Jake Sanderson, Stanislav Svozil, Emil Andrae, Marat Khusnutdinov and Roni Hirvonen were some of the stars of the U18 Five Nations tournament in Czech Republic.
Last week, under-18 teams from Finland, Sweden, Russia, Czech Republic and USA got together in Czech Republic to play a Five Nations tournament. European teams have these kind of tournaments a few times every year, and occasionally the USNTDP joins in on the fun like they did this time.
This tournament was a big reason why we published our February ranking of European prospects for the 2020 NHL Draft exactly a week ago – these tournaments are very interesting and fun to watch but at the end of the day, they are just a small portion of the season, so they shouldn’t cause drastic changes in rankings. Any player can get hot or cold for a span of five days. There is definitely value in watching these tournaments but it is important to understand how much recency bias they can cause. To avoid that, we always publish our ranking before a tournament like this instead of waiting until after it’s over.
Like always in a Five Nations tournament, each team plays against each other once, meaning every team plays four games in a span of five days for a total of ten hockey games in the tournament. I managed to watch nine of those ten games – the first two games overlapped. Here are my thoughts (and clips) on some of the most interesting prospects in that tournament.
Russia’s top line had Dmitri Zlodeyev (2020) at center and Prokhor Poltapov (2021) and Bogdan Trineyev (2020) at his wings. Zlodeyev and Trineyev are projected mid-round picks for the upcoming draft whereas Poltapov is an underager and a projected first round pick for the 2021 draft.
The top line stuck together on Russia’s top power play unit, and all three saw time on the penalty kill as well. All three finished the tournament with three points – Zlodeyev and Poltapov had two goals whereas Trineyev’s points were all assists. In the clip below, Zlodeyev fires a good one-timer on the power play and Poltapov is in front of the net to deflect it in.
All three had a really strong tournament and certainly became better-known players because of it. They all showed a pretty well-rounded game but Zlodeyev’s two-way game was especially impressive. Zlodeyev was also an alternate captain on the team.
Another player with two goals and three points was winger Nikita Buruyanov (2021). He spent the tournament on the third line but saw some time on the power play and was regularly used on the penalty kill. I liked his effort level, and I also liked his hands. He will be an interesting player to watch for the 2021 draft. Below is a clip of his goal against Finland.
Russia’s second line had some of the better-known names for the upcoming draft. Marat Khusnutdinov (2020) centered that line and had Alexander Pashin (2020) and Pavel Tyutnev (2020) at his wings. Khusnutdinov and Pashin are projected second/third round picks whereas Tyutnev is projected to go in the middle rounds of the 2020 draft. The second line also stuck together for the second power play unit, and all three were also used on the penalty kill at times.
Pashin was held pointless in the tournament. Even though his effort level can still be a great asset even when he doesn’t produce offense, that wasn’t so much the case in this tournament compared to his play in MHL. For whatever reason, he didn’t seem like himself. Tyutnev had one goal and had a decent tournament otherwise as well but didn’t really stand out at any point.
Khusnutdinov was the Captain of the team, and pretty clearly the best player on his line in this tournament. He played his usual strong two-way game and showed great effort level but also managed to generate some offense, including this beauty of a goal.
On defense, Shakir Mukhamadullin (2020) was the big name for the upcoming draft – and I’m not talking about the length of his name, I’m talking about the fact that some people have him as high as first round. He has already played in the KHL and has played one tournament with the under-20 team as well, so he came into this tournament as the expected number one defenseman and a difference-maker. He was also an alternate captain.
He played on the top pair and top power play unit and was also used on penalty kill. But he just didn’t do a whole lot with all those minutes. He had one goal on the power play but that was his only point. On that goal, he showed his strong shot from the blue line which is arguably his best asset.
Mukhamadullin’s defensive game was pretty good for this level but his offensive game just doesn’t stand out the way it should. And that has been mostly the case in league play as well. I’m also not a big fan of his skating or hockey sense. That is why we have consistently ranked him in the middle rounds.
Artyom Grushnikov (2021), Kirill Kirsanov (2021) and Dmitri Kostenko (2021) also had a pretty good tournament. Kirsanov and Kostenko had two points each but they also had some dark moments in the tournament. Grushnikov only had one point but his all-around game was much better. Grushnikov, the youngest of the three, is a projected second round pick whereas Kirsanov and Kostenko are projected mid-to-late round picks for the 2021 draft.
Yaroslav Askarov (2020) played three of the four games in goal. He managed to get two wins out of three games but his level of play was a bit uneven. At times, it seemed like he would stop anything and everything thrown at him. But he also allowed a couple of goals that he shouldn’t have – like this one.
Askarov is playing at the men’s level in VHL and he’s already played at the World Juniors, so he should have had a better performance like that in an under-18 tournament. Even his 0.908 save percentage is underwhelming considering his talent level. It wasn’t a bad tournament but expectations are extremely high for him, and he wasn’t able to reach that level.
Roni Hirvonen (2020) was Finland’s Captain and number one center, and he also ran their top power play unit. He finished the tournament with two goals and six points. Hirvonen was arguably Finland’s most impactful and best all-around player in the tournament which is not all that surprising because he is a full-time Liiga player already. The clip below has Hirvonen’s goal against Sweden. He steals the puck and then drives to the net and puts it in. He’s small but that’s a nice power move.
Winger Kasper Simontaival (2020) led the tournament in goals (four) and points (seven). I don’t think he was as impactful as Hirvonen but usage also plays a role in that – Simontaival played more of a defensive role on the third line, and even though he also played on the top power play, he was used in front of the net which isn’t as good for offensive production. The clip below has Simontaival’s power play goal against Russia. He makes a nice passing play with Hirvonen and manages to sneak behind the defenders without being noticed, giving him an easy goal from there.
Aatu Räty (2021), the projected first overall pick in the 2021 NHL Draft, finished the tournament with two goals and six points. He centered Finland’s second line and also played on the top power play unit. The clip below has Räty’s power play goal against Russia. He likes to operate from the left half-wall, and he has a very dangerous wrist shot from there. Also noteworthy in that clip is Hirvonen’s excellent cross-ice pass that creates the scoring opportunity.
Winger Samu Tuomaala (2021), a projected top 15 pick in the 2021 NHL Draft, is an underager at this level but he had a great tournament, finishing with three goals and six points. He played a top-six role and ran the second power play unit, and he was noticeably almost every time he stepped onto the ice. The clip below has Tuomaala’s second goal against Sweden. It came while both teams were down a man. Tuomaala makes a great move towards the middle of the ice and gets himself open enough to allow his great wrist shot to shine through.
Brad Lambert (2022), a projected top three pick in the 2022 NHL Draft, was the youngest player in the tournament, and he finished with two assists. He’s a center in league play but he played a top-six role at wing here, and he also played on the second power play unit. He tried to force too many plays that weren’t available and his overall impact wasn’t as good as expected but he showed flashes of greatness. The clip below has Lambert’s primary assist on the power play against Russia. He makes an excellent pass to Juuso Mäenpää (2020) who fires a quick shot past the goalie. Mäenpää had two goals in the tournament.
Winger Roby Järventie (2020) played on the top line and on the top power play. He finished the tournament with two goals and three points – but all three points were collected in the first game against the Czechs. He was more of a complementary player compared to Hirvonen, Simontaival, Räty and Tuomaala, and he also took too many penalties. But he did some positive things as well. The clip below has Järventie’s power play goal against the Czechs. The puck goes through all five players but it’s Simontaival who gives that final pass, and Järventie is not going to let such a glorious chance go to waste.
Topi Niemelä (2020) was Finland’s number one defenseman, and he played on both special teams including on the top power play unit. He only managed to collect one point – a secondary assist on the power play – and he also made a few defensive miscues which he shouldn’t be doing at this level. But he also did a lot of positive things despite not showing up on the score board more often than that. He started breakouts from the defensive end and joined the rush frequently. He made good passing plays in the offensive zone, and he also had a couple of good shots there. But he’s not the most naturally gifted offensive player, so he’ll mostly do things that don’t necessarily show up on the score sheet.
Eemil Viro (2020) was the other big name on Finland’s defense. He played on the second pair and was also used on the second power play unit and on the penalty kill. In many ways, his tournament was quite similar to Niemelä’s; they were both alternate captains, they both made a lot of good things with the puck but also had some defensive miscues, and they both finished the tournament with just one secondary assist. Niemelä was just slightly better in all areas.
Joel Blomqvist (2020) played two games in net and got wins in both of them. His 0.903 save percentage doesn’t look impressive but he had a pretty good tournament nonetheless. I wouldn’t say it was his best performance but it wasn’t bad either. Stats can be very misleading when looking at just two games. The clip below has Blomqvist stopping a penalty shot against Sweden.
Winger Zion Nybeck (2020) was Sweden’s Captain. He played a top-six role with lots of time on the power play. He was expected to be Sweden’s offensive leader but he only managed to collect two assists. That was a bit disappointing but his overall performance wasn’t bad. The clip below has Nybeck’s primary assist on the power play against Finland. His shot misses the net but creates a great rebound from the end-board, and Daniel Ljungman (2020) is there to put it in. Ljungman had three goals in the tournament, all of them on the power play.
Theodor Niederbach (2020) is a natural center but he played a top-six role at wing in this tournament, and he also saw lots of time on the power play where he usually excels. He only had one goal and two points but he was a consistent offensive threat, always trying to create something out of nothing. The clip below has Niederbach’s goal against Finland. It is a good example of his smarts and skills. Also noteworthy in that clip is the great long pass from William Wallinder (2020) which opens up the opportunity. That was Wallinder’s only point in the tournament. He was an alternate captain on the team but missed the final game for some reason.
Winger Oskar Magnusson (2020) spent the first three games on the fourth line but ended up leading the team in points with four. His performance in that defensive role, including on the penalty kill, was very good which is not surprising because he is a very good two-way forward. But in the fourth game, when he was promoted to the second line and given power play time, you could see that he was one of the most talented offensive players on that team. The clip below has Magnusson’s goal against the Czechs. He gets a great pass from Nybeck and shows his great hands to finish the play.
Winger Daniel Torgersson (2020) was an alternate captain on the team. He was used in a defensive role on the third line and on the penalty kill but he was also frequently used in front of the net on the power play. He is a very dangerous net-front player because of his smarts, big body, and good balance. He may not be the most creative offensive player but he brings a lot of qualities that every team wishes they had. He finished the tournament with three assists.
William Eklund (2021) is a projected first round pick for the 2021 NHL Draft, and he’s already made a name for himself with strong performances in the SHL. Although he is capable of playing down the middle, he has mostly played at wing this season, and that was the case in this tournament as well. He played a top-six role with lots of power play time. The clip below has Eklund’s power play goal against USA. He has a great wrist shot and it shows on this goal but this was his only point in the tournament.
Winger Fabian Lysell (2021), a projected top 10 pick in the 2021 NHL Draft, is an underager at this level. He was the youngest player on the team but managed to collect three assists in the tournament. He started in a top-six role but was demoted to the fourth line after his even strength play wasn’t as impactful as expected. But he always kept his spot on the top power play unit where he is a threat to score every time he’s on the ice. The clip below has Lysell’s primary assist against the Czechs. He starts the play in his own end, and after getting past one defender, fires a shot that creates a juicy rebound.
Defenseman Emil Andrae (2020) led the team with four points but he also took way too many minor penalties. He was Sweden’s top defenseman and played big minutes on the power play and was also used on the penalty kill. Anton Johannesson (2020) was Sweden’s preferred option on the top power play unit but when he wasn’t available (he only played two games), that role went to Andrae who is a natural on the power play. The clip below has Andrae’s goal against Russia. He makes a great move to get to a better shooting position and then fires an excellent wrist shot.
Helge Grans (2020) was another big name on Sweden’s defense. Even though he played a top-four role with regular time on the second power play unit, he only managed to collect one secondary assist. He also had some defensive miscues which are not uncommon for him. Grans was partnered with a more defense-minded Leo Lööf (2020) who saved him from trouble a few times. Lööf is not the most skilled offensive player but he can do some nice things occasionally. The clip blow has Lööf’s primary assist against Finland, and it’s an excellent pass.
Both Jesper Wallstedt (2021) and Calle Clang (2020) played two games in net. Clang had a good performance as indicated by his 0.927 save percentage but I thought Wallstedt also played well despite his 0.886 save percentage. Sweden did not do a great job defensively in the first three games, and Wallstedt played two of those.
Winger Tomas Urban (2020) played on the top line and also saw lots of time on the power play. He led the team with four points, and they were all power play assists. The clip below has Urban’s primary assist on the power play against Sweden. He makes a great cross-ice pass to Josef Kolacek (2020) who puts it in. Kolacek, who was their number three center, had three goals in the tournament, all on the power play.
Winger Tomas Chlubna (2020) played on the top line and was a regular on the power play. He was the team Captain, and he was also expected to be an offensive leader on the team. But he only had one goal which is shown in the clip below. It was a nice shot but perhaps the Finnish goalie should have been able to stop that.
Stanislav Vrhel (2021) centered the second line and was a regular on the power play and on the penalty kill as well. He scored two goals in the tournament, both of them on the power play. The clip below has Vrhel’s goal against Russia. Also noteworthy in that clip is the pass from defenseman David Jiricek (2022) who gets the primary assist. Jiricek was the second-youngest player in the entire tournament. This was his only point but it’s a nice one.
Defenseman Stanislav Svozil (2021) is an underager at this level but he was the most anticipated player to see on this team. He has already been a regular at the men’s level on the Czech Extraliga at age 16, so it was exciting to see how he fares at the under-18 international level. He played on the second pair and saw lots of time on both special teams. He played a very good all-around game all tournament long but only managed to collect one point. But what a point that was. As shown in the clip below, it was an excellent individual effort which tied the game and forced an overtime in the game against Russia.
The Czechs lost all four games in their home tournament, and Jan Bednar (2020) was in net for three of those losses. Therefore, it’s not surprising that his 0.892 save percentage doesn’t make him look too good. But he did what he could behind a team that was mostly outmatched in every game. The clip below is probably the most memorable thing from his tournament, showing Bednar’s aggressive style in the shootout.
Top-line center Thomas Bordeleau (2020) led all forwards on the team with six points. He ran their top power play unit and was also used on the penalty kill. He was quite clearly USA’s most consistent offensive threat throughout the tournament. The clip below has Bordeleau’s primary assist against Sweden. He makes an excellent pass between his legs to create a glorious scoring chance.
Bordeleau’s winger Landon Slaggert (2020) was the recipient of that glorious pass in the clip above. He scored a hat trick in that game against Sweden but was held pointless in the other three games. Below is his second goal of the game, and that one came on the penalty kill.
Matthew Beniers (2021) played a middle-six role at wing. He was in front of the net on the top power play unit, and he was also a regular on the penalty kill. He finished the tournament with two goals and four points. The clip below has Beniers’ power play goal against Sweden. He makes a nice spin move and manages to get a shot off while he’s still spinning which seemed to confuse the goalie.
Middle-six center Ty Smilanic (2020) and top-line winger Luke Tuch (2020) had a goal and three points each. They were both fine and showed some nice flashes but didn’t stand out nearly as much as Bordeleau and Beniers who were the stars of the team up front.
But the real star of the team was defenseman Jake Sanderson (2020). His seven points led the tournament, and three of those were goals. He was the best defenseman in the tournament, and no one even came close. In fact, he may have been the best player in the tournament all positions considered. His offensive contributions were great but his all-around game may have been the most impressive thing about his performance. The clip below has Sanderson’s power play goal against the Czechs. He makes a great little move to get closer to the net, and then fires a shot at the perfect time when the goalie is screened.
Here’s another power play goal by Sanderson. He walks into it and just rips it past the Finnish goalie.
And that’s all for now, thanks for reading. Remember to follow me on Twitter @JokkeNevalainen.
Photos used in the main picture courtesy of usahockeyntdp.com, isport.blesk.cz, vt.se, fhr.ru and leijonat.fi