Players to look for at U18 World Championships

·20 min read

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With free agent season largely growing quiet, we turn our attention back to the 2022 NHL Draft for the final two Prospects Report columns of the season. For the first of those, our Director of Scouting, Brock Otten provides an extensive overview of the IIHF U18 World Championship starting next weekend, a key date on the NHL Draft scouting schedule. We will have an in-depth preview with predictions for mckeenshockey.com subscribers closer to the start of the tournament on our site. We will follow that up with reviews of the key players following the games.

Our final Prospects Report column of the season will focus on likely risers and fallers from our mid-season ranking as our team starts the process of finalizing our draft board. We will also be providing further draft content for NBC Sports Edge, including a few mock drafts before we get to Montreal in July as well.

Enjoy. The McKeen’s team are scouting and writing about prospects all season long and provide in-depth reports on our website: www.mckeenshockey.com

Previewing the IIHF Under 18’s

By Brock Otten

The 2022 IIHF World Under 18 Hockey Championships commence this upcoming weekend, with games beginning on Saturday (April 23). The tournament is being played in Germany this year, after occurring in the bubble in Texas last year. In Texas, Canada captured the gold on the strength of dominating performances from two exceptional CHL players and NHL prospects, Shane Wright and Connor Bedard. This year’s tournament has a bit of a different format than year’s past, with the IIHF removing Russia and Belarus from competition due to the ongoing conflict in the Ukraine. As such, only eight teams will compete, meaning every team at the U18’s will make the playoff round (quarterfinals) and no team will be relegated.

Regardless of the format change, this event remains one of the biggest and most important in the annual scouting calendar. For many draft prospects, it serves as one final opportunity to impress NHL scouting staffs before the draft; an opportunity to show them how their games have improved over the course of the season.

This article intends to highlight some of the main players to watch from each of the eight competing teams. To keep things simple, we will only be focusing on players eligible for the 2022 NHL Draft.

Division A

Canada

In any year, sending a team to the U18’s is tough for Canada given that the CHL playoffs occur at the same time. This year, that problem was compounded by the fact that the three CHL leagues all extended their regular seasons. Due to the fact that the QMJHL regular season does not finish in time, there will be no ‘Q’ players for the second year in a row. Additionally, the playoffs start too late in the WHL and OHL, meaning only players eliminated from the playoffs are eligible (rather than players also eliminated in round one, which is usually the case). Finding players for this team was difficult and it is reflected in the defense. Yet, Canada finds itself as the reigning champions and will look to remain competitive on the backs of some fantastic 2023 eligible players (such as Connor Bedard and Adam Fantilli). For the sake of this piece, we will be focusing on only those top talents eligible for 2022.

Owen Pickering, Swift Current Broncos, WHL

The defensive anchor of this team, Pickering is going to have to play a lot. We’re talking 30 minutes a game by the time the elimination round rolls in. The Swift Current defender is a physical specimen. He combines a 6’4 frame with an effortless and powerful stride. He also applies himself physically and is, at the very least, a terrific shutdown defender prospect for the NHL level. At the WHL level, his offensive game and decision making with the puck has been inconsistent. This event will be a great test of his puck skill and his play creation abilities.

Rieger Lorenz, Okotoks Oilers, AJHL

The latest high-end prospect out of the AJHL, Lorenz finished fifth in AJHL scoring this year with Okotoks. The big and versatile forward will be joining the reigning NCAA Champion Denver Pioneers next season. Lorenz excels with the puck on his stick and is a top-notch goal scorer. His play without the puck has drawn inconsistent reviews, as has his ability to apply himself physically and work through the middle. Lorenz will be counted on to be a strong supporting cast member offensively and if he can bring energy and production from the wing, he could work himself into the first round in Montreal.

David Goyette, Sudbury Wolves, OHL

After a bit of a slow start, Goyette finished strong this year with the Sudbury Wolves of the OHL. An elite skater and puckhandler, Goyette finished as the second leading scorer among U18 players this year behind Shane Wright. Goyette is not the biggest and his game is not the most well rounded, but his creativity and transitional capabilities will be much coveted on draft day. With a strong offensive tournament, Goyette could secure his spot in the first round, a place he has slowly been trending towards anyway.

Nic Moldenhauer, Chicago Steel, USHL

Speaking of slow starts, Moldenhauer fits that description to a tee. He came into the year as a potential first round candidate, expected to play a monster role on the Chicago Steel of the USHL. But a leg injury kept him out to start and when he returned, he struggled. However, he has been one of the best players in the USHL down the home stretch and finally looks like himself. Chicago was very gracious to lend Moldenhauer (and Fantilli) to team Canada, despite starting the USHL playoffs (they will likely get them back before round three). We are very excited to see how Moldenhauer performs at this event. It could be a breaking out party for him.

Reid Dyck, Swift Current Broncos, WHL

The star of the CHL Top Prospect’s Game this year in Kitchener, Dyck will serve as Canada’s starter at this tournament and is to be considered one of the top goaltenders available this year. He struggled down the stretch for Swift Current, so his confidence may not be at a high. However, he has game stealing ability and will likely need to be the best goaltender in the tournament if Canada hopes to medal, given that their defense has some serious holes in it compared to the competition.

United States

Like any year, the U.S. enters the tournament as one of the main favorites to capture gold. However, the storied NTDP program is in a bit of a funk in recent years. They haven’t captured gold since 2017 and did not medal at last year’s event on home soil. This year’s version of the U.S. Under 18 team is absolutely loaded with talent. It could have several players selected inside the lottery and quite possibly nearly double-digit players selected inside the first round.

Logan Cooley, U.S National U18 Team, NTDP

At different times this year, Cooley has been considered a contender to challenge Shane Wright as a potential first overall pick in 2022. A strong tournament here could really help to cement his place inside the top three. Cooley is a dynamic skating pivot who also happens to be a competitive two-way player. Fans will undoubtedly compare Cooley to recent NTDP alum Matthew Beniers, but he may just possess a higher offensive ceiling.

Frank Nazar, U.S National U18 Team, NTDP

Much like Cooley, Nazar is an explosive offensive facilitator because of his speed and ability to push pace. A creative puckhandler, Nazar makes up for a lack of elite size by being slippery and elusive inside the offensive zone. His offensive upside may be among the highest of any forward available this year. Scouts will be looking for Nazar to play a little more assertively in the defensive end in the tournament, as it may just be his only weakness as a prospect.

Cutter Gauthier, U.S National U18 Team, NTDP

Gauthier is an extremely versatile player for this U.S. squad. He can play any forward position. He plays on both special team’s units. He uses his size (6’3) well to have a positive influence on the game off the puck by driving the net, applying himself physically, and consistently winning board battles. Gauthier also happens to be a skilled goal scorer who finishes well in that home plate area. He may just be a sneaky candidate for the top 10 given his pro ready game and a strong tournament could make that even more likely.

Jimmy Snuggerud, U.S National U18 Team, NTDP

From start to finish, Snuggerud may just be the NTDP’s most improved player this season. His skating has improved, and it has allowed him to take advantage of his strong hockey sense and quick release with more regularity. Like Gauthier, he has rocketed up lists this season and is a serious candidate for the lottery if he has a terrific tournament.

Isaac Howard, U.S National U18 Team, NTDP

An elusive offensive forward, Howard may not be as quick as Cooley, as skilled as Nazar, or as physical as Gauthier, but he has produced consistently this year. In fact, Howard led the U18 team in scoring this year across USHL and exhibition action. A bubble first rounder heading into the tournament, can Howard show that he deserves to be in the same conversation as his teammates?

Rutger McGroarty, U.S National U18 Team, NTDP

Coming into the year the big, power forward was thought to be a contender to be the first player selected from this NTDP crop. However, concerns about the lack of improvement in his skating has dropped him to the later first, early second range. That said, McGroarty has an NHL quality release, competes hard physically, and has been a real work horse for the U18 squad this season. Look for him to have a big U18 tournament to try to secure his spot in the first round.

Ryan Chesley, U.S National U18 Team, NTDP

Who the top draft eligible defenseman is on this U.S. team is a matter of opinion. Chesley is in that conversation as a mobile, yet physical two-way defender. He profiles extremely well as a stout defensive presence at the NHL level, even without elite reach /length. At times, his decision making with the puck has been called into question, especially against stronger competition. So, this will be a big tournament for Chesley to show that not only can he shutdown the best in the age group, but also take care of the puck and contribute offensively.

Seamus Casey, U.S National U18 Team, NTDP

In the new age NHL, there is definitely a place for undersized defenders. Look around the league and you will see examples of sub six feet defenders excelling on nearly every roster. Insert Seamus Casey, a highly mobile puck mover and powerplay quarterback on this U.S. team. The 5’10 defender will need to prove that he can defend against the best in the age group to be a high selection. This event is likely huge for his draft stock.

Lane Hutson, U.S National U18 Team, NTDP

Remember when we just discussed undersized defenders? Well Lane Hutson is even more “undersized” than Casey, coming in at 5’8. His profile is similar to Casey, with mobility and puck skill being strengths. Our video scouting team at McKeen’s absolutely loves Hutson, and like Casey this event will be a great litmus test for him.

Czechia

The Czechs have not medaled at this event since 2014, when they were led by David Pastrnak, Jakub Vrana, and Pavel Zacha. Doing so will be made even more difficult since the country’s top prospect for this year’s draft, David Jiricek, is not eligible for this event because he has a late 2003 birth date. They also find themselves in the tougher division including Canada, the United States, and the rambunctious hosts.

Matyas Sapovaliv, Saginaw Spirit, OHL

While the Saginaw Spirit of the OHL weren’t great this year, Sapovaliv stood out individually and he has put himself in the first-round conversation this year. A big, rangy pivot, Sapovaliv has worked hard to improve his skating this year, which has really helped him to become a play driver. Sapovaliv also stands out with his dedication and IQ in the defensive end. A raw, physical specimen, Sapovaliv will get all the ice time he can handle on this Czech team.

Jiri Kulich, HC Karlovy Vary, Czechia

The other main component and first round candidate on this Czechia team, Kulich had an up and down year in the Czech men’s league. A skilled and creative offensive player, there is some concern about his overall quickness and ability to play with pace. The Czechs will need Kulich to form a dynamic one/two punch with Sapovaliv down the middle in order to avoid finishing third in this division.

Germany

As a hockey nation, Germany has been on the rise in recent years. Look at the wealth of young talent they have in the NHL now, such as Calder candidate Moritz Seider. However, this is not a strong crop of German prospects, at least in comparison to recent years. At this point, the Germans will be lucky to avoid finishing last in the division.

Julian Lutz, EHC München, DEL

Lutz was supposed to be the next in line of German first round picks, slated to be a potential first rounder at this point last year. However, Lutz has battled injuries all season and has been limited to just over a dozen games at the DEL level. Needless to say, this event will be huge for Lutz to prove that he is, indeed, a top prospect for this year’s draft. A power winger with a power stride, Lutz has the tools to be a strong supporting player at the next level. But can he be the focal point the way that he will need to be in order to help Germany upset the competition?

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Division B

Sweden

Unquestionably, the Swedes enter this tournament as one of the favorites, if not THE favorite to capture gold. Much like the United States, this team is loaded with first round candidates. With an incredibly deep and skilled roster, they will be extremely difficult to beat.

Jonathan Lekkerimaki, Djurgårdens IF, SHL

Lekkerimaki’s participation in this tournament is very much in doubt after he contracted mono. And even if he is able to participate, his effectiveness may be limited due to the recovery process. That said, Lekkerimaki has been rocketing up draft lists over the course of the season because of his strong play in the Swedish men’s league. The undersized winger (5’8) can absolutely fire the puck and has among the highest potential as a goal scorer of any player eligible for the draft this year.

Noah Ostlund, Djurgårdens IF J20, J20 Nationell

This will be a big tournament for Ostlund. The creative two-way center has underwhelmed at times this year (including at the Hlinka/Gretzky Cup in the summer). He will shoulder a big load offensively as one of Sweden’s top six centers and will undoubtedly play in all situations. Scouts will be looking to see how Ostund handles this pressure, as the rankings for him are currently all over the map, ranging from the first round to the third round.

Elias Salomonsson, Skellefteå AIK J20, J20 Nationell

Talk about another enigma and divisive prospect this year. Salomonsson came into the year as a candidate to be the top defenseman selected. He now finds himself ranked outside of the first round on the majority of public lists. Salomonsson’s offensive talent and potential is high. He skates so well for a bigger defender, and he really does as he wishes in transition. However, his physical intensity and defensive awareness have been heavily called into question this season. A strong defensive tournament could put Salomonsson back in consideration for the lottery. A poor showing could solidify his fall outside of the opening round.

Liam Ohgren, Djurgårdens IF, SHL

A highly intelligent offensive winger, Ohgren has been one of the highest scoring players available this year, across any league and any country. He has had a heck of a season. Yet, he still finds himself toward the back half of the first round on many lists. Flying slightly under the radar right now, Ohgren will be looking to be an offensive leader for this Swedish team, and as a result, push his way into being a top ten candidate.

Calle Odelius, Djurgårdens IF J20, J20 Nationell

A highly mobile defender, Odelius will be counted on to play heavy minutes for the Swedes, playing in all situations. A gifted athlete, scouts will be looking at the application of Odelius’ skill set and his decision making. There is some concern that he may be more flashy than truly effective. Like Salomonsson, all eyes will be on him in the defensive end.

Mattias Havelid, Linköping HC, SHL

The son of former NHL defender Nic Havelid (and twin brother of Swedish goaltender at this event, Hugo), Mattias is likely to be Sweden’s top powerplay quarterback at this event. Armed with a heavy shot and quick feet, Havelid has looked great in this role at other international events. Again, like Odelius and Salomonsson, can Havelid step up in his own end to be better at even strength?

Filip Bystedt, Linköping HC, SHL

Bystedt is a big (6’4) and versatile forward who will undoubtedly play a top six role for this Swedish team. He can play both center and the wing and excels down low and on the wall as a playmaker. Bystedt had a great Hlinka/Gretzky Cup in the summer but has somewhat underwhelmed in the J20 league during the season. With a strong tournament offensively, Bystedt could easily push his way into the first round.

Finland

Now the top ranked team in the world (according to the recent IIHF rankings), Finland will look to return to the podium at the U18’s for the first time since 2018. Dominant at nearly every other level of international competition of late, success at this tournament has eluded them in recent years. However, they have a great chance to medal with one of the top forwards in the tournament and one of the top goaltenders, along with a balanced and competitive supporting cast.

Joakim Kemell, JYP, Liiga

It wasn’t too long ago that it seemed Kemell was pushing his way into the conversation for the top three in 2022, thanks to a red-hot start that had him projected to beat some long-standing records in Liiga. However, injuries and inconsistent play mired his second half and now Kemell is fighting to keep his place inside the Top 10 on some lists. This is a massive tournament for him. The creative and dynamic goal scoring winger will be heavily scrutinized the entire tournament and anything short of being among the tournament’s scoring leaders is likely to be a disappointment.

Jani Nyman, KOOVEE, Mestis

The 6’3, 200lbs winger impresses with his combination of size, skill, and linear quickness. He will be an integral part of this Finnish offense and a possible linemate of Kemell on Finland’s top unit. Heading into the tournament Nyman is a fringe first round talent, but with a strong performance, he could easily solidify that spot given his projectable frame and skill set.

Topias Leinonen, JYP U20, U20 SM-sarja

This is not a strong draft for goaltenders. It may be the weakest in recent memory, with no goaltender guaranteed to be a top two round selection. One of the candidates for the honor of being the first netminder selected is Leinonen. His massive 6’5 frame, in combination with some quick pads, gives him the profile of the ideal netminder for today’s game. However, he may not even be guaranteed to be the starter for Finland (Niklas Kokko was the starter at the Hlinka/Gretzky in the summer) and will need to prove that he can provide consistent stops to secure that spot.

Otto Salin, HIFK, Liiga

The top ranked defender on this Finnish team, Salin is a mobile, right shot defender who will likely play in all situations and receive heavy minutes. A more impactful offensive defender at this current time, all eyes will be on Salin to be consistent in the defensive end, not unlike some of the other defenders that have been mentioned in this article.

Aleksanteri Kaskimaki, HIFK U20, U20 SM-sarja

A high-end skater who has an attacking mentality, Kaskimaki is likely to dazzle in transition at this tournament. He will be an important supporting offensive player for the Finns and is a candidate for the top two rounds at this year’s draft. What scouts want to see more of is Kaskimaki excelling when the game slows down, working to fight through traffic and compete without the puck.

Switzerland

Things haven’t been great for the Swiss in U20 International hockey in recent years. Since a terrific fourth place finish at this event in 2015, they have finished 8th or lower in every U18 since, narrowly avoiding relegation a few times. The good news? They are very likely to finish inside the top 7 this year. The bad news? They are very unlikely to be competitive in their games outside of the one against Latvia. This is especially true given their one potential first round pick this year, hulking defender Lian Bichsel, is not currently listed as playing in the tournament.

Lian Bichsel, Leksands IF, SHL

The Swiss do have one very strong prospect for this year’s draft but his status for the event is in question due to an injury. That would be defender Lian Bichsel. Playing out of Sweden, the massive 6’5 blueliner has spent the majority of the year in the SHL with Leksands and is a slam dunk choice to be captain of this Swiss team if he suits up at some point. He impresses with his mobility, given his size, and physicality and shows great potential to be a top four NHL defender. Bichsel heads into the tournament as a potential first round selection, so hopefully he recovers in time to play (he has apparently been out of action in Sweden the last month or so).

Latvia

Latvia will face an uphill battle to remain competitive in this tournament. They will be missing (likely) their top draft prospect, defender Niks Fenenko, with the QMJHL season playing through the tournament. The odds-on favorite to be relegated prior to the announcement of no relegation, the Latvians will just try to hang on and keep games competitive.

Sandis Vilmanis, Luleå HF J20, J20 Nationell

With no Fenenko, winger Vilmanis is the top Latvian player to watch in this tournament. Slated as a potential late round pick this year, he plays out of the Swedish J20 league in the Lulea system and had a fairly strong year. The 6’1 forward played at the U18’s last year and at this year’s U20’s (second division), performing well on both occasions. Finding a way to consistently stand out will be key to Vilmanis’ draft chances.