Brno, Czech Republic — It’s not everyday you get a chance to see the ones who will one day skate on the ice rinks of the National Hockey League. Thanks to my parent company, I spent about ten days in southern Moravia, where this year’s IIHF Under-18 World Championship was held. Primarily, I was keeping an eye on Group A, which included teams from Canada and the United States. In later stages, when Sweden and Russia joined the best three teams from Group A, I had an opportunity to see the future.
A handful of prospects for the upcoming NHL Entry Draft came with their respective countries to the Czech Republic and that’s where I’d like to start. And there’s no better team to start with than the United States.
The Stars and Stripes had a strong team, especially when it came to defence. Giving up only four goals in six games (all of them against Canada) took a lot of determination, consistency and pride. And the opponents had to wait 203 minutes until forward Hunter Shinkaruk from the Medicine Hat Tigers found a way to get the puck into the net.
The number-one goalie of Team USA was Collin Olson. Some of you might ask who he is? Ranked 21st among North American goalies for the 2012 draft, Olson was a big surprise of the championship. True, the American defence didn’t give others a lot of chances to shoot the puck on net, but the thing is that when it did, Olson was there to backstop them. I’d say it’s sure now that he does get drafted, possibly as a late-round steal.
Staying with the American defence, one draft-eligible player simply dominated as part of the first pairing. His name is Jacob Trouba — you might’ve heard about him when he played for the U.S. on the last U-20 World Championship in Alberta.
Trouba, whose name means “oven” in Czech, has got a hell of a shot, very frightening for opposition’s goalies. He’s not a small player so he can be useful at his own end as well. Another must-mention rearguard is Brady Skjei (his surname is pronounced like Shea Weber’s first name.) Skjei is that type of defenceman who rarely makes headlines but yet you know that he’s on the ice doing his job and doing it the right way. Both of these players have a real opportunity of getting drafted in the first round.
The thing that impressed many was the depth of the American offence. That said, there’s only one player that should generate a lot of interest and his name is Nicolas Kerdiles. The slick, medium-sized Orange County, California, native struggled to finish during early stages of the tournament, but lifted his game right when it was needed. In the finals against Sweden, Kerdiles put on a show and scored five points with the American squad scoring seven goals.
I also liked defenceman Matt Grzelcyk, forwards Ryan Hartman and Quentin Shore (whose two brothers are already drafted into the NHL.)
Lately, Sweden has been a great source of talent for the hockey world. One highly-ranked prospect will be at the draft in Pittsburgh this year – his name is Filip Forsberg (no relation to his fellow countryman Peter Forsberg.) However, the two Swedes have a few things in common: i) both play the game with a big heart, ii) both great leaders, iii) and perhaps both will be legends one day. Peter already is.
Filip has to overcome one problem – a lack of contribution on the scoreboard. He does occupy the area around and in front of the net, is the target of his teammate’s passes and does fire the puck often, but he just struggles to find the back of the net. Just like earlier this year at the U20 World Championship in Alberta, Sebastien Collberg scored seven points; Filip had no goals and one assist.
But I can tell you that when it comes to defence, don’t look to Sweden. Ludwig Byström and Hampus Lindholm probably will become new offensive stars in the NHL, but won’t be as offensively deadly as Erik Karlsson and won’t be as defensively rock-solid as Douglas Murray. Also the Swedish goalie Oscar Dansk was highly-touted, but I’m sure that after this championship, his draft ranking will drop, but not much. Dansk is a good goalie, but if there’s too much pressure on net, the fort is destroyed.
As for the other Swedish players eligible for the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, none impressed me.
In the next part, we’ll focus on the teams that squared off for the bronze – Canada and Finland. I had loads of visual on these two as both started and finished the championship in Brno which is the second largest city of the country and the place where I stayed. Stay tuned to All Habs for the next report!