2022 U18 Roundup
The U18 tournament has come to a close, with Sweden achieving an underdog victory in the Gold Medal game against a powerhouse USA team featuring two potential 2022 top-five picks and another handful of players who could be called in the first round. International tournaments, and the U18s in particular, have long been overvalued in the draft stocks of players. It is a grand stage, and each goal scored or mistake made carries more weight than it does at any other point in the season.
The effects of these small sample sizes cause certain players to be drafted earlier than they likely should have been based on their full bodies of work, and others to fall farther than they should. We only need to look at the 2021 draft to see the effects of the U18s. Danila Klimovich may have some compelling tools – his shot, in particular, is a clear strength – but his draft stock was only really propelled upward following a strong U18 performance with six goals (and no assists) in five games for Belarus. He ended up being drafted by the Vancouver Canucks 41st overall, ahead of names such as Francesco Pinelli, Logan Stankoven, and Aatu Raty, all of whom are more versatile and refined players with higher ceilings.
On the flip side, two prominent prospects who were widely regarded as top-40 picks, if not clear-cut first-round talents, fell to the third round following quiet u18 tourneys. While last year’s draft was whacky due to Covid and the OHL shutdown, it is typically the European players that see pronounced up or downswings in draft stock with the U18s, as NHL teams (and public scouts, for that matter) typically have better access to, and therefore watch more of, prospects playing in North America.
Simon Robertsson and Stanislav Svozil fell significantly from where they should have gone. Both had excellent toolkits and played at a high pace, and were quite widely regarded as having second-line and second-pairing upside… but they fell. St. Louis and Columbus got excellent value in their respective third-round selections, and the same could be true at the 2022 NHL Draft with players deemed to have played a “quiet” U18 tournament.
With that introduction out of the way, let’s dive into the 2022 U18 tournament and take a look at some interesting players, whose performances either impacted their draft stock positively or negatively, whether that change is deserved or not. While I don’t believe there should be “risers” and “fallers” from such a short tournament when most players have played 30 to 70 games this season, there will be, and that’s something to look into.
Lane Hutson, LD, Team USA, USNTDP (5’8”, 148 lbs)
Lane Hutson is one of my favourite players in the 2022 draft class. His offensive skill from the backend, slippery agility, and playmaking are elite and among the best available in the class. However, his tiny frame – and it really is small, if anything, he looks smaller than his measurements would suggest – has kept him low on all surveys of NHL scouts, with Bob McKenzie’s list featuring Hutson at 72, right behind noted low-upside player Kirill Dolzhenkov (who stands at a massive 6’6” and 236 lbs, making a wonderful juxtaposition to Hutson).
However, Hutson’s stock should very well rise following an excellent showing in Landshut, Germany, having deservedly been named the tournament’s top defenseman and earning his spot on the media’s all-star team. While his skills have been on display all year, it is only now that he is beginning to earn significant consideration for a top-64 pick outside of the circles of public scouting. Hutson scored eight points in six U18 games – all assists – and racked up 10 goals and 63 points with the USNTDP this season through 60 games, including six goals and 32 points in 27 games against USHL competition.
This production is indicative of Hutson’s strengths. He is electric with the puck on his stick in the offensive zone. He is patient with the puck, daring in his play, and effective in his execution. He employs spin moves and shoulder fakes to get around forecheckers and defenders and can circle the offensive zone waiting for an opening to exploit and attack the slot with a pass. Hutson also has a great shot, which he knows how to use to open passing lanes. Inside the offensive zone, he sits in the highest tier in this draft class in terms of creating offense, accompanied by Denton Mateychuk, Pavel Mintyukov, and possibly David Jiricek.
While the defensive game remains a real work in progress for Hutson, and his poor pivoting mechanics are routinely exploited by quick and shifty attackers, he has enough upside for first-round consideration, and he may actually get it after such a strong performance at the U18s. He went from almost certainly a steal of a home run swing on draft day by an astute team with a mid-round pick to a darkhorse candidate for a first-round pick. Similarly, astute fantasy managers should pick Hutson up if he falls further than a high-upside offensive defenseman should; there is certainly risk with picking up Hutson, but for fantasy managers and NHL teams alike, the reward significantly outweighs the risk.
Jiri Kulich, C, Team Czechia, Karlovy Vary, Tipsport Extraliga (6’0”, 172 lbs)
Seeing Kulich’s draft stock skyrocket (like Hutson’s case but on steroids) has been really great to see, especially since he’d been a staple in my first round for just over two months before the tournament, whereas he was ranked 40th on Bob McKenzie’s board. Kulich plays a power center’s game predicated on very good skating mechanics, speed, attacking the slot, defensive responsibility, and a great shot. The shot is what has gotten all of the focus recently, with his tournament-leading 9 goals drawing focus away from what makes him such an interesting NHL prospect.
This is not to say that his quick release and dangerous one-timer on the PP are negligible components to his game and value, but they should not overshadow his other strengths. Kulich is a very quick centerman with great edges. He especially makes use of these strengths in offensive and defensive transitions. He is one of the best back checkers among draft eligibles playing in pro leagues, routinely making use of stick lifts and swooping into the attacker’s blind spot to pickpocket the puck and quickly counter-attack.
One of Kulich’s strengths is the habit to attack defenders at the blue line to the outside and then protecting the puck once he gets around them to force his way to the center; while he lacks the strength to consistently pull this move off on adults, it became far more effective against his own age group at the U18s, he just needs to put on some more muscle. While Kulich can mishandle the puck when attempting overly-ambitious moves, he can execute simple but effective plays at high speeds in transition.
Kulich is also one of the better in-zone defenders among draft-eligible centers available in 2022. He makes good reads and blocks passing lanes. While he can be caught puck watching and his older opponents can beat him to 50/50 pucks, Kulich has demonstrated the habits and skills that could make him a valuable defensive center with PK time.
As a whole, Kulich’s draft stock has risen to where it has always deserved to be, and he just needed the stage of the U18s to show off his abilities. Fantasy managers would also do well in picking him up, as Kulich plays a versatile game. He has upside on both special teams units and has the individual skills (skating, reads, and shot) to carry him to a middle of the lineup NHL role if his development progresses well.
Matyáš Šapovaliv, Team Czechia, Saginaw Spirit, OHL (6’4”, 190 lbs)
From one Czech to another. The consolidated rankings of Kulich and Šapovaliv are likely to resemble my own more closely following the tournament than they did before it. Sapovaliv played third fiddle in the Czech attack the entire tournament, with Kulich and Eduard Šalé driving the offense. Šapovaliv scored one goal and three points in six games while playing on the top line, production which likely underwhelmed many scouts and viewers.
In all honesty, I have not watched as much of Šapovaliv as I have of many other prospects projected to be selected in the top two rounds (largely because my Saginaw viewings are focused on Pavel Mintyukov) but I have yet to see the qualities and skills that have him ranked highly by many scouts. Bob McKenzie’s consolidated list had him at 30th overall in January. While there are obviously intriguing physical tools, puck protection ability, and soft skills, I still question his upside, and his performance at the U18s seems to have spread these thoughts to other scouts, as he played with skilled linemates, unlike in Saginaw, and was quite overshadowed.
The biggest concern with Šapovaliv’s projection to the NHL is his skating. It is clunky and inefficient, which inhibits the rest of his game from really taking off. He may have been a highly-touted prospect 15 or 20 years ago, as he has a lot of frame to grow into and the foundation of a power game, but the NHL game has evolved beyond that style, and Šapovaliv’s skill and hockey IQ may not be significant enough to overcome the hurdle his skating presents, which this tournament put on display.
This is not to say that Šapovaliv is a low-quality prospect that should only be considered in the late rounds, however. As I noted at the start of the piece, some of the best draft-day value can come from selecting players who fall as a result of quieter tournaments, and Šapovaliv could fall into that category if he falls out of the second or third round. His release is at least average, but his offensive value comes as a playmaker. His one-touch playmaking is his strongest attribute in this area of the game, as he can make quick reads and execute them with quick and accurate passes to the slot.
While I would not consider selecting Šapovaliv in the top-64 of the 2022 NHL Entry Draft, and I would not recommend fantasy managers to select him overly early or pay a huge price to acquire him, he could be an interesting value pick if he falls due to his mediocre OHL production and disappointing u18 tournament at the heart of a successful Czech team that finished fourth and featured many breakout players.
Calle Odelius, Team Sweden, Djurgårdens, J20 Nationell (6’0”, 185 lbs)
I don’t believe that Calle Odelius’ performance at the U18s should hurt his draft stock in any way, I was actually really impressed with it, but I was also watching him specifically quite a bit. He played a more understated game than many other defensemen in the tournament. Players like Mattias Hävelid, Lane Hutson, Aron Kiviharju, Tomas Hamara, Seamus Casey, and even Ryan Chesley played very active tournaments and put up significant points. Odelius, for his part, scored just three points – all assists – in six games.
While his teammate Mattias Hävelid may have scored four times as many points and exceeded his point total in goals, I found Odelius’ all-around game even more impressive in the tournament. That may be due to my personal bias; I entered the tournament with Odelius as my clear-cut top Swedish defenseman, but his performance re-affirmed the traits in his game that have made me so bullish on him as a prospect, while also displaying his weaknesses.
There were a few instances when he was severely outmuscled in front of the net, and he was more prone to losing his man in the defensive zone and aimlessly floating around than he’d been in my J20 viewings. These two weaknesses make it quite clear why certain scouts aren’t as high on Odelius as I am, but I truly believe his strengths outweigh the weaknesses, much like with Lane Hutson. I also believe that he has the vision and intelligence to grow this side of his game and even turn it into a strength in the future.
Odelius’ mobility is tremendous. He is an extraordinarily fluid skater, up there with Brad Lambert in the top tier of skaters in the draft class. He has an elegant, efficient, and powerful stride, regularly catching up to attackers on the break and weaving through pressure with the puck. His strength in transition isn’t solely predicated on his skating, though. He makes scans very well for breakout passes and possesses the deception to throw off the F1 and execute the best play on the breakout.
While Odelius is an intelligent playmaker, and his deceptive qualities and scanning translate to the offensive zone, he does not have the highest offensive ceiling, though there are flashes of brilliance, especially while walking the blue line with the puck in his hip pocket. The points didn’t come at the U18s, and his seven goals and 30 points in 43 J20 games were good but not outstanding, which may work together to hurt the mobile defender’s draft stock, especially since he is not a “shutdown” defenseman. However, his upside as a mobile and intelligent 200-foot player should provide a team (and fantasy managers) with a high-value pick should he fall outside the top 45.
There were many other standout players at the tournament whose performances deserve analysis – think of Noah Östlund, Issac Howard, Connor Bedard, Adam Fantilli, Jonathan Lekkerimäki, and the Hävelid twins – but I preferred a deep dive on four players to the basic overviews of a dozen, which would have inevitably become a regurgitation of the analyses that are already out there. I sincerely hope this approach made for an enjoyable read!
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