Well that was certainly a hockey game. The last game of the tournament for USA ended with a 9-1 rout of Czechia. I had caught the USA's win over Sweden two days ago, recapping some of my observations here, but this was a whole separate level of beatdown. I'm going to break this down into areas of the draft that I think players from both sides might slot, keeping in mind these are observations not based solely on this one game. I didn't get a chance to observe everyone, as I normally pick 4-5 players on each side to follow who are relevant to this year's draft. There are many more players on both side of the ice that will be drafted for sure.
Here's the list of players scouted this time:
#2 F Will Smith
#4 F Gabe Perreault
#6 D Brady Cleveland
#9 F Ryan Leonard
#11 F Oliver Moore
#17 D Aram Minnetian
#6 D Matteo Koci
#12 F Eduard Sale
#22 F Jiri Felcman
#25 F Lukas Hes
Will Smith - Will Smith is going first here because I think he'll be selected highest out of anyone on the ice today. I've got him at #6 on my board as of now (first round rankings to be revealed sometime this month). I wrote about Smith during the win over Sweden, but it was much of the same today. Smith ended the day with 4 goals, 1 assist for 5 points. His line of Perreault-Smith-Leonard was simply too much to handle the entire game. Smith demonstrated excellent zone entry skills, good carrying ability, and blended a dangerous shot with excellent vision. Simply put, when his line was on the ice, the puck almost never left the offensive zone. At almost all times Smith seems to be in control of the game and where the puck is going. Very occasionally I've seen Smith attempt to dangle through too many defenders instead of finding the simple play, but even this has been toned down throughout the year. Today he was absolutely on fire. Watch the confidence here with this shot, waiting until he's standing completely still, the puck isn't moving, waiting for a defender to react, and then just rips it top shelf. Rockstar shit.
Ryan Leonard - Full disclosure, these next three players are all around the same range on my draft board. They're all around the top 15 or so, and Leonard for now is on top. Leonard is a powerful forward with strong skating, excellent puck-protection, and a wicked shot. He's just a hair under 6 feet, but he has a stout frame to play the style of game that he wants. This game he logged 3 goals, 2 assists. He's very shot focused in the offensive zone, and occasionally will pass-up better playmaking options to shoot. Still though, with his shot and physical style, in some ways he reminds me of Colby Barlow, a player I also have ranked near him. He projects as a top 6 winger, likely scoring on a team's powerplay one day, just like below.
Oliver Moore - Moore was a little quieter this game, but he was his usual speedy self. He had much tighter puck-control and was able to skate circles around most of the Czech team. I question his actual playmaking and passing talent, as well as his shooting prowess, but everything else is there. Amazing, amazing feet. Excellent engagement offensively and defensively, able to transition with ease. It's all there for a first round talent, likely top 15. Also check out the diving pokecheck by #17 Aram Minnetian in this play to help set up Moore's only goal of the rout today (we'll talk about Minnetian in a bit):
Eduard Sale - Sale is a prospect that I've seen so many times internationally that I think he had a little bit of a bump for being so ahead of his peers. Now that everyone else seems to be catching up to his talent level, he hasn't stuck out as much to me. He was an effective puck-carrier this game, able to transition and get into the offensive zone, but his pace was a little lacking. He continually tried to create off the perimeter, but for a player who is playing in a men's league, he was bullied a bit too much by the junior players of the US. This is just one game, and he still was the highest skilled player of the Czechia team, but it wasn't a good showing. Still a top 15-16 pick in my eyes given his skating, size, playmaking and offensive mind, but may have awhile to go.
Gabe Perreault - So it should be pretty obvious, but anytime you're able to collect 1..2..3..4..5.....6?! assists in a game, maybe it's time people start actually mentioning your name amongst your teammates. Perreault has long been considered the third wheel on the Perreault-Smith-Leonard line just because he doesn't have a defining standout skill like the other's do. Smith's playmaking, puck control and offensive zone dominance, Leonard's shooting and puck protection, Moore's elite level skating. Perreault's hallmark just might be his transition game, and his ability to be the connector between his linemates. He was always in position this game to receive passes on the breakouts, thread them to Leonard or Smith. He's got a knack for backhand saucer passes, as well as seam passes through traffic. His production is certainly impressive this year, and parsing out just how much is due to the higher-skilled players he plays with is difficult. Still though, if I'm a team picking in the 20s, Perreault is right at the top of my list for a safe, effective and smart player who likely fits up and down a lineup someday.
Aram Minnetian - He's so much fun. That's the answer. Minnetian is a right shot defenseman who possesses some decent feet, stickwork and skill to participate in the offensive zone. This game he was activating and using his feet to carry pucks out or down the wall in the offensive zone. Frequently Minnetian will cut around players at the point, take the puck directly to the center of the ice and attempt to create. The issue is the attempt part, as sometimes that just results in him losing the puck or simply hurling it on net looking for a play. His acceleration is fine, but his balance needs some work. Still though he's a physical defender who has some athleticism for a small-ish frame at 6 feet exactly. I suspect with some time at Boston College next year, like a few years, he'll end up rounding out his game at both ends. I think he's a safe bet past the end of the 2nd round.
Lukas Hes - Hes seemed fine most of the game, but was unable to really drive play when he was on the ice. He's one of the few Czech forwards who is producing decently well in the Czech U20 league this year, with 39 points in 33 games. He's a big body winger, who has decent but not exceptional speed, and plays physical on the walls. He seems to fit into a prototypical grinder at the next level, even if the offensive talent isn't all there. For now though, a 5th-6th round grade makes the most sense. Draft him late, hope the bit of skill he has starts to blossom and complement his physical game and frame.
Matteo Koci - Koci is ranked #74 on EU skaters by CSS. He's a little undersized, sitting around 5'10"-5'11", and very light right now, however the entire game he stuck out to me. He stopped rushes in their tracks, would then grab the puck, spin and find his D partner for breakout. He's quick, but could be a hair quicker for his size, and occasionally would turn the puck over trying to escape pressure. Still though for a team that was severely lacking in any sort of defensive structure this game, he was engaged, breaking up passes and plays frequently. He's got an active stick, and recognizes where the play is going, even if he doesn't always have a way to stop it. I think he's worth a pick in this range though, given his defensive mind alone.
7th Round and Beyond Lottery Tickets:
Jiri Felcman - Well, I think there's a really small shot this guy gets drafted. He's a very awkward skater right now, both in a straight line or when attempting to move laterally. He has some giraffe-like movements right now (that's the technical way to put it, yes), given his long legs and awkward movements. Sitting at 6'4" and a natural center though means that despite some relatively poor production in the Swiss U20 league (29 points in 36 games), he's still ranked #66 of EU skaters by CSS. I'll say this though, I really, really liked his game. In a losing effort, it seemed like Czechia would throw out Felcman, #22, for every defensive draw. Then offensively he'd create with the puck on his stick. He's an intelligent passer, able to thread passes through multiple defenders. He scans very effectively, and can anticipate play. He has some carrying skill, but again his speed really limits him. He reminds me of Filip Bystedt, the Sharks first round draft pick from 2022, but without the top speed, or shooting skill. Still though if I had a 7th round pick, I'd bet on his brain and frame to carry him until hopefully added muscle and speed can increase his offensive output. Watch this seam pass though:
Brady Cleveland - Cleveland seems like the classic "my team has two 4ths, 5th, 6th, 7ths this draft...one of them better be the big guy who hits" type of draft pick. The offensive talent isn't really there for Cleveland, but that's not why you're drafting the 6'4" 200 pound defenseman here. During this game he would just leave a trail of bodies behind him after punishing checks. I don't hate his positioning either, at least against this level of competition. He's ranked #59 by CSS for NA skaters, so he may go much higher than the 7th round grade here, but for me this is about the range I'd take this type of swing. Just a big dude who likes to hit and play defense. Nothing wrong with that.
Anyways this whole tournament was fun, and gave me a chance to check on lots of international prospects, so thank you all for reading, watching and commenting. Soon the top 32 will be revealed here on Half-wall Hockey, just as soon as I get around to watching a few more...few dozen more...games.