Alex Galchenyuk had 83 points in 68 games with the Sarnia Sting last season. (Aaron Bell/OHL Images)
The 2011 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament has just kicked off. It’s a short event, but it’s a great opportunity for 2012 and some 2013 draft eligible players to make a name for themselves early. Here is a short list of some players to keep tabs on during the event:
He had the option to play for Russia, but decided to represent the U.S. in this event. A potential top five - and even top three - pick in the 2012 NHL draft, Galchenyuk is an intense player with great hands and excellent instincts around the puck. He is an exciting offensive player who is always a threat to score and can also pummel opponents with his passionate and feisty physicality. Also, keep a close eye on Americans Cristoval Nieves and Jaccob Slavin.
An elite two-way playmaker, Forsberg was one of the best players for Sweden’s under-18 team last year, when he was an underager. The Swedes should provide some exciting offensive outbursts in this tournament and Forsberg will be at the center. Strong on his skates, he has excellent acceleration and eyes in the back of his head. Forsberg has top five potential written all over him. Other Swedes to watch are Sebastian Collberg and goaltender Oscar Dansk.
The Swiss continue to develop solid players, which is a testament to their excellent junior systems. Switzerland has several mid-range draft prospects on its roster, but Simion is the one with the most pro potential. Simion has been called Nino Niedereitter light and has some very good puck possession skills and physical ability to win space. Also keep tabs on diminutive puck masters Anthony Rouiller and Christoph Bertschy.
A very intelligent and calculating offensive player, Dano has some good technical skills, but what makes him dangerous is his ability to find open space away from the puck. He is an excellent offensive weapon who still has lots of development and maturing to do. If the co-host Slovaks are going to make any noise, you can bet it’s going to revolve around Dano. Defender Patrik Luza is another Slovak to keep an eye on.
Picked fifth overall by Victoriaville in the Canadian League import draft this summer, Sidlik was a rock for the Czech entry at the 2011 under-18 worlds in Germany this past spring and will look to be the leader from the back end again at the Hlinka.
An intelligent and supportive defender, Sidlik is a smooth and mobile rearguard who isn’t flashy, but is almost always effective. He’s known for his reliability, but could push to incorporate a more offensive element to his game. Dominik Volek, son of former NHLer David, and Patrik Machac are likely to be the offensive leaders for the Czechs, while goaltender Marek Langhamer should turn some heads, too.
Grigorenko is my early favourite for the first overall selection in the 2012 NHL draft and he has already proved dominant at this level. At the under-18s in the spring, he had four goals and 18 points in seven games. Think Joe Thornton/Evgeni Malkin hybrid and you’ve got an idea what Grigorenko can bring to the table. Anton Slepyshev and Valeriy Vasilyev are two other Russians who will make some noise.
With Olli Maatta not joining this team to instead play for the under-20 team in Lake Placid, Ristolainen, along with Ville Pokka, will anchor the Finnish defense. Ristolainen is extremely reliable and can fly under the radar at times, but excels in his ability to create turnovers and contain opponents to the outside. He is mobile, makes a good first pass and can play tough and physical when needed. Ristolainen is the kind of defender you love seeing on your bench as a coach, but hate to match up against as an opponent. The Finns boast some impressive ’95-born players in Sasha Barkov and Jimi Kuronen.
Two years ago Tyler Seguin burst up the draft chart beginning with his play at this event and Athanasiou showed at the under-18 selection camp his development has him poised for a similar jump. A very driven and focused player, Athanasiou has blazing linear speed and knows how to finish what he starts. Expect him to be one of Canada’s offensive leaders and to play in all situations. You can add any of Canada’s ridiculously stacked defensive corps to the list of players to watch, with Matt Dumba leading that charge, but also watch the chemistry between Hunter Shinkaruk (2013 eligible) and Matia Marcantuoni – both have explosive offensive potential on every shift.
There are a ton of NHL prospects playing in this event with only a handful of the best 2012 draft eligible players missing the tournament for various reasons. International competition is a fantastic venue for gauging pro potential because, when national pride comes into the equation, the intensity gets notched up and it’s fascinating to see how certain guys respond. This year’s Ivan Hlinka Memorial has all the makings of a classic and should be a fitting tribute to a man who managed to bring the hockey world that much closer together.
Ross MacLean is the head scout for International Scouting Services and is considered one of the rising stars of the business. A young, diverse and versatile hockey mind, MacLean leads ISS' network of scouts and puts his domestic and international hockey experience and knowledge towards ranking and providing industry-leading profiles and information on draft eligible players around the world.