While we don't get a chance to see the action on the ice in Braclev and Piestany, the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament provides a lot of players with the opportunity to establish themselves with their national federations. While the big wigs at Hockey Canada and the Ice Hockey Federation of Russia might know these soon to be high school seniors, the hockey world at large is only will be hearing their names for the first time in the next few months. Here's a little cheat sheet for you as you look forward to finding out who your country's best players at the next few U20 World Championships might be, and hey, maybe even your next top pair defenseman for your gold winning team in Sochi (look at the fifth name on this 2006 stat sheet).
Nail Yakupov, LW and Mikhail Grigorenko, C
I'll let the names settle in with you for a bit before we start........... ready now? Alright. Yakupov is a late 1993 birthdate, and has already played in Russia's top junior league, the MHL. He has no IIHF experience yet, but played in the Hlinka tournament last year, getting 5 points in 4 games as a 15 year old. He was selected 2nd overall in the CHL Import Draft by the Sarnia Sting of the OHL, and will be moving there after this year's Hlinka tournament is over. That means for the next two years, he's the rest of the OHL's concerns, as he's not eligible to be drafted until 2012.
Grigorenko is another 2012 draftee, and he's even younger than Yakupov. He just turned 16 in May, and he too played in the Hlinka tournament last year, and scored a goal despite being the youngest player at the tournament. Grigorenko is the bigger of the two at 6'2" (Yakupov is 5'11"), and displays a bit more of a playmaking game than Yakupov. He's committed to making the KHL, so it's unlikely we'll see him joining Yakupov in rinks around Ontario and Michigan before being drafted.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, LW
It's almost a shame Nugent-Hopkins is at this tournament... it means he's ineligible to make a run at the Canadian U20 team this year since he wasn't invited to the summer camp. It's quite early, but based on what he's accomplished to date, it may not be a stretch to say he won't be available for the 2012 U20s in Alberta, as he could be playing in the NHL by then. This might just be his only Team Canada experience for a while if things go right for him. He's been a top bantam player, helping his Burnaby based team to the Western Canadian championship, which helped get him drafted first overall in the WHL bantam draft. After 5 points in 6 games as a callup in 2008-09, Nugent-Hopkins took advantage of his first full year of junior eligibility by winning the Rookie of the Year honours and helping Red Deer make the playoffs. Al Murray, Team Canada's top scout, raves at the speed at which RNH plays the game:
"Ryan is a very good skater and doesn’t slow down to make plays," Murray said. "He can make plays at high speed. He shows hockey sense and an ability to create offence at a very high speed. Things that are very valuable." Courtesy of the Prince Albert Herald.
At the speed he's going at, the NHL doesn't seem like it's that far ahead. Neate Seager thinks he might be this year's Tyler Seguin.
Seth Ambroz, C
At 6'3" and already over 200 lbs., Ambroz already has the build of a true power forward at age 17. He's also established himself as a top USHL forward, with two seasons under his belt already for the Omaha Lancers. He scored a shorthanded goal in the USA's 6-5 shootout loss to Russia yesterday, but when he's not killing penalties he's usually either scoring goals (22 last year) or in the box himself (118 PIMs). Ambroz has great hands around the net and can throw a mean bodycheck, despite playing in a league where he was one of the youngest players. He's slated to go to the University of Minnesota in a year, but we should be seeing him at least one more time in a USA uniform before that day comes. He's currently projected to be a top 10 draft pick in 2011.
Joel Armia, RW
Armia is another big boy at 6'3", though he's a bit leaner than Ambroz currently. Like Ambroz, Armia is already competing against players two or three years older than him, as he plays for Ässät U20, where he scored 15 goals in just 27 games. To further add to his goal scoring credentials, he managed 5 goals in 5 games at the World U17s, which tied for the tournament lead. He has been a strong player so far at the Hlinka, but has yet to have a dominant game. He did have the shootout winner and an assist against Russia in the opener. Armia will look to make the main SM-Liiga Ässät team this fall, and he certainly looks to be in the mix for the first round of the 2011 NHL draft.
Dmitrij Jaskin, RW
Not viewed as a top prospect going in, Jaskin is certainly laying the groundwork for what could be a breakthrough year at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial. Jaskin had a four point night as the Czechs beat Finland 4-3 to keep their chances of a medal alive. Jaskin also scored against the Americans in the opener, and got a goal and an assist in the Czechs exhibition OT loss to Canada. He's currently playing for Slavia Praha's U20 team, where he followed up a strong rookie campaign with a point per game effort in the playoffs against older players. He was picked by the Calgary Hitmen in the CHL Import Draft, but has yet to commit to the team. There isn't a lot out there written on his skill set, but with performances like this, we might be hearing a lot more about this Russian born Czech.
I'll have another list of players later in the week. Meanwhile, the Ivan Hlinka concludes the round robin portion today, and you can follow the scores here. Yesterday, Canada beat Switzerland 7-3, Russia beat the USA 6-5 in a shootout, Sweden beat Slovakia 7-3, and the Czechs edged the Finns 4-3. Hockey scout Dan Sallows is providing recaps of the games on his website.