Day three of the U18 Worlds is about to start here in Sweden. I arrived to Umeå on Thursday to watch Czech Republic vs Belarus and Canada vs Finland games. After that, I traveled to Örnsköldsvik on Friday to watch Slovakia vs USA and Sweden vs Latvia. And so far, my trip to Sweden has been wonderful.
Both arenas hosting this tournament are normally used by Allsvenskan teams but they are absolutely more than capable of hosting an event like the U18 Worlds. The Fjällräven Center in Örnsköldsvik especially would make a lot of teams in the Finnish Liiga jealous. It’s a fabulous arena, and it’s no wonder Örnsköldsvik was chosen as the main host when they have an arena like that. It’s the home of MODO, a team that has produced such talents as Peter Forsberg, Markus Näslund, the Sedin twins and Victor Hedman – not too shabby.
Here are my thoughts on the games I’ve seen so far.
Czech Republic vs Belarus
The big surprise heading into this game was that one of the best Czech prospects we’ve seen in a long time, 2002-born Jan Mysak (2020) was marked as the 13th forward. I’ve been touting him as a top-15 prospect for the 2020 NHL Draft, so I figured it’s just a gimmick and they’ll actually use him on one of the top two lines. But then the Czechs got their first power play, and I noticed Mysak didn’t play on either unit. And then they went through their rotation and I realized Mysak wasn’t part of it. He didn’t play in the first period at all.
The Czechs were down 0-2 after the first period, and after that they switched things up so that Mysak moved up to second line right wing, opposite of Michal Teplý (2019) who was the other top forward on that team. The Czechs made a good comeback effort but eventually lost the game 3-4. Teplý had an assist on the power play goal scored by defenseman Hugo Has (2019). Jan Bednar (2020) didn’t have a great first game in goal but he’s very talented and should bounce back from it.
The two most noticeable players on Team Belarus were defenseman Vladislav Kolyachonok (2019), who scored a goal and was also their team captain, and diminutive forward Yevgeni Oxentyuk (2019), who scored the first goal in the tournament and added an assist later on. Oxentyuk was a complete unknown to me and most others as well but his puck-skills and vision were very noticeable in the game. Apparently he added another three points in Belarus’ win against Finland. I’m looking forward to getting another look at him on Monday when I return to Umeå.
Canada vs Finland
Finland got off to a great start by scoring the first three goals. Those goals came from Aku Räty (2019), Antti Saarela (2019) and Anton Lundell (2020). Lundell was a late addition to the team which forced them to cut Henri Nikkanen (2019), and Lundell took his spot as the second line center. Lundell was also added to the top power play where he was joined by Ville Heinola (2019), Patrik Puistola (2019), Kasper Simontaival (2020) and Saarela.
Lundell’s addition to the top unit forced Aatu Räty (2021) from there to the second unit where he was joined by Antti Tuomisto (2019), Leevi Aaltonen (2019), Veeti Miettinen (2020) and Juuso Pärssinen (2019) – although in the third period, Räty was replaced with Tuukka Tieksola (2019) who played on that unit in pre-tournament games.
But Canada scored the next five goals to steal the win late in the game. They got excellent contributions from some of their lesser-known prospects like Jamieson Rees (20019) and Brayden Tracey (2019). But their Captain Peyton Krebs (2019) was also excellent, and Alex Newhook (2019) was definitely noticeable as well.
Krebs, Newhook and Tracey played on Canada’s top power play unit with Dylan Cozens (2019) and defenseman Thomas Harley (2019). I expected great things from Cozens but he wasn’t all that noticeable.
Ryan Suzuki (2019) was injured in the game but apparently he won’t miss the entire tournament because of it. In the first game, he didn’t do much even before the injury.
Slovakia vs USA
Team USA is by far the biggest favorite in this tournament, so it’s not a surprise they dominated the play against Slovakia. USA scored a total of 12 goals, and they were led by Jack Hughes (2019) and Cole Caufield (2019) who both scored four goals in the game. Hughes added three assists, and that seven-point performance is now a new record at the U18 Worlds. Caufield had two assists in the game.
Another big performer in the game was Matthew Boldy (2019) who scored a goal and added three assists. The goal he scored off a backhand was perhaps the best we’ve seen so far in the tournament.
At even strength, Boldy plays with Alex Turcotte (2019) as his center while Hughes and Caufield play on another line. But the four of them are joined on USA’s top power play where Cam York (2019) is the only defenseman with them. After two games, Caufield (9 points), Hughes (8 points), Boldy (7 points) and Turcotte (6 points) lead the tournament in points, and York (3 points) is tied for 12th.
After the game, I interviewed Boldy and asked him about their top power play.
“We obviously found our groove last couple of games. We got a lot of great players out there. Pretty easy to move the puck around with them out there.”
Indeed, that unit is deadly. You don’t want to take any penalties against Team USA or they will make you pay. There’s so much talent on that unit, and they’re playing well together.
But Slovakia managed to score five goals in the game as well. Their top prospect Maxim Cajkovic (2019) had one assist in the game but also showed his great shot many times. His release is very quick and his shot is very powerful. But unfortunately his shots missed the net more often than they should.
Another prospect I was watching from Team Slovakia was defenseman Samuel Knazko (2020) who I’m familiar with because he played in the Finnish junior league this past season. Both Knazko and Cajkovic carried an ‘A’ in the tournament, played big minutes, and also played on the top power play unit. Knazko is a very good puck-mover but his shot doesn’t appear to be very good which limits his options in the offensive end. But he’s an underager for this tournament, so there’s plenty of time to improve that aspect of his game.
I also asked from Boldy about the fact they allowed Slovakia to score five goals against them.
“I think there’s a couple of things we got to clean up defensively but I think we did pretty well with answering back to the goals we let up.”
Sweden vs Latvia
Sweden walked away with a 5-2 win against Latvia, and it was largely because of their top line of Lucas Raymond (2020), Karl Henriksson (2019) and Alexander Holtz (2020). Henriksson had two goals and two assists, Holtz had a goal and two assists, and Raymond had a goal and an assist. Even though Raymond ended up with the least points among those three, I thought he was the most impressive of them. Both his points were absolutely jaw-dropping performances.
The other top performers were defensemen Tobias Björnfot (2019) and Victor Söderström (2019). They play on different pairs in normal situations but were joined together on penalty kill, and played together during crucial final minutes of the period as well. Söderström played on the second power play unit while the team captain Björnfot received the honor of playing on the top unit with the previously mentioned top line. Forward Max Wahlgren (2019) is the fifth man on that unit.
It would make a lot of sense to keep Björnfot and Söderström together as a pair and just let them play huge minutes. But Sweden wants to have one of their big three defensemen on the ice at all times, so that’s why Björnfot, Söderström and Philip Broberg (2019) all play on different pairs. Well, at least that makes scouting the trio a bit easier.
Zion Nybeck (2020) made a beautiful pass to Sweden’s second goal in the game but appeared to be scratched in the third period for whatever reason. He usually plays on a line with Simon Holmström (2019) on the other side but in the third period, I noticed Albin Grewe (2019) playing on that spot and didn’t see Nybeck on the ice at all until after the game ended.
Goalie Jesper Wallstedt (2021) didn’t ooze confidence the way I expected him to. Hugo Alnefelt (2019) is likely going to be Sweden’s number one goalie for the remaining games.
Leading scorers after two days
What happens next?
Today will be my first look at Team Russia when they play against Latvia at the Fjällräven Center here in Örnsköldsvik. I’m expecting nothing but pure dominance from the Russians in this game. On paper, they have two very good scoring lines. Their first line has Yegor Spiridonov (2019) at center with Arseni Gritsyuk (2019) and Yegor Chinakhov (2019) on his wings. And their second line has Ilya Nikolayev (2019) at center with Vasili Podkolzin (2019) and Rodion Amirov (2020) at wings.
Then tomorrow we’ll have some great games once again when USA plays against Russia and Slovakia plays against Sweden. Both games will be extremely interesting to watch because of the quality of players on both sides. I will try to post another update after those games.
And that’s all for now, thanks for reading. Feel free to add comments below. Remember to follow me on Twitter @JokkeNevalainen.
Main picture courtesy of USAHockey.com