Quarterfinal Thursday is well under way here in Basel, Switzerland at the men’s U18 championship.
The day started with Team USA defeating Team Czechia, and I’ve dropped a scouting notebook below here on some of the players featured in that tilt.
Next up today is Team Canada versus Team Switzerland, and I will follow with more scouting reports off that game, too.
USA 4, CZECHIA 1
Team USA outshot Team Czechia 52-12. Team Czechia scored its lone goal in the third period, making things interesting for a stretch by cutting Team USA’s lead to 2-1. But the Americans found the back of the net twice more in the closing minutes to win by three.
Team USA has deservedly received the bulk of the attention from media and scouts at this tournament, and I wrote about some of their top draft prospects earlier this week. With Czechia eliminated after this loss, here are my observations of top prospects from their team:
Michael Hrabal, Goalie, 6-foot-6, 209 pounds
Ranked No. 2 by NHL Central Scouting among North American goalies
The second-ranked goalie in North America (Hrabal plays for the Omaha Lancers in the USHL) was Czechia’s best player. The team had no business hanging around as long as they did against the Americans. Hrabal was under siege from the drop of the puck, facing 52 shots and making 48 saves.
Hrabal is a giant in the net. He’s efficient. He almost never ventures out of the blue paint and rarely gets outside his posts moving laterally. When he’s square, he takes up an enormous amount of net. His rebound control was mostly sound in the game versus the Americans. He ate several pucks from distance. When rebounds did deflect off his equipment, they had a soft landing close to his body. He made some solid glove stops as well. Hrabal plays a combination butterfly/hybrid/positional style. He’s average escaping his crease to play the puck and make outlets on his own.
An area of his game that requires attention is his timing when anticipating and dropping into the butterfly. Against the Americans, he allowed two goals between his legs that were a direct result of poor timing. When he was in the midst of dropping his stick waved to his right side and his legs opened up, allowing the puck to slide through his five-hole.
Here are some examples of Hrabal allowing pucks to go through him with poor timing, followed by some saves he’s made this week with proper timing and crease positioning:
Eduard Sale, Forward, 6-foot-2, 174 pounds
Ranked No. 4 by NHL Central Scouting among European skaters
Sale had an impressive season overall. He represented Team Czechia at U18 events as well as U20, including the WJC in Halifax and Moncton. He looked like he was running on fumes at times this week. But he did end the tournament with four goals and two assists in five games, which was more than respectable.
Sale’s body of work for the entirety of the season provided a lasting impression with me. He showed off skill at the Hlinka/Gretzky tournament last August, managed the game and played with reliable three zone detail at the WJC, and tried to carry Team Czechia offensively in the quarterfinals against Team USA at the U18. He was the only forward on his team who provided a threat off the rush. He had an assist on the only goal Czechia scored, which came off an west/east zone entry that resulted in him directing the puck on net and his linemate, Dominik Petr, tapping in the rebound.
Sale has a good stick, can work off the half wall on the power play, and occasionally shows an extra gear in transition. He leans offence as his primary element, but I don’t see him as a top line NHL contributor. Once he fills out and adds more strength, he looks more like a 2F on projection.
I’m forecasting Sale to be drafted between 11–16 at the NHL Draft in June. It would not surprise me, however, if he ended up sliding between 15–20. The competition is intense for every first round slot in this draft.
Here’s a sample of Sale on the power play. He’s No. 12 in the red jersey. In this sequence he sets up on the weak-side flank before reading the play moving down low. He then cycles up top of the zone, working a subtle switch with No. 20 Dvorak, which opens him up for a one-timer on his forehand/strong-side of the zone.
I’d like to see Sale win more 50/50 pucks. There are times when he needs to have more purpose physically. A small, subtle, uptick in his push back will result in more puck possession against top flight opponents and better results defensively.
Here’s an example of what I’m describing.
In this sequence Sale (watch No. 12 in the red jersey again), is looking for offence but his team doesn’t establish zone time. When the puck spills to the neutral zone he comes across the middle of the ice to engage an opponent near the centre ice stripe. The effort, and push back, is minimal. He needed to kill the play physically, or with a more active stick. The result of the sequence speaks for itself:
ANOTHER JIRICEK ON THE HORIZON
The Columbus Blue Jackets selected defenceman David Jiricek with the sixth overall pick at the 2022 NHL Draft. The 6-foot-3, 209-pound, right-shot defender has a bright future ahead of him.
Next in line is his younger brother Adam, who showed well at this tournament. He too is a right-shot defenceman, but needs time to fill out his 6-foot-2 frame – he’s currently listed at 168 pounds. He has time, though, and isn’t NHL draft eligible for another year.
I thought Adam showed a strong understanding of how to position himself defensively. He mostly kept opponents in front of him in the defensive zone and showed good small area quickness jumping to 50/50 pucks below his goal line. He also rushed the puck occasionally, or joined as an extra layer off the play. He doesn’t shoot the puck the way his older brother does. Adam leans distributor more than shooter at this stage of his development.
There’s a ton of runway ahead, but I’m projecting Adam Jiricek as the top European prospect for the 2024 draft. I describe him as a two-way/at times transitional defenceman who has the tools to be used in all situations. He will benefit from the experience he gained at this tournament.