Who to watch for at the Ivan Hlinka under-18 tournament

Ryan Kennedy
Matt-Barzal

Every summer, some of the best under-18 players in the world travel over to the Czech Republic and Slovakia for the Ivan Hlinka Memorial tournament, named after the former NHL coach. This event serves as the first major showdown of the season for the upcoming draft class and yes, it’s 2015′s turn in the spotlight.

Technically, this is not a best-on-best tournament, since Team USA does not send the National Team Development Program – the kids who end up dominating the world under-18s in the spring. Instead, the American squad is made up of prep schoolers and players from major junior and the United States League. For a look at Americans to watch for, check out my report from the camp earlier this summer. Also, Connor McDavid won’t be there, since he just got finished with Canada’s world junior camp. And Pavel Zacha, who recently signed with the Ontario League’s Sarnia Sting, is out as well. But there is still a lot of talent suiting up.

Here are some of the players to watch for:

Matt Barzal, Canada – A center with the Western League’s Seattle Thunderbirds, Barzal is an excellent playmaker with hands, quickness and creativity. He played as an underager at the world under-18s and projects to be a top-five or top-10 pick in 2015.

Oliver Kylington, Sweden – Skating, skating, skating. Kylington is a gifted speedster on Sweden’s blueline who will likely be the second D-man taken in 2015 after Noah Hanifin (USA). Kylington’s Farjestad club provided the opposition for the American League all-stars this past season and he won the fastest skater competition as a 16-year-old against the AHL’s best.

Dylan Strome, Canada – A big, growing center for the Ontario League’s Erie Otters, Dylan has excellent hockey IQ and some sweet hands. The younger brother of Ryan Strome, Dylan projects to be a top-12 pick in 2015.

Travis Konecny, Canada – A tantalizing combination of high-end skill and heart, Konecny was amazing for a lowly OHL Ottawa team this past season and will likely be a top scorer in the ‘O’ for 2014-15. Projects as a top-15 pick, since he measures in at just 5-foot-10, but Konecny is going to make some NHL team very happy.

Mitch Marner, Canada – Like Konecny, Marner is undersized, but the kid can flat-out play. Marner possesses an abundance of skill and flash, which will serve him well as he takes on a bigger role with the OHL’s London Knights this season. Projects as a top-15 pick.

Jakub Zboril, Czech Republic – Repping for the home side, Zboril is a smart defenseman with good size who can contribute at both ends of the rink, including on the power play. Zboril, who will join the Quebec League’s Saint John Sea Dogs this year, makes a good first pass and moves the puck well. Projects as a top-50 pick.

Sebastian Aho, Finland – Not to be confused with the Swedish Sebastian Aho, the Finnish Aho is a forward who makes those around him better and shows a great deal of poise and professionalism on the ice. Projects as a top-50 pick.
Also to watch on Finland is big scoring forward Patrik Laine, who is not eligible until 2016.

Alexei Platonov, Russia – Honestly, I don’t have much of a book on the Russians at the Ivan Hlinka, but Platonov is a sturdy tank on the blueline who comes in at about 6-foot-5 and 203 pounds. Has some scoring potential, but that’s not his primary game. Projects as a top-50 pick.

Adam Huska, Slovakia – A big, prototypical modern goaltender, Huska was great for Slovakia at the world under-18s, where his solid butterfly technique and ability to track shooters often bailed his team out. They’ll need him to be strong again at the Ivan Hlinka. Projects as a top-10 goalie for 2015.

Dominik Diem, Switzerland – An energetic forward with a big shot, Diem isn’t blessed with great size, but he has shown an ability to maximize his impact in the past. Gets back on defense, too. Projects as a top-100 pick.

Edited to reflect that Patrik Laine is from Finland

Prospect Watch: Anaheim’s Matt Berkovitz brings to mind Ryan Suter

Ryan Kennedy
Matt-Berkovitz

While the state of Wisconsin has produced numerous excellent NHLers in recent years, from Phil Kessel and Ryan Suter to Joe Pavelski, it’s a rarity to see a player drafted straight from the dairy state’s high school ranks.

Long the domain of Minnesota, high school hockey in the Midwest was turned on its head at the 2014 draft when defenseman Matt Berkovitz of the Ashwaubenon Jaguars was selected 123rd overall by Anaheim. Later on in the fifth round, three Minnesota products went in a row when Luc Snuggerud, Tyler Nanne and Miguel Fiddler heard their names called. But for once, Wisconsin high school held the bragging rights, even if Berkovitz didn’t intend on using them.

“I don’t try to hold it over anyone,” he said. “I’m just happy to be picked.”

Sounds like “Midwest nice” is alive and well in the youngster. And it’s fine that Berkovitz doesn’t want to ruffle feathers off the ice, because he’s sure to make an impact on it in the future. During the season, one NHL scout told me that the Jaguars star reminded him of Ryan Suter thanks to the way he skates without wasting motion. Like Suter before him, Berkovitz has committed to the University of Wisconsin, but first the youngster plans on suiting up in the United States League for the Chicago Steel.

Berkovitz could have joined the Steel this past season, but felt the timing wasn’t quite right.

“I don’t think I was mature enough,” he said. “I didn’t like my situation there as much as I thought I would, so I thought the Elite League in Minnesota, with Team Wisconsin, was a good league to prove myself in. I wanted to dominate there before moving on to the USHL.”

The Upper Midwest High School Elite League takes place before the regular high school season and features all-star teams from around Minnesota, Shattuck St-Mary’s prep school and a few other entries, including Team Wisconsin, where Berkovitz led his squad’s defense corps with 13 points in 21 games.

“I’m a reliable two-way defenseman who can move the puck well,” he said. “I can play solid defensively and create a lot of offense.”

Needless to day, Berkovitz wouldn’t have been waiting until the fifth round of the draft if he was a finished product – the youngster does need to get stronger, in scouts’ minds. But he does have a good 6-foot-1, 180-pound frame to build on and that skating acumen is hard to teach. Chicago missed the USHL playoffs this past season, but will return young scoring ace Robby Jackson (2015 draft) and 2014 Blackhawks pick Freddy Olofsson, a left winger originally from Sweden.

After that, he’ll head back to his home state of Wisconsin to play for a Badgers program that has churned out NHL defensemen over the years, from Jake Gardiner and Justin Schultz to Ryan McDonagh and of course, Ryan Suter.

 

Ryan Kennedy’s Top 10 2015 NHL draft prospects

Ryan Kennedy
Connor McDavid (Terry Wilson/OHL Images)

The 2015 draft has been hyped for quite some time now and the crazy thing is, the season hasn’t even started yet.

Potentially franchise-changing names lie at the top with Connor McDavid, Jack Eichel and Noah Hanifin, but it’s also shaping up to be a deep draft.

Here’s a look at 10 players to watch for, but also keep in mind University of Michigan commit Zach Werenski, Chicoutimi’s Nicolas Roy and Ottawa’s Travis Konecny.

1. CONNOR MCDAVID
C, 6-0, 185 LBS, Erie (OHL), 56-28-71-99-20
Can create offense within the blink of an eye. Has been a phenom for years already.

2. JACK EICHEL
C, 6-1, 191 LBS, U.S. NTDP (USHL), 53-38-49-87-28
Big, fast and talented, the Boston University commit will keep McDavid on his toes.

3. NOAH HANIFIN
D, 6-2, 201 LBS, U.S. NTDP (USHL), 45-8-24-32-34
All-around force would be No. 1 in most draft years. Quebec or Boston College next.

4. OLIVER KYLINGTON
D, 6-0, 174 LBS, Farjestad (Swe.), 32-2-4-6-6
Incredibly fast skater was too valuable to send to under-18s. Farjestad needed him in playoffs.

5. MATT BARZAL
C, 5-11, 171 LBS, Seattle (WHL), 59-14-40-54-20
Brilliant playmaker skates well and made an impact for Canada at the under-18s.

6. PAVEL ZACHA
LW, 6-3, 201 LBS, Liberec (Cze.), 38-4-4-8-10
Incredibly, played most of the season against men. Power forward can wire the puck, too.

7. COLIN WHITE
C, 6-0, 179 LBS, U.S. NTDP (USHL), 47-33-30-63-81
Boston College commit is a complete player and leader who can really motor.

8. DYLAN STROME
C, 6-2, 178 LBS, Erie (OHL), 60-10-29-39-11
Great frame, excellent hockey IQ. He’ll produce even more once older Otters move on.

9. KYLE CONNOR
C, 6-1, 170 LBS, Youngstown (USHL), 56-31-43-74-12
Michigan commit is a preternatural scorer. Ranked second in league. Dazzled at under-18s.

10. DANIEL SPRONG
RW, 5-10, 177 LBS, Charlottetown (QMJHL), 67-30-38-68-20
Potent shot, strong on his skates and whip-smart. Sprong was a force for the Islanders.

FAVORITE FOR 2016: It’s not easy to fly under the radar when you play for Team USA’s National Team Development Program, but an early season injury had some folks missing out on Auston Matthews. Luckily, he did his best to jog their memories by putting a big stamp on 2013-14 at the world under-18s.

The Arizona native rang up seven points in seven games en route to the gold medal. Only Jack Eichel and Sonny Milano beat him among Americans. And Matthews did it from the third line.

“He’s unbelievable,” said one scout. “Smooth skating, incredibly skilled two-way guy. You notice him every time he’s on the ice.”

A late-born 1997, Matthews is one of the few major NTDPers yet to make a college commitment, making him a hot commodity coming out of his star turn in Finland.

TOP STUD IN 2017: Famous bloodlines continue to dot the prospect map and one name to watch for is big right winger Nolan Patrick of the WHL’s Brandon Wheat Kings.The nephew of former NHLer-turned-coach James Patrick, Nolan is already 6-foot-3, even though he doesn’t turn 16 until September. He was taken fourth overall in the 2013 bantam draft. He has already played 12 games (including the playoffs) for the Wheaties and prides himself on playmaking.

“I have pretty good vision out there,” he said. “I try to use that to my advantage.”

And when he needs advice, Uncle James is always available.

“I don’t think we’ve ever had a phone call that wasn’t about hockey,” Nolan said.

Who would make your favorite team’s all-time roster?

Ryan Kennedy
Toews-Sioux

The Indiana Ice of the United States League are on hiatus right now due to arena issues, but the franchise has kept itself in the game by releasing its tenth anniversary all-star team. Notable names include Washington defenseman John Carlson, Boston blueliner Torey Krug and Calgary netminding prospect Jon Gillies. Which got me thinking about other programs around the hockey world.

What would the all-time teams look like for teams in major junior, NCAA or even Europe? As a lark, I put together a couple and the results are pretty interesting. For example, here’s who the University of North Dakota could trot out:

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Nylander and Toninato soar at Toronto Maple Leafs rookie camp

Ryan Kennedy
Dom-Toninato

Yes, it’s July and yes, it was only a scrimmage, but do you like hockey or don’t ya? The Toronto Maple Leafs, like many NHL franchises, held their rookie development camp this week and the festivities ended with a scrimmage. Far from orthodox, the game featured a 15-minute period of 4-on-4 with players changing every 45 seconds, followed by a similar format but 3-on-3 (there was also a “normal” 15-minute period to begin with).

One player who looked pretty sharp was center Dakota Joshua. A member of the United States League’s Sioux Falls Stampede, the Dearborn, Mich., native was great on the forecheck, dogging defensemen and keeping plays alive in the corners.

“That helps me out a lot in the USHL, to make plays and help put points on the board by winning puck battles and finding the open teammate,” Joshua said.

The growing pivot will have an expanded role on the Stampede next season, as the team is losing a bunch of veterans. After that, he’ll head to Ohio State.

“It was a perfect overall fit for me,” he said. “It’s in the Big 10, which I felt was one of the best conferences in college hockey and it’s close to home. I know I’m going up against the best talent in America every night.”

Here’s who else stood out to me on the day:

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St. Louis Blues prospects don’t fit the Russian stereotype

Ryan Kennedy
Ivan-Barbashev

When T.J. Oshie ended a classic Olympic showdown by outduelling the Russians in the shootout, he became an instant hero back in the United States. And while most of the host nation was crestfallen by his derring-do, Oshie had at least one Russian on his side: Maxim Letunov thought the American was great.

As luck would have it, Letunov was selected by Oshie’s NHL team, the St. Louis Blues, mere months later at the draft. He went later in the second round after the Blues had taken countryman Ivan Barbashev 33rd overall. Both players may be Russian, but they shatter stereotypes.

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Americans and Connor McDavid will rule the 2015 draft

Eichel-McDavid

I thought it was a bit unfair that some news outlets were already running stories on the 2015 draft class before the 2014s had even strolled up to the podium in Philadelphia, but now that NHL Central Scouting has released its watch list, it’s time to weigh in.

In terms of hype, 2015 is going to be a big year. If the prospects at the top develop on the path I expect them to, you’re looking at three or four franchise-changing talents, followed by some more excellent players after that. In terms of potential, it blows 2014 out of the water.

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