The Finnish invasion is upon us.
If you haven't been paying attention, The nation has three titles at the U-20 level dating back to 2014 and a slew of talented young forwards laying waste to the NHL, including Mikko Rantanen, Sebastian Aho and Patrik Laine, among others. Finland's talent at various other junior levels have proven to be impressive, too. The 2022 draft, for example, has Brad Lambert (his father is from Canada), someone many scouts believe would be good enough to go No. 1 in many other drafts, but will have to share the spotlight with Matt Savoie and Shane Wright.
But two years before that, Aatu Raty will be a name teams will be dropping like a stone to draft in 2021. Raty is currently serving as Finland's top center at the Hlinka-Gretzky Cup in the Czech Republic and Slovakia, having a handful of good scoring chances in a disappointing 6-0 loss to the tournament favorites, Canada. A smart defensive player, Raty's true bread and butter is how he attacks every play, never letting his guard down even in blowout contests. He can find his way out of most situations with the puck and his straight-line speed makes him tough to stop.
Raty's not going to last long on draft day two years from now, but who are some of the other top 2021 prospects to keep an eye on this week?
Jesper Wallstedt, G (Sweden)
The next Henrik Lundqvist? Scouts have been touting him as such for a few years now, so it's surprising to think he's only 16. Not only did he become the youngest player to ever play in the Swedish U-20 league, but he also became the youngest player to ever score a goal, period. The goaltender broke the record at the age of 14 years, 11 months and 11 days, nearly a year younger than Victor Hedman just under a decade later. Wallstedt is a big kid at 6-foot-3 and 205 pounds and already has considerable experience with Sweden's U-18 team (including the 2018 Hlinka-Gretzky Cup), having proven himself against older competition over the past few years. Watch for him to start most of the games for Sweden as they aim for another spot in the championship game.
Tristan Lennox, G (Canada)
Canada's starting goalie, Lennox is a 2002-born goalie like a majority of the tournament but his October birthday means he has to wait until 2021 to hear his name called. Lennox is still looking for his first full season in Saginaw after starting last year between the Milton/Brantford OJHL franchise but he'll have every opportunity to prove himself this coming season. Lennox looked good for Canada White at the U-17 World Hockey Challenge last year and the big, athletic 16-year-old will be relied on to lead the team to yet another gold medal.
Stanislav Svozil, D (Czech Republic)
Local fans will definitely be excited for Svozil, a high-scoring, two-way defenseman with great speed and skill. Regardless of tournament, Svozil's 14 points in 16 games were the most by a U-16 defenseman in international play. If you're still not convinced of his offensive talent, his 27 points in 40 Czech U-19 league games were the most by any player, regardless of position. A power-play specialist with a dangerous wrist shot, Svozil isn't a big kid at 6-foot-0 and 172 pounds but he's strong enough to fend for himself and doesn't lose the puck on his stick often. He knows how to put pucks in the net and he's responsible in his own zone, so you're going to hear a lot about Svozil a couple of seasons from now.
Matthew Samoskevich, RW (USA)
One of USA's youngest players, Samoskevich started the tournament on the top line for the Americans and didn't look out of place. Samoskevich has quick hands and the puck tends to find its way on to his stick, with his small, yet speedy stature allowing him to move freely around the ice. Samoskevich impressed with two assists in as many games with the USHL's Chicago Steel and will be a solid scoring asset for the club this season.
Daniil Chayka, D (Russia)
Chayka is a polarizing prospect at this point in his career. On one hand, he's a talented puck-moving defender that can play key minutes, but he's prone to ineffective games where he spends most of the time watching the play. That's how his first game for Russia went at the Hlinka-Gretzky, but as he gets more comfortable, the defending Memorial Cup champion will be one to watch. At 6-foot-4, Chayka is a big defender that moves very well for his size and is a pass-first defender that takes most of his shots with the man advantage.
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