U18 World Championship Preview – Finland & Sweden

Jokke Nevalainen

2018-04-16

 

 

 

The 2018 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship tournament (or U18 Worlds for short) will be played in Russia in the Chelyabinsk area which is near the Ural Mountains. The tournament starts on April 19th and ends on the 29th. There are a total of 10 teams in the tournament, and they’re divided into two groups in the preliminary round. One group plays their games in Chelyabinsk while the other group plays their games in Magnitogorsk.

 

Last year, we saw players like Kristian Vesalainen (13 points in seven games) and Miro Heiskanen (12 points) use the U18 Worlds tournament to show what they can do offensively after struggling to put up points in pro leagues, and both players have exploded offensively this season. That’s why this tournament is so important for prospects scouting purposes.

 

The main age group for this tournament is players born in the year 2000 but we’ll also see plenty of 2001-born players. Most 2000-born players are eligible for the 2018 NHL Entry Draft, and if they are, I will include their number based on Cam Robinson’s latest draft rankings. However, players born after September 15th get their draft eligibility pushed back a year but they’re still considered to be in the same age group by IIHF rules, so all 2000-born players will be eligible to the U18 Worlds for the last time here in this tournament. This is why you won’t see some top draft eligible prospects like Filip Zadina (2018, #3), Quinn Hughes (2018, #4) and Brady Tkachuk (2018, #8) in this tournament – they’re too old with their late 1999 birthdate.

 

In this tournament preview, I’ll go through the most interesting players from Team Finland and Team Sweden, and then Cam Robinson will go through Canada, USA and Russia in his own article. These five teams are almost always the favourites going in to a junior tournament, so that’s why we’re focusing on them. Sweden will play in Group A along with Canada and USA whereas Finland gets to play in the easier Group B with Russia.

 

Before we start, I just want to clarify the national leagues which are similar in Sweden and Finland. You have the top league in the country which is called SHL in Sweden and Liiga in Finland. Then you have the second best league which is called Allsvenskan in Sweden and Mestis in Finland. And then you have the top U20 league which is called SuperElit in Sweden and Jr. A SM-liiga in Finland if you look at EliteProspects.com. So three leagues from each country which are comparable to their counterpart from the other country (although the Swedish leagues are a bit higher in player quality), and pretty much all top prospects are playing in these leagues.

 

Let’s start with Finland since that’s where I live!

 

Finland

 

Forwards

 

Jesperi Kotkaniemi (2018, #14) is expected to be the top player for Team Finland after a great season in Liiga where he scored 29 points in 57 games which is good for seventh place on the U18 all-time list. Kotkaniemi is a natural center but spent the entire season playing wing. However, he is most likely going to be the top-line center for Team Finland at the U18 Worlds. There were concerns about his skating when the season began but his skating has improved throughout the season which has been push