Prospect Ramblings: Notes from the National Junior Evaluation Camp

by Zachary DeVine on August 1, 2016
2017 WJC
The World Junior Tournament is about half a year away, but teams are starting to look at their prospects to build a roster. This weeks ramblings comes from Plymouth Michigan where our scout Zachary Devine is giving us a first hand look at what the USA team Blue and White rosters are looking like as well as observations from the prospects for teams Sweden and  Finland.
 
Team Sweden is a well-rounded squad with talent, size, and speed. They feature two Buffalo Sabres draft picks in Rasmus Asplund is their key center in Plymouth, MI and has been a skilled player with the puck for Tres Kronor. The second round draft pick of the Buffalo Sabres is a leader on and off the ice. In interview sessions he was forthright, and his answers were those of a leader in the room. Couple the character with a solid two-way game with offensive upside and he is yet another prospect on a loaded Buffalo side. 
 
Another impressive Swede has been Oskar Steen. Inexplicably a 6th round selection, the Bruins smartly snatched up the small but feisty right-handed winger. Steen was around the puck throughout both games and played on the top line with 
 
Sweden struggled in the game against the USA Team Blue, but a team with pro-size and that level of skill will be trouble for anyone. 
 
Speaking of Team Blue, they might be the squad to beat. Especially when you consider Tage Thompson now sits at five goals and an assist and looks to be on a mission to be at WJC this year. He’s certainly popped up on more than a few radars. 
 
The NTDP is well represented with a dozen players from the 2015-16 squad attending camp. Clayton Keller picked up right where he left off with excellent on-ice vision, elite hockey sense and ability to put the puck in places few other players should even attempt. 
 
Some were surprised when the Coyotes took the 5’11 center with the seventh overall pick, but his skills with the puck are elite. In a year or two, the Coyotes are going to have another highly skilled player to add to the team. He’ll need to wallop the gym at Boston University, but a one-and-done is possible with his skill level.
 
Keller is skating with his natural left winger Kieffer Bellows who also is playing the same brand of hockey the Islanders were hoping for when they took the young power winger with the 16th pick. 
 
Matt Tkachuk fell to the Calgary Flames at pick number six, and he’s a steal for the Flames at that position. Brian Fogerty of HockeyProphets.com did a significant evaluation of Tkachuk’s elite skills, and they are getting a rest at NJEC. Speaking with Tkachuk after Day 3, he stated he had played a lot of hockey over the past two years, including winning the OHL and Memorial Cup titles this past spring and then participated in the Flames development camp.
 
It is simply getting some rest for the legs after such a grueling 24 months of hockey for the power forward. Tkachuk said he had discussed his absence over with USA Hockey who understand the need for rest. 
 
There is literally no scenario imaginable where Tkachuk is available, and he isn’t headed to Canda for WJC this winter. That is, unless, the Flames need him to win hockey games. Tkachuk’s ability is going to translate, and he’ll be a top 5 pick in many entry drafts this year. 
 
 
Team Finland is young. Like really, really young. Suomi brought four 1999’s, forwards Kristian Vesalainen and Eeli Tolvanen and defensemen Miro Heiskanen and Henri Jokiharju, along with late 1998 defenders Juuso Valimaki and Kasper Kotkansalo
 
Tolvanen will head to the USHL next year with the Sioux City Musketeers, and Valimaki skated last year in the WHL with the Tri-City Americans. It’s a very young and small Finland side, especially when you think that the entire top line isn’t at the NJEC. He had a rocket blast to the top corner to beat Joseph Woll in Finland’s loss against Team White. 
 
Vesalainen is the bigger of the two 1999 forwards and plays like it. He had excellent puck skills and above average skating. The muscle will come, but the talent is there. He was a player that you noticed in each game and practice. 
 
The 2016 Gold Medal squad’s top line of Patrik Laine, Sebastian Aho, and Jesse Puljujarvi are all eligible to return for the 2017 edition. Money is on all three of those players being in the NHL, and their release would be at best a coin flip.
 
 
Tage Thompson thus far has had an impressive camp. Thompson is part of USA’s Team Blue as the fourth line winger according to the line chart. Thompson and Nashville prospect Tommy Novak worked well together with Novak assisting on Thompson’s second goal and Thompson returning the favor on Novak’s power play tally in the second frame. Thompson was selected 26th overall by the St. Louis Blues in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft. Thompson added another two goals in Team Blue’s win over Sweden as well. He’s been a force on the ice with speed and skill. He’s a riser for many dynasty draft boards. 
 
The 6’5 but only 185-pound winger was second in scoring at the University of Connecticut behind also tall-and-lanky San Jose Sharks prospect Maxim Letunov. Maybe the meal plan at UConn needs to be looked at. 
 
 
There are more than a few Minnesota Wild team jackets running around due to the NJEC doubling as Wild Development Camp Part Deux. There as so many, it’s best just to put a table:
 
Nick Boka
Defense
Michigan (NCAA)
2015 6th Round (171st Overall) 
Team White
 
Gustav Bouramman
Defense
Sault Ste. Marie (OHL)
2015 7th Round (201st overall)
Sweden
 
Joel Erksson Ek
Left Wing
Farjestads (SHL)
2015 1st Round (20th overall)
Sweden
Jordan Greenway
Left Wing
U-18 NTDP (USHL)
2015 2nd Round (50th overall)
Team Blue
Luke Kunin
Center
Univerity of Wisconsin (NCAA)
2016 1st Round (15th overall)
Team Blue
Jack Sadek
Defense
Univerity of Minnesota 
2015 7th Round (204th overall)
Team Blue
 

 

 
Kunin has been one of the most noticeable forwards for Team Blue and had a great shorthanded, unassisted breakaway against Finland for the eighth and final goal. Sadek and Boka are both fighting for a slot on a crowded USA blueline, maybe one of the two will make it. Eriksson Ek has had a turn as captain of Team Sweden, and his versatility is key, he has nearly assured a spot. Bouramman is one of two right-handed defenders Sweden brought to NJEC and looked solid. 
 
 
A Late Round Players from Each Team to keep an eye on: 
 
Finland: Otto Somppi (205th overall selection of the Tampa Bay Lightning)
Scored Finland’s only goal in an 8-1 loss to Team Blue, but was around the puck and swarming the ice all game. Good mixture of skills and grit that led by example in a blowout game. He played last season with the Halifax Mooseheads as they traded away nearly everyone. In his first, challenging year in North America, he still registered 13 goals and 33 assists in 59 games. 
 
Sweden: Oskar Steen (165th overall selection of the Boston Bruins)
Did not figure on the scoresheet but has been noticeable throughout the camp thus far. Steen is small at only 5’8 but fairly thick at 187 pounds. He is hard to knock off the puck and is not afraid to go into the corner with the puck or chasing after it.  
 
Team White: Jack Ahcan (1997 – Undrafted) 
A very smaller defenseman much in the vein of a Joe Hicketts. His style of game also is shades of last years WJC defender Louis Belpedio, who was an undersized puck moving defenseman (albeit 5’11) who made the WJC squad. Ahcan was the top defenseman in the USHL last year and heads to St. Cloud State University in the fall. He could be a dark horse to make the camp with his offensive instincts and quick skating. 
 
Team Blue: Joey Anderson (73rd overall selection of the New Jersey Devils)
Yes, a pick in the top 75 is not exactly a “late round player” but Anderson was an underrated part of the NTDP’s big line last year with Clayton Keller and Kieffer Bellows. He plays an incredibly solid 200-foot game for his age and plays bigger than his 5’11 height and is solid at 194 pounds. He’s a good character for the room and already plays a pro-style game.