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Recapping the 2015 Ivan Hlinka Tournament

Matt Christians

Team USA finished the Ivan Hlinka Memorial U18 Tournament with a fifth place finish after taking down host Czech Republic 4-3 in the tournament's fifth-place game.

The US got off to a rocky start in the tournament with disappointing losses to Finland(5-1) and Russia(5-2), which knocked them out of contention for the tournament semifinals. They finished group play with a win over Slovakia before the win in the consolation round.

Meanwhile, Canada rolled through the tournament winning all six of their games to take home the gold medal, their 18th in the last 20 tournaments.

A lot of people write this tournament off for the United States because USA Hockey opts to not send any NTDP players, who already play a good deal internationally during the season. Sending non-NTDP kids allows them to evaluate and give experience to a different group of players.

I've seen many people call the US Hlinka team USA Hockey's 'B' team, though I don't necessarily agree with that. Certainly the NTDP will always have the benefit of the Jack Eichels and Auston Matthews that come through the US system and that makes a huge difference. But there were more than a few players on this Hlinka roster that turned down roster invites to the NTDP last season. Not to mention the Hlinka team gets the added benefit of picking later, so they pick up a few later-bloomers that the NTDP may have missed, such as Casey Mittelstadt, who starred in the tournament. There's definitely a difference in talent between 1A and 1B for the US, but I don't believe it's nearly as big as the difference in results between the World U18s and Ivan Hlinka suggest.

So while many may complain about the NTDP, if you compare those tournament finishes it's pretty clear that the NTDP is having a very positive effect in terms of results. Having players play together for an entire year makes them a much more cohesive unit and much better overall. It was really a shame that the US had their two toughest opponents to start off the tournament because there was even a noticeable improvement in team play by the end of the tournament. There's really no substitute for playing together in a game setting.

And finally, the Ivan Hlinka is sort of the unofficial kick off for the 2016 NHL Draft year. Here's a few notes I jotted down from watching some of the games.

-The two players who helped themselves the most in terms of Draft stock from the US were Mittelstadt and WHL forward Kailer Yamamoto, both of whom miss this year's Draft cutoff so they'll be in the 2017 Draft. It was a much quieter tournament for many of the 2016 Draft prospects on the US team. Nobody really vaulted themselves into first round consideration like Brock Boeser and Tommy Novak did last season.

-Potential uber-recruits Dante Fabbro and Tyson Jost had strong tournaments for Canada. I was most impressed by Fabbro who looks like the complete package on defense. Everything was smooth, calm and poised. It will be interesting to see how Fabbro is judged by scouts next year when he returns to the BCHL. As of today, I think Jakob Chychrun is likely the top defenseman available in the draft with Fabbro and recent BU commit Chad Krys neck-and-neck depending on style preference for the second-best D in the Draft, with both being worthy of a top ten selection.

Jost had a big game with a hat trick against Switzerland, but was quieter against some of Canada's tougher opponents. It's obvious he has some high-end skill though, but didn't quite put it all together in some of the bigger games.

-A pleasant surprise from Team Canada was forward Tyler Benson. Benson is a former first overall draft pick in the WHL and has always been highly-regarded, but I'd expressed some skepticism in the past about his ability to use his teammates. He has really developed that part of his game over the past year, however. He was fantastic at using his speed to create space and retrieve loose pucks then moving pucks to teammates to maintain possession. That makes him so much more versatile and dangerous as a player. I wouldn't put him in the top five for next year's Draft, but he belongs in the conversation for the top ten.

-Minnesota commit William Fallstrom had a nice tournament for Sweden. His linemate Alexander Nylander was extremely dynamic. Nylander is a tremendous skater and he can really affect the game with his quickness. Fallstrom was very solid. He doesn't create as much offense with the puck, but when he gets the puck on his stick in space, he knows what to do with it. I have Nylander as a mid-first and Fallstrom as a second round-ish pick at the moment.

-One player that intrigued me was Czech defenseman Vojtech Budik. He's a decent-sized defenseman and a tremendous skater. It was thrilling to watch any time he rushed the puck up the ice. Budik was selected by the Prince Albert Raiders of the WHL in the CHL Import Draft and will play there next year. It will be interesting to see how he plays in the CHL, but it looks like he has the potential to push for the first round of the Draft.

-Without getting a great look at everybody, here were a few other players I saw with potential to push for the first round of the next year's Draft: Jacob Cederholm(SWE), Kale Clague(CAN), Sam Steel(CAN), Michael MacLeod(CAN), Brett Howden(CAN), Dilon Dube(CAN), Jake Bean(CAN), German Rubtcov(RUS)