) was head and shoulders above his defense corps peers during the tournament, displaying smarts, puck-rushing abilities and timely attacks. He was rewarded with ice time as the competition progressed, and he anchored the power play with aplomb. He’ll be playing for Denver (NCHC) once his days with the AJHL’s Spruce Grove Saints are over. LHD Elijah Roberts (OHL) is a lightning-quick puck mover who makes up for his lack of size with speed and sound positioning. He was a consistent up-ice threat and looked very comfortable once he got inside the zone. Look for his role to expand with the OHL’s Kitchener Rangers. Lastly, two top-end 2017 draft eligibles the Canadians were leaning on — Comtois and LW Owen Tippett — paved the way with game-changing plays and physicality. Comtois scored a clutch overtime tally time to help Canada survive the Slovaks on Opening Day.

Finland

Top Performer: RW Sami Moilanen (2017) had one heck of a tournament, which could only help as he makes the transition to the WHL’s Seattle Thunderbirds for the 2016-17 season. He’s a feisty player with quickness, going from fast to Mach speed in a hurry. Teams tried to employ bigger defenders with a long reach to force his hand, but Moilanen simply used their poking and stretching as an opportunity to catch them flat footed. Whether jabbing and shoving his way to the puck in a board battle, or stealing the puck and darting up ice,  he’s always involved in a given play. Moilanen can fire off a hard snap shot while moving laterally and finished the competition as Finland’s leading scorer with three goals and two assists.

Key Moment: The Finns sent an above-average squad to the Czech Republic with unrealistic chances for a gold medal, partly because most of their best 1999-born prospects had just participated for Finland’s U20 club at the world junior evaluation camp in Michigan. But there they were, tied with the Americans late in overtime of the first game, with a weak Swiss squad the only obstacle in the way of clinching a medal-round berth. And even when G Lasse Lehtinen (2017) stopped a Ryan Poehling breakaway with under a minute to go in the 3-on-3 extra session, you got the feeling the magical Finns would somehow eke out a victory during the subsequent shootout. But it took 10 or so seconds thereafter for a massive mental breakdown in the Finnish end for an unchecked Poehling to take a centering feed and bury the OT winner that effectively ended any chance at a medal.

Who Impressed: C Aleksi Heponiemi (2017) — a future Swift Current Bronco (WHL) — was Finland’s top-line center, making the most of his minutes with dynamic plays highlighted by speed and skill. He’s an explosive offensive force with excellent stick skills who can accurately dish it to a teammate or hammer it on goal. Heponiemi is classicly undersized, yet his confidence with the puck and fearless habits makes you think he’s a full foot taller. Heponiemi will take direct routes to the net and assault the cage, but he does so without revealing his intentions — he whips across no-look or behind-the-back passes. He played on a line with another speedster — LW Linus Nyman, who’ll join him in the CHL this season when he suits up for the OHL’s Kingston Frontenacs. Nyman is a dual threat who passes with precision and looks for trailers, but his chemistry with Heponiemi turned him into more of a shooter for the tournament. LHD Urho Vaakanainen (2017) is the flower of Finland’s deep crop of draft-eligible blueliners, and his low point total (one assist in four games) will not reveal just how ridiculously calm and steady he is when the puck is on his stick.

Slovakia

Top Performer: C/W Adam Ruzicka (pictured) didn’t disappoint, as the hulking Slovak winger (and possible Sarnia Sting) took to his role as his nation’s go-to guy with confidence. Ruzicka, who served as team captain,  displayed why many consider him to be an early pick in the 2017 draft — his size (6’4, 200 pounds) and shooting abilities are tough to rival. He may not come across as a finesse player at first glance, but Ruzicka has a strong understanding of the game and plays in all situations — to include penalty killing. He’s a load to deal with and we couldn’t find one opponent who was able to neutralize him entirely.

Key Moment: It didn’t take long for the 2016 edition of the Hlinka to develop a storyline, as defending-champion Canada found itself (and the chance at nine straight golds) on life support against the Slovaks. The Canadians blew a 2-0 lead in the third period after a power play goal by LHD Michal Ivan (2018) and a last-minute lob tipped by LW Filip Krivosik (2017) sent the game to overtime. LW Patrik Hrehorcak (2017) had the Slovaks’ best chance in the extra session, wiring a hard wrist shot that seemed to ding Canadian goalie Ian Scott in the mask, but it was Hrehorcak’s ghastly giveaway to Maxime Comtois in front of the Slovak goal that sent them to the locker room with a bitter pill to swallow.

Who Impressed: C Milos Roman (2018) was Slovakia’s top-line center and performed exceptionally well against some of the best U18 prospects the world had to offer, tying for second in the tournament with five assists in four games. He’s an excellent playmaker who can thread the needle, but you have to get up real early in the morning to have a chance at completing your breakout without this kid finding a way to pick your pocket. He likes to play physical and finish his checks, making both Ruzicka and he virtual locks for Slovakia’s upcoming WJC entry.

Switzerland

Top Performer(s): The 2016 Hlinka wasn’t RW Nicolas Muller’s (2017) first foray onto the international stage. In terms of play and production, however, the sniper for MoDo’s J20 squad (Superelit) was easily Switzerland’s most consistent producer. Muller personifies the idea that “a gallon of sweat saves a pint of blood”, as the nimble goal scorer loves to get to the puck first no matter where it is, then sneak his way into shooting position. Muller has very good speed and keeps his stick properly positioned, and he’s a good one-timer option thanks to strong hand-eye coordination and the ability to hammer bouncing pucks. He also displayed his shiftiness and vision, using backdoor passes and link-ups with trailers to create quality chances.

Key Moment: We’ve been harping on Switzerland’s recent lack of international success for quite some time, so we were colored skeptical when it jumped out to a 2-0 lead over the Americans just eight or so minutes into the first period. If there was jubilation from Swiss fans anywhere in the world, it certainly didn’t last long, as LHD Tobias Geisser (2017) turned the puck over to allow a Mike Pastujov goal just 44 seconds later. The Swiss would take a 3-2 lead late in the 2nd, but it simply delayed the inevitable, as goals by Mick Messner and Sasha Chmelevski ended any chance of a Swiss revival.

Who Impressed:  The Swiss were expecting big things from two North American-bound studs — C Nico Hischier (Halifax, QMJHL)  and RW Axel Simic (Blainville-Boisbriand, QMJHL) — but a 6-1 blowout loss to the Czechs in the opener made their collective effort in Breclav rather moot. Both players displayed spurts of ridiculous skill and finesse, with Hischier possessing enough eye-popping talent worthy of a top-10 pick. They are similar players in that they are equal in their infatuation with the puck, but the undersized Simic has a bit more bite to his game. His Hlinka performance as a whole was quite substandard for a big-time prospect with top-line minutes, but the skill and desire are there for what should be a seamless transition to North America.

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