August might be the dead of summer to most hockey fans but the path to the 2018 NHL entry draft begins now, a good 11 months before taking the stage in Dallas. The first international showcase of the season, the Ivan Hlinka Memorial tournament, is held in Breclav, Czech Republic and Bratislava, Slovakia over the next week. This is not an IIHF sponsored event but serves as a bookend with the IIHF Under 18 World Championship in the spring as the premiere Under 18 events for first year draft eligibles. Making an impression at this event places prospects on the radar for scouts and the NHL Central Scouting's preliminary rankings heading into the 2017-18 season.
Eight nations including Canada, Czech Republic, Finland, Russia, Slovakia, Sweden, Switzerland and the United States will take part in competition over a week from August 7th to 12th as the Czech Republic hopes to defend their title. Canada usually has a strong team in this event as they do not lose a large portion of their player pool to the CHL playoffs like they do in the spring for the IIHF Under 18 Championship. The United States will mix in more non-National Team Development Program players in this event as they prefer to bring that NTDP group to the U18 tournament. As such, their more under the radar roster will be looking to make a name for themselves this week.
It is always interesting to look back on this event and see who began their momentum or who started on the short list for the draft before falling down, therefore names of note are always going to be fluid. However, names for the 2018 that should be of interest at this tournament are:
Canada: The entire roster reads like a who's who of the 2018 draft eligibles and several potential high end players will become known as key prospects for the draft sooner than later. Defensemen Ty Smith, Jett Woo, Jared McIsaac and Ryan Merkey are all in contention for possible top 10 consideration. Forwards Benoit-Olivier Groulx, Joe Veleno and Anderson MacDonald could be in consideration as well. Lots to keep an eye on with this team.
Finland: A couple of forwards in Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Rasmus Kupari look poised to begin a draft year on the rise. They both showed well in the U18 tournament this past spring and will carry that momentum with them into this tournament.
Russia: The big power forward left winger Yegor Sokolov will have to bring the offense without Andrei Svechnikov, who is not available due to a knee injury. He is expected to join Cape Breton in the QMJHL for the upcoming season.
Sweden: Adam Boqvist is the top name to watch for team Sweden. The dynamic puck moving defenseman has naturally drawn comparisons to Erik Karlsson and Erik Brannstrom and could go higher than both did in the entry draft.
Games begin on Monday, August 7th with USA vs. Sweden and Canada vs. Russia, both games at 9:30 am ET. The round-robin portion continues through Wednesday, August 9th and then the semi-finals begin on Friday, August 11th as the tournament concludes the following day on Saturday the 12th. Quite a bit of hockey and a title in a very short time span but a lot will be gleaned over the week.
Stream and full schedule are on the tournament website.