Final 1st-round mock draft and Bruins draft preview (audio)

Well, NHL Entry Draft time is upon us…I can hardly believe that I will be flying to Buffalo, N.Y. in the morning and that by this time Friday night, Bruins fans will know who the next big hopeful will be.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but rather than write an excessively long post here, I’ll take the advice of a recent blog critic who didn’t like the length of my Bruins draft strategy piece and break it down for you in about 15 minutes. He’s out of luck on the bolded names, though- sorry pal. As Kenny Loggins once crooned- I’ll meet you halfway. I’m sharing my thoughts on where the Bruins are heading into the draft, and where I think they’re going, and not just in round 1. Keep in mind this is just one person’s opinion, and lots of things can happen between now and pick No. 14 in the First Niagara Center.

Here’s the audio:

I am not going to weigh in on internet rumors surrounding Jimmy Vesey. Look, until he either signs with the Buffalo Sabres or he doesn’t and becomes an unrestricted free agent on August 15, I’m going to do my level best to stay above the fray. Because of my relationship with him and members of his family going back to his prep school days, that’s precisely *why* I’m not going to get into the middle of what is flying around. I give full credit to the Sabres for stepping up and getting his rights- that puts them in the driver’s seat, at least for the next some-odd 60 days, and Tim Murray will either convince him to forego the chance to pick his destination, or Vesey will stay the course. My thinking- and it’s just my own intuition here- is that he’s come a full four years since Nashville drafted him in Pittsburgh. What is less than two months more at this point? But if Murray and Sabres owner Terry Pegula (and don’t forget Jack Eichel) make a convincing enough pitch, there’s not much stopping him from ending the soap opera.

But, if you’re looking for me to repeat things flying around various message boards- that’s not happening.

Now, onto the mock draft:

1- Toronto- Auston Matthews, C; The Leafs get their man- Arizona native’s the wire-to-wire No. 1 overall selection and with good reason.

2- Winnipeg- Patrik Laine, LW; The first big winners of the NHL’s new lotto jackpot system cash in with this pure shooter who turns goal scoring into an art form.

3- Columbus- Jesse Puljujarvi, RW; GM Jarmo Kekalainen pounces on this Finnish horse who isn’t quite the threat his countryman is, but isn’t that far off, either.

4. Edmonton- Matt Tkachuk, LW; On a team whose GM once saw firsthand what Milan Lucic could do, the Oilers grab a high-end power forward with serious bloodlines.

5- Vancouver- Pierre-Luc Dubois, LW; The Canucks need help everywhere, so Jim Benning can’t go wrong here with as complete a two-way threat as there is in this class.

6- Calgary- Logan Brown, C; Described by my pal Reed Duthie (who calls Hamilton Bulldogs games) as an “aircraft carrier with feet”, this massive center is also highly skilled, meaning- he’s off the board in the blink of an eye.

7- Arizona- Olli Juolevi, D; Is this Finnish version of the old Val Kilmer movie ‘Real Genius’ the first defender off the board in Buffalo? Very possible.

8.- Buffalo- Jakob Chychrun, D; After making a splash with the Vesey trade, the Sabres fire more shots across the bow, picking up this big name at 8, but his hockey IQ has raised some doubts.

9- Montreal- Alex Nylander, RW; The Canadiens seek skill and scoring, so why not grab the player who might have absolutely been the most talented player in the OHL draft class, even if he doesn’t always bring it.

10- Colorado- Mikhail Sergachev, D; The Avalanche land a big talent that has scouts divided on his overall defensive awareness, but may be at the top end of the skill factor in the OHL.

11- New Jersey- Tyson Jost, LW-C; Ray Shero blinks- he can’t believe Jost is on the board here, and after landing Pavel Zacha a year ago, grabs another potential elite forward bound for North Dakota in the spirit of one Zach Parise 13 years ago.

12- Ottawa- Michael McLeod C; The Senators are betting that McLeod’s blend of size, skating and smarts propels him to stardom up the middle, even with questions about his NHL upside.

13- Carolina- Clayton Keller, C; Small but dynamic center has major league potential as an uber-dangerous playmaker.

14- Boston- Dante Fabbro, D; Knowing what the Bruins tend to value in their players and what they need at this stage, this defender is right up their alley at 14.

15- Minnesota- Luke Kunin, C; St. Louis native did a great job as a freshman on a poor team- the sky’s the limit and the Wild can’t resist.

16- Detroit- Charlie McAvoy, D; A player who could just as easily go to Boston two picks earlier, if he’s still on the board here the Wings pounce.

17- Nashville- Jake Bean, D; The Predators know Bean has a high-end skill set and grab him with outstanding value at 17 where others had him projected inside the top-10.

18- Philadelphia- Kieffer Bellows, LW; Passed up by his hometown Wild, Bellows doesn’t have much time to dwell  on it & makes sense as a fit in Philly with his deadly release and penchant for filling the net.

19- NY Islanders- Riley Tufte, RW; Big, massive, skates well, tremendous long-term promise and the Isles struck gold with Brock Nelson in Minnesota before, so why not take a big payoff project here?

20- Arizona via NYR- Julien Gauthier, RW Major concerns about hockey sense and a tepid second half after tearing it up early in the season mean that the Val d’Or standout slides, but he’s solid value here.

21- Carolina via LAK- Max Jones, LW; Speedy power forward has some nasty play that has gone over the line, but if the Hurricanes can harness that raw aggression- he could be one of those role guys you win with.

22- Winnipeg via CHI- Logan Stanley, D; When you pick Laine at 2, you can afford to take on more of a project player with your bonus 1st-rounder, and with Stanley’s size, skating and snarl- he looks like a solid bet to play even if he tops out as a mid-tier shutdown D.

23- Florida-German Rubtsov, C; The Russian forward in class is someone worth jumping on in the early 20’s and Dale Tallon does just that.

24- Anaheim-Tage Thompson, RW; Huge but raw with an upside that some in the NHL scouting community feels is too legit to quit, the UConn Husky becomes a part of the West Coast quack attack.

25- Dallas- Dennis Cholowski, D; It sure looks like the late-surging BCHL two-way defender is bound to land in the 1st round, and he looks like a good fit for the resurgent Stars under Jim Nill.

26- Washington- Pascal Laberge, C; Speedy and skilled, the Capitals need to find secondary scoring behind Ovechkin and Backstrom- this Victoriaville Tigre brings that in spades.

27- Tampa Bay- Brett Howden, C; Some say he looks a lot like his older brother, but this Howden seems to have more killer instinct and finish around the net. Stevie Y. will take it.

28- St. Louis- Lucas Johansen, D; With Kevin Shattenkirk likely to leave via trade, the Blues will look to infuse more offensive talent and potential with this latest product of the Kelowna D machine.

29- Boston via SJS- Markus Niemelainen, D; The B’s could go with a forward with their second pick like a surprise 1st-rounder in Wade Allison here, but if they add another 6-5 D who can really skate, this Finn will complement the right-shooting Brandon Carlo nicely at some point.

30- Anaheim via Toronto via PIT- Boris Katchouk, LW; Anaheim grabbed the big RW earlier, now they get the gritty, in-your-face and underrated Soo Greyhounds scorer at the end of the round after giving up Frederik Andersen to the Leafs. (Thanks to the readers who pointed out my mistake)

Alex DeBrincat drops out of the 1st round, but he won’t last long in the 2nd.


Okay- that’s it. I’m off to Buffalo.

Reminder- if you want breaking NHL draft news, picks, analysis and hot takes (or is it “taeks?”) give me a follow on Twitter: @kluedeke29 I might be able to get some Periscope action going as well, so look for that.

Will be on TSN 690 with my Red Line Report boss, Kyle Woodlief, with host Tony Marinaro this Friday, June 24, from 11-noon (Eastern) live from First Niagara Center to talk draft, draft and nothing but draft.

Will do some deeper dives on the draft at the blog in the coming days, but this is pretty much it until the big event, and even then- will just hit the wave tops, but keep checking in- I might have some Easter Eggs and surprises for you.

Vesey to Sabres and other pre-draft notes


It probably was not all that surprising about the news that broke Monday about the Buffalo Sabres and GM Tim Murray acquiring Jimmy Vesey’s rights from Nashville for one of three third-round picks that rebuilding team has in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft.

Why is it not a surprise? Well, for one thing- Predators GM David Poile “burned the boats” with Vesey when he went public and essentially told everyone the kid lied to him. That was impulsive and shortsighted, as all that did was guarantee 100 percent that Vesey had no chance of coming around and agreeing to terms with the team that spent a third-round pick on him in 2012, only to see him declare his option to leverage free agency (per the CBA) four years later. We figured from the get-go that someone would try to trade for Vesey’s exclusive negotiating rights at some point, so, as Murray himself said- Why not Buffalo?

The Vesey matter is made more complex by the human element in the case. At arm’s length, there seems to be no smoking gun, no clear reason for his walking away from Nashville. Although it’s a small market team, the Predators are on the rise, and Music City is a neat place to play hockey in. There was talk that Vesey was turned off by the Nashville organization’s pressure sales pitch, and that he didn’t want to play for them right away, but preferred to finish out his semester at Harvard and then look at signing. As of now, that’s all that is- talk. We’ve heard what the team thinks, and Vesey himself has declined to weigh in on it, so as of now all we know is- by virtue of Monday’s trade, Buffalo now jumps into the ring as the one team that can negotiate with him between now and the August 15 deadline, and if he signs, then it will be a third-round pick well spent for them.

Vesey’s camp (agent Peter Fish) issued a statement Monday, saying that the player still intends to pursue free agency. Murray, who never met a microphone he didn’t like (and I don’t mean that as a slight- he’s long been one of the most open sources of information out there) has been open about his intent to leverage Vesey’s connection to 2015 Hobey Baker Award winner and second overall pick Jack Eichel to try and sway the 2016 Hobey recipient to put aside the free agency designs and ink an ELC with the Sabres.

This does not mean Boston is out of the Vesey sweeps, however- they just have a tougher hill to climb.  I’ve seen on the internet in at least one location that I called Vesey to the Bruins as a “sure thing.” That gentleman is clearly mistaken, and should perhaps focus his efforts on some reading comprehension skills enhancement. The Bruins were clearly in the mix for a Vesey landing spot because he’s a North Reading kid and dreamed of playing for Boston, but that does not mean that when he opted out of Nashville that the Bruins and Vesey coming together was fait accompli. I think folks should pay better attention to things and not misrepresent clear positions on internet message boards and articles, but that’s just me.

Next move belongs to Murray and the Sabres and we’ll see where it all leads- he has a little less than 60 days to make inroads and land his big fish.


We’re just a few days from the big event in Buffalo- the Scouting Post (TSP) will be there, but much of the coverage I provide will be via Twitter, as I do not plan to do extensive blog posts from the event. You can expect a couple of wave top assessments, but the more in-depth coverage will come next week after I can interview sources at the draft and provide a more comprehensive analysis of what the Bruins did or did not accomplish. For breaking news and quick hits- I encourage you to follow my Twitter account- @kluedeke29 and I will keep things up to date as the draft rolls on.

On another note- my boss at Red Line Report Kyle Woodlief- and yours truly will be broadcasting with Tony Marinaro, hockey radio host with TSN 690 out of Montreal from the First Niagara Center in Buffalo on Friday. We’ll spend about an hour on the air with Tony from 11-noon on draft day, so if you can tune in- you’ll get your fill of pre-draft talk with the Red Line guys.


I’ve seen apples and oranges talk about Chilliwack D Dennis Cholowski and Dante Fabbro recently and I’m honestly not sure what the point is here. Cholowski is a meteoric riser in the second half after a strong finish and yes- his Chiefs did knock off Fabbro and Tyson Jost’s Penticton Vees in the BCHL playoffs. It’s fine to be high on Cholowski- he’s a solid first-round candidate and has some impressive tools, but what I don’t get is this urge to play the “Cholowski is better than Fabbro” game I’ve seen out there in a couple of spots.

First of all- if Cholowski gets drafted ahead of Fabbro, I’ll buy you a beer. It’s not happening. Secondly- the world does not have to be a zero sum existence- it is possible that both players are going to be very good. They bring different things to the table, but I’ll defer to other NHL scouts who saw both Cholowski and Fabbro at the World Jr. A Challenge and think that the latter was the far more impactful player.  Are there differences of opinion out there? Absolutely. And it is possible that Cholowski could eventually be the better player than Fabbro is at the NHL level.

But that doesn’t mean he’s done enough to be considered a viable option at the 10-15 range. Fabbro is no sure thing either, but one guy was the BCHL’s top defenseman and the other guy wasn’t. Let’s not make more of this than it is- both D look like nice options going forward, and anyone can make a case of one over the other, but unless things change on Friday, Fabbro is trending to be selected ahead of Cholowski. I’m curious to see if the whisper campaign out there to elevate him is agenda-driven or not, but for now- I’m sticking to my guns. I have Fabbro rated higher than the other guy, but believe both are first-rounders and have nice long-term potential in the NHL on the back end.

So- just to be clear. I like Fabbro. I like Cholowski. They’re both good. There is absolutely no need to tear down one to build up the other. But realistically, one guy is going to get drafted in the top-20 and one probably a little outside that range. I have to think both guys appeal to the Bruins, but in all likelihood- they’ll only have a shot at one of them. As things stand right now- that player is Fabbro in my view.


As suspected Julien Gauthier is getting a lot of attention in Boston circles and I don’t really get it.

He’s huge, he skates well and has soft hands. He also doesn’t think the game well at all- the hockey IQ is a major, major question mark. When are folks going to realize that toolsy players without the toolbox constitute needless risks? Let some other team jump on Gauthier, but  to me- he’s not going to be the best player available in the top-15 when Boston’s turn comes.

Gauthier had a blistering start and made hay at the WJC, but once again- people are focused on the past and are not paying attention to how the player trended over the second half. There are major question marks surrounding this guy, and as said before- I believe that right-shooting defensemen will constitute not only best value at 14 but also fill a need for the Bruins. That’s a two-for-one deal, and I’m not sure Gauthier  makes much sense that early- fans are still living in the past of about six months on this guy.

The B’s can wait a bit and grab a winger like Wade Allison, Cameron Morrison or Taylor Raddysh maybe even a Timmy Gettinger or Brett Murray and boost the depth and size/heavy-on-the-puck play on the wings without spending a top-15 selection on someone with real concerns about how well he sees the ice and processes the game/has the creativity to be a scorer at the next level.

That doesn’t mean Gauthier will be a failure, but I do believe he’s another one of those guys benefiting from past accomplishments, but doesn’t have a lot of buzz or the confidence of NHL clubs coming into the draft. We’ll soon find out.


For some late-round value, I like Minnesota forward Jack Walker– he scored 36 goals for the Victoria Royals this season as a 1996-born guy previously passed up. He’s a converted forward who played D up until a few years ago, but can skate, pass and shoot. I’m told the B’s were sniffing around him in the WHL rinks this year and it makes sense- he’s a guy who represents a more pro-ready proposition to enter the system and be closer to contributing than most other 18-year-olds available from the 1998-birth year pool.


That’s all for now…I’m going to post one more mock draft and do a final Bruins draft projection audio file tonight and then it’s off to Buffalo. Remember- follow me on Twitter because there won’t be a lot of blog posts on here between Friday and Monday beyond a few quick-hitters to recap the players Boston grabs.



Scouting Post 2016 NHL Draft Podcast Pt. 2: Tiano & Duthie forge on

Thanks for the overwhelming interest in part 1 of the 2016 NHL draft OHL-centric podcast featuring Dominic Tiano and Reed Duthie!

Here is the second hour:

Tiano’s OHL Writers blog is a key source in the evaluation of NHL draft-eligible talent coming out of the CHL’s Ontario major junior circuit. Duthie is the play-by-play announcer for the OHL’s Hamilton Bulldogs home broadcasts. Both bring a lot of knowledge and passion for the sport.

In hour 2, we pick up where technology left off, completing the thought process on Saginaw D Markus Niemelainen. Then, listen to Reed and Dom square off over defenseman Sean Day, as they engage in a “great debate” over whether the toolsy player who was granted exceptional status at age 15 is worth spending a top-60 selection on given his disappointing season and other concerns about his long-term NHL upside.

We also get into some of the underrated, undersized guys like Alex DeBrincat, Adam Mascherin and Will Bitten…the duo talk about players like Nathan Bastian, Taylor Raddysh and we also go further down the line on interesting risers like Guelph Storm forward Givani Smith and London speedster Cliff Pu (Puuuuuuuuu!).

Oh, yeah- and we circle back on London Knights power forward Max Jones– a bit of a controversial figure as you will hear from Reed and Dom. But, I neglected to have him in the 1st-round talk in hour 1- that was a mistake, because that’s where he’s almost assuredly expected to go this week.

There’s that and much, much more, as we tack on some time at the end of the 60 minutes to make up for what was lost in the first hour. You don’t have to be a Boston Bruins fan to get into the action here- as Dom feels that this is one of the strongest OHL draft classes in quite some time. Chances are- your favorite team will end up with one or more of them.

I have a few more posts this week before the draft, but for now- enjoy.



Canada wins 8th consecutive Ivan Hlinka gold- final thoughts on 1st major pre-2016 NHL draft tourney

Canada did precisely what they set out to do this month in the Czech Republic and Slovakia, capturing their 8th straight Ivan Hlinka tournament. Think about that- the 2008 gold medal-winning roster in the current streak featured Taylor Hall and Matt Duchene on it, and every year since has boasted a who’s who of top NHL draft picks who have gone on to become some of the best players in the league since (Tyler Seguin was a beast in the 2009 Hlinka and Dougie Hamilton stepped up raised his profile as a legit top-10 selection in the 2010 tournament, and Nathan MacKinnon set the all-time points mark with 11 in 5 games in 2012 for example).
Why is Canada so dominant? The answer is pretty simple- because they can take the very best players from the CHL after they get together each August in Calgary for an Under-18 camp around the same time that the WJC/Under-20 camp is ongoing. This year- a pair of high-profile Canadians in forward Logan Brown (son of former NHLer Jeff Brown) and defenseman Sean Day– did not make the cut and were left at home (no Jakob Chychrun either- but he has Canada-U.S. dual citizenship and has yet to determine which country he will represent internationally- as does Brown for that matter).


Not surprisingly, Canada didn’t miss a beat- running the table and edging Russia in a close semi-final match (2-1) before bringing the house against Sweden for the gold in a 7-3 final that aside from a couple of quick garbage time goals by Alex Nylander (son of Michael, brother of Leafs prospect William) and William Fallstrom at garbage time- wasn’t that close. Canada rules this tournament because they can bring their top talent without having to lose players to the CHL playoffs the way they do in April- when the U.S. NTDP flips the script and brings their best U18 players, guys who have spent the better part of the previous two seasons together building chemistry, learning the systems and playing against older talent in the USHL and NCAA. USA does not send the NTDP to the Hlinka- instead putting together a team of the top players from the June Select 17 USA Hockey Festival.

The nice thing about the Hlinka is- it serves as the harbinger of the new hockey season and the next NHL draft. For example, Canada boasted 11 players in Red Line Report’s top-40 projected picks for the 2016 NHL Entry Draft published in the June 2015 Draft Guide. Of those- six were in the top-15. An additional five first-round projections from the USA, Russia, Finland and Sweden all skated in the tournament as well. Now, there will be plenty of movement on the rankings between now and next June when the players actually come off the board in Buffalo, but it gives you an idea about the importance of the Hlinka as a draft-eligible showcase. Late ’97-born players did not participate, and higher-end guys like Jesse Puljujarvi for Finland skated at Lake Placid earlier this month as part of the USA National Jr. Eval Camp- you can look him up in earlier blog posts.

So with that in mind- here are my thoughts on some of the players after streaming and watching some (not all) of the key Hlinka games online.


Dante Fabbro, D Penticton Vees (BCHL)- One word to describe this right-shot (the only one on the CAN roster) d-man: smooth. He exhibited poise with and without the puck on the blueline- making good decisions in the gold medal game and rifling the puck in from the point. He didn’t get any points, but the talent is clearly there. It’s no surprise that he’s a solid early first-round projection, but the fact that he’s playing in the BCHL and not the WHL is.

Tyson Jost, LW Penticton Vees (BCHL)- Fabbro’s BCHL teammate and Vees’ captain was a little buzzsaw in that final game- playing with a lot of energy and cashing in on a nice goal that he picked his own rebound up on. Not sure what Penticton is selling up there, but it must be good to have two top NHL draft prospects skating for them. Jost has average size, but he’s fast and skilled. For more on where these two might end up in 2016-17, check out Mike Chambers’ Avs blog post in the Denver Post from June:

2016 top NHL prospects looking at Denver; Jost and Fabbro among Canada’s top 1998-born players

Sam Steel, C Regina Pats (WHL)- I really like this kid. He moves in straight lines, takes pucks directly to the net and plays with a burr under his saddle. Another average-sized Albertan like Jost, he had a nice body of work before the WHL and scored 54 points in 61 games for the Pats as a rookie. Watch for him to make a big jump this season production-wise.

Pierre-Luc Dubois, LW Cape Breton (QMJHL)- Big-bodied forward who looked it in the final game, powering through traffic and making plays in the offensive end. His dad was a longtime minor leaguer and fourth-round pick of the Quebec Nordiques in 1989 (the same year they drafted Mats Sundin first overall, btw).

Michael McLeod, C Mississauga (OHL)- Big pivot showed some promise here. I like the way he handles the puck in tight spaces and he was always around the net- protecting it and creating space for his linemates. Looks like a pretty solid third-line center with upside to be more if he can pick up a step or two.


Jacob Cederholm, D HV71 (Sweden Jr)- At 6-3, he’s a big, mobile defender who will likely get bigger and more powerful as he physically matures. Was impressed with his play, though Sweden didn’t have much to show for in a game dominated by the Canadians. Looks like a future mobile shutdown horse for whichever team gets him, but there isn’t much of an offensive element emerging from him at present.

Alex Nylander, LW AIK Allsvenskan)- Have to admit- not a fan. Skilled? Absolutely. Too much time on the perimeter, didn’t like the body language. He can skate through a maze of players, but didn’t seem all that inclined to use his teammates. Hoping it was just one game, because he’s unquestionably talented but looked soft, lacking in heart in this one. Sweden needed a better showing from one of the top players on its roster.

William Fallstrom, C/LW Djurgårdens IF (Sweden Jr)- Brother of former Bruins prospect Alex Fallstrom is a University of Minnesota recruit and plays an opposite style to his older sibling. Fallstrom caught my attention with his speed, quickness and willingness to compete/take pucks into traffic. I liked him in a limited viewing and thought- he can’t be Alex Fallstrom’s bro because he’s such a different forward. Wrong, Kirk!


Markus Niemelainen, D Saginaw Spirit (OHL)- Huge (6-5) rearguard will be a well-known draft commodity in the OHL next season, and he looks to have a North American-style of game already. Looks like his footwork will need to get better, but has a long, fluid stride which serves him well in open ice.


Timmy Gettinger, LW Soo Greyhounds (OHL)- Zach Senyshyn’s OHL teammate is from Ohio and has a lot of raw NHL tools- 6-5 frame, pushing 220 pounds and the ability to drive to the net at will when going up against his peers at this stage. He was the lone bright spot in a decisive loss to Finland- going straight in and deflecting a centering pass home. He’s not a high-end skater, but is rangy and doesn’t need a significant speed boost- just has to improve his first few steps and lateral agility.

Kailer Yamamoto, C/RW  Spokane Chiefs (WHL)- Late ’98 (2017 NHL draft eligible) is a talented little pivot who is small (5-8) but dynamic. It showed here, as he posted 4g and 7 points in four games. He’s got terrific hands, quickness and is a creative table setter and finisher. After 57 points as a rookie with the Chiefs, bigger things expected of him going forward. Scouts will have two more years to dissect and his game, unfortunately.

John Leonard, LW Green Bay Gamblers (USHL)- One of my personal faves coming out of Springfield Cathedral of D1 Mass high school didn’t make much of an impact, but he no doubt gained an appreciation for what awaits him in the USHL after making the jump this year from high school hockey where he pretty much had his way at that level. NHL scouts will appreciate that he’s taking himself out of the comfort zone to challenge himself in that league in his draft season, and I think the UMass Minutemen have themselves a future key contributor in the hometown Amherst son.

There were many more players out there- but I think this gives you a good taste of the Hlinka and is a solid starting point in August. So much more to be done between now and next June (a little under 2 years from now in Yamamoto’s case).

Hlinka horror show- USA smoked by Finland in U18 action

So, I got back from the mini-vacation in time to watch (online) the Team USA Under-18 selects squad get smoked by Finland today in their first game of the annual Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament. The final score was 5-1, but it could have been far worse.

This game was over after 20 minutes, as the Finns took advantage of sloppy, undisciplined play by the Americans and a poor performance in net from Niagara Ice Dogs goalie Stephen Dhillon. Dhillon, a dual citizen from Fort Erie, Ontario (his hometown is listed as Buffalo, N.Y.) has excellent size and athletic ability, but it wasn’t his day. Granted, he didn’t get much help from a team that took a series of undisciplined penalties (William Knierim’s slashing call to give Finland a 4-0 lead in the first period was the worst of them), but after being beaten on a deflection to open the scoring, he was fighting the puck and just couldn’t get his game on track. He was on the bench to start the second period, giving way to Dayton Rasmussen. All in all- a forgettable 20 minutes for Dhillon.

This is a talented Team USA squad, so we should have seen a much better performance from them than we did. Riley Tufte is a gi-normous forward at 6-foot-5 with some skill and is currently projected inside Red Line Report’s top-30 entering the season. He couldn’t get much going. Saw flashes of speed and offense from small but plucky New Yorker Christopher Berger. I liked what I saw at times from Massachusetts fave John Leonard, but there wasn’t a whole lot of positives to draw from. Patrick Harper, the other New Englander- a Boston University recruit and Avon Old Farms prep product- had a quiet gam as well.  He’s under 5-10 and speedy, but  the Finns did a nice job of slowing the USA offense through the neutral zone, and Harper never really got untracked.

USA’s lone goal happened when OHL (Sault Ste Marie) forward by way of Ohio forward Timmy Gettinger went to the net and perfectly redirected Ben Lown’s cross-ice feed past netminder Severi Isokangas (who made all the stops he had to, including a nice break in by Leonard during the 1st that could have gotten the Americans back in it).

Give full credit to the Finns- all they did was put the puck on net early and good things happened. The Robin Salo (late ’98- eligible for 2017 NHL draft) point blast to make it 3-0 was an absolute bomb that scorched in under the crossbar and sent the water bottle flying. They capitalized on the extra time and space the USA penalties gave them, and nobody could seem to get things going. Otto Makinen earned player of the game honors and showed off a fine release, while defenseman Markus Niemelainen played with poise- he’s a fluid skater who kept things simple.

Team USA takes on Russia tomorrow. The Hlinka tourney is pretty much an annual showcase of Canada’s  major junior power, as they take the best draft eligibles (or younger) from around the CHL- they basically ice the team they wish they could send to the April Under-18 championship, when many of their top talents are committed to the playoffs in their respective CHL leagues. If you want to know who the bulk of the first-round picks coming out of the OHL, QMJHL or WHL are- just pay attention to this tournament and you’ll get a nice preview of what is in store for the 2016 NHL draft before the 2015-16 major junior season kicks off.

The Americans, who send their best players from the U18 squad of the NTDP to the spring championship tourney, have won every U18 gold medal save one since 2009 (Canada prevented USA’s drive for five in a row in 2013), but in the Ivan Hlinka, the U.S. sends a select team chosen from the annual Select 17 USA Festival. They’ve won the silver medal a few times over the past few years going back to 2011, but no one can ever get past that Canadian juggernaut.

I don’t think 2015 will be any different.