Finally, we had some ACTUAL live hockey to watch.
For the first time since February, we finally got to see some international hockey in the way of two U-20 tournaments. Last week, Germany toppled Switzerland in a three-game set 2-1 over a three-game stretch, while Czech Republic and Slovakia wrapped up their own mini-tournament on Monday with the Czechs taking a 3-0 sweep. For the most part, the action was… interesting, to say the least. You could clearly tell the players weren’t up to full speed and the result was some mismatched plays by four teams with different agendas. Some were looking at keeping its planned World Junior Championship lineup intact, while others were focused on developing their future young guns.
Regardless, it was hockey. And with nothing else to watch over the past few months regarding prospects, it was a welcome change.
So, let’s have some fun. Here are a few NHL draft prospects that caught my eye over the past two weeks, for both good and bad reasons:
Tim Stutzle, C, Germany (#8) – With no hockey since March, draft watchers were desperate for actual on-ice action. Stutzle’s status as a top-three prospect – will he go No. 2 or No. 3? – has been heavily debated ever since with plays getting micro-analyzed to the point of death. That didn’t change last week when he became the highlight player to watch in the three-game series against Switzerland – only for the top prospect to fail to meet expectations. Stutzle looked frustrated, slamming his stick on a couple of occasions after failing to create much in front of the net. The usually dominant center had just a goal and an assist in three games, with his highlight-reel play to kick off the tournament gaining traction online as a way of showing just how dominant Stutzle can be. Of course, that’s without the context that the Swiss defenders were at the end of a shift and were just trying to survive, but Stutzle was likely the only player who could have pulled that off successfully. Sutzle came in clutch with the goal in the final minute to send the third game to overtime (an eventual 4-3 win for the Germans) and set up John-Jason Peterka earlier in the game, but was otherwise not the player we’re used to seeing, even if he improved throughout the tournament. The good thing? It was a meaningless summer tournament and Stutzle will be completely fine.
Lukas Reichel, LW, Germany (#23) – All eyes were on Tim Stutzle last week, but they quickly shifted to the play of Reichel, a fellow potential first-round pick. Reichel finished the three-game friendly with four goals, the most of any player and by far the most impactful in the series against the Swiss. He simply looked engaged from the get-go, mainly when attacking defenders and forcing mistakes. In the second game when he scored twice, Reichel used the extra space in both cases (power play and breakaway) to his advantage. He didn’t throw the puck on net quickly just to make a play – instead, he waited for the exact opportunity to get the disk on target and it worked. In the third game, he once again exploited the free space to contain the play and send a quick shot past the Swiss keeper for the goal. It’s clear that he can expose weaknesses in his opponents when given extra room and his high top speed compliments that. Reichel still needs to work on his defensive play while remaining consistent at both ends, but there’s something to work with there. For the record, Reichel played on the second line away from Stutzle and Peterka.
Jaromir Pytlik, C, Czech Republic (#21) – My favorite performer from the past two weeks, Pytlik came ready to play and didn’t disappoint. Pytlik centered the dominant second line with Michal Teply and Martin Lang, with Pytlik recording six points in three games. I’ve liked Pytlik before, and I know this is a summer tournament in the midst of a world-changing pandemic, but Pytlik looked hooked up and dominant at times. A strong all-around player, Pytlik was actively engaged on the power play and made his mark both around the crease and in the high slot. Pytlik was best served setting up breakout passes but his quick-play nature allowed him to react to rebounds and keep plays alive after an initial chance was missed. Pytlik was also one of the biggest instigators of physical play, hitting to separate players from the puck and winning puck battles along the boards, especially behind the net. He played most shifts like he had something to prove – it worked.
Nick Malik, G, Czech Republic (#30) – Malik only made one start and technically wasn’t the starter in the three-game series, but I think he deserves a shoutout for a job well done in the 4-0 victory over Slovakia on Sunday. Malik made 22 saves in a strong showing for the young goaltender that has played in many tournaments above his age group. Sunday’s effort was a classic showing for a goaltender that once was seen as a top netminder for the 2020 draft but slipped down the ranks after a tough 2019-20 season. At the very least, this was a good confidence booster for Malik after bouncing around the Czech league and OHL last season before re-committing to HC Ocelari Trinec for 2020-21.
Jan Myšák, LW, Czech Republic (#19) – Myšák is such an enigma to me. Some scouts absolutely love him. Others think he’s an ultimately flawed prospect that will struggle to adjust to the NHL. I’m on the side of he’s got a good foundation to grow from and can turn a switch and become the best player on the ice when he needs to be. A three-point night to open up the series was a good indication of that, although I felt his game trailed off a bit in the following contests. He had just one assist on the next seven Czech goals after the opening contest and was better utilized on the power play than at five-a-side. His play seemed inconsistent at times over the weekend, something that clearly wasn’t an issue with points in 12 of his final 14 OHL games. Myšák’s skating still needs work and I’d like to see him be more engaged at his end of the ice, but there’s still so much to like about his overall game. Tomas Tatar, anyone?
Martin Chromiak, LW, Slovakia (#18) – It’s a shame Chromiak had just one goal to his credit because I thought he had a strong showing. In the first two games, Chromiak was a consistent play-driver for the Slovaks and his speed and skill made him one to watch. In the third game, I felt like he couldn’t do much with the puck and the Slovaks were ultimately outmatched for 60 minutes, but Chromiak wasn’t bad by any means. Chromiak caught the eye of scouts late in the season when he lined up with Shane Wright in Kingston after making his case as one of Slovakia’s best U-20 players and he should be one of his nation’s go-to wingers at the WJC – they just need to set Chromiak up with a bit more help.
Simon Knak, C, Switzerland (#8) – Knak is still a work in progress: he has good size and can control the puck for long periods of time without getting stripped of it, but you can tell his foot speed left him struggling at points. Still, what caught my attention was Knak’s smarts in setting up his teammates in short-area situations and he forced a few turnovers in the offensive zone, leading to a goal early in the tournament. Knak’s skating does look improved from a year ago and he reserved enough energy to stay active late in games, but it’s still not a positive in his game just yet. I still liked what Knak was capable of in the offensive zone and he should emerge as one of Switzerland’s best players at the World Junior Championship.
Lorenzo Canonica, C, Switzerland (#14) – I didn’t have many notes on Canonica before the camp but he easily thrusted his way onto my radar. Signed by the Shawinigan Cataractes for the 2020-21 QMJHL season – if it happens at all – Canonica fought his way to the top of the Swiss lineup and the 16-year-old didn’t disappoint with three points in as many games. I especially loved him on the power play, moving from the middleman spot to the point and utilizing his powerful slap shot to create scoring chances. He hit the post on multiple occasions, but his teammates still looked to him to get the puck on net and he did with little difficulty. Besides his slap shot, his wrister is unleashed at a high rate of speed and he has the hands and speed to move past defenders. When Canonica was lined up against Stutzle and Co., he faired well and showed consistency in the faceoff dot. I think he made a real case to be a key contender for Switzerland’s World Junior Championship outfit.
Ray Fust, RW, Switzerland (#28) – Fust also played on the top line for the Swiss and seemed to catch everyone’s attention. A late-2002 born forward, Fust had three points in three games in his debut tournament for the U-20 squad, the best tournament he’s played to date internationally. One scout told me Fust looked rejuvenated after making the switch from the Swiss U-20 league at 16 to United States prep action last year, honing his scoring abilities to score 31 goals in 44 games with Northwood. He had a silent U-18 tournament with the Swiss last year but looked like a pure ball of energy last week. Fust is a creative forward who keeps defenders guessing (this shootout goal is a perfect example of that) and his wrist shot was on full display throughout the tournament. When Fust gets the puck in his own zone, he does a good job of quickly exiting the zone to create a scoring chance at the other end and it seems like his footwork has taken nice strides over the past year.
Juraj Slafkovsky, C, Slovakia (#20) – Statistically, Slafkovsky had a quiet outing with just one goal (in the final seconds of the last game) in three games. But the fact that Slafkovsky was so noticeable – and arguably one of Slovakia’s best players – on the back half says something about just how good this 16-year-old is. It took him a bit to get going, with Slafkovsky struggling to keep up with the pace and generally looking lost through the first game. By the second game, Slafkovsky was doing an excellent job of finding his teammates and moving the puck with a level of confidence we’re used to seeing in Finnish U-18 action. He was used solely as a fourth-line forward but once he found his groove, Slafkovsky was noticeable nearly every shift and made the most of it. It’s unfortunate he wasn’t rewarded with a goal in the second game because you could tell the effort was there, but the results didn’t follow. Overall, there was a lot to like about the U-20 debut for Slafkosvky, one of the top prospects for the offensive-heavy 2022 NHL draft.
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