We continue our dive into the upcoming World U18 Hockey Championships. This is the last major scouting event for most 2000-born draft eligible prospects and features some prominent names and some others looking to improve their position leading up to the June Entry Draft.
Earlier this week our lead European scout, Jokke Nevalainen treated you all to a behemoth of a preview digging into the Finnish and Swedish clubs, and today, I’ll be showcasing the talent from the Canadian, American and Russian squads.
As with Jokke’s piece, I’ll put the rankings of each player next to their names from my most recent Top 100 Rankings from mid-March. Those rankings will be updated next Friday just in time for the draft lottery the following day.
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.
The Canadians and Americans are in what should be considered the more difficult grouping with Sweden while the Russians play over in Group B with the Fins, Czechs and Slovaks.
Normally an international powerhouse, the Canadians are without a gold medal at this competition since 2013 and have just two bronze medals over that span. They finished a disappointing fifth a year ago and fourth back in 2016.
So what needs to happen for the Canadians to return to podium in 2018? In a word: skate.
Most of these players will be unfamiliar with the European-sized ice surface but they brought a group that can fly and they’ll need to use the space and their wheels to get in on the fore check and use their physicality along with their skill to produce turnovers and capitalize.
Of course some strong goaltending is always a necessity to any squad succeeding in a short tournament like this.
The forward corps for Canada is a mixture of some likely-first round selections and some elite looking 2001-born players who will be very high selections in 2019 and 2020. The team has been boosted by the recent arrival of Joe Veleno (#12) who will no doubt anchor their top line and power play unit.
Jack McBain (#38) will be a key player to watch. The powerful forward has made a habit of showing up when wearing the Maple Leaf – including a strong showing at last fall’s Ivan Hlinka tournament (five points in five games) and six points in four games at the World Junior A U19 Championships for Canada East.
In a centre-lite class, McBain’s blend of size, strength and skill will be tempting for many. Unfortunately his decision to stay in a tier two junior circuit with minimal progression from the year prior raises some questions. Next season at Boston College will be illuminating in assessing his future potential.
Power winger, Serron Noel (#23) will be counted to provide speed, physicality and finishing ability. The 6’5 right-winger can fly for a man his size and is looking to display some consistency to finish his year after struggling a bit down the stretch.
Cameron Hillis (#51) and Allan McShane (#61) will vie for the second line pivot spot and should provide strong secondary offense. Both are strong puck distributors.
The wild cards come via the youth. The first pre-tournament game featured an entire line 2019 draft-eligible players: Kirby Dach, Peyton Krebs, and Graeme Clarke, the former two are gearing up to be top 10 selections in their draft year.
Additionally, QMJHL rookie of the year and burgeoning superstar, 16-year-old Alexis Lafrenière who just posted an incredible 42 goals and 80 points in 60 games as a rookie – the first 16-year-old to tally 40 goals in the Q since Sidney Crosby and only the third do it in the last 20 years, will get a chance to strut his stuff amongst the team’s top six forwards.
Lafrenière may be the youngest player on the squad but his skills are undeniable. He has the potential to be a game breaker for Team Canada and vie for the top selection in 2020.
The Canadian blue line has some serious talent attached to it. Ty Smith (#10) can do it all and will anchor the top pairing and while he’s a left-shot defender who normally plays that left-side, he was playing the right side while partnered up with 2019 top prospect, Bowen Byram during a pre-tournament match. Byram has loads of skill and despite being just 16 years old, could play a significant role on the team.
Ryan Merkley (#13) will surely have his tremendous speed, edge work and offensive creation on display in Russia, but when he’s on the ice, it’s almost as likely that the other team will be given a prime scoring opportunity as it is his mates will.
Merkley is a dynamic talent and capable of pushing the needle significantly for Canada but he’ll need a stabilizing presence beside him and it’s expected that Kevin Bahl (#54) will be that player. Bahl is a 6’6 stay-at-home defender who can skate well and uses his long stick and big body to squash scoring rushes.
Another terrific skater and puck-mover who will patrol the left-side and see power play duties is Penticton Vees’ standout and soon-to-be North Dakota defender, Johnny Tychonick (#29). Tychonick was the 12th overall selection in the WHL bantam draft a couple years back but decided to go the NCAA route and has been nothing short of spectacular in the BCHL. He’s a modern age defender that will roam around the big ice with aplomb.
It appears that the starter’s crease for Canada up for grabs. 2019 eligible, Colten Ellis will get the first test of the tournament against the Americans. The 17-year-old was named to the QMJHL All-Rookie Team and was a second team all-star after posting a .913 save percentage in 51 contests with Rimouski. He’s a player.
Cape Breton Screaming Eagles backstop, Kevin Mandolese (NR) should get a long look as well. The 6’3 net minder was recently ranked the as the fourth best North American goaltender by central scouting and brings athleticism and quick reactions with him. He performed well in the CHL Top Prospects Game earlier this year and was a stand-out for the Canada Red team at the U17’s a year ago.
The United States
The Americans have reigned supreme at this event the last decade, taking home seven titles in the last nine tournaments. The Americans have a serious upper hand by sending their USNTDP U18 squad (and top U17 players) that have had the privilege of playing together all season (and in most cases, since the players were 16 years old), while most other nations sends a hodgepodge of junior players who have had only a moment to try and build chemistry.
USA hockey will be looked at as a favourite once again to repeat their title from a year ago.
Up front, the Americans will be led by their dynamic trio of top 2019 draft-eligible prospect, Jack Hughes, powerful goal-scoring winger, Oliver Wahlstrom (#6) and impressive two-way left-winger, Joel Farabee (#11).
The trio has combined to produce 88 goals and 198 points in 136 games this season with the U18 program.
Interesting to note is that Farabee, the regular season captain of the squad and Wahlstrom, the alternate captain were not given a letters to wear at this event.
The next waves for the Americans remain intimidating. Jake Wise (#44), Johnny Gruden (#81) and Jacob Pivonka (#94) are supplemented by elite 2019 eligible players, Cole Caulfield and Alex Turcotte. Those 2001-born players will play secondary roles but as you’ll see, their skill will be evident.
The blue line will be led by 2018 first round hopefuls, Bode Wilde (#21) Mattias Samuelsson (#31) – who was recently named captain of the squad, and K’Andre Miller (#36).
Wilde will be featuring on the right side of the top pairing likely partnered with Samuelsson as the steadying presence. Wilde can fly out there and loves to create offense. He makes mistakes on the other side of the puck but Samuelsson should help clean that up.
Supporting those big three will be assistant captain, Ty Emberson (NR), top 2019 prospect, Cam York, Adam Samuelsson (NR) and Spencer Stastney (NR).
It will be interesting to see if the team decides to run a four forward power play unit that has Wilde at the top, or a 3+2 formation where Miller likely gets to join. Regardless the team will feature size, speed and skill coming from their backend.
This may be the Achilles heel for the Yanks. Neither Drew DeRidder (#25G for CS) or Jonathan Mor (#15G for CS) posted exceptional numbers for the team this year and while DeRidder saw more action, it’s Mor who is ranked much higher by Central Scouting.
2019 hopeful, Spencer Knight will be with the team as well and may actually have the best talent of the bunch.
Russia has struggled mightily at this event in recent memory. Despite being a constant threat internationally, the Russians have just two Bronze medals in the past seven tournaments (2011 and 2017). Despite being the host team, they may struggle once again to make the podium thanks to a handful of top flight talents either not participating or in limbo.
Upfront is where all the question marks sit for Team Russia. The team they sent to Michigan for this past Five Nation’s Tournament was chalked full of skilled players up front and played to a second place finish behind the Americans. However, it won’t be the same squad welcoming competitors to Chelyabinsk and Magnitogorsk.
With the Barrie Colts being dispatched in the second round of the OHL playoffs, it was believed that the marquee talent at this tournament would be the consensus second-best 2018 draft eligible player, Andrei Svechnikov (#2). Svechnikov torched the CHL competition this season, recording an eye-popping 45 goals in 52 combined regular season and playoff contests. His 1.64 point-per-game output sat miles ahead of second for first year OHL players and was good for fifth best in the league.
Now for the but… Despite Svechnikov saying he is healthy and willing to play for his national team, the Colts have denied him that right due to an apparent upper body injury. Letters have now been written to the IIHF and a decision will be made shortly. The Russian team will leave a spot open for him until the last possible moment.
I understand that Barrie wants to protect an asset, but in all likelihood, Svechnikov will be in the NHL next fall and if the player says he’s good to go, it’s hard to deny him. What’s likely to happen is an independent physical by an IIHF doctor will make a decision on his health.
The other big holes will be left by Girgori Denisenko (#17) and Alexander Khovanov (#41).
Apparently Denisenko and the team’s management had a falling out. It’s been suggested that Denisenko may wish to come over to North America as early as next fall and that angers the National team management. Regardless, the team will miss his speed and skill on their top line. He had three goals and an assist in four Five Nations games.
Khovanov declined the invitation due to a nagging injury. Unfortunately for him, after battling Hepatitis A for nearly a year, we never got a chance to see him at full health. His vision is tremendous but his feet looked awfully slow this year and he played too much on the perimeter. His stock will likely fall but as a pivot, he should still be selected at some point in the mid-rounds.
Guys who will be there and should play prominent roles are Kirill Marchenko (#55), Dmitri Zavgorodny (#64), Ivan Morozov (NR) and Alexander Zhabreyev (#90). Both Zhabreyev and Zavgorodniy are undersized (5’7 and 5’9 respectably) but offer top notch speed, agility and creativity. If given strong roles, they’ll be fun to watch.
Zavgorodny was the top scorer at last fall’s Ivan Hlinka with five goals and 10 points in five games.
The back end will be anchored by SKA defender, Danila Galenyuk (#79). A very sound and safe defender, Galenyuk saw time in the KHL this season as a 17-year-old and will be a steadying presence for the Russians at this event. They’ll need him as they’ll lack the fire power to run and gun with the other big name teams.
Ottawa 67’s defender and 2019 draft eligible, Nikita Okhotyuk will likely play on the top pair with Galenyuk and provide the transition work and offensive jump. The captain from the Ivan Hlinka may have just turned 17 but he’s got a lot of skills that scouts like. He’s one to watch.
The number two ranked European goaltender for the 2018 draft will be backstopping the Russian team. Amir Miftakhov is slightly undersized at 6’ and 159lbs but offers splendid quickness and puck tracking. His numbers this season in the MHL – .934 save percentage and 1.91 goals-against-average in 26 contests are out of this world.
That's all for now. Thanks for reading and feel free to follow me on Twitter @CrazyJoeDavola3.