An important tournament on the amateur scouting calendar concluded Saturday evening in Plymouth, Mich., when the US National Program U18 squad downed Team Sweden by a score of 5-1.
The Americans were dominant last week and some of their players are securing themselves as priority players to watch in the coming months, heading towards the entry draft in Nashville next June.
Part of my role here at Sportsnet with colleague Sam Cosentino, is to provide our readers with updates on how players are trending throughout the season. It’s an inside look at some of the reporting that goes on behind closed doors at the NHL level as teams build data on prospects.
Here’s a look at 10 players who caught my attention last week in Plymouth:
(Note: With all due respect to Team Czechia and Team Switzerland, they didn’t bring players to Plymouth that I would consider “priority prospects” for the draft)
Will Smith, Team USA, F
I’ve written about Smith before and he continues to give me reason to sing his praises. He will undoubtedly rise in the rankings after this event.
He was outstanding last week. The dynamic forward led the tournament in scoring, with six goals and three assists in four games. Even more impressive is the fact his game elevated throughout the event. After an average first game against Team Czechia, where he only scored one goal, Smith went to work producing eight points in his last three games.
Smith is really impressing me. He reminded me, at times, of Jack Eichel in his draft year at the USNTDP.
Gabe Perreault, Team USA, F
Perreault’s tournament, similar to Smith’s, grew as the week rolled along. He started slow versus Team Czechia and didn’t produce offensively. By the time the tournament was over, though, he had scored four goals and five assists to finish second in the tournament.
Perreault can take over a shift. I appreciate his skill and recognize his element. Some of his goals were absolute highlights. He can pick opponents apart off the rush.
Aram Minnetian, Team USA, D
Minnetian took a huge leap forward in my eyes this past week. He stood out almost every time he hopped over the boards. He tapped into his offensive upside, contributing a goal and seven assists. He projects to be a transitional/two-way defender who can transport pucks and contribute on the power play.
This draft class is forward heavy, so Minnetian as a defenceman is giving teams more to ponder after this event.
Oliver Moore, Team USA, F
Moore played to his identity in Plymouth, tracking up and down the ice playing a quick and fast style of game. He’s a tenacious forward who clearly wants to have impact every time he hits the ice.
My concern with Moore’s style of play is that he is more geared to create for himself than people around him. He isn’t an easy linemate to play with and is a bit unpredictable. This works for and against a prospect like Moore, though, because there’s no denying his compete and his results. He scored four goals and two assists.
Trey Augustine, Team USA, G
The 2023 draft class is not deep at the goalie position, but Augustine might challenge to be the first goalie selected in June.
I’m trusting his upside more and more. He has great feet, and his lateral tracking and quickness (pushing side to side) is on point. His rebound control was very sound last week. He gobbled up pucks that were sent into his mid-section and corralled other pucks that bounced off his pads.
Augustine is yet to lose a game this season.
Axel Sandin Pellikka, Team Sweden, D
Sandin Pellikka is one of the most elite skaters in the draft class. He’s quick out of the gate, can transition pucks on his own and still manage to get back to defend when plays don’t materialize. Pinching down to extend offensive zone time is also an area of strength. He was used at even strength and the power play in Plymouth, but I believe he is capable of killing penalties as well. Sandin Pellikka is a coveted right shot defender and scored a goal and three assists at this event.
Tom Willander, Team Sweden, D
Willander was another player who caught my eye. He is a right shot defenceman like Sandin Pellikka.
Willander was used primarily at even strength and the penalty kill. He’s a very good skater who can transition pucks on his own or outlet and join the attack as an extra layer. I don’t see him having a ton of upside offensively, despite being involved in developing plays. He doesn’t shoot it a ton from distance. He’s the kind of defender who can win a race to pucks in his zone and move it up ice quickly, keeping opponents out of his zone in the process.
Otto Stenberg, Team Sweden, F
Stenberg is a workhorse who plays a quick, fast, skilled game, and can be a threat off the rush. He is also elusive sliding off checks along the wall. His small area game makes him very difficult to defend.
Stenberg will be getting plenty of attention as the year rolls along. He’s a high-end target in this draft for me. Stenberg scored two goals and two assists for the Swedes in Plymouth.
Jesse Kiiskinen, Team Finland, F
In my opinion there are a lot of similarities in the way Stenberg and Kiiskinen play the game. Kiiskinen is also a relentless player who looks to make a difference every time he hits the ice. He doesn’t back down from anything and can bump his way out of traffic if required. The puck seems to follow him around. I really appreciate his “lead by example” way of playing the game.
Kiiskinen was one of the top scorers at the tournament. He was used in all situations and produced two goals and six assists.
Emil Jarventie, Team Finland, F
These events can also provide some “red flags” about prospects. Jarventie is a “B rated” player on NHL Central Scouting’s list, but his play will need to be much better than it was in Plymouth for him to earn a top two round ranking from me going forward.
Jarventie’s element is producing offence, but he scored only one goal and one assist in Plymouth. More concerning was the fact he didn’t drive play or have the puck on his stick enough at even strength. He finished with only five shots on goal for the week. He’s a better player than he showed at this event and will need to elevate next viewing.
TOP OF THE 2023 DRAFT CLASS UPDATE
The top of the draft class continues to produce an incredible amount of offence…
Connor Bedard, Regina Pats, WHL
Bedard has already produced 18 goals and 25 assists in 20 games. He will miss time when he represents Team Canada at the World Juniors next month, but he will easily score over 110 points on the year.
(Note: Bedard has also been whistled for 30 penalty minutes in his first 20 games. He could end up with over 80 PIMs to go along with his insane offensive production. I’m not sure how he’s getting all his penalty minutes, but it shows he’s involved in more than just the offence.)
Adam Fantilli, University of Michingan, NCAA
I’m expecting to see Fantilli in Halifax and Moncton wearing the Team Canada jersey at the WJC as well. He continues to produce offence at a prolific rate for an NCAA freshman. Through his first 12 games Fantilli has scored nine goals and 14 assists. He’s not just producing offence either: his plus-12 rating also reveals he is playing a responsible 200-foot game as well.
Leo Carlsson, Orebro, Sweden
Spectators at the WJC should get an opportunity to view Carlsson live when he suits up for Team Sweden. The 6-foot-3, 193 pound forward can play both the middle and the wing. He’s an elite prospect who, most years, would be in the discussion for No. 1 overall. Carlsson has played five games for the U20 Swedes and scored six goals and three assists in the process.