The group play phase at the U18 Worlds is now over. I’ve spent six days in Sweden, and during that time I’ve met a lot of great people and interviewed some future NHL stars – not to mention watched a ton of high-quality hockey in the process. Here are my thoughts on the games from the past two days. In case you missed my earlier update, here’s a link to it: Prospect Ramblings: Second Update from the U18 Worlds (Apr 22).
Switzerland vs Belarus
The biggest name on Team Belarus is their captain, defenseman Vladislav Kolyachonok (2019) who spent this season with Flint Firebirds in the OHL and is ranked somewhere in the second to third round range for the upcoming draft. He plays on Belarus’ second pair and second power play unit but he is their top defenseman in this tournament. He doesn’t seem to have any standout qualities but he plays a smart and reliable two-way game at a high level. He had a great game, scoring two assists and firing 11 shots on goal. Those points brought him up to five points in four games.
I interviewed Kolyachonok after the game and asked him to describe himself as a player. He said he’s a two-way defenseman, and he wants to improve all parts of his game to be an all-around player. He’s trying to be a leader in the locker room as well as on the ice. He was happy about the direction Flint was going to and said he hopes to play there next season but wasn’t yet sure about it.
One player who has been raising a lot of eyebrows in this tournament has been Belarus’ winger Yevgeni Oxentyuk (2019) who now has three goals and six points in four games after adding another goal in this game. He’s tiny (5-7, 154) but very talented offensively. He has a great wrist shot and he can dangle in tight spaces very well. His puck-skills are excellent, and he’s not afraid to get into the dirty areas. His ability to cut to the middle is very good and important. I noticed some issues in his defensive game, and his skating is definitely concerning, especially for someone his size.
When I asked about Oxentyuk from Kolyachonok, he didn’t seem to be surprised by his strong tournament. He felt like Oxentyuk has been overlooked because he’s been playing in Belarus but wanted to highlight he’s playing at the top level against professionals which is no easy thing to do.
The most interesting prospect from Switzerland’s side is also their captain, winger Simon Knak (2020). He’s born in 2002 which means he’s still eligible for the tournament next year. It’s pretty rare to see an underager carry the ‘C’ in this event. Knak had a great game against Belarus, and he was especially noticeable in overtime. He had a two-on-one opportunity where he slid the puck past Kolyachonok, and his teammate was very close to scoring from there. Then they got another two-on-one opportunity, and this time Knak decided to shoot, and his teammate put the rebound in. Knak got his second assist in the game from that overtime winner, and Switzerland won the game 5-4.
I interviewed Knak after the game as well. He said he can play both wings but prefers his off-wing, the right side. As a Captain, he’s trying to help his team both on and off the ice. He described himself as a hard-working player who can both make offensive plays and be a good backchecker. He said he doesn’t have a preference between passing and shooting, and said it depends on what play he thinks is the best in each situation. He also said he will be staying in Switzerland for next season and hopes to get some games in t