The IIHF World U18 Championship is on scouts radars more than any other tournament. It is the last chance to impress for most prospects and they get the opportunity to do so against their peers while representing their country.
The tournament is taking place in April spanning from the 18th to the 28th and is being held in Sweden, particularly in Ornskoldsvik and Umea.
Historically, there are clear examples of players impressing and getting selected higher than they were ranked beforehand with many of those selections having looked justified. In 2017, Finnish dman Miro Heiskanen impressed scouts with his skating and complete game. In 2018, Finnish centre Jesperi Kotkaniemi showcased his playmaking potential and ability as a two-way forward. The two Finn’s rose from outside of the top 10 pre-U18 to getting selected 3rd overall in their respective drafts.
The same opportunities are present for prospects participating this year too. While Jack Hughes may not necessarily improve his stock barring an unexpectedly terrific tournament due to the expectation to dominate, a guy like Alex Newhook has the perfect opportunity to showcase his skills and why he would justify a top 10 selection in June. A ton of other players carry storylines that may also be interesting to delve into as we await the tournament.
The Canadian centre has spent his season playing in the BCHL. Due to a slow start and getting snubbed in tournaments such as the Hlinka Gretzky Cup back in August, he has found himself lower on some lists than his skill may warrant. He started the season as a general consensus top 10 if not top 5 pick but has since fallen to spots such as 20th on Bob McKenzie and TSN’s list. There are also concerns with his consistency related to his compete level but when he is on he dominates games like stars do and if the fast centre with nice hands can do that in this tournament, he will eradicate those concerns and raise his stock enough to gain consideration for a top 10 selection.
Podkolzin is a controversial player in this year's draft with some believing that he’s a top 3 player while others have him outside the top 15. What is clear is that he thus far has excelled in tournaments and the opportunity that he has in this tournament could determine his spot and cement whether he’s taken higher in the draft or falls as a result of disappointing tournament.
The NTDP U18’s
This years class of U18’s for the US National Team Development Program is lauded as the best class ever and winning gold at this tournament could be the perfect ending to a great year. It also provides scouts with a chance at looking at some of the best players in the draft class and allows for comparison. For example Turcotte and Zegras are two players currently occupying a top 5 spot on my rankings, but which do I prefer? Boldy is playing in his first U18 tournament unlike a couple other top-end players on the squad, how does he perform? Does Hughes take another step from his performance in 2018 in which he lead the tournament in points? The team has a lot of interesting players to follow and this could be a chance for the public audience to witness these prospects.
Krebs spent the season playing on the recently relocated Winnipeg Ice team that finished 2nd last in the WHL. He led the team in scoring by 16 points and the same team had a -143 goal differential. The captain of this years Canada squad has a chance to showcase skills that he may not have necessarily had the chance to do with the Ice. Being a pass-first winger, playing with better linemates also affords him the opportunity to produce more and good production could get scouts interested. His performance could also raise his stock and maybe even get some consideration to go just outside the top 5.
Aside from these players there's other notables too. I feel like Thomas Harley could raise his stock a ton due to his size, skating, and offensive instincts but he could also drop it if he plays overly aggressive and finds himself out of proper defensive positioning due to it.
Ilya Nikolayev on Russia is a player that some are high on and I am curious to see how he performs.
Heinola led U18 defenders in points per game in the Liiga while being considered a great two-way defenceman and progressed throughout the season. He should have a big role on the Finnish blueline and I predict that he has a great tournament.
I’m also looking forwards to seeing Dylan Cozens some more before finalizing my rankings, especially if he’s playing alongside Peyton Krebs who I have similarly ranked and have contemplated bumping ahead of Cozens.
Kaapo Kakko isn’t participating. The Finn ranked at #2 on my rankings is focused on the men’s world championships and won’t be available for this tournament which is unfortunate as a Hughes-Kakko matchup would have been an entertaining and informative one for those who are split between the two.