At least a half dozen prospects at this year’s Ivan Hlinka tournament have stated their cases to be strongly considered for Recrutes preliminary top ten list, and four ended up making the initial grade.
Swedish defenceman Adam Boqvist has been the talk of the tournament to this point, impressing scouts with his high-end skills while collecting six assists in his first three games, and moving into the top-three discussion in the minds of a lot of scouts attending the event.
“Boqvist could be as high as number one,” noted one high-ranking NHL scout this morning by a text ended with several exclamation points. “Great feet, pucks skills, and smarts.”
All three NHL scouts queried for their thoughts on the top prospects at the tournament concurred that Boqvist has been the cream of the crop, and may well be in the mix for the top overall pick.
Joining him as strong candidates for the top ten are Canadian center Joe Veleno and Finnish pivot Rasmus Kupari.
Veleno, the first-ever QMJHL player to receive exceptional player status, has simply verified his top-ten status so far, as going into the competition most considered him a strong bet to be ranked among the elite. Veleno has displayed his deft puck skills and vision through the first three games, setting up teammates on a consistent basis while showing lots of jumps and working hard at both ends of the ice.
Kupari had the most productive game of the tournament so far when he exploded for five points in a lopsided 6-1 win over Slovakia in Finland’s opening game.
“He is legitimate,” noted one western conference scout. “He’s been quiet since that game, but he has skill.”
Kupari was solid at the U-18’s in the spring as an underager, so his impressive showing at the Ivan Hlinka hasn’t surprised anybody. Skilled, smart and mobile, he’ll be a solid contributor and the go-to forward on Finland’s U-18 team throughout this campaign.
Canada has one of its strongest group of defencemen ever at the event, and while all have made a case to be considered as first-round candidates, Lethbridge’s Calen Addison and Guleph’s blueliner Ryan Merkley are considered to be the most talented, and most likely to challenge for top-ten consideration on draft day.
Merkley was the more highly-regarded going into the tournament after his eye-opening 55-point OHL rookie campaign, and on the powerplay he has been a powerful force when he had been afforded the room to show off his elite mobility, stickhandling and passing skills. When he’s playing 5-on-5, however, there remains serious concerns on his play reading and decision making, and he was even benched for a stretch in the second period of Canada’s third game versus Finland.
“I’m leery about Merkley,” admitted one scout. “He’s a handful.”
Sentiments echoed by two other scouts who also question his character and defensive play.
“We’ll see with this guy,” noted one scout. “Certainly he’s very skilled with the puck.”
Addison has been the revelation of the tournament so far, trailing only Boqvist in defenceman points with two goals and three assists while also looking after his own end with much more steadiness than Merkley.
The one question mark for some scouts has been whether he offers enough upside for his size in comparison to Merkley given that he’s a shade under 5-10. While some are still questioning his skill level, at least one eastern conference scout thinks Addison has answered that question emphatically in the regulation portion of the tournament.
“He’s pretty frickin’ dynamic over here,” said the scout. “Play starts or goes through him. He is one of the points leaders of the tournament.”
Other players who received mention from three NHL scouts as top-ten possibilities were Canadian centers Barrett Hayton and Benoit-Olivier Groulx. Hayton has gotten better as the event has gone on, and was quite possibly Canada’s best player versus Finland in the third game. Groulx has only produced one goal so far but showed good skill, nobility and defensive hockey sense. He’ll be one of four elite prospects scouts will be flocking to see in Halifax this upcoming season.