This year’s NHL Draft is barely two months gone, yet NHL scouts are already thinking about 2012. The first place they do this is over in Europe, home of the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Under-18 Tournament. Unlike the IIHF World U18 Championships where so many NHL players have competed, this is where Canadian Hockey League players can compete and not worry about missing games with their respective CHL teams.
The tournament is named after Ivan Hlinka, a Czechoslovakian hockey star on both the national and international ice. After he died in 2004, the tournament changed its name from the U-18 Junior World Cup and took his name. It’s been held alternately in Slovakia and the Czech Republic since 1997 and jointly in both countries – Břeclav in the Czech Republic and Piešťany in Slovakia – since 2002.
The pros and cons abound for this tourney. Pros include the fact that it’s a better gauge of future NHL talent since CHL players can compete, while the cons include the fact that the IIHF doesn’t officially sanction it and that European teams would rather have their kids compete in the World Junior Championships later in the year.
This year’s tournament just wrapped up – it was held from the 8th to the 13th. There were eight teams competing in two groups: Sweden, Canada, Czech Republic and Switzerland in Group A and Russia, Finland, the United States and Slovakia in Group B. In the end, Canada skated away with its 16th gold medal, while Sweden picked up silver and Russia bronze.
The final rankings were:
Gold – Canada
Silver – Sweden
Bronze – Russia
4th – Finland
5th – United States
6th – Czech Republic
7th – Switzerland
8th – Slovakia
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Mika Zibanejad were standouts at last year’s tournament, and we saw how they fared at this year’s draft (RNH was picked first overall by the Oilers, while Zibanejad was chosen sixth by the Senators). EJ Hradek over at NHL.com covered the tournament and picked five players whom he thought would make an impact on next year’s draft. I find it interesting that while Sweden gets props twice, Canada only had one kid who stood out to Hradek. That’s not to say that Canadian talent is lacking, but it’s intriguing to me.
Whether it’s those five or someone else who comes to the forefront in the next year (I saw a brief Sports Illustrated article about Nail Yakupov), we can expect another exciting draft next June. Next stop on the road to the draft: World Juniors this winter in Canada!