Tournament Review: U18 Five Nations in Russia

by Jokke Nevalainen on February 11, 2019

 

The final U18 tournament before the U18 World Championship tournament was played over the last week in Sochi, Russia. The tournament included teams from Russia, Finland, Sweden, Czech Republic and USA. All five teams played four games over a span of five days which probably explains why there were so many injuries during this time.

 

USA didn’t play on the first day and the Czechs didn’t play on the final day which meant those two teams played four games in four days which is insane. The other three teams at least had one day of rest during the tournament, with Russia obviously choosing the best option, having a day off right in the middle of the tournament. Maybe next time there should be a bit more rest available, or at least teams should be better prepared with larger rosters to allow rest for some of the players.

 

Russia ended up winning the tournament by winning three of their four games. USA, Sweden and Finland won two games, and the Czechs managed to win just one game. Let’s go through all the teams and the performances of some interesting players from them.

 

Russia

 

Vasili Podkolzin (2019) was the expected top player for Russia, and he didn’t disappoint. He was the team captain and played on their top line even though it was the second line on paper. Podkolzin had an empty-net goal in the first game against Sweden, and then he scored twice against the Czechs.

 

But in the third game against Finland, he was given a match penalty for head-butting after a dirty knee to his center, and then he had to miss the fourth game against USA because of suspension. So essentially, Podkolzin had three goals in two and a half games.

 

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Another interesting player on the Russian team was center Ilya Nikolayev (2019) who was on the receiving end of that dirty knee I mentioned above. He did return to the game in the third period and played the next game against USA but maybe wasn’t playing at full capacity in those situations. Nikolayev played a solid two-way game he’s known for and generated some offense.

 

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Winger Yegor Chinakhov (2019) played a top-six role and was very interesting to watch. He’s very talented with the puck, and has a great shot as well. He had a goal and an assist against the Czechs and added a goal and two assists against USA. His five points led the team.

 

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Big right-handed shot center Yegor Spiridonov (2019) played on the line that was the first line on paper but perhaps the second-best line in reality. He had two goals against the Czechs and added another goal against USA.

 

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Defenseman Semyon Chistyakov (2019) was very noticeable throughout the tournament. He was very active offensively, played important minutes on the penalty kill, and threw a lot of big hits all over the ice. He’s not big but he likes to throw his weight around. He also carried the ‘C’ in the final game when Podkolzin was out of the lineup. He had an assist against Sweden, added another assist against the Czechs, and then had two assists against USA. Only one defenseman had more points in the tournament than Chistyakov’s four.

 

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Nikolai Burenov (2019) is another defenseman who impressed, especially in the final game against USA where he scored twice and added two assists. Those four points were his only ones in the tournament. But his shot is pretty good.

 

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USA

 

Even though Jack Hughes (2019) missed the tournament because of an injury, USA still had the best team on paper. Some of their individuals were very impressive but as a team, they were a bit disappointing. There are many possible reasons why they weren’t as good as expected, though.

 

The top player for the Americans in this tournament was center Trevor Zegras (2019). He had a goal and an assist in the game against Sweden, another goal against Finland, and a goal and three assists in the game against the Czechs, for a total of three goals and seven points in the tournament. Zegras is a potential top-five pick this summer, and that’s exactly what he looked like in this tournament.

 

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Another impressive player was center Alex Turcotte (2019) who had a goal and an assist against Sweden, two goals against Finland, and another goal against Russia, for a total of four goals and five points in the tournament. Turcotte isn’t as flashy as Zegras but plays a reliable two-way game and could be a high pick this summer as well.

 

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Tiny goal-scoring winger Cole Caufield (2019) also had a good tournament. He had a goal and an assist against Sweden, a goal against the Czechs, and a goal and an assist against Russia, for a total of three goals and five points in the tournament.

 

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Winger Matthew Boldy (2019) managed to show his high-end skill in flashes but didn’t get on the score sheet as regularly as the previously mentioned trio. He had one assist against Sweden, Finland and Russia, so he finished the tournament with three points.

 

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Cam York (2019) was the top defenseman for Team USA. He had one assist against the Czechs and two more assists against Russia. He was very active offensively and played pretty well defensively.

 

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Sweden

 

The Swedes were missing their top defensemen in Victor Söderström (2019) and Philip Broberg (2019). They also don’t have a lot of talent up front for the 2019 NHL Draft. Luckily for them, they have a stacked group of 2020 NHL Draft forwards who can carry the load offensively.

 

In my opinion, winger Lucas Raymond (2020) is the top Swede for the 2020 NHL Draft, and he also had a great tournament. He had four assists in the game against USA and added another one against the Czechs. Five points in four games is pretty good for an underager. He’s such a creative player and has all the tools needed to become a superstar in the NHL.

 

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On the opposite wing to Raymond, you’ll usually find Alexander Holtz (2020) who is also a top five prospect for the 2020 NHL Draft. Holtz had four goals in the game against USA, and then he added one assist against the Czechs and Finland. With six points, Holtz lead the team in points.

 

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Another top ten pick for the 2020 NHL Draft is winger Noel Gunler (2020) who had a quiet tournament – he was expected to be a top player for Sweden – but showed his great shot in the game against Finland. That was his only point in the tournament.

 

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The forgotten Swede when it comes to the 2020 NHL Draft is another winger Zion Nybeck (2020). He had an assist against USA, a goal against the Czechs, and then he added a goal and two assists against Finland. That’s a total of two goals and five points for him. He might be undersized but he’s very talented and deserves a bit more hype.

 

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Winger Albin Grewe (2019) was one of those players who was expected to create offense for the Swedes but he was on the receiving end of a huge open ice hit from Chistyakov during the first minutes of game one, and even though he returned for game two, he probably wasn’t playing at full capacity, and he also missed the last two games of the tournament entirely.

 

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With Sweden missing its two best defensive prospects, it allowed Tobias Björnfot (2019) to play huge minutes in all situations. Björnfot was also Sweden’s captain. He had two goals and an assist against USA, a goal and an assist against the Czechs, and an assist against Finland. Björnfot was arguably the top defensemen in the tournament, and he led all defensemen in points. Six points was also enough to tie Holtz for the team lead.

 

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Another interesting defenseman on Team Sweden was Albert Lyckåsen (2019). He had two assists against the Czechs and a goal against Finland. His counting stats in the SuperElit don’t look that impressive but he has offensive talent for sure.

 

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Finland

 

Finland played in this tournament without top dogs Kaapo Kakko (2019), Anton Lundell (2020), Ville Heinola (2019) and Mikko Kokkonen (2019). But they have a ton of depth in this 2001-born age class, so it wasn’t really an issue.

 

Winger Patrik Puistola (2019) is perhaps the most-interesting Finnish forward after Kakko for the 2019 NHL Draft. He had one assist against the Czechs, USA and Sweden, so that’s a total of three points. He comes from the Tappara system and has been playing mostly for LeKi in the Mestis where he’s had a great season playing against men.

 

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Another winger from the Tappara system, Kasper Simontaival (2020), scored twice against the Czechs and added another goal against USA but he was injured in the game against Russia and missed the final game because of the injury as well. Three goals in two and a half games is not bad.

 

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Another interesting winger is Leevi Aaltonen (2019) who had goals against the Czechs and Russia, and then added a goal and an assist against Sweden. That’s four points in four games.

 

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Center Antti Saarela (2019) had an assist against the Czechs and a goal against USA. But the thing people remember about him in this tournament is the dirty kneeing on Nikolayev which got him ejected from the third game, and he also received a suspension for the fourth game. He’s not known to be a dirty player, so I’m hoping people remember him for things like this instead.

 

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One prospect who is seriously underrated is winger Tuukka Tieksola (2019). He had just one assist in the first three games but then exploded for three assists against Sweden in the final game. I was a bit disappointed with his performance earlier in the tournament but he really looked like himself in that game against the Swedes. Four points in four games is really good.

 

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Another impressive Finnish forward on this team was center Aatu Räty (2021). He had the game-winning shootout goal against Russia and added two goals against Sweden. He’s a potential top three pick in the 2021 NHL Draft.

 

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The best defenseman for Finland was Antti Tuomisto (2019) which wasn’t surprising. He had assists against USA and Sweden but he impacts the game in so many ways, he doesn’t always need to be putting up points to be effective.

 

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Another right-shot defenseman who impressed was Kalle Loponen (2019). He had an assist against the Czechs and then added two goals in the final game against Sweden. He was actually moved to left wing at times during the Sweden game because Finland had just eight healthy forwards at that point.

 

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Czech Republic

 

Marcel Barinka (2019), who plays for the Halifax Mooseheads in the QMJHL, led the Czechs in points with four assists. Behind him were Michal Teplý (2019) and Adam Raska (2020) who had two goals and three points each. Adam Najman (2019) also had two goals.

 

It wasn’t a very good tournament for the Czechs, so there’s not much to say about them here. Teplý is the one who interests me the most. He needs to improve his consistency, skating and defensive game. But he’s a 6-foot-3 goal-scorer with lots of upside which makes him a potential second-round pick next summer.

 

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Future in net

 

One interesting part of this tournament was that we got to see the best prospect goalies for the next three NHL Drafts. American Spencer Knight (2019) will be a first-round pick this summer, and he could crack the top 20. Russian Yaroslav Askarov (2020) is the top goalie for the 2020 NHL Draft, and he looks like a top 20 pick as well. Swedish Jesper Wallstedt (2021) is the top goalie for the 2021 NHL Draft, and even though his 2018-2019 season hasn’t been even close to what he showed in 2017-2018, he’s still one of the best prospects available for that draft.

 

It’s rare for goalies to get drafted in the first round these days but these three are elite level prospects. All three have great size and they are potential franchise goalies with upside to be top goalies in the NHL. In this tournament, Askarov was the one who impressed me the most. But obviously it’s a very small sample size, so we shouldn’t be drawing any conclusions from that.

 

Finnish Joel Blomqvist (2020) isn’t in the same tier with the three names mentioned above but he’s a good prospect as well. He was forced to play a bigger role than expected after Finland’s number one goalie Roope Taponen (2019) collapsed on the ice in the middle of the second game. Luckily it was nothing serious but it meant Taponen had to miss the rest of the tournament, so Blomqvist had to carry the load, and he did a great job with that added responsibility.

 

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And that’s all for now, thanks for reading. Feel free to add comments below. Remember to follow me on Twitter @JokkeNevalainen.

 

 

Pictures used in the main collage courtesy of Hickling Images, NHL.com and IS.fi