It might only be August, but one of the big scouting events of the season kicks off Monday in Piestany, Slovakia and Breclav, Czech Republic. The 2012 Memorial of Ivan Hlinka Under-18 Tournament will feature a bevy of big names for the 2013 NHL Entry Draft.
The tournament has typically been dominated by Canada, one of the few countries that sends all of their top available players. However, in recent years Russia, Sweden and Finland have sent formidable squads
The U.S. sends a squad of players based primarily on their performance at the Select 17 Player Development Camp, which was held at the end of June. If a player wants to be on the team, he has to be invited and accept the invite to the select camp. USA Hockey does not send players that play at the National Team Development Program, which allows a whole group of 22 other players to get that all-important international experience and exposure. Despite the lack of the NTDP players, many of which will be highly touted for the NHL Draft, the U.S. has been competitive in the tournament in the past and could be again this year.
This year’s American squad is highlighted by projected first-round pick Adam Erne, who broke out last year as a QMJHL rookie with the Quebec Remparts.
Team USA kicks off tournament action with the always-tough Team Russia on Monday. Game time is set for 9:30 a.m. ET. As of this writing, I am unaware of any internet streams for this tournament, but live scoring is typically available somewhere. Will share a link if I find one.
Coming up after the jump, a look at who to watch for Team USA.
The U.S. team has a tough road in the Ivan Hlinka, drawing what is sure to be a strong team from Russia for its first game. The margin for error is really thin in this tournament, so the U.S. will have to be on their game early.
If its exhibition against Slovakia is any indication, Team USA coming into the tournament fired up. A 6-0 win over Slovakia on Saturday is a nice little confidence builder for the Hlinka. Team USA got goals from Matt Weis, Justin Bailey, Sean Malone, Jimmy Lodge and Karson Kuhlman, who had two.
Former University of Michigan standout and current coach at Kent School, Matt Herr will serve as head coach for Team USA. Former NHLer Bob Corkum and NTDP assistant coach Nick Fohr are assistants for the Hlinka squad.
You can find the complete roster for the U.S. Under-18 Select Team right here.
There are plenty of quality players to watch on this squad. Sixteen are eligible for the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, while six aren’t eligible until 2014. Here’s a look at the guys you prospect junkies should be looking out for (players eligible for 2013 Draft unless otherwise noted):
Adam Erne — F — The aforementioned Erne is easily Team USA’s headliner. He has a big frame at 6-0, 206 and uses it well. Stronger than many of his peers, Erne skates well for a guy his size and is never afraid to play the body. His shot is probably already at a pro level, as it is both heavy and gets snapped off with a quick release. If the U.S. is going to have any success in this tournament, Erne is going to have to be productive. He is going to be the go-to guy on this team in a variety of ways.
Michael Downing — D — Coming off a standout rookie year in the USHL with Dubuque, Downing could be one of the leaders for this team. He captained the U17 Select Team that went undefeated at the U17 Five Nations Cup last August in Ann Arbor. Downing is a really good two-way defenseman with a nice 6-3, 185-pound frame that makes him Team USA’s biggest defenseman. The big Dman skates well and definitely has some offensive tendencies. He likes to jump into the play and make things happen, but certainly honed his defensive game over the last year.
Jimmy Lodge — F — After a solid rookie campaign with the Saginaw Spirit, Lodge can make a good impression on scouts with a strong performance at the Ivan Hlinka. He might be a little bigger than his 6-1, 154 listing and will have to throw all of that weight around, which he can do. A pretty good skater, Lodge will have no choice but to engage physically against some of these highly skilled teams the U.S. will face. He should be interesting to watch, depending on what role he’s put in for this tournament. He’s not a high-profile guy for the Draft, but he could be one of those nice later-round finds for a team.
Gabe Guertler — F — He was one of the major standouts on that Under-17 Select Team that won last August and should be counted on heavily for offense on this team. A gifted skater, Guertler has small frame at 5-9, 170. He has good vision and was a terrific match with Erne when the pair played together last August. Guertler also has a very quick release on his shot and should be able to produce. He had 28 points as a rookie for the Fargo Force last year. At his size, Guertler has to score and show that he can score consistently if he wants to get drafted. This tournament is a big opportunity for him.
Anthony DeAngelo — D — Though a bit undersized at 5-11, 167, DeAngelo is a high-end offensive defenseman. He struggled mightily early on with the Sarnia Sting last year, but came into his own as the season progressed, ending with 23 points including 17 assists. Though he’s not eligible until the 2014 Draft, DeAngelo will have eyes on him because he tends to make some of those eye-popping plays from time to time with his good hands and quick feet. He should see significant power-play time and with a lack of depth at forward, will need to help out on O.
Thatcher Demko — G — Another 2014-eligible, Demko will be joining the National Team Development Program this year after spending last season with the Omaha Lancers. Demko didn’t see much action in 2011-12, slotted behind the older Alex Lyon. He was the go-to guy in net during last year’s U17 Five Nations Cup and also joined the NTDP’s U17 team for the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge, where he was really strong. At 6-3, 185, he’s a big body in the net and plays with confidence. That even-keel is what keeps defenseman calm as well. He’ll need to have a big tournament to help the U.S. compete for the title.
Matt Weis — F — After leading the Select 17 Camp with eight points (3g-5a) in five games, Weis was a no-brainer for Team USA. He was part of the Green Bay Gamblers Clark Cup championship team in the USHL, appearing in 12 playoff games. After his breakout performance in the select camp, Weis has a bigger stage to show what he can do.
Thomas Vannelli — D — Though I haven’t seen him myself, I’ve been hearing a lot of great things about the 6-2, 175-pound defenseman. He had 25 points in 28 games as a junior at Minnetonka High School. I had a few scouts express some disappointment that he wasn’t invited to the USA Hockey All-American Prospects game. The jump from Minnesota High School to the Hlinka is fairly big. As long as he adjusts quickly, it could be a big opportunity to showcase his talent and introduce himself to the NHL community.
Vinni Lettieri – F — The grandson of Minnesota North Stars legend Lou Nanne, Lettieri has made a name for himself at Minnetonka High School after a 60-point campaign last season. He was a big part of the U17 Select team last summer and showed a propensity for playing a grittier style while flying around the ice. As an under-sized forward, he needs to show he can play with that edge against guys who are more than willing to push back.
Justin Bailey — F — The player I’m most interested in watching for Team USA is Bailey, who at 6-3, 170 is one of the biggest players on the roster. Bailey just signed with the Kitchener Rangers, spurning a verbal commitment to Michigan State in the process. He spent last season playing for Pat LaFontaine with the Long Island Royals Midget team. A player at that size is always going to be worth watching when he combines that size with skill. As his first big event outside of midget hockey, there’s a lot for Bailey to prove out of the game.
Team USA will also meet co-host Czech Republic and Finland in the preliminary stage of the Ivan Hlinka.
Canada, as always, is favored, with a very strong roster including projected top pick for 2013 Nathan MacKinnon. They’re on the other side of the bracket, so the earliest Team USA could meet the Canadians is in the semi-final, assuming the U.S. advances to that stage.
This tournament is a great way to kick off the 2012-13 season. I’ll provide updates as they become available. For updates, here’s USA Hockey’s Hlinka page.