The 2019 IIHF Under 18 tournament has now come to a close and like I did with the World Juniors, now is the perfect time to look back and recap a tournament that is highly influential in the draft, sometimes affecting stocks of various prospects exponentially.
The upsets that have been taking place in the NHL playoffs have found themselves at the U18s as well. I expected the bronze medal game to be the gold medal game and vice-versa.
Both Canada and the US were undefeated through the preliminary round but in the semi-finals lost by a single goal to Sweden and Russia respectively.
While the US didn’t have the finish that they may have wanted, they still left the tournament with bronze after a 5-2 win against Canada. Their consecutive medal streak has now been pushed to an extra impressive 16 as the best NTDP team in their history concludes the season.
Meanwhile Canada hasn’t won a medal at this event since 2015 when they won bronze. This loss just prolongs the slump for one of hockey’s powerhouse countries to four years.
Canada’s biggest flaw in this tournament was their inability to kill penalties well and control the puck for an extended period of time. As it is said though one man's pain is another man's gain and this time it was in the form of a team, a Swedish team playing in front of their home crowd, not at all considered the favourites with the powerhouse US and injury to core player Victor Soderstrom, yet they made it work.
The Swedes were led by underagers in Lucas Raymond and Alexander Holtz along with strong performances by players such as blueliner Philip Broberg and forward Karl Henriksson. Ultimately they were able to score when they needed to and that is the very reason that they are now the second team in the history of the tournament to win gold in front of their home crowd.
Russia similarly to Sweden pulled off the unexpected by beating the US and winning silver. A lot of that can be attributed to 16 year old netminder Yaroslav Askarov who could be said to have stolen that game for Russia but they too got impressive performances that propelled them from players like Rodion Amirov who scored six goals in seven games.
For performances by individuals, Cole Caufield is obviously a huge standout. He scored at an absurd rate and was basically a machine with multiple goals each game during his hot start in which he had scored nine goals within his first three games. He concluded the tournament with 14 goals in 7 games, a total that ties Ovechkin for the most in a single tournament, and was named best forward and MVP of the tournament because of it. Caufield will almost certainly push himself into top 10 consideration with what he was able to accomplish, an incredible feat as he’s a mere 5’7” and 163 lbs but goals are valued and Caufield has the potential to pot a lot of them.
Alex Newhook is a player who had an important tournament and some could say that his performance would have the biggest impact on his draft stock out of all draft eligible prospects. Newhook had gained a reputation of underperforming at international events and if he continued that he would almost certainly fall out of consideration for a top 15 selection whereas a good performance keeps the conversation going. Whether the reputation was warranted or not, I can’t say but what I can say is that he’s impressed and alleviated some of the concerns. He was tied for Canada’s lead in scoring with Peyton Krebs, both with 10 points, which also puts him tied for 5th in tournament scoring.
Jack Hughes came into this tournament expected to dominate but I personally didn’t expect him to dominate at this magnitude. What he did blows away what he did last year when he led the tournament with 12 points as a 16 year old. Leading tournament scoring in back-to-back years, he topped his performance with 20 points in 7 games, close to 3 points per game. He also surpassed Ovechkin’s total for most points in the U18s with a total 32 over his two tournaments only helping his case for going 1st overall in this upcoming draft.
I personally also thought that Matthew Boldy of the US and Philip Broberg of Sweden impressed. Broberg displayed the skating that scouts loved about his game while not showing the issues of decision making that plagued him in the Allsvenskan this season. Meanwhile, I’ve really grown to appreciate Boldy’s game. I don’t think that he’s going to be a star but he seems like a player that would make a good line great. He has nice hands and a great understanding of the play as on various occasions made smooth plays using both his mitts and head. Along with that he pulled off some amazing passes, another valuable asset that he possesses.
Now onto some who may have disappointed…
Vasili Podkolzin was and is on the opposite side of the spectrum when compared to Newhook. Podkolzin has developed the reputation of shining internationally through tournaments such as the Hlinka-Gretzky Cup, World Juniors, and the WJAC. This tournament was different. He was named captain for Russia and was expected to do what he’s done in prior events and be a difference maker for the team. That didn’t happen as he didn’t really stand out in a game until the gold medal one and overall he only produced 4 points in 7 games. The goals that got scouts excited when he scored 8 in 5 Hlinka-Gretzky Cup games vanished too as he had failed to score a single goal until the gold medal game. In retrospective that’s definitely the best time to start performing and maybe he was a bit unlucky prior to that but for a top 3 ranked prospect by some, that is simply not good enough.
Dylan Cozens wasn’t bad but I wouldn’t say that he played to his true potential either. On multiple occasions he was trying to make the fancy play instead of the smart one and was found forcing passes when it wouldn’t work. As the tournament progressed it improved and he also utilized his hard shot more but I think that he would have been better suited simplifying his game earlier on.
Söderström also had a rough tournament. Not necessarily due to play as he played well defensively and as a bonus had received the player of the game honour for Sweden when against Slovakia but rather the misfortune of suffering a concussion during the preliminary round. I’m not sure if this will affect his stock all too much as Boqvist suffered one last year and still went 8th to Chicago but it’s something worth considering when the draft comes around.
During the U18’s, some 2020 draft eligibles had the opportunity to shine too, particularly with Sweden’s Lucas Raymond and Alexander Holtz along with Russia’s Yaroslav Askarov.
Holtz and Raymond both were a point-per-game with Raymond scoring a clutch hat-trick in the gold medal game, including a beautiful first and medal winning third. Askarov was also great as mentioned previously and was a key reason why Russia won silver. It’s nice to see how big of an impact underagers can make on medal winning teams. It has also happened last year with Hughes and the states being awarded silver and Kakko and the Finns winning gold. The two are now competing to be drafted first in June and I expect the three mentioned from this tournament to be getting first round consideration, especially with the two Swedes who could push for top 5.
Overall, I’d say that it was a good tournament with all the aspects that make hockey great. Star talent that sets records and wows fans, unpredictability that leaves nothing guaranteed, and the fast paced and physical action that hockey fans have come to expect.