Much of the top young hockey talent available for both the 2019 and 2020 NHL Entry Drafts was on display in Kravare, Czech Republic from November 5-12, 2018 at the annual fall 5-Nations tournament.
Select U18 Teams from the nations of Finland, Sweden, Switzerland, the Czech Republic, along with the U.S. National Development U18 squad all competed in a round robin with the Americans, led by projected No. 1 overall selection Jack Hughes, winning the championship on the back of his ridiculous sixteen points in four games effort.
Center Jack Hughes was absolutely unstoppable at this event scoring at an all-world level and cementing his status as top pick in our opinion. Hughes has very high hockey IQ, blazing speed, tenacity, elite puck skills, impeccable vision, and natural ability to create offense. He anticipates the play extremely well and plays smart without the puck. He dictates the play and is a game breaker in every sense of the word.
Diminutive winger Cole Caufield was his trigger man on many of the plays Hughes would set-up producing seven goals in four contests. He is a natural goal scorer and has a beautiful wrist shot. The release is quick, efficient, and extremely accurate. He can stick handle in a phone booth and make quick adjustments allowing him the space to get a quick shot off while in traffic. He can hit the smallest of holes with very little time getting set. His prowess with Jack Hughes is special, and these two elevated their gamed in Kravare while playing together.
Second line center Trevor Zegras was also very productive with nine points in four games. He is an excellent skater with ability to put the puck in the net. He is also a superb playmaker, setting up his teammates for well-timed scoring chances. His vision and playmaking skills are elite. He maneuvers without the puck well getting into open gaps and creates space for his teammates to feed him the puck. It isn’t a coincidence why guys like him always get open during crucial moments, this takes elite hockey IQ without the puck.
Zegras’ winger on the second line, Matthew Boldy, did not scorch the scoresheet at this tournament, but he put up one goal and two assists in four games. He has really nice size, great puck skills, and is very strong. His skating ability is very smooth and he tracks well at top speed. He displayed good strength during one-on-one puck battles, is very effective on his feet and stays quite sturdy and steady. He loves to throw his body around and had some bone crushing hits during the tournament. These hits were all clean and very well timed. His shot is lethal and he hit a couple posts in this tournament, so he suffered from a bit of bad puck luck in the Czech Republic.
John Beecher, the teams checking line pivot, is a big framed center who is still developing and is yet to fully fill out. He projects to get a lot bigger, faster, and stronger, which is a scary concept considering how big and fast he already is. He is very strong on the puck and battles hard. He wins many 50/50 puck battles and plays a good physical game by finishing his checks. He has excellent straight away speed and closes gaps in an instant on the back check. He had two goals in the tournament.
On the blue line the Americans also have a couple gems. Alex Vlasic is a huge defenseman that has great skating ability. He projects as a shut-down defender with some offensive upside and he did a great job standing up opponents at his own blue line or in the neutral zone. He is a hard hitter who likes to finish his checks and punish opposing forwards. He makes puck rushers think twice before moving in on him and he tracks them down quickly when he senses their hesitation. Once he gets the puck, it is moved very quickly up ice and he turns defensive plays into offensive attacks very well. He is a good passer and showed the ability to make quick one-time passes through traffic. His shot is pretty heavy from the point and it would have been great to see him get more of them off in this tournament. He had three assists in the tournament.
Puck moving defenseman Cam York was impressive despite not finding his name on the score sheet as often as his play dictated. York is a very mobile defenseman and he does a great job of jumping in the rush. His passes are so crisp and accurate; therefore breakouts are extremely efficient and he makes them look easy. He also is great at throwing long, accurate stretch passes to streaking forwards. He has very elite hockey IQ. He picked off many pucks in the neutral zone like a defensive back in football, breaking up plays before they had a chance to start, and transitioning them into the offense.
In goal, the duties were split between the two net minders but Spencer Knight was the headliner and the events best puck stopper overall. He looked very confident and has all the tools to make it at the NHL level. His lateral movement is excellent, he stays up, and does a great job of anticipating cross ice passes getting into position quickly on these attempts. His rebound control is strong and usually he controls the puck or puts it into the corner. He let in just three goals in the two games he started.
The Finnish entry came up short against the powerhouse Americans but still showed well with talents at all positions including winger Patrik Puistola who had the best offensive production out of all the Fins. He finished the tournament with five points, including four goals, in four games with a +4 rating. He displayed a nice wrist shot off the toe of his stick during the tournament that kept finding the back of the net. He used a smart change of his angles to open holes on the goaltender he was shooting on. He has excellent hands and a very high overall offensive skill level.
Winger Leevi Aaltonen, despite his smaller stature, is really strong on the puck and is excellent at driving it to the front of the net. He can really protect the puck well and showed this ability over and over again during the tournament. The ability to keep the puck and maintain possession until his teammates are able to get open is pretty impressive. He only ended up with two goals in the tournament, but generated tons of chances and hit a couple posts during the event. He was the most eye popping player on Finland. His combination of elite skating, skilled hands, and natural offensive instincts have us believing he will succeed at the next level.
Henri Nikkanen is a solid center who skates well and is very mobile. He patrolled the neutral zone cutting off plays before they get into his own zone, jumping up and timing these plays correctly. He possesses excellent skating abilities, a quick first step, and elite hockey IQ. He also passes the puck exceptionally well with solid vision and distributes it very efficiently on the power play. He ended up with five assists in the tournament and displayed excellent playmaking skills.
Big two-way defensemen Antti Tuomisto had his moments in Kravare for the Fins as he made the correct play the majority of the time in his own zone while also being able to add to his team’s offensive attack. He is a big guy who moves well, not overly fast but just solid all-encompassing mobility, for his size. Although he does have a strong shot, his ability to move the puck to his forwards with smooth, accurate and well-timed passes was impressive and led to his five assists in the four games he played.
In goal for the Fins Roope Taponen faced a ton of rubber and pulled off some phenomenal saves with his quickness and athleticism. His movements were quite impressive and he reacted very quickly. His rebound control was solid and rarely gave the competition second chances. He was very strong in tournament as a whole and is definitely one of the reasons the Fins came in second. He has loads of potential with room to grow physically and could be a steal of a draft pick after a few years of further seasoning.
On the host Czech Republic roster, right wing Radek Muzik stood out with his blend of speed, size and offensive skills. Here is a player with a really nice shot and excellent release on his wrist shot. He was by far the most talented player on the Czech team and drove the offense for them. He really gets after the puck, likes to maintain possession and is really good at cycling the puck down low. He tends to shield his opponents well by using his big frame and steady stride, while keeping his feet moving to gain separation. Finished with four points in four games.
Center Jaromir Pytlik stood out on a weaker Czech team with his good size and skating ability. The talented center, not eligible for the NHL Draft until 2020, displayed a good wrist shot during the tournament and scored a beauty against Sweden to help them win and finish the tournament in third place.
Puck stopper Lukas Parik impressed despite the Czechs being outclassed by half the teams in the tournament and would not have finished as well as they did if not for his crease play. The big goalie stands tall, keeping good position and calm making the shooter make the first move before reacting quickly. He had a good sense of what the top offensive shooters are trying and he read them well. This shows strong hockey intelligence and senses. Overall, he faced a ton of rubber in the tournament and held his own.
A point-a-game performer at this event and likely future top five 2020 NHL Draft prospect, winger Noel Gunler, was impressive in Kravare for the Swedes. He is a sniper with very effective finishing skills but was playing the role of playmaker more than normal here. The offensive generator does possess impressive vision and creative hands but we feel he could have really made a difference if he was shooting the puck more instead of deferring to his line mates. Regardless he was still one of his country’s most consistent offensive players.
Center Arvid Costmar led Sweden in scoring and had the best performance in the tournament among the Swedish forwards. He was the driving force behind Sweden’s offense all tournament. He played the game at a solid pace and has a knack for getting himself open is prime scoring spots. When he gets passes in a scoring position he wastes no time. When he shoots he gets really low and hammers a low one-time snap shot. He posted seven points including four goals.
Center Albin Grewe plays a physical game always stalking the puck and goes after it with a tenacious vengeance. He regularly finished his checks and stripped many pucks off his opponents. There are great offensive instincts in his game. He had decent numbers in the tournament and produced one goal and three assists. The one thing that really impressed was his checking ability as he threw some booming body checks during the tournament and loves to hammer guys with open ice hits. Toughness appears to come naturally and he can play in any situation. That grittiness, combined with a high skill level, is very rare and makes him an intriguing prospect.
On the backend, high-risk high-reward puck rushing defender Philip Broberg again impressed us with his powerful skating stride, driving the puck up ice and ability to play a solid overall game. He has excellent size and he uses his long stick to his advantage knocking pucks away and thwarting potential attacks in the neutral zone. In his own zone, he uses his powerful skating stride and long reach to box opponents out well. He regularly made long dashes with the puck from the defensive zone all the way into the offensive zone. Despite utilizing his booming one timer from the point on the power play he only recorded three assists in the tournament and had a +2 rating, the top plus minus on Sweden who had a rough tournament as a team.
Tobias Bjornfot did not put up any offensive numbers in the tournament, but there was plenty of talent in his game that stood out in this tournament. His skating is absolutely top notch and he is an extremely mobile defenseman who can flat out fly with good movement from east to west as well. His playmaking abilities are strong and he moves the puck well, with great composure and calmness. Overall, he has excellent poise and doesn’t panic when fore-checkers are coming in with speed. A real safe two-way contributor.