A Japanese Hockey Prodigy Eyes a Path to the N.H.L.

A Japanese Hockey Prodigy Eyes a Path to the N.H.L.

Unlike the Japanese women’s national team, the country’s men’s team did not quality for 2018 Winter Olympics. But with help from today’s top teenage prospects, Christiansen said he expected the men to be competitive in qualifying for the 2022 and 2026 Games — on par with countries like Austria, Denmark and France , which have each produced about a dozen N.H.L. players and been in the top division in the world rankings.

“They’re going to have some really, really strong teams,” he said.

During the recent game in Karuizawa, Iguchi, an elegant skater, seemed at turns to be taking it easy: stickhandling circles around his opponents with the puck, as a cat-owner might tease kittens with a ball of string, before picking his corners for shots.

Iguchi said later that when he was learning to play, he had been inspired by Pavel Datsyuk, a Russian stickhandling wizard and longtime Detroit Red Wings star, who now plays in the Kontinental Hockey League.

“He can deke and stickhandle like no one else,” Iguchi said.

Graham said that Iguchi’s own agility and stickhandling skills were remarkable for a player his age, but that a key question was whether he could continue to develop his already considerable speed.

“He’s one of the best 14-year-olds in the world,” he said. “But a 14- and 18-year-old are night and day.”

Iguchi already has an international following. His Instagram account has more than 18,000 followers, and he has appeared in YouTube videos that have collectively received millions of views. (His teammates nicknamed him “YouTuber.”)

GoPro: Japanese Ice Hockey Prodigy Aito Iguchi Video by GoPro

But in person, Iguchi is unassuming and seems ambivalent about being the center of attention.

During an interview after his recent six-point game in Karuizawa, he politely fielded questions with the detachment of a teenager sitting through an algebra class or a dental appointment.

His gaze was drifting toward the ice.

“He’s just a kid being a kid,” Graham said. “And he loves hockey.”

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