As we prepare for the World Junior Championships, I figured this would be a nice time to update the rankings. Normally, I do this post-tournament (and I’ll probably do that as well), but since some of you may want to follow some draft-eligible players over the Holiday break, this should act as a nice guide.
The players who are at the WJC, have a tremendous opportunity to improve their stock at the short tournament. I place emphasis on the best-on-best competition, but it’s important to understand that it’s not the be-all-end-all. The list will change for the January edition, but it’s unlikely we see too many players rocket up or down due to their holiday showing.
I’ve decided to make this a mini update. That is, I’ll break down the top 31 skaters and give a peek at the next 10. The next edition will be the top 100 and we’ll see where we go from there.
As always, my assessments are limited. I am but one man who also has a three-year-old son, a teaching career, and many writing commitments. However, I’m fortunate enough to have a patient wife and some more experienced scouts to bounce things off of. I’ve had eyes on each of the players listed. If I haven’t been able to get a firm grasp on a player yet (which can still be the case at this point of the process), that player may sit further down then they eventually will after some more viewings.
This is not intended to mock up what the selections will end up as next June. This is how I perceive the player today in conjunction with how I believe they’ll progress and develop. Once again, I’m limited to on-ice products as well. Knowing these young men as individuals would be telling towards their drive and determination. Something that cannot be understated.
Regarding my method, I place immense value on skating ability, puck skills and processing speed. Physical attributes are great, but if you can’t see the play develop or recognize your options quickly, both offensively and defensively, you’ll be destined for an uphill battle. It’s hard not to love a creative player with slick puck skills. But those attributes come behind speed and smarts.
- Jack Hughes, C / 05-14-01 / 5’10 161lbs / USNTDP
We’re running out of superlatives for the electrifying 17-year-old. Hughes brings dynamic acceleration, jaw-dropping speed, sharp edgework, deft puck skills… I can keep going but you get the idea. He’s been at his best when his USNTDP team has played high-end NCAA squads. Hughes will play a prominent role with the Americans at the WJC and has the ability to rack up big totals despite being two years younger than most of the competition. A franchise player in the making.
- Kaapo Kakko, RW/C / 02-13-01 / 6’2 207lbs / Liiga
The Patrik Laine to Hughes’ Matthews. If this was a different year, the Finnish winger would be sitting pretty in the pole position. Kakko blends size, speed, finishing ability and terrific vision. He doesn’t blow you away with any one skill, but his arsenal of weapons come together to be extremely productive. He’s looking more and more comfortable in the middle of the ice as a 17-year-old in the Liiga. It’s expected he’ll play some centre at the WJC as well. That will only further solidify his spot as the second-best prospect available.
- Dylan Cozens, C / 02-09-01 / 6’3 185lbs / WHL
A long, powerful stride drives his elite speed. He’s a complete player with skill to burn in a sizable frame. Cozens owns an accurate and heavy release and uses that threat to look-off defenders and slide crisp passes into his mate’s wheelhouses. Loves to win one-on-one battles. As expected, he’s putting up big numbers with Lethbridge. A smart player who can be leaned on. Top line upside.
- Vasili Podkolzin, RW / 06-24-01 / 6’1 190lbs / VHL
Showed the world what type of talent he owns at the Hlinka in August and has followed that up at the recent World Jr. A Championships. A shifty, creative and dangerous winger who loves to use quick cuts. He can split the defence and finish it himself or draw coverage and deftly distribute to a cutting teammate. A potential high-end point producer at the NHL-level.
- Kirby Dach, C / 01-21-01 / 6’4 198lbs / WHL
A pass-first centre who owns a long and fluid stride. A cerebral player with great vision and distribution skills. He lacks explosiveness with his skating and can stand to play with more pace at times. But this is a player with a huge upside. Can pile up points in bunches.
- Trevor Zegras, C / 03-20-01 / 6′ 183lbs / USNTDP
A creative player with exciting puck skills. Zegras blends good speed with unique lines to cause separation through the neutral zone and distribute effectively to his mates. He’s been dynamite as the 2C with The Program. His time on the top power-play unit helps showcase his high-end vision. People are sleeping on him now; that won’t last long.
- Bowen Byram, LHD / 07-13-01 / 6’1 192lbs / WHL
An explosive skater who can act as a one-man breakout. He blends his terrific acceleration and north-south speed with lateral edge work and play-creation through the neutral zone. Owns a heavy shot that is effective in all situations. Quick hands that embarrass oncoming forwards at the offensive blueline. Can get caught at times, but you take the good with the bad. An efficient power play quarterback in the making.
- Alex Turcotte, C / 02-26-01 / 5’11 195lbs / USNTDP
Across-the-board talent with a smart and efficient style. Great offensive instincts, quick acceleration and is already a deft two-way player. A constant battler. Another player with first-line upside. He’s missed most of the season, but I’ve seen enough from him in the past to keep him locked into the top 10. He’s back to being healthy now too.
- Matthew Boldy, RW / 04-05-01 / 6’2 187 / USNTDP
Another prolific U17 scorer in The Program’s history. Boldy loves to use his teammates and takes pride in his soft touch and exceptional vision. Already making a big impact with the U18s. His stride has been producing more power of late – a good sign. Boston College commit for 2019-20.
- Peyton Krebs, C/LW / 01-26-01 / 5’11 181lbs / WHL
The supremely skilled forward is elusive and shifty with the puck. Takes creative lines to dangerous areas of the ice. The type of player that sees plays develop before those around him and uses that to exploit the opposition. Owns terrific puck skills. He’s a playmaker who can impact the game on any shift. Everything runs through him in Kootenay.
- Philip Broberg, LHD / 06-25-01 / 6’3 198lbs / SuperElit
One of the more powerful skating strides in this class. At his size, his ability to wheel out of the zone is remarkable. Lacks the puck-handling skills necessary to be proficient offensively at it at this stage though. Can be accused of trying to do too much and cause turnovers. Oozes potential. A raw prospect with big upside.
- Ryan Suzuki, C / 05-28-01 / 6’ 172lbs / OHL
Suzuki is a creative and silky distributor. He boasts a level of vision and soft touch that few possess in this class. Very poised and patient with the puck. More speed than brother, Nick. Has work to do away from the puck but you can see the effort is there.
- Victor Söderström, RHD / 02-26-01 / 5’11 176lbs / SuperElit
A puck-moving blueliner who loves to create offence. Enjoys controlling the pace of play. Quick outlets, sharp edges and doesn’t shy away from physical play. Needs to continue to work on his defensive decision-making and positional play. Dangerous on the PP. Smooth.
- Cam York, LHD / 01-05-01 / 5’11 172lbs / USNTDP
A mobile and calm defender with tremendous skating ability. He was a standout performer at last spring’s U18 tournament and is playing a major role at The Program this season and putting up strong numbers. Effective on the power play and owns the mobility needed to clean up any mistakes he makes. Defensively, his positioning and use of stick continue to improve. Lots to like about his upside. An all-around guy.
- Jakob Pelletier, LW/C / 5’9 161lbs / QMJHL
The former third overall pick in the 2017 QMJHL draft had a terrific rookie season and an even better second year in the Q. He’s small and slight, but he boasts high-end skating, edges and creativity. An exciting player who is rising up the board.
- Arthur Kaliev, RW / 06-26-01 / 6’2 190lbs / OHL
A shoot-first winger who knows how to find the back of the net. Somewhat one-dimensional at times but that dimension has produced 24 goals in 34 OHL games this season. Drives into the hard areas and protects the puck well. Changes the release point and angle to exploit netminders. The best pure shooter in the draft.
- Cole Caufield, RW / 01-02-01 / 5’7 157lbs / USNTDP
Hyper-skilled but undersized winger brings all the offensive tools you can handle. Has a great release, excellent edges, and a non-stop motor. A fun player to root for. His stature and scoring prowess are reminiscent of Alex DeBrincat. Let’s see if GMs have learned their lesson.
- Bobby Brink, C / 07-08-01 / 5’10 165lbs / USHL
A deadly offensive player with quick hands, quick feet, and a nose for finishing plays. He’s been tearing the USHL apart at nearly a goal-per-game rate, and just had a standout performance at the World Junior A Championships. The Denver commit is a player to watch rise up the ranks.
- Mortiz Seider, RHD / 04-06-01 / 6’4 198lbs / 04-06-01 / DEL
Mobile right-shot defender with good instincts and a projectable frame. Has seen limited minutes in Germany’s top league. That’s likely contributed to his safety-first mentality as he continues to look for the coaching staff’s trust. He’s the type of player you can project forward and see a potential steal at this spot. Big upside in a position that’s hard to fill.
- Spencer Knight, G / 04-19-01 / 6’3 198lbs / USNTDP
Talented netminder who blends quickness and strong positioning. Size, athleticism and a strong pedigree. Has been posting exceptional numbers with the U18s this season. Bounces back from bad goals or bad outings quickly – a great sign for the mental side of the position. Despite being 17, he could see some ice for the Americans at the WJC. One of the top goaltending prospect in recent memory.
- Albin Grewe (Gree-veh), C/RW / 03-22-01 / 6’ 176lbs / SHL
A high-energy player with speed, physicality and offensive instincts. Was destroying the J20 circuit and has been effective in a checking role in the SHL upon promotion. An athlete who can handle himself well in all situations. A fan-favourite type of guy. Can play a little too outside of the lines at times.
- Raphaël Lavoie, C / 09-25-00 / 6’4 198lbs / QMJHL
Powerful forward boasts a deadly release that’s as heavy as it is accurate. Had a very strong showing at last year’s U18s and was invited to Canada’s WJC camp – a nice feather for a d-eligible player. Protects the puck well and forces his way into dangerous areas. Just 10 days shy of being eligible for the 2018 crop. His skating needs to improve in both acceleration and pace. I see him as a winger in the NHL.
23. Daniil Gutik, LW / 08-31-01 /6’3 179lbs / MHL
Lanky winger prefers to distribute the puck rather than shoot it. He owns strong vision, creativity and offensive instincts. His skating stride is a work in progress but should be bolstered as he develops strength in his lower half. Protects the puck well. Showcased his weapons at the WJAC.
Alex Newhook, C / 01-28-01 / 5’11 183lbs / BCHL
Speed for days and the disregard for safety to use it anywhere. Dangerous hands, good hockey sense and is equally deadly with the pass or the shot. Already a strong defensive player. Has lacked consistency this season, and was less-than-stellar at the WJAC. He has a nice upside but is slipping. Off to Boston College in the fall.
Matthew Robertson, LHD / 03-09-01 / 6’3 201lbs / WHL
A smart defender who blends size and mobility. He’s been an impact player for the Oil Kings, chewing up minutes in all situations. Won’t blow you away with his offensive creativity, but makes intelligent plays and has a heavy shot from the point.
- Ville Heinola, LHD / 03-02-01 / 5’11 174lbs / Liiga
A talented and effective offensive defenseman who boasts quick acceleration and expert edgework. Makes smart decisions with the puck and already looks confident in the top men’s league. He’ll need to continue to improve his positioning as his stature doesn’t allow him to outmuscle. He’s one to watch.
- Mikko Kokkonen, LHD / 01-18-01 / 5’11 190 / Liiga
Logs heavy minutes in all situations and produces a calm and measured approach. That mature game earned him the distinction of being the youngest player to ever suit up in a Liiga game as a 15-year-old. Strong outlets, good compete level and defensive positioning. He’s adjusted well to the increased workload in the Liiga this season. A deft two-way player who likely projects as a defense-first player at the next level.
- Nils Höglander, LW / 12-20-00 / 5’9 185lbs / SHL
A skilled winger with good acceleration. He boasts a quick and accurate release. Plays bigger than his size and has looked capable in the SHL this season. Quick cuts and quicker hands allow him to dart in and out of traffic. Has battled inconsistency in the past.
- Connor McMichael, C / 01-15-01 / 6’ 170lbs / OHL
All-around pivot has proven very well in an expanded role with the Knights. He’s not the biggest or fastest player, but he’s effective at finding seams and distributing the puck. He owns a quick and accurate release and can finish at a high rate. Not afraid to work into the high-traffic areas. He’s a play-driver with top-six upside.
- Lassi Thomson, RHD / 09-24-00 / 6’ 187lbs / WHL
Mobile, right-shot defender brings a smooth and confident approach to the game. He’s not the biggest player but he loves to engage, has a high compete level and a non-stop motor. The type of player the coach and fans adore. What’s most impressive about Thomson is how much he’s improved over the last 18-24 months. He’s turned weaknesses into strengths. That’s a great sign. Another riser to watch.
- Anttoni Honka, RHD / 10-05-00 / 5’10 170lbs / Liiga
The younger brother of Dallas Stars’ blueliner, Julius, Anttoni plays a similar style game. Loves to jump up into the play and create offence. Owns exciting lateral movement and the creativity to thrive on a power play. Won’t ever be strong enough to out-muscle oncoming forwards so he’ll need to use his stick and his positioning at a higher level. An older player for this class, he’ll be assessed with a higher bar. Started quickly in the Liiga and has iced off considerably. There’s a boom in this prospect, but also a great deal of bust potential.
The Next 10
- John Beecher, C / 05-04-01 / 6’3 203 / USNTDP
- Thomas Harley, LHD / 08-19-01 / 6’3 183lbs /OHL
- Sasha Mutala, RW / 05-06-01 / 6’1 196lbs / WHL
- Tobias Bjornfot, LHD / 04-06-01 / 6’ 187lbs / SuperElit
- Brett Leason, C / 04-30-99 / 6’4 205lbs / WHL **
- Blake Murray, C / 07-05-01 / 6’1 179lbs / OHL
- Billy Constantinou, RHD / 03-25-01 / 6’ 185lbs / OHL
- Alex Vlasic, LHD / 07-25-01 / 6’5 190lbs / USNTDP
- Maxim Cajkovic, RW / 01-03-01 / 5’10 187lbs / QMJHL
- Ilya Nikolayev, C / 06-26-01 / 6’ 190lbs / MHL
** double overager
Happy World Juniors! Follow me on Twitter @Hockey_Robinson
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