2016 U18 Five Nations Tournament

Bold Statement

Unheralded draft eligibles put on a show in Finland
Steve Kournianos  |  02/17/2016 |  New York  |  

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Photo courtesy of Pasi Mennander

2016-02-10 Sweden 2, Czech Republic 0 Box Score / Lines
2016-02-10 Finland 3, Russia 2 Box Score / Lines
2016-02-11 Russia 3, United States 0 Box Score / Lines
2016-02-11 Finland 4, Czech Republic 3 Box Score / Lines
2016-02-12 Russia 4, Czech Republic 1 Box Score / Lines
2016-02-12 Sweden 3, United States 2 (Shootout) Box Score / Lines
2016-02-13 United States 3, Finland 2 Box Score / Lines
2016-02-13 Sweden 3, Russia 2 (Shootout) Box Score / Lines
2016-02-14 Finland 2, Sweden 1 (Shootout) Box Score / Lines
2016-02-14 United States 5, Czech Republic 2 Box Score / Lines

Sweden

The Swedes boasted a solid mix of 1998 and 1999-born talent, but it was the play of 2016 draft-eligibles defenseman Jacob Cederholm and goaltender Filip Gustavssson leading the charge to a 3-1 mark and nearly winning all four games before it dropped a shootout to the Finns in the finale. Their roster was heavy on a vaunted 2017 draft class, and the suffocating nature of the neutral zone didn’t allow the Swedes to use their skill and ability to make plays at high speeds.

RHD JACOB CEDERHOLM: Cederholm doesn’t do anything pretty, but his approach to defending his zone is worthy of praise. He has a very active stick and a long reach, which helps him interdict dump-ins from the point without conceding much in terms of slot positioning. He likes to wander a bit, but we saw all six of Sweden’s defenders venture way out towards the blue line in an attempt to maintain contact with the enemy, so the tactic may be a requirement of its coaching staff.

LHD JACOB MOVERARE: Mobile defenseman with good positioning and an active stick who should have involved himself in the play more once the puck crossed the red line. Defensively, he tends to get caught up in one-on-one coverage too much, and we’d like to see him release much closer to the slot. In the attacking zone, he was glued to the point far too often. Moverare is somewhat of an oddity; his escapability is outstanding, but he eventually paints himself into a corner.

RW OSKAR STEEN: Steen’s brilliance with the puck was evident at the Five Nations, but also in limited time with Farjestad of the Swedish Hockey League. He had quick chemistry with fellow 2016 eligibles Jesper Bratt and Linus Lindstrom, using his footwork and vision to make smart zone entries. The Swedes are a puck-possession team whose defensemen don’t take many risks, so the onus was on puck carriers like Steen to penetrate the opposing wall along the blue line. He did a good job in that regard, and we commend him stickhandling through a maze on several occasions.

LW JESPER BRATT: A late-1998 birthday yet he was still one of Sweden’s elder statesmen in Finland, manning the second line and playing on both the power play and the penalty kill. Bratt is very quick and elusive, and his play along the boards is outstanding. He uses quick reflexes to intercept passes and take the puck up the ice with speed and authority. Against the Czechs, he blocked a point shot and raced to the loose puck, lifting it over the defender and catching Oskar Steen in stride to set up an empty netter.

Russia

The Russians brought their “A” team with them to Rauma, and they played a near-perfect exhibition give or take a handful of defensive lapses. Up front, they rolled four dangerous scoring lines, with depth winger Andrei Altybarmakyan getting a bump to the top line after he was far too lethal a threat to keep stapled to the bench. The top two centers — German Rubtsov and Mikhail Maltsev — were their usual dominant selves, using size, strength and good decision making to spearhead the attack. The team looked sluggish against a determined American squad, but a lethal power play and timely saves by goalie Vladislav Sukhachev guided them to a 3-0 victory.

C GERMAN RUBTSOV: With a strong WJAC behind him, Rubtsov was yet again too tough to separate from the puck. He’s become sort of a household name over the past few months, but anybody expecting him to produce some sort of record-setting tournament must not know the kind of team-first, win-at-all-costs player he is. He is the perfect size for playing the aggressive, grind-it-out style inherent in tournaments with loaded rosters and solid goaltending, and he displayed his elite hands and coordination by banging home a rebound in the goalmouth while travelling at a high rate of speed. Rubtsov always keeps his feet moving while on the power play, and he draws defenders out of position by keeping the puck close to his body.

LW ANDREI ALTYBARMAKYAN: A great example of a player earning his way to more minutes, Altybarmakyan is a speedy winger with a soft touch who is on a fast track to notoriety if he continues to play as he did in Rauma. He displayed not only hard work, but an ability to make quick set-ups during scrums. His passes were accurate, and on several occasions he feathered perfect backhanders to teammates in stride. A skill forward with excellent vision and awareness, Altybarmakyan began the competition on the fourth line but found his way on Rubtsov’s flank and the top power play unit, where he displayed a quick release and timely shots through clogged lanes.

LW ARTUR KAYUMOV: Kayumov had an outstanding tournament, and deserving of some serious praise. He’s developed his game from a pass-happy forward to a front line two-way soldier willing to duke it out in the trenches and take the hard right over the easy wrong. He was gipped out of at least two assists, but the points don’t tell the whole story of a unique playmaker who is lethal when operating in the offensive zone. If there’s a loose puck, he’ll not only hustle for it, but make a smart decision once he gets there.

G VLADISLAV SUKHACHEV: We’re hard pressed to find a goalie who resets as quickly as Sukhachev, who played very well in a shootout loss to the Swedes but was immortal against the Americans. His stick positioning may look odd, but he uses it perfectly to conceal any openings down low. He looked like a classic butterfly netminder who doesn’t venture far from his crease and will remain upright for what seems like an eternity. The rapidity of his movements compensate for a lack of size, as it only seems as if he’s overly unset while tracking the puck. Good luck getting to rebounds on this kid.

Czech Republic

It was a rough tournament for the Czechs, who fielded an experienced squad in Rauma, opting to leave many of their talented 1999-born prospects behind. The top line centered by Kristian Reichel had their chances, but a defense without the likes of Filip Hronek to lead the charge turned out to be a porous one. Neither Dominik Groh or Josef Korenar stood up to the task in goal, as each netminder let in soft goals during scoreless portions of the match. The lone bright spot among draft eligible was second line center Ondrej Najman, who played determined and played the waiting game so options would develop.

C ONDREJ NAJMAN: Najman is a solid playmaker who displayed confidence moving the puck up the ice while making generally sound decisions with his passes. He’s not the fastest skater, but he’s strong on the puck and tough to dislodge when he’s heading up ice with authority. He played on the Czechs’ second penalty killing unit throughout the tournament, and should be considered a scoring threat while shorthanded.

C KRISTIAN REICHEL: Reichel was targeted as the top line center and struggled to find or create room to advance the puck. The Czechs spent a lot of time in their own zone, where Reichel displayed his sound two-way game. His stick is generally in the right place, and he used it on several occasions to win puck battles and end lengthy opposing possession. Reichel is an excellent passer, who uses a variety of ways to deliver the puck accurately and even lays it flat if a teammate has the chance to crank one up. He was one of many top talents who struggled to score in such a stacked best-on-best, so seeing him provide intangibles, specifically on the penalty kill, is always a good sign.

LHD LUKAS DOUDERA: Doudera is far better suited for a back-and-forth affair, which wasn’t the case in Rauma. He has a very good shot and a quick-strike mentality, so seeing the undersized blueliner struggle with the grind-it-out nature of the tournament wasn’t all that surprising. He continues to drift too far from the slot, which at times can be a good thing if the puck gets stolen and heads the other way. But all too often, we saw forwards sneak behind him with more room to operate than they deserved. He’s an offense-first defenseman who needs to round out his game.

Finland

Host Finland boasted a strong lineup similar to what it featured during its sweep of the competition at the lrevious tournament. In Rauma, the Finns were buoyed by three scoring lines and an involved defense. Their top two centers — 2016 eligibles Otto Makinen and Aapeli Rasanen — each had productive tournaments, but it was the relatively obscure Rasanen who tied for the tournament lead in scoring with three goals and two assists in four games.

C AAPELI RASANEN: Rasanen was a delight to watch in all three zones, using his speed, awareness and strong playmaking skills to create room for both himself and his teammates. He killed penalties, manned the wall of the power play, and was used in most of Finland’s critical situations. His bank pass to a streaking Eeli Tolvanen caught the speedy winger in stride, enough for the wing to out-position Russian defensemen Nikita Makeeyev and score a beautiful goal. Rasanen also scored the lone goal in the shootout to clinch a win against rival Sweden.

C OTTO MAKINEN: Makinen centered Finland’s top line in between wingers Janne Kuokkanen and 2017 draft prospect Emil Okasanen. He had a fine tournament, although the stats don’t necessarily reflect that (two assists in four games). His passes were accurate, and his compete level was up. But his ability to create chances despite drawing the toughest matchups tells us his game is maturing.

RW EETU TUULOLA: Tuulola is a big and mobile power forward who oozes confidence and reliability. He was on Finland’s third line, but we think he made the most of his time, especially on the power play. This is the fourth time we’ve seen him play in an international event, and it’s laughable to see smaller defensemen try to handle him. Granted, you wish he could finish a quarter of his chances, but the competition was a lot stiffer in Rauma as opposed to the previous U18 tournament, when he has four points in four games.

RW JANNE KUOKKANEN: A winger who is certainly capable of playing the pivot, Kuokkanen was silky smooth in his puck distribution, finding trailers, leading with accuracy and threading the needle across great distances. He was more active shooting the puck at previous competitions than in Rauma, but that probably had more to with the lack of quality of the defenders he faced. That wasn’t the case last week, as both Russia and Sweden collapsed their forwards and kept the Finns to the outside. Kuokkanen thrives in the open ice, but he used his strength and vision to make plays when they were seemingly unavailable.

United States

The United States performed reasonably well, but expectation were probably higher than simply splitting their four decisions. Team USA suffered a tough loss to Russia (naturally) thanks to poor discipline and the heroics of Russian goalie Vladislav Sukhachev, but ended on a high note with a convincing 5-2 win over the Czechs, followed with a hard-fought 3-2 triumph over the host Finns. Team USA sat back more than usual in Rauma, especially in the third period where they blew leads to both Finland and the Swedes, the latter using it to springboard to a shootout victory. On offense, stud left wing Kieffer Bellows led the charge with five points in four games, while the third line of Graham McPhee, Will Lockwood and Nick Pastujov provided critical support on offense. Center Clayton Keller was held in check compared to previous tournaments but still managed to make plays and provide his linemates with quality set-ups.

C TRENT FREDERIC: A solid tournament for Team USA’s versatile pivot, as Frederic displayed patience with the puck and was on the mark with his passes. He’s a fierce competitor who hates to lose, so when you combine his tenacity with a pro build, you wind with the kind of positive results we saw against the world’s best U18 talent. He hounds opposing puck carriers in all three zones, and trust us when we say it’s not sheer luck when the puck consistently winds up back on his stick.

LHD CHAD KRYS: Krys hasn’t had the best February, and we’re beginning to believe point partner Adam Fox is the de facto leader of the NTDP’s blueline. One of Krys’s qualities is the ability to slow the game down and use deliberation as he advances the puck up the ice when the opportunity to use his quickness isn’t there. What We noticed in Rauma, however, was that he did so to a fault – sometimes he needs to grab the puck and zip it forward without overthinking.

LHD RYAN LINDGREN: The captain of Team USA, Lindgren is an excellent all-around defender, and his play in Rauma validated what we thought from previous viewings. Smart, mobile and aggressive are just three ways to describe his game, and his booming shot from the good side of the blue line was hard for opposing goalies to handle. On the penalty kill, he doesn’t cheat to the strong side, and if a point man tries to sneak into the weak side slot area, Lindgren lets him know he’s fully aware and ready to pounce.

RHD ADAM FOX: Fox is developing into one heck of a three-zone defender, which is important when you consider how explosive an offensive force he can be. His reads and anticipation skills were on the mark while paired with J.D. Greenway, and he always has his head up to find a candidate for one of his patented stretch passes. Fox is a graceful skater who demands the puck, probably because he can be trusted with making the right play when the forwards are in need of a change.