The 2012 Under-18 Four Nations Tournament gets underway Tuesday in Ann Arbor, Mich., at the home rink of the National Team Development Program. The U.S. National Under-18 Team, made up almost primarily of full-time NTDPers, will welcome U18 national teams from Sweden, Finland and Switzerland.
In years past this has been a tremendous draft-year showcase with tons of top talent, but that is true of only one team this year: Team USA.
Due to an Under-20 Four Nations tournament in Sweden, both Team Sweden and Team Finland won’t have their best 1995s in Michigan this week, though both teams should still be very good. No Aleksander Barkov or Arturri Lehkonen for Finland. No Andrew Buarakovsky or Jacob de la Rose for Sweden. A bit disappointing, but this is still some solid international hockey stateside.
With a U.S. team full of top draft talent and some intriguing prospects on the European rosters, not to mention the easy access location, Ann Arbor should be crawling with scouts over the next few days.
The Under-18 Four Nations runs from Nov. 6 to Nov. 10 and will air live on FASTHockey.com. The tournament features each team playing three games in a round-robin format. At the end of the preliminary round, the teams with the two best records will play for the tournament title, while the other two get a consolation game.
Coming up after the jump, more notes on Team USA and a look at which Europeans to watch.
Notes on Team USA…
J.T. Compher is still injured for the U.S. National Under-18 Team and will be unavailable for the tournament. The squad’s best forward has played in just six games this season and his absence will be felt.
The U.S. does have a solid replacement in Connor Hurley, a forward who is splitting his time between Edina High School and the Muskegon Lumberjacks this season. Hurley’s birthday is on the draft cut off, so he’s eligible for the 2013 NHL Entry Draft and is a very intriguing prospect to watch. He skated in a few games with the U18s against colleges and showed off some really solid puck skills and skating ability. He’s the only player from outside the NTDP on this roster as the U18s are finally close to being fully healthy. Hurley still hasn’t made a college commitment, but is highly sought after.
Team USA is carrying two goaltenders, 12 forwards and eight defensemen on the roster.
Here’s a look at who to watch…
Hudson Fasching — F — Fasching got banged up in the U18’s game against Minnesota and missed Team USA’s next two games. His return to the lineup will be welcome. The big forward has done well against USHL and college competition showing that he is really learning how to use his immense frame to contribute offensively. When he gets into games against his own age group like this, look for him to show more signs of physical dominance. He’s bigger and stronger than most of his peers and this is an opportunity to show he can impose his will on games.
John Hayden — F — After missing much of the beginning of the season, Hayden is back in the lineup and an intriguing guy to watch. He’s 6-3, 221 and plays with the right amount of nastiness. He has a great battle level, which makes him real tough to play against. Hayden also has surprisingly good finish for a player his size. He drives to the net hard and knows how to score. He can greatly impact a game with his physical presence and having him back should help the U.S. a lot.
Mike McCarron — F — The buzz is growing around McCarron, with some starting to look at him as a potential second-round talent for the NHL Draft. The 6-5, 227-pound monster has vastly improved his skating and has really good puck skills for a man of that size. He has a goal and five assists this season and has dropped the hammer on a few opponents this year. When he gets into a tournament like this, McCarron will have to show scouts that unique mix of physical dominance and offensive touch that he possesses. It could be a rapid climb for the big man if he continues on this path he appears to be on right now.
Tyler Kelleher — F — The U18 Team’s leading scorer is looking more and more like a guy scouts will have to consider despite his diminutive stature. Kelleher possesses lightning speed and sometimes dazzling puck skills. He’s posted eight goals and two assists and it hasn’t mattered if he is playing against the USHL or college. Now getting a chance against his own age group in front of a larger-than-normal audience of scouts is a great opportunity for the offensive dynamo to earn some attention.
Anthony Louis — F — The same can be said about Louis as is said for Kelleher. There’s some tremendous creativity in Louis who can score and dish with the best of them despite a 5-6, 142 frame. Louis hasn’t produced at as high a clip as last season, but he’s shown great competitiveness and has been effective in puck pursuit despite his size. He’s got a good motor and can make things happen in a big way.
Tyler Motte — F — Motte is tied with Kelleher with 10 points this season and is showing flashes of what could make him a top-60 pick come June. Motte is an explosive skater who can blow by defenders and drive hard to the net. He can make those nice little skill plays that give him time and space or he can attempt the bull rush, too. There’s a little more tenacity in his game, which is translating to more consistency this season. This tournament could be one of those breakout moments if Motte is able to do what he’s shown already against USHL and college teams.
Will Butcher — D — I’ve seen a bevvy of scouting reports with differing opinions on Butcher, some positive, some negative. A tournament like this is where you’d expect Butcher to shine though. He is a high end skater and has top-end puck skills that allow him to put up some solid points. Butcher has nine points this season and should be a big-time contributor internationally as well.
Gage Ausmus — D — Ausmus tends to get overlooked when it comes to this NTDP D corps. With Butcher, Keaton Thompson and Steve Santini on the same team it’s not hard to see why. That said, Ausmus has shone brightest on the international stage. He was named to the all-tournament team at the World U17 Challenge last year and has looked good for the most part this season. Ausmus has a good, solid frame and skates extremely well. His ability to defend is vastly underrated, as he does a very good job of keeping thing in front of him and challenging opposing forwards. He hasn’t gotten much recognition, but a good performance in this tournament and that could change quickly.
Steven Santini — D — The aforementioned Santini is getting first-round buzz in some scouting circles as his physical tools are evident every time out. He’s added a good amount of grit to his game this season and should have a good chance to show it in this tournament. At 6-1, 208, Santini has a good frame and skates extremely well. His offensive game is still developing, and with a little more time and space unlike against USHL or NCAA teams, it could show a bit more in this tournament.
Shane Eiserman — F — Though not draft eligible until 2014, scouts should take note of Eiserman as he participates in his first international tournament as a member of the NTDP. Having come over from the prep ranks in the off-season, Eiserman has been a consistent offensive threat for Team USA with six goals and three assists on the young season. He has a terrific frame at 6-2, 196 and has a great mix of strength and skill. It wouldn’t hurt to keep a few notes on this guy heading into next season.
Here’s a look at some of the top Europeans in attendance this week…
Robert Hägg — D — Sweden — Hägg is the best Euro prospect coming over for this tournament. Projected by many to be a first-round choice in June, he is another in a long line of high-end puck-moving defensemen for the Tre Kronor. He has 13 points in 14 games for MODO’s U20 squad this year and even got a game in the Elitserien with the pros. He stood out for Sweden, posting six points in six games at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge last year, so he’s proven he can contribute on the international level. Though he may not be advanced as some of the other Swedish 1995-born players, he is still a dangerous talent and will be a leader for Sweden at this tournament.
Victor Öhman — F — Sweden — The smallish forward has some high-end skills that make him exciting to watch. Öhman had a breakout tournament at last year’s World Under-17 Challenge, posting a stunning nine assists and 12 points in six games. Currently playing for MODO’s U20 team, Öhman can benefit from this stateside tournament to getting more looks from scouts. He’s currently listed as a C skater by CSS in its European rankings.
Lucas Wallmark — F — Sweden — Listed as a B prospect by Central Scouting, Wallmark is one of the more notable Euro forwards playing in the tournament. Like a lot of Swedes, Wallmark possesses sound playmaking ability and has been starring for Skellefteå’s U20 squad. He has 11 assists and 15 points in 12 games and earned a call-up to the pro team for a pair of games already.
Joose Antonen — F — Finland — Another B skater from Central Scouting, Antonen is probably the biggest name on the Finnish roster. He’ll have to fill the void left by the top 1995s not being available for this tournament. He was part of Team Finland at last year’s World Under-18 Championship, so he’s had valuable international experience and is currently playing in Finland’s second pro division. He has five points in 15 games so far.
Kasperi Kapanen — F — Finland — The 1996-born son of Sami Kapanen is a highly skilled forward that could be a big part of Finland’s future. He was a standout at the Youth Olympic Games, where Finland surprised everyone with gold and is currently playing well for KalPa’s U20 squad. There is a lot of creativity in this youngster and he has a knack for scoring. He’s not draft eligible until 2014, but he’s a guy you should know.
Kaapo Kähkönen — G — Finland — A big reason Finland won that Youth Olympic gold was Kähkönen, who earned a 1.90 goals-against average in four appearances. He also stuffed two Russian forwards in the shootout in the gold-medal game. Based on the very little I’ve seen, he looks to be a high-end goaltending prospect with decent size and athleticism. He put up good numbers last season and is already doing well as a 16-year-old at the U20 level in Finland.
Jason Fuchs — F — Switzerland — With several of Switzerland’s top 1995-born players headed to the World Junior A Challenge, this Swiss outfit is pretty light on top-end talent. Fuchs is a small, but highly skilled forward who is a good skater. He has some nice creativity, but a lot of this roster is unknown. Fuchs is likely going to have to step into a big time scoring role for the Swiss to be able to compete.
For complete schedule of the U18 Four Nations Tournament, click here. Again, you can watch every game of the tournament live on FASTHockey.com. Or if you’re in the area, you should probably go check this thing out.
This should be an entertaining tournament, especially when the U.S. and Sweden hook up.
Side note: The U.S. National Under-17 Team is headed to the 2012 U17 Four Nations Tournament in Monthey, Switzerland, this week. I’ll try to have a few notes on that event as well soon.