The Ivan Hlinka Memorial Cup is a traditional U18 summer hockey tournament hosted in the Czech Republic and Slovakia. It is the first tournament of the season and a valuable opportunity for scouts to have a first glance at the upcoming draft class. The stands therefore were mostly filled with scouts. Hockey Prospectus did not want to miss this opportunity and was present for the Slovakian group games in Bratislava, which included Slovakia, Finland, Russia and USA. Let’s have a look at some of the 2016 draft eligible names that stood out in this group.
Although Finland played without its top three draft eligible players for 2016, Jesse Puljujarvi, Patrik Laine and Olli Juolevi, they still had a decent tournament and a few very interesting players in the line-up. I was quite impressed with Otto Somppi and Janne Kuokkanen. Somppi, a center, was selected in the first round by Halifax Mooseheads in this year’s CHL Import Draft and joined the team for this season where he currently is off to a good start, having scored 17 points in his first 17 games. Somppi possesses silky smooth hands and showed his tremendous puckhandling skills throughout the tournament. He isn’t overly big, listed at 6-1 and 181lbs but he was extremely hard to knock off the puck as he used his body very well to protect the biscuit. I would describe his two-way game as decent as he tried to backcheck and support his defensemen. What I liked most about Somppi is that he was very calm when carrying the puck and he did not panic in tight space or when he was placed under pressure by aggressive forecheckers.
LW Janne Kuokkanen had a slow start to the tournament but really picked up the pace towards the end. He led his team in scoring and was one of the best Finnish players at the tournament in my eyes. Kuokkanen was a constant offensive threat and impressed with an excellent understanding of the game. He showed his very powerful pass in combination with his vision to set up plays. It seemed that he always knew what to do with the puck even before he had possession. Kuokkanen used his great puckhandling skills and agile skating to move smoothly into the offensive zone and was a confident puck carrier.
Next to Kuokkanen and Somppi, there were a couple of other notable Finnish players, namely Markus Niemelainen, a big-sized defender who plays a simple and effective game in his own zone and makes few mistakes, Aapeli Rasanen, a center who showed great vision and good awareness of the game and center Otto Makinen, who has a nose for the net and a quick release.
Three underagers and 2017 draft eligible Finns who are worth to mention in this report are defenders Juuso Valimaki, and Robin Salo and forward Emil Oksanen. Valimaki is a puckmoving two-way defender while Salo brings a physical element to the game. Oksanen impressed me with his smooth hands and skating.
One player I liked a lot at the Ivan Hlinka is Russian center German Rubtsov. He is not a flashy player but he surprised me with intelligence and a good hockey IQ. He saw plenty of ice time and was used in all situation including penalty killing, where he cut lanes very effectively in the neutral zone to make it hard for the opponent’s powerplay unit to enter the attacking zone. Rubtsov is the type of player you want to have in the line-up, as he does a lot of small things for the team. His two-way game is strongly developed and he showed good strength along the boards. Rubtsov might not possess high-end scoring skills but the fact that he plays a matured and responsible game combined with his high understanding of the game makes him an interesting player for the upcoming draft where he should be picked in one of the first rounds.
After Andrei Vasilevsky and Ilya Samsonov, Vladislav Sukhachev could be the next highly touted Russian goalie prospect within a few years. Sukhachev showed an outstanding performance in the semi-final against Canada with 46 saves, where he held his team in the game several times and made a very strong impression on me throughout the tournament. Although undersized he showed great rebound control and was extremely good when he was screened, as he fought through traffic effectively.
Defenseman Alexander Yakovenko was an untouchable leader on the powerplay and organized it from the blueline. He used his skating and mobility to move back and forth during the powerplay and used his shot successfully. He cut passing lanes and used an active stick to cut shooting angles in his own zone and possesses decent power on his slapshot. One big concern is his size. He is listed at only 5’10” and 157 lbs and needs to bulk up. He also needs to improve his skating balance when taking a hit.
Other Russian players who played a decent tournament are Nikita O. Popugayev, an undersized flashy forward who stickhandles well and shows a decent two-way game, Nikita Makeyev, a blueliner who displayed a mature overall game and strong powerplay skills, physical stay-at-home defender Dmitry Alexeyev, as well as Artur Kayumov a flashy, offensively skilled winger and center Mikhail Meshcheryakov who displays a complete three zone game. However, all of them were lacking in consistency.
As usual, Team USA did not bring its top prospects of this draft class to the Hlinka tournament. Their two best players were by far Casey Mittelstadt and Kailer Yamamoto. Neither will be eligible until 2017 NHL Draft. But that did not hinder them from being the top two forwards in the entire tournament and tying the tournament scoring list with seven points each. They were both a treat to watch in each and every shift and kept the crowd on the edges of their seats with fancy moves and highlight-reel goals.
Mittelstadt’s puckhandling skills were outstanding and the mix of speed, skills and vision was very impressive. He was literally flying over the ice with the puck. Mittelstadt is the kind of player who becomes the reason to purchase a ticket for the game he is playing in, highly attractive and never disappointing. He showed very good puckhandling and, combined with his speed, was a real weapon in the tournament.
Similar skills are apparent for the undersized Kailer Yamamoto, who plays for the Spokane Chiefs of the WHL. He has all the tools to become a flashy, undersized playmaker at NHL level. His skating agility, acceleration and top speed is through the roof and he was flying over the ice while still maintaining control over the puck. His accurate and strong passes always arrived on target and he organized the powerplay with his great vision and creativity. Yamamoto showed outstanding puckhanding skills and twisted and turned while still keeping control over the puck. He possesses a hard wrister but needs to use it more often. As of today I would say he is an early favorite to be selected within the top 10 in the 2017 NHL Draft.
Personally, I was a bit disappointed with left winger Riley Tufte, who did not have the best tournament. He did not have too much puck luck and often was fighting without delivering points. However, the big winger played a decent two-way game. Similar to Tufte’s playing style is fellow left winger Timmy Gettinger. He was using the entirety of his big frame to go hard to the net. Next to Gettinger defensemen Mitch Eliot and Cameron Dineen both had solid tournaments. While Eliot is a reliable defender in his own zone with good work ethic and good communication, Dineen is more of a two-way defenseman with offensive upside.