There was a lot of international talent in Plymouth, Michigan last week. Team USA hosted its summer National Junior Evaluation Camp (NJEC) in the town, with the dual purpose of seeing what the Americans have for the upcoming world juniors and facing great competition from Canada, Sweden and Finland.
In the end, Canada lost all three of its games, while the other nations went 2-1. Is that a concern for the Canucks, who host the world juniors in Toronto and Montreal this winter? Not so much. As coach Dominique Ducharme pointed out, it was August. There's still a lot of hockey to be played and his charges hadn't seen meaningful competition in months.
On the other hand, what do you say about players who had great performances in Michigan? Surely that says something about those teens' preparation.
Here's a look at the top 40 players that I saw in Michigan – with a caveat. I saw each team play twice and in the case of Canada and the U.S., sometimes I saw a player once or not at all. So I'm not going to rank those kids, as it wouldn't be fair. That means players such as Pierre-Luc Dubois, Travis Konecny and Anthony Beauvillier aren't eligible.
Others, such as Carl Grundstrom and Lucas Carlsson, got injured either before I got there or within the first few shifts.
So if you don't see your favorite prospect here, that could be the reason. Or, they just didn't distinguish themselves to me. Doesn't mean they're a bust, doesn't mean I hate them. With that out of the way, let's get to the list:
Tyler Parsons, G (CGY): Parsons was simply incredible against Canada in the tournament finale. He used his athleticism to stop a barrage of Canadian shots in the first period of what became a 5-1 USA win, but easily could have gone another way without his heroics. That Memorial Cup run with London clearly took his development to another level.
Tage Thompson, RW (STL): Thompson was the early story of the tourney, racking up points before I got there (USA had split-squad games before making cuts). He was pretty solid against Canada, too, crashing the net and utilizing a strong stick to fend off checkers. There was a fire to his game that scouts didn't see in his draft year.
Charlie McAvoy, D (BOS): On top of almost killing poor Lawson Crouse, McAvoy was Team USA's No. 1 defender. He played a solid two-way game and his edginess was not limited to the Crouse explosion. He'll be a key contributor come WJC time.
Jordan Greenway, LW (MIN): The big guy played up to his size against Canada, which is a great sign for Wild fans. Greenway had a snarl to his game that, if maintained, will make him a force to be reckoned with at the next level. Still kept his good hands, too, scoring a net-front goal on a nice passing play.
Brock Boeser, RW (VAN): One of two forwards mentioned by coach Bob Motzko after the Finland game, Boeser was a great offensive threat for the Americans. He sniped a goal against Canada, but we know he can do that. What impressed me more was the playmaking vision he showed overall.
Luke Kunin, C (MIN): Kunin pretty much lived up to reputation; a do-it-all guy that has a nice, feisty edge to his game.
Jack Roslovic, C (WPG): Roslovic was so much better against Canada than he was against Finland the day before. With the Finns, you'd get his patented rushes up the side of the ice, but they would never go anywhere. He was actually demoted to 13th forward for the Canada game, but turned in a much more effective performance, even potting the opening goal by jumping on a rebound.
Logan Brown, C (OTT): Similar to Roslovic, Brown didn't play well against the Finns, even getting outmuscled by 5-foot-8, 174-pound Eeli Tolvanen for a goal. But against Canada, the 6-foot-6 Brown flipped the switch. He was aggressive, threw hits, and scored a goal on a nice wrister.
Kieffer Bellows, LW (NYI): Bellows was one of Team USA's most consistent forwards in the two games I saw. Not only did he demonstrate his excellent offensive skills, but he also played quite physical. That game of his seems to be rounding out already.
Clayton Keller, C (ARI): Keller is never going to be a battle-hardened player, but he showed why he went seventh overall this summer – goals follow him around. Keller's playmaking and hockey IQ are nearly impossible to stop in a full 60-minute game.
Christian Fischer, RW (ARI): With his combination of skill, size and power, Fischer is a great offensive threat. But he also demonstrated some very nice defensive work during the tournament, which I'm sure his coaches with OHL Windsor will appreciate when they host the Memorial Cup.
Adam Fox, D (CGY): He doesn't have ideal NHL size at 5-foot-10, 178 pounds, but man is Fox smart. Coupled with his puckhandling abilities on the blueline and you've got something to work with for sure.
Tanner Laczynski, C (PHI): Even though he has a great offensive pedigree, I could see Laczynski being the sort of fourth-liner Team USA needs at the tournament. He plays bigger and more aggresively than his frame would indicate, but he also has that skill that can lead to secondary scoring.
Erik Foley, LW (WPG): I think we all know how I felt about Foley's work on the weekend.
Mitch Marner, RW (TOR): As disjointed as Canada looked overall, Marner was good in both games. His hockey IQ allows him to jump passing routes and create turnovers, while he showed a nice snarl to his game (as he did at the world juniors last year). My one critique? Sometimes he'd get too cute with the puck when a shot on net would have sufficed.
Dylan Strome, C (ARI): Strome, Marner and Tyson Jost should have been rewarded with more goals in the two games I saw, but them's the breaks. Strome might not even be on the team if he's in the NHL in December, but if he is, he'll bring leadership, size, skill and some feistiness. He almost fought Jordan Greenway after the McAvoy hit.
Thomas Chabot, D (OTT): Most likely Canada's No. 1 D-man come December, Chabot activates the rush so well from the blueline. He's a great passer with excellent instincts and he can really skate.
Jeremy Roy, D (SJ): Other than one scary turnover to Tage Thompson, Roy was very solid for Canada. He's strong along the boards and has a great shutdown element to his game right now. Moves the puck well, too.
Mikey McLeod, C (NJ): The speedster showed off his wheels against Finland and also demonstrated great puck protection. Had some good chances against the Americans, too, but didn't bury. Also took one of the best hooking penalties ever, preventing a sure goal.
Dante Fabbro, D (NSH): One of Canada's more reliable defensemen, Fabbro showed off his hard shot and demonstrated great puck movement to head up the rush.
Graham Knott, LW (CHI): I really liked what Knott brought to the table against Finland. In a depth role, he was very physical and aggressive. He's always had the size, but now he's using it. Maybe bottom-six power forward is his ticket to the next level.
Nicolas Roy, C (CAR): Roy was a big-time standout for me. His skating seems to have improved, but the size, defensive eye and faceoff acumen remains. He scored Canada's only goal against the U.S. and even saw power play time early on.
Julius Nattinen, C (ANA): Nattinen looked very good for Finland and as a returning gold medallist, he'll bring experience. Great offensive vision and very strong on the boards, he was quite effective up the middle.
Eeli Tolvanen, RW (2017 draft): Coach Jukka Rautakorpi said he wanted "a little more" out of Tolvanen after the Sweden game, but there was still a lot to like. Tolvanen is an undersized dynamo who doesn't mind getting physical. His calling card, however, is offense. Tolvanen is very quick and has a laser shot, with good playmaking ability tossed in too.
Kristian Vesalainen, LW (2017 draft): You can see the potential in Vesalainen and it's scary. He's a big kid who can move and when he gets the puck, you get worried for the other team (in a Malkin/Nash kind of way). But he's also defensively responsible: after losing the puck in his own end against Sweden, he worked to get it back - and he did.
Juuso Valimaki, D (2017 draft): The Finns were missing some big guns, including top defenseman Olli Juolevi. That enabled Valimaki to take over and the Tri-City Americans defender actually has a lot in common with Juolevi. Both have great size, make intelligent decisions and move the puck up the ice with smooth strides.
Vili Saarijarvi, D (DET): The undersized D-man does everything with pace, making him a good threat on the offensive end and the rush. He needs to get stronger, but he also brings a very hard shot to the game.
Janne Kuokkanen, LW (CAR): The Canes pick showed off some remarkable co-ordination against the U.S., kicking the puck from his skate to his stick and then onto the net for a shot in a flash. Overall, his quick release is a nice weapon.
Kasper Bjorkqvist, RW (PIT): I didn't necessarily see the offensive upside Bjorkqvist has, but the positioning shown by the Providence College commit defensively was pretty good, especially on the penalty-kill.
Veini Vehvilainen, G (2017 draft): Having seen Vehvilainen at the world juniors last year, I wasn't super impressed – he's not big and he got lit up before Kaapo Kahkhonen took over to win gold. But Vehvilainen changed games in Michigan and if he's finding his mojo now, I could see a team grabbing him in the draft after passing twice before.
Miro Heiskanen, D (2017 draft): A mid-sized blueliner who played a very simple game, Heiskanen was on a pairing with fellow 1999 birthday Henri Jokiharju. Though Heiskanen kept things pretty safe (probably a good thing given his age), he did show some physicality in his own end.
Joel Eriksson-Ek, LW (MIN): Man, Eriksson-Ek was a terror in Michigan. Tenacious in his own zone, predatory in the offensive end and demonstrating a great battle level overall, he was one of the best players overall. Showed quick hands for a power play goal against Canada.
Lias Andersson, C (2017 draft): Huge eye-opener for me. Coach Tomas Monten cited Andersson as his best center in most games and I would agree. The kid has serious wheels and plays a great two-way game. Strong for his age, Andersson scored a shorthanded goal vs. Finland by picking off a pass, fighting off two checkers and potting his own rebound.
Gabriel Carlsson, D (CBJ): Carlsson was a tower of strength for Sweden, using his reach effectively on the defensive end and showing poise in all situations. He also contributed on the offensive side and showed great playmaking vision with his stretch passes.
Jacob Larsson, D (ANA): Like Carlsson, Larsson would be a returnee on the Swedish blueline and he specifically told me in Michigan that he wants to be a leader on the team. I like that kind of determination. Larsson also played a very solid two-way game, so he's more than just a voice on the bench.
Rasmus Asplund, C (BUF): Asplund showed off some great speed and nice physicality against Finland. He also took on the unenviable task of trying to slow down the Nattinen-Tolvanen line and fared pretty well.
Marcus Davidsson, C (2017 draft): A big fan of Gabriel Landeskog, Davidsson goes to the net and caused enough havoc to help Sweden get the opening goal against Canada. A physical, two-way center, he's an intriguing kid to watch this season.
Felix Sandstrom, G (PHI): Sandstrom shut the door on Canada, playing square to the shooter and limiting dangerous rebounds. Offensive attacks basically died with him, which I'm sure the Swedish defense appreciated greatly.
Jonathan Dahlen, LW (OTT): He's not the most fleet of foot until he gets going, but give Dahlen space and he'll burn you with his shot. Quick release is his calling card.
Oskar Steen, RW (BOS): Great speed and jam, playing on the third line. He's a smaller guy, but looked like a real pain to play against.