American Prospect Update: 5 Nations Preview; TSN, HP Draft Rankings; Nieves to USHL?

The U.S. National Under-18 Team has landed in Pori, Finland, and will participate in the 2012 Under-18 Five Nations Tournament which began earlier today. Team USA won’t open tournament play until Thursday, however.

In addition to the U.S., the tournament features U18 teams from the Czech Republic, Finland, Sweden and Russia. The Five Nations is a fairly significant scouting event, due to usually strong rosters featuring a bevvy of draft talent.

Coming up after the jump, a look at a couple of players with a lot to prove in Finland, a peek at both the TSN and Hockey Prospectus mid-season NHL Draft Rankings, and Boo Nieves potentially joining the USHL at the end of his prep season.

The Five Nations is a pretty intriguing tournament. It’s not one of the bigger international events in terms of importance, but it’s a great indication of where each participating country is at leading up to the World Under-18 Championship in April. So from a team perspective, that is important.

From an individual perspective, particularly when it comes to draft status, this tournament does hold a fair amount of significance. The Five Nations is a big scouting event and for the NTDP players, who get seen plenty at home against older competition, it’s a chance to compete against peers. With only three international events in a season, the NTDP players have precious few opportunities against players their own age, which might give scouts a better indication of where these players stack up.

You can follow the tournament’s live stats here.

Among the European draft talent participating in the tournament:

Sweden’s highly touted prospects like potential top-five pick Filip Forsberg, probable first rounder Sebastian Collberg and big-time defensemen Hampus Lindholm and Ludwig Bystrom will be competing. Additionally, former Shattuck-St. Mary’s goaltender Oscar Dansk, who should be one of the first goalies selected in the 2012 NHL Draft, will be the likely go-to guy for the Tre Kronor.

Russia’s roster boasts the top goaltending prospect in the world in Andrei Vasilevskiy and potential first-rounder Anton Slepyshev. The Russians also brought super-skilled 1995-borns Sergei Tolchinski and Valeriy Nichushin.

Finland’s roster is highlighted by Teuvu Teräväinen, a likely first-round selection.

So there’s plenty of solid talent at the Five Nations. It’s going to be a tough test for Team USA, which will have to go through pretty much the best that Sweden has to offer and a very strong Team Russia if it wants to capture its fourth Five Nations title in five years.

Here’s a look at some of the less-talked about American players that have a chance to break out a bit in Finland:

Riley Barber — Everyone knows about U18 forwards and potential first-rounders Nic Kerdiles and Stefan Matteau, but Barber hasn’t gotten as much attention despite the fact that he’s tied with Kerdiles for the team lead with 13 goals. Though a bit on the smaller side, Barber has proven offensive ability. Getting a chance to play against guys his own age and getting on the bigger ice sheets might open things up a bit for the solid scoring winger.

Miles Koules — After being thought of highly enough to be invited to the NHL’s RDO Camp in August, Koules has been sliding a bit down the ranks, likely due to his lack of production. Last year, Koules was outstanding in international competition. He’s posted 15 points in 38 games this year, but could be due for a bit of a breakout in Pori. Koules is a gifted puck mover and playmaker, and should have a little more time and space to show what he can do.

Frankie Vatrano — Vatrano has quietly put together a pretty solid season for the Under-18 Team. The gifted goal scorer has put up just 10 so far this season, but sits fourth on the U18 squad with 21 points. The best way for Vatrano to earn a mid-round selection is to show he can consistently score. With his deadly wrist shot, he could light the lamp quite a bit in this tournament.

Matt Lane — The high-energy Lane could be a big factor in this short tournament. At last year’s Five Nations, Blake Pietila was a surprise breakout star for Team USA and found himself shoot up the draft charts. Lane’s gritty game, with enough offensive ability to produce could get him similar results to Pietila. He’s not flashy, but he’s noticeable. Could be a big week for Lane.

Connor Carrick — Carrick just may be one of the more underrated defensemen out there. Some wonder if he’ll be drafted at all, and if he does get drafted, few expect it to be prior to the sixth round. Either way, Carrick is a strong, if smallish defenseman. Getting a chance to play against guys his own age, should allow that strength to shine a bit more. He has good offensive instincts and solid skating ability. Maybe he’ll get a few extra looks in Pori.

Matt Grzelcyk — If Carrick is underrated, Grzelcyk might be grossly underrated. He’s tied for the U18 lead with 15 assists this season and has loads of offensive hockey sense. He might be undersized, but I’ll probably be beating the Grzelcyk drum right through June. I strongly feel if teams pass, they’ll just be paying more when he’s a college free agent. At the Five Nations, Grzelcyk will have plenty of skating room to show off his solid wheels and some of his high-end puck skills. He wasn’t ranked by NHL Central Scouting at the midterm, but I’d anticipate that changing in the coming months.

The U18s won the Four Nations Tournament in November, but with Russia and the Czech Republic added to the mix this time around, it’s going to be a tough one to win. This tournament could tell an awful lot about this very talented U.S. National Under-18 Team.

It should be noted that the U.S. Under-18 Team is not bringing any players outside of the NTDP and has not called up any players from the U17 Team.

Speaking of the U.S. National Under-17 Team, it is competing in the Vlad Dzurilla Under-18 Tournament this weekend. Team USA will meet Under-18 squads from Germany, Slovakia and Switzerland. Playing in a U18 tournament as under-17s always offers a unique challenge, despite the fact that the other participating nations aren’t as strong.

TSN Mid-Season Top-40

Tuesday night, Bob McKenzie at TSN unveiled the network’s Top-40 NHL Draft Rankings for the mid-season.

Here’s how Americans fared on the list:

6. Jacob Trouba; 7. Alex Galchenyuk; 21. Brady Skjei; 25. Stefan Matteau; 34. Jordan Schmaltz; 36. Patrick Sieloff; 38. Nicolas Kerdiles; Honorable Mention: Brian Hart

A couple of quick notes..

McKenzie’s rankings come from a variety of “The Hockey Insider’s” sources including scouts and general managers from around the league. McKenzie’s list often gives fans a very good indication of where a conglomeration of teams are standing on certain prospects.

– Trouba’s standing as a top-10 prospect has been debated, but his showing at the WJC is likely a big reason for him shooting up the charts.
– It is clear that Skjei’s shooting up other draft rankings is mirroring the feelings of NHL teams.
– Injury concerns seem to be very minor regarding Alex Galchenyuk. Though he hasn’t played a regular season game, he’s still very much a top-10 favorite. That speaks to just how special a talent he is.
–  Nic Kerdiles has somewhat inexplicably continued to drop, albeit only to the early second-round range. At the end of the day, I still think he’s the second best American forward available in the draft and has loads of NHL potential.

Hockey Prospectus Mid-Season Top 50

Corey Pronman over at Hockey Prospectus recently unveiled his mid-season top-50 rankings. Pronman is extremely locked into the scouting community and is a strong talent evaluator himself. Be sure to read Pronman’s ranking explanation, as his take is often different than many out there and always offers plenty of intrigue.

Here’s how the Americans fared on Pronman’s list:

3. Alex Galchenyuk; 7. Jacob Trouba; 26. Nicolas Kerdiles; 30. Cristoval Nieves; 33. Stefan Matteau; 39. Henrik Samuelsson; 40. Jordan Schmaltz; 44. Brady Skjei; Honorable Mention: Jake McCabe; Brian Hart

Some brief notes…

– If you go on talent alone, Galchenyuk probably is No. 3. The injury concerns could scare a few teams off, but I agree that Galchenyuk is a pretty special individual.
– Well, at least someone is with me on Kerdiles.
– Henrik Samuelsson makes a surprise appearance, as he’s dropped off a lot of lists, but since his move to the WHL, he’s been racking up the points. He could shoot way up, yet.
– Boo Nieves is undoubtedly skilled. I’m just not as confident in his all-around game for him to be in the Top 30 players in the draft, but Pronman sees it differently. Can’t fault him.

Speaking of Nieves…

Boo Nieves to the USHL?

Ryan S. Clark tweeted late Monday night that the Indiana Ice have added Cristoval “Boo” Nieves to their roster ahead of the USHL roster freeze. It sounds as though Nieves will join the Ice upon the conclusion of his prep school season at the Kent School.

This could be a huge development for both the team and player if this ends up happening. One of the big knocks on Nieves is that there’s doubt about his ability to translate his highly-offensive game against tougher competition. This happens annually to players in the high school and prep school ranks. Because of the good, but still inferior to Junior competition, there’s some hesitance and caution when it comes to prep and high school players.

If Nieves wants to quiet the doubters, he would have a great chance to do so with Indiana, one of the best teams in the USHL. He’d be surrounded by higher-end players like Daniil Tarasov, Robbie Baillargeon and Sean Kuraly and be in the thick of what is likely to be a deep playoff run.

Last year, Kyle Rau, after a sensational high school season joined the Sioux Falls Stampede. By producing at a high clip against USHL competition and ending the playoffs as one of the league’s postseason scoring leaders, Rau quieted many concerns about his size and ability to play against tougher competition. It likely ended up contributing to his earning a higher-than-expected selection by the Florida Panthers, who took him 91st overall.

A strong showing by Nieves in the USHL could be the difference between the first and second round. There are going to be teams that avoid a prep player, but with Indiana poised for a deep playoff run, Nieves could have plenty of opportunities to show he’s capable at a higher level.

Now, there’s some risk as well. If Nieves comes to the USHL and doesn’t perform up to expectations, it could cost him. There’s always going to be a little give and take when it comes to big decisions like this.

In the end, I think it’s a win-win for both Nieves and the Ice if he decides to make the jump. It’s a great opportunity to quiet the doubters and strengthen a draft resume.

Coming up next week on the American Prospect Update, a recap of the Five Nations and Vlad Dzurilla Tournaments and much more.

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About Chris Peters

Editor of The United States of Hockey. Contributor to CBSSports.com, USA Hockey Magazine and more. Former USA Hockey PR guy. Current Iowan.
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