You know, a lot of people complain that they don’t like the summer because there’s no hockey. Well, my friend, that’s definitely not the case in Břeclav, Czech Republic and Piešťany, Slovakia, home to the Under-18 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament this coming week. From August 10th-15th, eight of the best junior hockey nations will battle it out in the first international tournament of the season, just months after the IIHF’s U18 World Juniors in Switzerland.
The Ivan Hlinka tournament may not get the North American attention that other junior tournaments tend to get, but that doesn’t mean the event isn’t filled with tremendous talent. In the past, Nathan MacKinnon, Jonathan Toews, Sidney Crosby, Steven Stamkos and Andrei Vasilevsky have all performed fairly well at the tournament named in respect of Ivan Hlinka, one of the greatest hockey stars to ever come out of Czechoslovakia. Not every team is able to bring their best stars, due to club team commitments and so on, but it still produces some entertaining hockey, especially during the dry summer months.
With the 2016 and 2017 NHL Draft’s in mind, here are five prospects to keep an eye on when the 2015 edition of the tournament gets underway.
5. Tarmo Reunanen, D (Finland): When it comes to Finnish prospects in North America, Reunanen may not hold the same prestige as Jesse Puljujärvi or Patrik Laine, but that’s OK. Reunanen will likely be one of the first Finnish defensemen chosen at the 2016 NHL Draft in Buffalo next June, and while his fellow countrymen will be battling it out for a spot on the World Junior team, Reunanen will look to become a big part of the team in blue and white at the Hlinka. A product of TPS in Finland, Reunanen is no stranger to the international game, playing in 34 previous games with the Finnish U16/17/18 team’s in the past. Last year, in 19 games with the U17 team, the play-making defenseman put up six goals and 15 points, trailing just Mikhail Sergachyov in points for a defenseman. Reunanen will look to have a strong tournament against kids his own age in hopes of securing a spot with the top TPS squad, the men’s team in the Finnish Liiga. He may have a hard time finding a spot in the top 30 of the NHL Draft this coming year, but regardless, he should be able to put on a strong performance for his country this coming week.
4. Kristian Reichel, F (Czech Republic): You may have heard of his Dad before. Yup, he’s related to Robert Reichel, the same guy who put a beating on at the 1988 World Junior tournament. Feel old yet? Well, luckily for his offspring, the Czech’s have a fairly talented number one centre to rely on. While maybe not as dominant as his Dad in the early stages of his career, Kristian had 52 points in just 39 games this past season with HC Litvinov’s U18 program. With the Czech’s coming off of a silver medal a year ago at the Hlinka, Reichel will likely be counted on to be a two-way scoring centreman on the top line this year, playing on a team void of many real superstars. With the tournament hosted in the Czech Republic, there is always an extra bit of pressure to have the team come out with a medal, so even a silver, just like Reichel helped achieve at the most recent European Youth Olympic Fesitval, would be positive.
3. William Fällström, F (Sweden): While a lot of his Swedish counterparts will be heading off to the pro ranks in Sweden, Fallstrom has chosen the NCAA route for the 2016-2017 campaign, shortly after the 2016 NHL Draft. A product of Swedish league team Djurgårdens, Fallstrom’s four goals at the Under-17’s last year showed that he can throw the puck in the net with a little help from his buddy Alex Nylander. He’s got a good release, and that’s something that should make him worth keeping an eye on. A dominant player in the Allsvenskan U18 league, Fallstrom will likely see a lot of time with Djurgardens’ U20 SuperElit club this year, the top junior team in the system. At the Hlinka, Fallstrom will work towards making a case for the 2016 NHL Entry Draft while also pursuing future World Junior tournaments for 2017 and 2018. If he’s paired up with Nylander again, look for one of the most dynamic duos in the tournament to be dangerous once again.
2. Alex Nylander, F (Sweden): Just over two years ago, the world was given an opportunity to witness the exploits of 2014 NHL Draft stud William Nylander, who will find himself playing with the Toronto Maple Leafs in the next few years. But now, it’s all about Alex Nylander. The 17-year-old is a very exciting young prospect to watch, continuously being one of the best players on the ice no matter where he plays. Perhaps Nylander’s biggest standout performance came at the 2014 Under-17 Hockey Challenge for the Swedish junior team. Noticeably one of the best players in the tournament behind American stars Max Jones and Clayton Keller, Nylander put up two goals and five assists in six games to help the Tre Kronor win the bronze medal. For Nylander, the Swedish offensive star was always involved in all the important plays and showed remarkable chemistry with Fällström, another 2016 Draft prospect from Sweden. It’s not totally known yet where he’s going to play this coming season, but there were some rumblings that Nylander would join the Mississauga Steelheads of the OHL, the same team that drafted his brother a year prior. Regardless, it’s a big season for Nylander, so starting it off right with a chance at a gold medal for his country seems like a good way to kick things off.
1. Dante Fabbro, D (Canada): One of the most exciting story lines heading into the 2016 NHL Draft in Buffalo is the incredible crop of strong defensemen. Fabbro, as you probably heard, is near the top. Ranked #11 by Hockeyprospect.com in the pre-season rankings, Fabbro is an interesting case due to the fact that he still plays Junior A hockey, and will continue to do so in 2015-2016. That’s not a knock on his skill in any way, as Fabbro was a dominant force with the BCHL’s Penticton Vees last season. A member of the BCHL All-Rookie Team with the champions from Penticton, Fabbro has previously represented Canada at both the Under-17’s and World Junior A Challenge, both coming during the most recent hockey season. While he came home empty handed in both events, Fabbro was able to muster six points in nine games combined in both tournaments, impressive for a young, budding defenseman. Considered to be a valuable young leader, Fabbro is heading into the tournament as one of the most highly touted defensemen in the whole event, something that should suit him very well. There is a bit of uncertainty for Fabbro, as it’s unknown whether or not he will consider either the NCAA or WHL route for the future, but at the Hlinka, that doesn’t matter. Get ready to be wowed by this future NHL star on the biggest international stage of his career to date.
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