With the international break in full swing, the U.S. Women’s National, U.S. Junior Select, U.S. Men’s Select, U.S. National Under-18 and U.S. National Under-17 Teams are all in action.
The Women’s Four Nations Cup and World Junior A Challenge are already underway, while three more tournament will open action in the coming days. The 2013 Under-18 Four Nations Tournament in Turku, Finland, is one that a lot of scouts will be taking in for the 2014 NHL Entry Draft.
The U.S. National Under-18 Team, which is made up almost entirely of U18 players from the National Team Development Program will meet national teams from Finland, Sweden and Switzerland Nov. 8-10, in Turku.
The round-robin style tournament should feature top-quality competition providing a good early season test for the Under-18s as they march toward the World Under-18 Championship in April.
Coming up after the jump, a quick preview of the tournament as well as which players are off to good starts this season.
Under-18 Four Nations Tournament Format
The Four Nations is a round-robin style tournament. There is no championship game, it’s just three games and whoever has the best record at the end wins. These early-season tournament often bring intense competition as each team will use this event as a major measuring stick for each country.
It’s also an opportunity to gain some valuable experience abroad. Even the travel to and from an event is part of the learning process when it comes to playing on national teams. It’s not often talked about, but there’s a lot to be gained by going into a foreign country to play some high-level hockey games. It makes those trips later in a player’s career to the World U18s or World Juniors or even the Olympics a little easier to adjust to.
For this year’s tournament, the U.S. National Under-18 Team will look to maintain a streak of five consecutive Four Nations Cup titles dating back to 2008.
The NTDP’s Under-18s have put together a really strong season to date. With a 9-3-1 record against a schedule made up of USHL and NCAA Division I opponents, Team USA is off to a terrific start. Among the highlights, a 3-2 win over a strong Lake Superior State University squad and no regulation losses in 11 USHL contests.
It’s a bit of a surprising start, too, as this squad as Under-17s last season struggled mightily in USHL play. Just goes to show what a year of development can do for elite-level players.
There are two non-NTDP players on the trip to the Four Nations Cup. Ryan Donato, a forward for Dexter Southfield School and the son of former NHLer and current Harvard head coach Ted Donato, and Muskegon Lumberjacks goalie Eric Schierhorn have been added to Team USA’s roster for the weekend tournament.
Team USA’s U18 Four Nations Schedule
Fri., Nov. 8 – USA vs. Sweden – 9 a.m. ET
Sat., Nov. 9 – USA vs. Finland – 10 a.m. ET
Sun., Nov. 10 – USA vs. Switzerland – 6 a.m. ET
There is no video for the tournament, but live updates are expected to be available here.
Here’s a look at other players to keep an eye on going into this tournament (college commitments in italics at the end):
Dylan Larkin — F — A lot of NHL Draft buzz has been swirling around Larkin all season and his play so far has helped him more than live up to it. A potential first-round selection come June, Larkin leads the U.S. U18 Team with 10 goals this season, only one of which has come on the power play. In 14 games this year, he has 15 points. Larkin is currently listed No. 29 by International Scouting Services, but could even move up the charts soon. He has good size and strength, is a fantastic skater and has shown the ability to finish. One NHL scout thought Larkin should earn some consideration for the U.S. National Junior Team this year. That’s pretty high praise. This tournament should be a good test for him if that’s an option. University of Michigan
Jack Eichel — F — Not draft-eligible until 2015, Eichel has been a big name in the 1996-born class for a few years now. He’s another guy who could receive some WJC consideration as an under-ager. Eichel has missed four games so far this season though. He has 11 points in 10 games. With good size, when Eichel is on his game he gives opponents fits with his strength and skill level. He has offensive know-how that’s advanced for his age. It doesn’t always materialize as it should, however. This tournament could be a really interesting proving ground for Eichel whose last international tournament was a sub-par showing at the World Under-18 Championship last April as an under-ager. He’s got a lot of talent, so he’s certainly one to watch all year long. Boston University
Sonny Milano — F — Maybe one of the most exciting U.S. talents in the coming draft, Milano has some really entertaining skill and creativity. He is second on the team with 16 points, including 11 assists. In the limited viewing I’ve had of Milano this season, he looks stronger and a bit more powerful compared to last season. At 5-11, 186, he’s average sized, but he uses his frame well and has some explosive elements to his game. He very well could end up a first-round draft pick when all is said and done. There just aren’t a lot of guys that bring what he can to the table from a skill standpoint. University of Notre Dame
Edwin Minney — G — Last season was tough for Minney as he was forced to carry a heavy workload with Blake Weyrick injured for most of the season. All that extra work may have done Minney a lot of good. He’s off to a strong start to the 2013-14 campaign. The 6-4, 189-pound goalie from Wind Gap, Pa., has a .912 save percentage and 2.38 goals-against average in 12 appearances, which is pretty good considering the competition this team has faced. Minney may be coming into his own this year. Michigan State University
Ryan Hitchcock — F — One of the most pleasant surprises of the young season is Hitchcock, who has been a dominant force in USHL play and currently leads the team with 17 points including a team-best 14 assists. At 5-9, 171, Hitchcock doesn’t have great size, but he makes up for it with offensive smarts and terrific vision. Having so many good finishers on this club, Hitchcock is an idea set-up man. He can score himself, too. The most encouraging thing about Hitchcock’s production is that he has points in both USHL and NCAA games, so he’s producing against any level of competition. Hitchcock should relish this opportunity to play against his own age group and see what he can do. Yale University
Alex Tuch — F — Tuch is kind of a fascinating prospect. At 6-3, 215, he has the obvious size factor, but Tuch has touch. It doesn’t always show up, but there’s a skill level here that increases his value exponentially. That’s a big reason he’s starting to generate some more first-round buzz of late. ISS ranked him 23rd on their latest list and it’s not hard to see why. Tuch could be a little more consistent out there, but he has produced this year. He has 13 points including six goals so far this year. He should be a physically dominant player in his own age group, which is why Tuch should probably have a really good tournament in Finland. He’s definitely a prospect worth watching all season long. Boston College
Jack Glover — D — One of the more intriguing defensemen coming into the year, Glover has been highly touted by a number of scouting services including ISS, which currently ranks the big rearguard 22nd in the draft class. Glover has a pro frame at 6-3, 192 to go along with good mobility and hockey sense. He moves the puck well and has six assists this season. His seven points are tied for the lead among blueliners for Team USA. There are some elements of his game that could use a little work, but the potential is absolutely there for a potential first-rounder. The international ice should be an interesting challenge for Glover. University of Minnesota
Jack Dougherty — D — New to the NTDP this year, Dougherty has made an instant impact on the U18 Team. With some tremendous offensive capabilities, he has three goals and four assists so far this year. He possesses a good shot from the point, but also seems to be smart about when he takes his chances. Dougherty moves very well and has a fluidity to his game where everything is mostly smooth. I haven’t had a chance to see him as much as I’d like, but he’s stood out the times I have. There’s a lot to like about his game right now. University of Wisconsin
There are a lot of players who have really emerged from this team this year. Among other players with double-digit point totals this season, Anders Bjork and Shane Gersich, giving Team USA seven with more than 10 points. That’s a pretty solid output for the early goings of the U18 season.
Team USA should be favored in the tournament, but Finland and Sweden always put together tough teams and have some solid talent in this age group. It won’t be easy to run the streak to six consecutive Four Nations titles, but this U.S. squad is coming in riding high and should be tough for all of its opponents.
I’ll have a recap of the tournament upon its completion. Until then, USANTDP.com should have updates throughout. Also, stay tuned for a 2013 Under-17 Four Nations Tournament Team USA Preview coming soon.