NHL Draft 2018: Potential Top Prospects in the World Junior



By Steve Kournianos

The under-20 world junior hockey championships, which take place in Buffalo next month, is one of the premier prospect events in all of sports. The scope and scale of the tournament certainly has grown in recent years, and the magnitude of fan interest forced organizers to vaulted the WJC's to a place its never been before  — this year's match between Canada and the United States for the first time will be played outdoors at New Era Field on December 29.


The games are less than a month away. And while rosters tend to get stacked with as many maximum-age players as possible (this year's cut-off is players born on or after January 1, 1998), participating nations in 2018 will be able to dip into deep pool of first-year draft eligible prospects, most of whom have yet to turn 18.


Last season's event — won by the United States in Montreal — featured a little over a dozen players in their first year of NHL draft eligibility. Canada and Russia, for example, both opted to leave their all their top draft prospects at home, with the Canadians doing so for the second straight year. The Americans won their third title in eight years, but it was on the strength of a roster loaded with top NHL picks. The only draft-eligible player they brought to Canada last December was backup goalie Jake Oettinger — a first-round pick of Dallas in 2017.


The number of draft-eligible participation at the WJC is steadily declining. The 10-team competition generally carries eight perennial nations, with the final two spots rotating every year between several European countries. Those eight nations — Canada, Russia, Finland, Sweden, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Switzerland and the United States — combined in 2015 to send 22 draft prospects in their first year of eligibility. That number took a slight dip in 2016 to 16, and last year spiraled downward to 12. Keep in mind that of the 12 who played in last year's tournament, five came from Finland alone — all went on to become first-round picks at the 2017 draft in Chicago. 


And speaking of first-round picks, nine of the first 11 picks from the "McEichel" draft of 2015 played in their draft-year WJC. The two who didn't make the cut — Canadians Dylan Strome and Mitch Marner — finished that season as the top two scorers in the Ontario Hockey League. Conversely, the 2017 draft featured only four WJC-experienced prospects among the first 11 selected — and none were from North America. Canada’s Nolan Patrick — last year's second-overall pick — missed the tournament because of injury, making him the first No. 2 overall selection to miss his draft-year WJC since Tyler Seguin didn’t participate in the 2010 event.


This year, however, should buck the trend, as announced or speculative preliminary camp rosters likely will reveal a high number of first-year eligibles close to what we saw in 2015. For starters, it's almost a forgone conclusion that each of the first three players I ranked for the 2018 draft ( see my rankings here) will be on display in Buffalo. Not only will the Russians borrow star sniper Andre Svechnikov (Ranked No. 1) from the OHL's Barrie Colts, but there's a strong chance he’ll be playing on their top line. Sweden will rely heavily on gifted two-way defenseman Rasmus Dahlin (Ranked No. 2), who participated at