A few weeks ago, there was a Five Nations Under-18 tournament held overseas in Finland where a lot of the best Finnish, Russian, and Swedish players took to the ice. I was not at the tournament. However, I did speak with scouts who were at the event, and that's kind of like being there, without the actual being there part. Here are some notes on six potential first round picks in the upcoming NHL Entry Draft who took part in the tournament:
Ludvig Bystrom, Defense, MODO-SEL
The top Swedish defenseman in this year's draft had a fine showing at the Five Nations. "He was just steady all the way through," said one scout, "he plays a very cerebral game." Scouts at the tournament praised Bystrom's hockey sense, saying he's the kind of player who always made the smart play, moved the puck well, and on the defensive side of the puck showed a good stick check and mobility when it came to closing on his assignments. The one main criticism of Bystrom from a scout was, "He isn't very physical" which is a bit of a shame because Bystrom has a decent enough frame to be useful in the physical game. His puck-moving game and overall hockey smarts are good enough still to make him a surefire first rounder, though.
Sebastian Collberg, Right Wing, Frolunda-SEL
Collberg has been up and down in international play this year. Scouts I talked to loved his Ivan Hlinka summer performance, but then I heard bad things about his play at the November U-18 tournament. He put up impressive points for a player his age at the World Juniors but scouts didn't lean either way. At this month's event, he thoroughly impressed as he was second in tournament scoring. The one question mark I had been wary about the last few months with Collberg was his hockey sense, but as one scout put it at the tournament, "He showed good hockey sense, he knew when to shoot or when to pass and he was able to find his teammates." Another scout said, "He certainly looks like a top-six forward in the NHL." I've previously been a little lower on Collberg than the industry, however, if I continue to hear more good signs going into the April U-18 tournament, I likely will get him into my top 20 for sure.
Filip Forsberg, Left Wing, Leksands, Allsvenskan
The highly-touted forward who most scouts think will go in the top five played very well in this tournament. "He dominated" said one scout. "He looks like a North American, he was always driving the net, very physical, and I've never seen him take a game off." However, while I love Forsberg's skill and many other scouts I talk to do as well, one Head Scout said, "He didn't really stand out with his playmaking." He did go on to say, "if you're wary of taking a Russian, though, I would still take him around 4-5" referencing of course elite prospects Nail Yakupov and Mikhail Grigorenko.
Anton Slepyshev, Left Wing, Novokuznetsk-KHL
Slepyshev has had a decent season over in Russia scoring four goals and six points in 36 KHL games. While that may not seem like much, keep in mind that elite Russian prospects Evgeny Kuznetsov and Vladimir Tarasenko scored two goals and nine points in 35 games and seven goals and 10 points in 38 games respectively during their first KHL seasons. Stats aren't a good comparison of their talent levels, but it is some context for Slepyshev's season on the worst team in the KHL. He's only been getting about eight and a half minutes per game this year and it showed at the tournament as one scout said, "He looked like a player who hasn't played a lot of hockey lately." Other scout quotes include, "He was simply okay here, as opposed to his outstanding play as an underager [at the Under-18's] last April. He does have a good skill level and works hard, though."
Teuvo Teravainen, Left Wing, Jokerit-SM-Liiga
I got a few chirps back when I released my mid-year draft ranking when I ranked Tervainen at 10, but he didn't exactly do much at this tournament to dampen my expectations for him as he led the tournament in goals and points. "He just dominated," said one NHL executive, "his hockey sense was on another planet." Other scout quotes included, "He sees everybody on the ice. He's such a great passer. He also showed a scoring side that I hadn't seen a lot of before as he was ripping one-timers." Teravainen is four days removed from being a 2013 eligible and yet is advanced beyond his years to combine with his great skill set. Once the Under-18 tournament comes and goes, I'm pretty sure you will hear his name get thrown around in the top-15 discussion. I may even have him higher than I did previously.
Pontus Aberg, Left Wing, Djurgarden-SEL
Aberg did not play in the Five Nations U-18 tournament, so this is a bit of a bonus profile as there was an international tournament going on around the same time for the older age group. He got hurt in the second period of the first game, though, after having a player fall into him, which resulted in him flying head first into the boards. As one NHL exec said, "The bottom of the boards don�t have any give." Scouts liked the small display of skating and skill they were able to see as one said, "He got a lot of chances in the brief time he played. If he didn't get hurt and kept playing that way, he would've got a lot of points. He currently looks like a 10-15 or maybe 16-20 pick to me."
Corey Pronman is an author of Hockey Prospectus.
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