Don’t ever let people tell you hockey takes a break in the summer.
Sure, the NHL does, but there’s never truly a break. KHL training camps have been in session for a few weeks now and some teams around the world have been hosting exhibition games to get back in the swing of things. Hockey Canada, in particular, has been hosting U-17 and U-18 camps over the past few days, just shortly after USA Hockey finished their summer select camps.
Now, four of the world’s top junior teams – Canada, Finland, Sweden and the United States – will take part in a week-long tournament in Plymouth, Michigan, at USA Hockey Arena, with an American split-squad game opening the action on Friday evening. The Hockey News’ prospect expert Ryan Kennedy will be in Plymouth to take in the action next week after all the teams cut down their final rosters.
For many fanbases, this is the first time to see their 2019 draft picks in action since the June selection process. With that in mind, here are some of the top NHL prospects to keep an eye on in Plymouth:
Colten Ellis, G, Canada (St. Louis)
With no clear favorite at this point, Canada’s goaltending situation for the real tournament is wide open. This makes this summer tournament so important for someone like Ellis, a promising youngster coming off a great season with Rimouski. Ellis was unspectacular with Canada’s U-18 team in 2018 but he’s proven through his QMJHL play that he deserves a shot. If he can replicate how he played during the playoffs this coming season, he’ll have the edge between the pipes.
Liam Foudy, C, Canada (Columbus)
Foudy had a 28-point increase in London this season despite the departures of some key forwards. Foudy, who was a late cut from Canada’s world junior team last season, should factor into the top six after some solid showings with the AHL’s Cleveland Monsters at the end of this past season. He’ll be counted on to create offense, both next week and during the big event in the winter and Foudy should have no issue stepping up to the plate.
Jett Woo, D, Canada (Vancouver)
Woo performed well during last summer’s showcase, as his physical play was very noticeable throughout the tournament. Woo fell short of expectations in his draft year due to injuries but his 66 points in 2018-19 were good for fifth among WHL defensemen. Woo will be utilized on the power play and will be responsible for generating offense from the point – something that Canada will need especially at the summer showcase with Noah Dobson and Ty Smith missing out. Canada’s defense won’t have an issue scoring in the Czech Republic and Woo will only make them better.
Oliver Wahlstrom, RW, USA (NY Islanders)
Wahlstrom has a lot to prove after a disappointing freshman season with Boston College, electing to go pro after just one year. Wahlstrom is a serious contender to make the Islanders out of training camp, especially after a nice stint with Bridgeport to finish off 2018-19. He was noticeably quiet for the Americans at last year’s World Junior Championship with four points in seven games but he’ll be a big catalyst for the Americans this season as an older player with pro experience under his belt.
Marshall Warren, D, USA (Minnesota)
Warren is considered a longshot to make USA’s roster after getting added as a fill-in for Alec Regula, but that’s exactly what makes him one to watch. The summer showcase is a perfect time for players to rise through and earn consideration to make the final WJC roster, which won’t be easy for the 18-year-old given how Team USA will likely stack the back end with older defenders. Warren, set to play with Boston College next season, is a slick passer and was an underrated member of USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program last season due to the prominence of Cam York on the point. Warren’s offensive flair from the point and ability to outskate most forwards makes him one to keep an eye on in Plymouth.
Alex Turcotte, C, USA (Los Angeles)
The L.A. Kings were big winners at the 2019 draft, with Turcotte being the real prize after many expected him to go to Chicago two picks earlier at No. 3. The University of Wisconsin commit has been a top player at every international tournament he has participated in and with Jack Hughes out of the picture, Turcotte has a chance to steal the spotlight. In fact, Turcotte already looks capable of taking the No. 1 center role and could lineup beside Wahlstrom and Matt Boldy, so the WJSS will be used to see how he handles the pressure.
Patrik Puistola, LW, Finland (Carolina)
Finland has already been busy this month, hosting a tournament back home against the Czech Republic and Switzerland. Puistola was one of the most noticeable players with three goals in two games, using his speed to force turnovers and create breakaway opportunities often. Puistola, a Carolina draft pick last month, is the early favorite to play on the top left-wing spot this year for the Finns and momentum seems to be on his side. Will he challenge for the scoring lead in Plymouth? Absolutely. He never seems to disappoint when representing his country – his five goals in as many games were vital during Finland’s run at the world under-18s in April – and this summer tournament will be no exception.
Lassi Thomson, D, Finland (Ottawa)
Thomson was in the news recently after deciding to re-join the Ilves organization for 2019-20 ahead of his pro debut in a few months. This will be a big year for Thomson: he was underwhelming in his seven games with Finland’s U-20 team last year and was ultimately left off the world junior roster. The Finns could see Ville Heinola, Anttoni Honka and Toni Utunen return to the blueline in December so Thomson will need to prove he’s worthy of big minutes on a team with good depth throughout the lineup. He was good at the exhibition tournament in Finland this past week, but there’s still work to be done.
Samuel Fagemo, RW, Sweden (Los Angeles)
Despite a disappointing world junior effort last year with one assist in five games, Fagemo was one of the top overagers for the 2019 draft, giving the Kings an absolute steal at No. 50. With 25 points in 42 games with Frolunda in the SHL, Fagemo adjusted to the pro game well and often put his terrific wrist shot on display. Fagemo, who had plenty of chances to shine on a team that won SHL and Champions League titles last season, will be Sweden’s top right winger in Plymouth and for the real event in the Czech Republic a few months from now.
David Gustafsson, C, Sweden (Winnipeg)
The Jets love their Europeans, and Gustafsson isn’t far from his big shot in the NHL. Set for his third season in the SHL, Gustafsson was a good supporting cast member of Sweden’s 2019 world junior team, recording three assists. This time, though, he projects to play top-line minutes and Plymouth will be a good chance for the Swedes to gauge how well that’s going to work. Sweden will miss a bit of the star power it has had over the past few years (but it seems like the better they are on paper, the worse they do) so Gustafsson will need to step up to the plate.
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