Recap: 2021 U20 Four Nations Tournament (AUG)

2022 draft hopefuls shine in the Czech Republic

Steve Kournianos  |  8/28/2021  |  [hupso] 

Photo: Karel Švec, Český Hokej

NASHVILLE (The Draft Analyst) — The first major European prospect tournament of the 2021-2022 season didn’t disappoint for the host Czech Republic, which cruised to comfortable victories over Finland and Sweden before dropping a tough 4-3 decision to Russia in the finale of the under-20 Four Nations Tournament in Hodonin on Saturday night. Although three of the four participating nations posted a 2-1-0 mark (with Sweden going winless), the Czechs were the tournament’s best team both nominally (via a 15-7 goal differential) and also possession-wise. Supported by a stellar defense corps, with potential top-five 2022 draft pick David Jiricek and Columbus Blue Jackets prospect Stanislav Svozil leading the way, the top Czech line with wingers Pavel Novak (Minnesota Wild) and Jan Mysak (Montreal Canadiens) had their way with the opposition. They also received offense from every line, with center/wing Jakub Konecny (Buffalo Sabres) leading the tournament in scoring with 6 points (2 goals, 4 assists).

Top NHL Prospects

1. Shakir Mukhamadullin, LHD (New Jersey Devils)

If the controversy surrounding the Devils’ first-round selection of Mukhamadullin didn’t die a quick death after a strong 2020-21 campaign (pre-injury), then his effortless control of play in all three games at this tournament should be more than enough to silence Mukhamadullin’s harshest critics. He skated, passed, shot, and defended like a true No. 1 and was once again Russia’s go-to guy for the majority of critical scenarios. Mukhamadullin’s skating looked fantastic, as he was gliding up ice with confidence and would either peel back on a dime in front of traffic or simply slice right through it.

2. Stanislav Svozil, LHD (Columbus Blue Jackets)

Paired with David Jiricek for most of the competition, Svozil — a third-round pick of the Blue Jackets in the 2021 draft — was his typical sure-handed self and delivered multiple sequences where he toyed with forecheck pressure with an impressive combination of quick foot work and nifty puck control. Svozil is one of the cleaner teenage defense prospects, so even his pass deliveries with a high degree of difficulty were distributed with precision and timeliness. To nobody’s surprise, Svozil’s coverage of the neutral zone was borderline impeccable. His smarts are evident every shift.

3. Jan Mysak, LW (Montreal Canadiens)

A second-round selection of the Canadiens in 2020, Mysak can be a maddening prospect because he’s had a tough time stringing together a lengthy stretch of dominant play. But in this tournament, Mysak maintained a consistent effort in all three games, and his effect on defenses resulted in more time and space, and also decisive results. Not only did he look comfortable controlling the puck, but his chemistry with his linemates and defensemen created lengthy possessions that pinned and exhausted the opposition. Although it’s unrealistic to expect game-breaking plays from Mysak every two or three shifts, he showed in Hodonin that he still has the ability to draw attention his way while his teammates help exploit the gaps created.

4. William Stromgren, LW (Calgary Flames)

The Swedes looked lifeless on offense for most of the tournament, but Stromgren was head and shoulders above his teammates in regards to creating chances either off the rush or from the cycle. He looks like a methodical skater, but Stromgren’s deceptive gear changing and shiftiness allowed him to cut sharply to the inside or spin away from checks and directly towards the prime shooting areas. Selected 45th overall in last month’s draft, Stromgren dictated pace and tempo as best he could, and was Sweden’s most reliable puck handler when most of his mates struggled to breach neutral-zone traffic.

5. Aku Koskenvuo (Vancouver Canucks)

He may have appeared in only a game and a half but Koskenvuo stopped all 47 shots he faced; most of which came in a sparkling 35-save performance in a 3-0 blanking of the favored Russians. He was scooped up by Vancouver in the fifth round in the 2021 draft and is committed to Harvard, but you’ll probably see him deliver another strong campaign in Finland’s under-20 SM-Sarja before heading over to Cambridge. Although it’s doubtful he overtakes Joel Blomqvist as Finland’s starter at the 2022 world juniors come December, Koskenvuo’s quickness and reads when faced with an opposing power play were executed at an incredibly high level. Of course, it’s just one game in a short tournament, but anyone who tracked his junior-league play should know that Koskenvuo has big-save tendencies and he doesn’t get rattled when there’s chaos near his crease.

2022 Draft Prospects

David Jiricek, RHD (Czech Republic)
Plzen, Extraliga | 6’3, 176 | Nov. 28, 2003 | Shoots Right | CHL: Spokane, WHL

Jiricek didn’t take long to intimidate the opposition in either end of the rink. His overall performance in this tournament was nothing short of outstanding, as Jiricek showed pro-level maturity on and off the puck, especially during breakouts. It sounds cliche but there’s no visible panic in his game. He’s never not noticeable in any situation, and any shift that begins in the defensive end doesn’t stay there long. Jiricek is known to throw his weight around and lose his cool after the whistle, but in this particular tournament he was composed and visibly dedicated to controlling and distributing the puck with the intent to trap forecheck pressure rather than attempt to avoid it. Agile and tricky with the puck, Jiricek ran the top of the umbrella for the duration of most Czech power plays and was accurately blasting pucks on net off set plays. Personally, I think this performance was just as impressive as his 2021 U20 world juniors and better than his play last May at the U18 world championship. Jiricek gave us every reason to help him maintain his top-10 status for the 2022 draft.

David Moravec, LHD (Czech Rep.)
Mlada Boleslav, Extraliga | 6’0, 185 | Sep. 18, 2003 | Shoots Left

Moravec was consistent on the middle pairing in terms of holding his line and eliminating plays in the neutral zone but he also was highly active in joining rushes. I would never classify him as an offensive defenseman but he continues to show confidence on the puck, and also the kind of risk taking that makes it seem like puck rushing were his primary duty from the blue line. The results in this tournament were mixed in terms of Moravec’s decision making during offensive-zone possessions, but add the Four Nations to his growing list of international events where he was a rock at his line and did yeoman’s work on the penalty kill. His straight-line speed remains average for a defenseman but Moravec can be agile and poised when dealing with an aggressive forecheck. He’s capable of eluding pressure with sequences of directional changes but most of his touches on the breakout were from below his own circles, with a few zone-to-zone entries on his own. Moravec also showed his ability to catch opposing forwards napping by slipping down unchecked towards the backdoor.

Joakim Kemell, RW (Finland)
JyP, SM-Liiga | 5’11, 176 | April 27, 2004 | Shoots Right | CHL: Regina, WHL

Ten years from now, when people passionately debate the history of an early-season prospect tournament (and they will), nobody’s going to remember that Kemell’s only goal in the 2021 Four Nations tournament wasn’t even his to begin with. But even an erroneous decision by the official scorer shouldn’t detract from Kemell’s nonstop effort and impactful shifts from the competition’s opening draw to the finale’s closing buzzer. Although he didn’t score a goal unofficially, Kemmell’s primary assist on Aleksi Malinen’s opening strike in a win over Russia was a thing of beauty, as he entered the zone with outside speed, carried the puck around the net with his head up, then floated a perfect pass over seam traffic to his streaking defenseman for the wraparound finish. I’ll try not to overstate this, but Kemell — who played on Finland’s top line — is the most abrasive European draft prospect I’ve covered since Russia’s Vasily Podkolzin in 2019, and there are similarities in both style and competitiveness. Kemell is more of a hunched skater but he’s so quick and shifty along the boards as he maintains complete puck control and acute situational awareness. He’s also an outstanding defensive winger; one who routinely is the first forward on the backcheck and will mark and cover the biggest threat rather than simply staying within his lane and only worrying about his man. Kemell operates at full throttle throughout his shifts and hits like a 6-foot-2, 200-pound winger. He was used on the power play in his customary off-wing position where he was targeted for one-timer attempts. There’s simply no reason to think he’s not good enough to be a top-five pick in the draft.

Jani Nyman, LW (Finland)
Ilves, SM-Liiga | 6’2, 199 | April 30, 2004 | Shoots Left

Nyman is a unicorn in that he’s built like a stone farmhouse but motors and hustles like an undersized waterbug. There’s no quit to his game, and although he’ll have to improve his endurance to increase the length of his shifts, Nyman’s effectiveness off the puck is pronounced. Much like Kemell, Nyman will chase and harass puck carriers —  to the point where even defensemen behind their net are not afforded room to execute a clean breakout. His skating may not look technically sound, but Nyman is an in-your-face aggressor who hounds the puck and does an excellent job protecting it once he’s corralled it. After dominating the puck and controlling the pace of shifts in the offensive zone as a top-liner at the under-18 Ivan Hlinka earlier in the month, Nyman in Hodonin was more of a middle-six crease crasher and net-front presence while allowing his older linemates to drive possessions from the half wall or behind the net. He picked up a sweet primary assist on Rasmus Ruusunen’s tie-breaking power-play goal in the win over the Sweden, but Nyman’s performance should also be measured by his strong effort in the 200-foot game.

Rasmus Ruusunen, LW (Finland)
HIFK, SM-Liiga | 5’11, 185 | Sep. 26, 2003 | Shoots Left

Ruusunen, much like his usage at the 2021 U18 world championship last May, was relegated to bottom-six duty but saw time on the power play and even scored a game-winning power-play goal from the goal mouth against the Swedes. Judging by his numbers, measurements, and usage in league play, one would think Ruusunen is an offense-first finesse forward. But he is quite handy in a checking role because of his speed, agility, and anticipation. Ruusunen consistently applied pressure on the forecheck and was willing to take hits to complete a play.

Ludwig Persson, LW (Sweden)
Frolunda J20, Nationell | 5’11, 172 | Oct. 8, 2003 | Shoots Left

Persson has a strong reputation as one of Sweden’s top-rated forwards for the 2022 draft but he, like most of his teammates, was not a difference maker in this tournament. But he gets a pass for being the youngest forward on the roster, and he was one of only five Swedes to score a goal in the three games. Persson can be labeled an offensive-minded forward because of his hands, creativity, and diverse finishing skills, and he was a prominent figure within Frolunda J20’s attack a season ago. In Hodonin, Persson was a third-liner winger with sheltered usage, and although he was infrequently involved in creating or finishing plays, his effort on the backcheck and when covering gaps in the defensive zone was commendable. He seemed to steer clear of most puck battles and stayed on the periphery without moving his feet as much as he should have, and the average Persson shift lacked the pop and intensity that were commonplace during his junior-league play. He’s known as an inside player and there were several examples of Persson’s deceptive gear shifting that allowed him to catch defenders flat footed, but zipping around he was not. Still, it’s recommended that you don’t judge his skating abilities off a preseason three-game sample, as Persson usually makes most of his money being elusive and shifty inside the offensive zone. There’s another Four Nations in November which could help Persson’s chances of making the world junior squad, but it’s possible that the decision to add him to WJC squad will hinge on his J20 Nationell play rather than one or two short tournaments.

Ludwig Jansson, RHD (Sweden)
Södertälje J20, Nationell | 5’11, 175 | Dec. 27, 2003 | Shoots Right

Jansson is a swift two-way defenseman with smarts and sure hands who entered the tournament as Sweden’s No. 6 or No. 7 but played himself into a top-four role. The Swedes struggled mightily to generate offense at even strength, but Jansson was one of their better defensemen at taking control of the puck and skating it to safety. Once inside the opposing end, Jansson was highly active and either fished around for loose pucks near the net or darted into an opening for a quick attempt. He scored a game-tying wrister from a sharp angle early into a 9-3 blowout loss to the host Czechs, and Jansson from then on was Sweden’s primary power-play quarterback. His play in the defensive zone varied from effective stick use at his line and a high battle level to irresponsible reads and puck chasing, and his approach towards defending odd-man rushes seemed indecisive. Although it’s doubtful he makes Sweden’s world juniors’ squad,  expect Jansson to be a full-time SHL’er with Södertälje.

Top Overagers

Kirill Kadyshev, LW (Russia)

Kadyshev is a physical scoring winger with impressive puck skill who played on Russia’s top six and was used in all situations. He was a difference maker for Belye Medvedi (Chelyabinsk) in last year’s MHL playoffs, which probably explains why he’s being looked at for the world juniors’ squad despite not having any prior international experience. Kadyshev owns a plus-plus shot that strengthened his reputation in the MHL. But in Hodonin, Kadyshev was showcasing his passing skills and puck protection, almost on an elite level. He’s also a hard worker who charges hard to the net and drew several penalties by simply keeping his legs moving and shielding the puck.

Yegor Savikov, RHD (Russia)

Savikov was Russia’s second option after Shakir Mukhamadullin to rush the puck, create plays, and quarterback the power play. He’s neither big nor physical, but Savikov is a confident playmaker and above-average skater who rarely turns down the opportunity to join the rush or take the puck for a skate himself. Much like his role on Ladya in the MHL a season ago, Savikov ate minutes and saw most of the critical offensive-zone draws. His defensive play appeared somewhere between over-aggressive and sloppy, but Russia had plenty of two-way forwards who covered up for him when Savikov was making his usual foray deep into the opposing end. It’s reasonable to believe that Savikov would have dented the scoresheet had Shakir Mukhamadullin not been tasked with nearly every major responsibility.

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