The oases of hockey during the otherwise barren late summer weeks are the multiple international prospect tournaments. And while some of these games took place weeks ago, I felt it would be worth looking at how players did during this quiet point of the year.
Nils Lundqvist (2018 first round) and Joey Keane (2018 third round) represented Sweden and the USA respectively at the World Junior Summer Showcase.
Pound-for-pound, Keane had one of the most impressive tournaments among all of the participants. He entered camp as a fringe participant, but quickly impressed USA personnel. First-round pick K’Andre Miller suffered an illness that kept him out of the tournament, and that opened up a bigger role for Keane. What impressed me about Keane was how his defensive impact manifested in multiple ways. He showed good technique and position awareness in defending rushes.
He also showed off his great skating ability, which is useful in extinguishing transition rushes, among other things. Watch here as he (#6 in white) activates low to become a passing option, but then gets all the way back to disrupt a shot on what would have been a two-on-one opportunity.
For the sake of totality, I feel obligated to note that Keane did have some defensive slips, which isn’t unexpected. Overall, though, he made a name for himself in a positive way. By the end of the tournament, USA were leaning on Keane quite a bit, and even gave him power play time. This tournament goes a long way towards dictating the World Junior rosters in December. USA Hockey typically loves to put dependable, shutdown defensemen on their third pairing, and Keane put himself right in the center of the discussion. With a strong start to his OHL season, he may very well make the team.
In Sweden’s three games that I was able to watch, Nils Lundkvist didn’t particularly stand out, which is fine. He displayed the usual calm, steady ability to play defense. Watch for #7 in these clips.
There’s nothing mindblowing here, but these are all small plays that collectively add up. He is strong in his coverages and anticipates the opposition’s decisions incredibly well. Lundkvist is a modern shutdown defenseman in that he’s very good at helping his team cut down on long periods of defending in its own zone. In all three of these clips, you see that he’s making quick reads to either force a whistle or to change possession and get the puck out of the defensive zone.
The bigger question with Lundkvist concerns how much offense he’ll be able to generate. He was largely deferential in his offensive zone time, often serving as catching partner for his teammates when setting up in the offensive zone. He did have a few moments in which he showed off the ability to make plays.
Whereas Keane made a statement, I think for Lundkvist this was more about simply getting some summer reps in. There’s not much doubt about his role for Sweden at the World Junior Championship in December, and he didn’t give any reason to doubt that at the WJSS.
Vitali Kravtsov (2018 first round), Jakob Ragnarsson (2018 third round), and Calle Sjalin (2017 fourth round) participated in the recent Four Nations U20 tournament.
Kravtsov was the best player in the tournament, and our own Alex Nunn put together a fantastic highlight package.
What should stand out here are Kravtsov’s incredible hands and hockey sense. He can stickhandle his way around the opposition’s neutral zone setup and can make high-caliber offensive plays.
It’s important to note that the Four Nations is somewhat of a second-rate tournament. Countries tend to use the tournament to evaluate players who aren’t at the top of the depth chart. It’s still competitive and features a number of quality NHL prospects, but it’s not the same caliber as the World Junior Summer Showcase is.
In any case, Kravtsov did what one would expect; he dominated the tournament. While I would caution against reading too much into his performance, it certainly does reinforce his standing as an elite offensive prospect. After a questionable snub from Russia’s World Junior team last year, Kravtsov figures to play a key role for Russia at the 2019 tournament.