There weren’t a lot of close games, but the U-18 Five Nations tournament in Finland last weekend had the scouting world’s attention.
In perhaps one of the wildest games of the year, the United States held a 5-0 lead near the midway point during a game over Sweden. The Swedes never gave up, though, and managed to win 7-6 in the shootout in a game you really had to watch to believe.
It didn’t faze the Americans too much. They took the tournament by winning every other game. The standout? James Hagens, one of the top 2025 NHL Draft prospects. But what it did show was that there’s some solid European depth available for 2024, with Sweden and Czechia, in particular, having some notable names with first-round potential.
Here’s a look at 10 prospects you need to know, including some from the Five Nations tournament – and if you haven’t already, take a look at Daily Faceoff’s latest NHL Draft rankings:
– After nearly hitting the 70-point mark last year, Cole Hutson looks destined to reach close to that once again. The offensive defenseman is playing at a point-per-game pace with the USA Hockey National Team Development Program and recently put up seven points in four games at the U-18 Five Nations event in Finland. He had a combined 17 shots in the final two games but somehow still couldn’t find the back of the net. But part of that is by design – often, he’ll take a shot just to generate a rebound opportunity. He’s a creative puck mover and has a lot of the same offensive traits his brother, Montreal Canadiens prospect Lane Hutson, shows on a nightly basis – and Cole has the size advantage on him, too. The issue? Cole’s defensive game still can be ugly, just like Lane’s. Regardless, it looks like teams believe he’ll be a first-round pick in 2024.
– One of my biggest criticisms of Michael Hage – a prospect I’ve followed for about five years now – is that he just wasn’t hitting the offensive numbers many believed he was capable of. But his five-point effort with the Chicago Steel last week was tremendous, helping the team edge out the Madison Capitols in an absolute shootout of a match. The Steel have struggled mightily this year, not looking like their usual dominant selves. But Hage has been Chicago’s best player, no doubt. He’s a potential first-round pick for a reason – so much skill, speed and hockey IQ together in one package. Hage has been forced to play a bit of catch-up this year, though, after an injury limited him to just 19 games last year.
– After he was passed over in 2023, will a team take a look at Anthony Romani this time around? He’s riding a two-game pointless streak but had four assists against Niagara on Nov. 4 and scored a hat-trick late last month against Flint. There’s nothing overly spectacular about him and he’ll need to find an extra gear, speed-wise, to really take his game further, but he’s a solid even-strength finisher.
– For a center, Maxmilian Curran‘s stat line looks a little goofy. He has one goal and 15 assists in 16 games, including three assists in his past two games. A smart playmaker with a solid 6-foot-3 frame, Curran has drawn attention for his two-way play. He’s not flashy by any means, but the Tri-City Americans haved counted on him in most situations. There’s some sleeper top-40 potential here as a forward with a solid pro skillset, potentially in a bottom-six role.
– Ēriks Mateiko is an interesting specimen. The late 2005-born winger had a decent first year in the QMJHL with 16 goals and 36 points, but he’s putting along at a point-per-game pace with the Saint John Sea Dogs. He has eight points during a six-game point streak and two three-point efforts over the past 10 games. At 6-foot-4, he’s getting more comfortable using his size to his advantage and could be a decent late-round pickup.
– I tuned in to watch Norway’s U-20 team play Latvia over the weekend, specifically to see how Michael Brandsegg-Nygård looked. He immediately scored two goals, both in clear space. The projected first-round pick has an excellent shot and he’s not afraid to use it, and he’s got a work ethic that scouts notice. His numbers are nothing special in the second-tier Swedish pro league, but he’s getting good ice time and looking more comfortable every single game.
– At one point, so many were so high on Melvin Fernström‘s development. It has tailed off a little bit, but he’s been one of Sweden’s best players in international competition this year. He had a three-point effort in that comeback win over the United States, with his two goals serving as the catalyst for Sweden’s comeback victory. Fernström leads all draft eligibles in scoring in the Swedish U-20 league with 16 goals and 29 points in 23 games, showing his value as a shoot-first forward. He’s not a great all-around player, but the numbers are solid.
– I was a little surprised to see NHL Central Scouting rank Alex Zetterberg as a projected seventh-rounder. I know he’s 5-foot-8. I know the effort isn’t always there. But man, can he score. He had seven goals in four games at the Five Nations tournament, and added a shootout goal against Sweden after finding the back of the net twice already. Zetterberg has been overshadowed a bit with Orebro’s U-20 team by Fernström, but his release is among the best in the age group right now.
– Given a “C” ranking on the initial NHL Central Scouting watch list, Daniel Nieminen got himself noticed on home ice last week. He was active on the rush and was rewarded with a four-point effort in a 4-2 win over Sweden on the final day. Even in some of the quieter performances against Czechia and USA, Nieminen was able to generate chances and move the puck. He often plays more than 20 minutes a night in the Finnish U-20 league, but I’d like to see more consistency and improved decision-making under pressure in his own zone.
– Ignore the numbers for a bit, because Tomáš Galvas has just three points to show for in men’s competition. For me, the NHL toolkit is so apparent, especially after watching the Czechs in Five Nations play last weekend. Sure, they lost every game, but Galvas’s competitive energy, positioning and the brain power to decide when to pinch and when to be more passive are great for his age. His ice time has dropped in recent games, but Galvas doesn’t look uncomfortable playing against men. He’s a first-round sleeper, for sure.
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