The Five Nations under-18 tournament may not be one of the mainstream international events that receives the attention or coverage other international tournaments do, but it is a yearly tradition for most scouts to travel to Europe to evaluate players at the event.
The tournament is a precursor to the under-18 World Championship, which will be held in Dresden and Crimmitschau, Germany in mid-April. The Five Nations event, held this year in Hradec Kralove, Czech Republic, gives scouts the opportunity to see most of the best Russian, Finnish, Swedish, Czech and American players who are eligible for the NHL draft compete against each other.
The Americans have proven dominant in these events in recent years and this year was no exception. But the level of competition was much closer between the five teams this tear than it has been in recent years.
The Americans managed to hold off the very impressive Finns to capture the tournament and it was a fitting final game for both teams that seemed to be a level above the other three participators. Both the Americans and Finns were energized by a certain "Gr" factor. For Finland, captain Markus Granlund had a strong tournament and may have stepped out of the shadow of his brother, Minnesota 2010 first-rounder, Mikael Granlund. For the U.S., Rocco Grimaldi threw aside any doubts his size will hold him back and put on a simply mesmerizing performance.
Granlund, at 5-foot-10, is a creative and skilled forward who is extremely dangerous when he has the puck. He showed on multiple occasions during the event to be able to pass the puck right through defenders and crisply onto the tape of his teammate’s stick whether on the rush or through the box on the power play. Granlund also showed off his ability to find holes around the net from multiple spots and situations in the offensive zone. Granlund factored in all of Finland's goals in their 4-3 win over the disappointing Russians - he tallied three goals and an assist in the victory and set up teammates for what should have been another two or three goals. All in all, the young Finn looked confident and poised and will see his stock skyrocket after such a strong performance.
Grimaldi started the tournament like a ball of fire and tallied a natural hat trick to go with an assist in the American's first victory over Sweden. He followed that up with two goals and an assist as the U.S. dismantled Russia 10-4 and that had scouts referring to the U.S. squad as Team Grimaldi. Although his production slowed down a bit after that (one assist against the Czechs and no points in the final game against Finland) Grimaldi was a consistent and dangerous offensive threat in every game the U.S. played.
He is competitive and tenacious and works hard in both directions, but is most noticeable around the puck as he proves to be exciting and elusive. He is ultra-quick and deceptive and has tremendous confidence for a guy who is consistently the smallest player on the ice. If Grimaldi was 5-foot-10 we might be considering him as a first overall contender, but he stands just 5-foot-7. Grimaldi will play and be a factor at the next level and although his size may hold him outside of the top five picks, he will end up being an excellent steal for whichever NHL team takes the chance on him.
Both Granlund and Grimaldi may lack a little in the size department, but they proved they are among the most capable and effective players in their age group. Grimaldi's Team USA may have upstaged the Finns in this tournament (winning 7-4 in a game that both Granlund and Grimaldi were held off the scoresheet), but with potential top round Finnish prospects Miikka Salomaki and Joel Armia joining the mix in April, the battle between USA and Finland is just heating up.
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Ross MacLean is the head scout for International Scouting Services and is considered one of the rising stars of the business. A young, diverse and versatile hockey mind, MacLean leads ISS' network of scouts and puts his domestic and international hockey experience and knowledge towards ranking and providing industry-leading profiles and information on draft eligible players around the world.