United States looking good for U18's in Texas

McKeen's Hockey
·12 min read

It has been a busy week at McKeen’s since our last column that saw us release our updated 2021 NHL Draft rankings along with publishing in depth previews of each of the ten teams taking part in the 2021 IIHF U18 World Championship which saw its first action yesterday. You can find the new top 32 draft ranking in this column. Subscribers can access a list of the top 64, taking us through the first two rounds of the draft as well as the U18 World Championship previews.

The tournament is always a key event on the NHL Draft calendar featuring a slew of top draft eligible prospects playing for their county against their peer group. In this COVID-19 scarred season that saw many international tournaments cancelled and some prospects not playing much, if at all, the event has taken on outsized significance for scouting staffs this year.

In last week’s column, Brock Otten ran through the outstanding group of underage prospects appearing in the tournament that will be eligible in the 2022 and 2023 NHL Drafts. Give it a read as those players will be a factor in these games and provides a glimpse of some future superstars as they are about to emerge on the world stage in a big way. In that article Brock wrote about three US team members eligible for the 2022 NHL Draft in forwards Rutger McGroarty, Isaac Howard and Logan Cooley. This week Ryan Wagman focuses on six 2021 NHL Draft eligible prospects on the US squad that are most likely to make an impact in the tournament.

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

Prospects in the News: 2021 IIHF U18 World Championship – TEAM USA 2021 NHL Draft eligibles likely to make the most impact.

By Ryan Wagman

After COVID-19 forced the cancellation of the 2020 U18 World Championship, the marquee event is back, kicking off yesterday (Monday, April 26) in Texas, with four games, including a barn-burning nightcap that saw Russia win in a come-back against the host Americans by a 7-6 score in overtime, after trailing 5-1 in the second.

While COVID couldn’t cancel this year’s tournament, it could – and is – having an outsized impact on it. First, instead of being played in Plymouth, Michigan, home rink of the USNTDP team, the games are being played between Frisco and Plano, Texas, where restrictions are laxer than they are in Michigan. Second, all teams, with the hosts maybe more than most, had their preferred rosters impacted by the pandemic.

The USNTDP, which generally makes up 95% of the American roster at this event, has been decimated by injuries all year, including the loss of potential top five draft pick Luke Hughes to a leg injury in the last month, on top of injuries that have kept other expected big contributors like Tyler Boucher out for much of the year and, more recently, the loss of shifty scoring forward Jeremy Wilmer and defensive forward Caden Brown. If those absences weren’t enough, in the days before the tournament started, star forward Chaz Lucius, top four blueliner Jacob Martin, and physical specimen Andre Gasseau were ruled out due to COVID protocol issues.

Thankfully for Team USA, the U17 team may have had more talent on it than the U18 team did, giving them a ready pool of gifted replacements to take over, players who in most cases had already spent significant time playing up with the U18 roster. As the final score of their first game should have made clear, this team will have no problem putting the puck in the net. The problems are far more apparent at the other end, where they struggle to keep the puck out of their own end.

For starters, the team has subpar goaltending. Neither regular USNTDP goalies, Gibson Homer and Kaiden Mbereko, have exactly followed in the footsteps of recent USNTDP alums like Spencer Knight or even Drew Commesso. Both had subpar years. The one non-UNSTDP ringer brought in was Braden Holt, from Everett in the WHL, but he has barely played over the last two years.

The blueline crew is another likely sore spot. As much as the likes of Sean Behrens, Aidan Hreschuk and Roman Schmidt all look like potential top two round picks this summer, each has holes in their game. Behrens is clearly undersized. Hreschuk is prone to poor decisions. Schmidt’s game processing isn’t as fast as his feet. The U17 defensive callups – Lane Hutson and Ryan Chesley, are both skilled, but are far more offensively inclined than sturdy in their own ends.

The US could come away with the Gold if they are able to tighten things up and avoid further defensive collapses, but that first game, for all of its entertainment value, may also be a harbinger for a frustrating tournament to come.

Should Team USA right the ship and make it to the podium, here are the six 2021 draft eligible players* most likely to have been the difference.

*That said, 2022 eligibles Rutger McGroarty, Isaac Howard, Logan Cooley, and Jack Hughes – and 2023 eligible Charlie Stramel – are probably the real keys here.

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Aidan Hreschuk, D

2020-21 U.S. National U18 Team, USDP 43GP-5G-28A-33PTS

2020-21 USNTDP Juniors, USHL 23GP-3G-14A-17PTS

Hreschuk isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but when he is on, there is a lot to like. The Southern California native and Boston College commit is a fine skating three zone defender, who looks like a perfect fit for the modern game. At his best, he can dazzle on his blades, showing speed (which is assisted by a smooth stride without any wasted motion), edge work and outstanding agility. Although he can sometimes be mistake-prone, the mistakes are more often than not mistakes of action, rather than passivity. Somewhat undersized, he nonetheless plays with some grit, showing aptitude along the boards and uses a strong defensive stick. His puck rushes allow him to stand out, but never at the expense of his defensive zone responsibilities. A good tournament could help him hear his name called in the first round of the upcoming draft, but even without a standout performance, he is unlikely to last too far into the second round.

Sean Behrens, D

2020-21 U.S. National U18 Team, USDP 39GP-6G-28A-31PTS

2020-21 USNTDP Juniors, USHL 23GP-4G-14A-18PTS

If Hreschuk is a little undersized, Behrens makes his teammate look big by comparison. A stocky 5-9”, the Denver commit actually plays a pretty physical game. He keeps his feet churning at all times and does everything in his power to make difficult for opponents in his end. In addition to that grit, he also employs an effective defensive stick, which he combines with advanced positioning to get the job done. He is an effective puck mover in a way that is more subtle than flashy. When he looks to pass, he can really find the seams to give his team a big boost up the ice. Behrens gets a lot of point man duties for the USNTDP, leading all blueliners on the team in power play goals and assists. In addition to manning the point, he will also occasionally elect to drive the net, rushing it just like he rushes the puck from blueline to blueline. His size will likely remain at least mildly concerning to pro teams, but there is no reason why he shouldn’t be an impact player for Team USA at the U18 tournament.

Redmond Savage, C

2020-21 U.S. National U18 Team, USDP 39GP-16G-22A-38PTS

2020-21 USNTDP Juniors, USHL 22GP-10G-10A-20PTS

Following in his father Brian’s footsteps to Miami University, Savage has a fun blend of hustle, skill and grit in a smaller frame. His skill set is short of high end, and NHL top six is unlikely to be in his future, but he helps in so many ways that he will always find a way to contribute to his team. He is a strong skater, most notably concerning his first few steps, and in how hard he plays, often being the first man on the forecheck, and the first forward back on the backcheck. When he has the puck, he has enough skill to be effective, but even that plays up due to his patience with the puck and his ability to read the zone. He also has a solid enough shot from mid-range to be useful on the power play.

Sasha Pastujov, LW

2020-21 U.S. National U18 Team, USDP 34GP-23G-29A-52PTS

2020-21 USNTDP Juniors, USHL 18GP-10G-16A-26PTS

Right place at the right time is Pastujov in a nutshell, both micro and macro. The Notre Dame commit is not one of the most talented players on this squad, but there are few who have been able to match his production. Like his older brothers, Michael and former Islanders’ draft pick Nick, Sasha Pastujov is on the slow-footed side. He is not one to lead the rush, but he will join as a trailer and has the quickness in his hands to capitalize on a loose puck near the net and find a way to get it over the line. Defensively, Pastujov is also liable to being in the right place at the right time, showing a good understanding of how to position himself and help in his team regaining possession. On a macro-sense, in other seasons, a player of his collection of skills and abilities will be more likely to be slotted lower in the lineup, giving him less of a chance to shine – and lesser linemates to help him shine. This year, with the program slightly down from recent seasons, Pastujov and his presence of mind have been vital to the team’s successes, and he has played well with Lucius, earning that trust.

Liam Gilmartin, LW

2020-21 U.S. National U18 Team, USDP 43GP-11G-20A-31PTS

2020-21 USNTDP Juniors, USHL 23GP-7G-18A-15PTS

Every year, the USNTDP roster includes one or two forwards who have a solid if unspectacular collection of tools, but who specialize in the game away from the puck. Past years included the likes of Chase Yoder, Owen Lindmark, and Dylan Peterson. These are guys you need to focus on to appreciate the positives they bring to a team. Gilmartin, a Providence commit is that guy this year. The defensive conscience of the forward unit, he is a good skater with great reach and who will unhesitatingly sell out his body to block a shot. Gilmartin is also not without his offensive abilities, though, as he plays hard near the net and shows good touch on his passes to make things happen. He could one day be the best forward on a bottom six line or move up the lineup to be the number three forward on a top six line. He takes time to learn to appreciate, but once you catch on, he is very easy to root for.

Dylan Duke, C/LW

2020-21 U.S. National U18 Team, USDP 43GP-25G-19A-44PTS

2020-21 USNTDP Juniors, USHL 23GP-3G-14A-17PTS

Another defense-first player, Duke has some similarities to Gilmartin, especially in his ability to play up or down the lineup, but they are not the cut from the same cloth. For one, Duke lacks Gilmartin’s physical side, which shouldn’t be surprising given the other player’s four-inch height advantage. On the other hand, Duke has a touch more offensive impact potential, both from his more skilled hands, and from the additional jump in his step, which can force opponents back on their heels and into forced errors. While Duke is happy and willing to play in the greasy areas, his small, underdeveloped frame blunts his effectiveness in those areas. The Michigan commit is fun to watch and has put up the best numbers of the U18 squad (not counting the U17 squad ringers), but that is more due to the lengthy injury/illness-related absences of Lucius and Pastujov, more than Duke’s own level of dynamic skills. Duke is talented, but I have questions about his ability to project as a top six cornerstone.

PAST NBC EDGE MCKEEN’S 2021 NHL DRAFT PROSPECT REPORTS – In this weekly column we cover an NHL Draft prospect. Check out what we have written to date here listed by our most recent ranking. We just updated our rankings this past week and regular readers will note two players fell sharply in Carson Lambos and Brennan Othmann.

#1 - Matthew Beniers C, University of Michigan, NCAA, C, 6’1” 175 lbs

#2 – Owen Power, D, University of Michigan, NCAA, C, 6’6” 215 lbs

#3 – Luke Hughes, D, USNTDP U18, D, 6’2” 175 lbs

#4 - Jesper Wallstedt G, Lulea, Sweden, G, 6’3” 200lbs

#5 – Simon Edvinsson, D, Vasteras, Allvenskan, 6’5”, 200lbs

#7 – Dylan Guenther, RW, Edmonton, WHL, 6’0” 170lbs

#8 - Brandt Clarke, D, Nove Zamky, Slovakia, D, 6’1” 180 lbs

#10 – William Eklund, LW-C, Djurgårdens IF,SHL, Sweden, 5’10, 175lbs

#11 - Kent Johnston, C, University of Michigan, NCAA, C, 6’1” 170 lbs

#12 – Aatu Raty, D, Kärpät, Liiga, Finland, 6’2” 185lbs

#32- Brennan Othmann, LW, EHC Olten, SL 34GP-7G-9A-16PTS

#37 – Carson Lambos, D, JYP, Finland, 6’0, 200lbs