Finland is golden again thanks to the under-18s in North Dakota and all the international usual suspects came through at the tourney. Jesse Puljujarvi was huge, Clayton Keller took home MVP honors and Tyson Jost led the tourney in scoring. European scouts are basically done watching games now and the CHL playoffs are getting to the big stages, so you can feel the draft combine coming on the horizon. With the AHL starting Calder Cup proceedings, there is still a lot of good hockey left, though. So let’s take a trip around the prospect world again, shall we?
Maxime Comtois, LW – Victoriaville Tigres (QMJHL): Comtois didn’t put up a ton of points for Canada at the under-18s, but give the kid a break: he was one of the youngest players on the squad. The fact he had a regular role when most other underagers were cut says a lot and Comtois is looking like a top pick for 2017.
“It’s a step for me with Team Canada,” he said. “To get experience and learn to play the Canadian way is fun.”
Comtois was already one of Victoriaville’s top talents this season, placing second in scoring to 2016 prospect Pascal Laberge. A high pick in the Quebec League draft, Comtois combines smarts and skill, though he is also happy to learn.
“It was a great year, I had a lot of support from the guys,” he said. “The veterans were very supportive and it got me in the game quickly.”
A big fan of Patrice Bergeron, Comtois prides himself on playing a total game, while still working on his first three steps and explosiveness.
“I play a 200-foot game,” he said. “I play hard every night. My hockey sense is the first thing and I like to play down low.”
At 6-foot-1, 192 pounds, Comtois already has pro size and he’ll only get stronger in the future. With his combination of skills, the under-18s likely won’t be his last tournament in a Team Canada jersey.
In the Pipeline
Jake Guentzel, RW (Pittsburgh): After a successful career at the University of Nebraska-Omaha, Guentzel has quickly transitioned to the pros with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. That wicked shot release? Still works. The offensively gifted winger has seven points in three playoff games to lead the whole AHL.
Tyler Bertuzzi, LW (Detroit): His grating style makes him one of those guys you want on your team but hate to play against and Bertuzzi is lighting it up in the post-season. Todd’s nephew has three goals in two games for AHL Grand Rapids.
Esa Lindell, D, (Dallas): The Stars’ blueline pipeline is somethin’ sick right now, with John Klingberg already huge and Julius Honka and Lindell on the way. Lindell has posted three points in AHL Texas’ first two playoff games and his 6-foot-3, 210-pound frame means the NHL will be calling soon.
Ethan Bear, D (Edmonton): The Oilers made a good depth pick? Seems like it! Bear has been on fire for the WHL’s Seattle Thunderbirds, picking up 11 points in as many playoff games to lead all ‘Dub’ blueliners. Competitive and smart, he has the T-Birds on the cusp of the league final. Not bad for 124th overall in 2015.
2016 Draft Stars
Joey Anderson, RW – U.S. NTDP (USHL): The “third man” on the Clayton Keller/Kieffer Bellows line, Anderson put up some nice numbers himself at the under-18s. The University of Minnesota-Duluth commit is strong, smart and competitive and probably has more skill than he is given credit for.
Filip Hronek, D – Hradec Kralove (Cze.): It’s not going to be a good draft year for Czechs, but Hronek has scouts intrigued. A smart and skilled puckmover, he played against men for a good chunk of the season and had more than a point per game at the junior level.
Jacob Moverare, D – HV 71 (Swe.): A standout for silver-medal Sweden at the under-18s, Moverare has size, smarts and rarely gets into trouble thanks to his ability to read the game. Skating is a big concern, so it will be interesting to see when he gets picked this summer.
2017 Draft Stars
Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen, G – HPK (Fin.): Look out, we may have the next big thing in Finnish goaltending on our hands. Luukkonen took over the crease for the medal round at the under-18s after Finland’s starter got hurt. Big and poised, the youngster then went on to earn all-star honors and a gold medal.
Eeli Tolvanen, LW – Sioux City Musketeers (USHL): One of my favorite quotes of the year from a scout came in reference to Tolvanen: “Something always happens when he’s on the ice. He’s got all the moves on the joystick.” Tolvanen lacerated the under-18s for nine points in seven games en route to gold. The next big question? Will he stay in Sioux City next year or go to a major junior squad? The CHL Import Draft is coming this summer.