Ryan Nugent-Hopkins turned the hat trick in Canada's 7-3 romp over Switzerland today, showing NHL scouts the world over why he's been considered for some time as a draft favorite in 2011.
This is a guy who when you watch him doesn't bring the dynamic game that jumps out at you, but it doesn't take long for you to start realizing that he's usually the best player on the ice. His hockey sense and hands are so good, and from what I hear, he's showing both off very nicely in Slovakia.
Nugent-Hopkins and 2009 OHL priority selection top pick Daniel Catenacci (Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds) have wreaked havoc in the first two games, with Catenacci assisting on two of Nugent-Hopkins' goals today while popping home a pair himself yesterday. Catenacci didn't have a great rookie OHL season, but has the talent, grit and upside to explode this year when it matters most. His size isn't great, but he's an ultra-competitor and appears to be on the verge of a big year. The biggest challenge will be the fact that he toils on a pretty mediocre team, but real players find ways to get it done. Catenacci is opening eyes in Slovakia this week.
Canada faces Slovakia tomorrow and a clear shot to win Group B play with a win, as they would be 3-0, while every other team has at least one loss, with Slovakia and Switzerland being 0-2.
USA dropped a hard-fought game to the Russians by a 6-5 score, getting a strong game from big name (and big dude) Seth Ambroz and a nice performance from the diminutive but skilled John Gaudreau. The two staked the Americans to a 2-0 lead in the game, but couldn't hold on, as Russia got a nice game in the nets from Andrei Makarov, who faced 48 shots. Russia tied the score at 5-5 late on Alex Kuvaev's goal, just a little over three minutes after Cason Hohmann gave USA the lead. Hohmann is an interesting player: he's a Texas native (Dallas suburb of Arlington) but is a Detroit Compuware midget major grad and plays for the Cedar Rapids Roughriders of the USHL. He's committed to Boston University. Hohmann's tiny at 5-7 (listed) but has some real skill and has been productive in the tourney thus far. He idolized Dallas Stars captain Brenden Morrow as a kid who got caught up in the Texas hockey craze (he was six when the Stars won their first and only Stanley Cup).
Ambroz finished the game with shorthanded goal and an assist and also tallied on his first try in the shootout, but the Russians got strikes from Kuvaev and Igor Levitsky. Ambroz was denied by Markov in the second.
Gaudreau is another interesting player with Boston/New England ties. He's another small winger, but the Philly native has some scoring chops (18 goals, 42 points in 13 high school games at Gloucester Catholic), and is committed to Northeastern University and expected to arrive in the fall of 2011 after spending a year with the USHL's Dubuque Fighting Saints. His dad, Guy, played for and captained Norwich University from 1976-80 and is in the school's athletic hall of fame. Gaudreau's explosiveness and playing style evoke comparisons to Brian Gionta. Lukas Sutter also had a goal and an assist for the Americans. He's making a nice name for himself in this tourney, and with his bloodlines, he's definitely one to watch for the 2012 draft.
In other action, Sweden torched Slovakia by a 7-3 score. Mika Zibanejad got his first of the tourney, while Pontus Åberg tallied two, giving him three for the tourney. As a unit, Zibanejad, Åberg and Victor Rask form an extremely potent, high octane offensive line that few defenses will have an answer for. The question is, can the rest of Sweden's depth match up against the sheer talent that Canada brings to the table? Åberg is a 2012-eligible and player to watch for next year.
The Czech Republic edged Finland by a 4-3 score to go 1-1 in two games after losing to USA yesterday. Finland dropped to 1-1 after beating Russia in a shootout on Monday.