LANDSHUT and KAUFBEUREN, Germany – We’re by way of two days on the IIHF Under-18 Men’s World Championship and I’ve had an opportunity to see all eight groups competing stay and in particular person. Hundreds of NHL scouts, most of the NHL’s prime group executives and a few actually nice crowds of spectators have flocked to Bavaria to see a few of the future stars of the league.
Through two days, USA and Finland maintain the highest spots of their respective teams with excellent data, Canada and Sweden bounced again from disappointing setbacks of their openers and all of Czechia, Germany, Switzerland and Latvia have proven they are often aggressive with the Big Four.
There’s been a little bit of an odd really feel to this match as there’s normally a Big Five. The absence of Russia has loomed significantly largely within the first world championship occasion because the IIHF instituted a ban on Russia and Belarus from competitors in response to the battle in Ukraine. Both would have been within the match in any other case. It’s laborious to not discover as Russia had among the best groups within the age group and Matvei Michkov was the reigning MVP of this match.
The expertise pool is barely watered down in comparison with earlier years, however there’s nonetheless a litany of top-level prospects for the 2022 NHL Draft and an unusually great amount of elite-level 2023 NHL Draft prospects, together with Connor Bedard and Adam Fantilli, Canada’s duo that ought to go within the prime three subsequent yr with Bedard being the consensus No. 1.
While I’m out in Germany, I needed to offer you a glimpse of what’s happening right here on this essential draft occasion and share a few of the issues I’ve seen and heard over the course of this match.
USA’s dominant begin fueled by Isaac Howard, Logan Cooley
Isaac Howard, who was ranked No. 12 on Daily Faceoff’s midseason draft rankings, has had a sensational begin to the match because the U.S. has rolled by way of Canada, 8-3, and Czechia, 6-2, en path to the most effective report in Group A. The expert winger scored 4 targets towards Canada and one other towards Czechia. He is presently main the match with 5 targets and 6 factors and has been a power for the U.S. from the drop of the puck.
Also getting extremely concerned is Logan Cooley, our midseason No. 1 prospect, who has 4 factors and ranks third within the match thus far. Cooley and Howard had been each a part of the group final yr as nicely, so the expertise definitely helps.
In Cooley’s case, his pace has overwhelmed defenders and he’s in a position to make a variety of performs at pace, too. That’s at all times been certainly one of his biggest attributes and he’s allowed it to shine right here. As for Howard, he has excellent puck expertise and has proven an ever-more-dangerous release. More importantly, nevertheless, he’s attending to the robust scoring areas and discovering the center of the ice simply, which is essential for him as he’s not a very huge man.
Both Cooley and Howard have seen their draft shares dip a bit within the months since I put out my midterm rankings. They’re each trying like first-round picks and Cooley nonetheless most likely goes within the prime 5, however having a giant match actually helps that trigger.
Also on Team USA, captain Rutger McGroarty had a giant hand within the group’s come-from-behind win over Czechia, as he scored two targets and has been a very disruptive power for opposing defensemen in their very own zone. His measurement, power, work ethic and capturing capacity are all standout traits that I feel can assist groups win. The greatest factor he wants to enhance on is his skating, however a lot else about his recreation screams NHL.
Lastly, this U.S. group may have as many as seven first-rounders on it. Defenseman Ryan Chesley is making an amazing case to be amongst them with two sturdy video games and three factors within the match thus far. His numbers weren’t spectacular, however he’s regarded like a top-level defenseman on this match.
Bedard picks up proper the place he left off, makes historical past
He’s solely 16 years previous, however he’s a veteran — the one veteran on Canada’s roster from final yr’s gold-medal group. Bedard had seven targets and 14 factors in that match, matching the manufacturing of Connor McDavid on the similar age on this match. McDavid additionally gained gold.
Now the captain and the group’s finest participant, Bedard has proven that he can put the group on his again when referred to as upon. He had a aim and an help earlier than the sport bought away from Canada towards the U.S., dropping a no-look centering go for a aim after which sniping the highest nook from a extreme angle for his personal tally.
In the Canadians’ second contest, they nonetheless had been looking for their recreation towards host Germany. It took them some time, however they discovered it, and Bedard completed that recreation with a hat trick. He’s second behind Howard with 4 targets and 5 factors within the match, already scoring forward of his tempo from final season.
Bedard really made historical past together with his efficiency towards Germany as nicely. He is now Canada’s all-time main aim scorer on this match and likewise handed Mathew Barzal to turn out to be Canada’s all-time main level scorer as nicely. Bedard has 19 factors in simply 9 profession video games, whereas Barzal had 16 factors in 14 video games. This child is on a special planet.
Sweden begins gradual
Sweden bought off to an terrible begin within the match, first coping with some COVID-19 constructive instances upon arrival in Germany, forcing a few of their gamers to isolate within the resort. They even have had some accidents, however head coach Magnus Havelid didn’t need to make excuses for his group, particularly after shedding a recreation to Latvia.
That’s proper. Sweden bought upset by Latvia, 3-2, within the match opener. I wasn’t within the constructing, however NHL scouts had been disillusioned with the disinterested effort Sweden gave in that exact contest. Then the Swedes had been down 2-1 towards Switzerland heading into the third interval of their second recreation. I used to be within the constructing for that one and witnessed them rating 5 targets within the third to assert a 6-2 win and regain confidence.
Havelid mentioned after the sport he challenged the group forward of the third interval to simply play. They had been gripping their sticks too tightly and that nervousness didn’t permit them to play the sport he knew was in there. They discovered it.
The line of Jonathan Lekkerimaki, Noah Ostlund and Liam Ohgren took the sport over with Lekkerimaki scoring twice, together with a fully dazzling breakaway aim within the second interval, and Ostlund scoring with unbelievable talent on an influence play. Mattias Havelid — no relation to the coach, however the son of former NHLer Niclas Havelid — has been a steadying presence on their again finish, too. He was named participant of the sport within the win over Switzerland.
Lekkerimaki has a variety of floor to make up after lacking greater than a month with a non-COVID sickness. Despite lacking that a lot time, he began to look extra like himself in that third interval comeback. He is likely one of the elite shooters on this draft and appears like he may but be a top-15 choose. Ostlund and Ohgren are nonetheless preventing for first-round consideration and might actually assist themselves on this match.
Sweden should hope that third interval is an indication of issues to come back as a result of in the event that they play like they did towards Latvia, it’s going to be a brief journey for them.
The 2023 group appears thrilling
Beyond Bedard, scouts are getting an amazing preview for the 2023 NHL Draft class at this match. Fantilli has performed very nicely for the Canadians because the No. 2 C behind Bedard. His power, pace and talent have all put him among the many elite gamers on this match.
The U.S. additionally has Charlie Stramel, who in these smaller buildings you may hear teammates shouting “Rig” to get the puck from him. Rig, as in “Big Rig.” The 6-foot-3, 215-pound middle can completely fly and has actually good soft-touch expertise on prime of being a big human. There aren’t a variety of energy facilities like him, so he’ll proceed to draw eyeballs.
Some of the youthful gamers for the European groups have additionally been eye-catching.
Eduard Sale, who performs for Czechia, had three assists within the group’s opening win over Germany. His capacity to identify teammates and get pucks to them decisively has proven a few of his maturity and confidence at a younger age. Every degree he’s been at, he’s produced at a spectacularly excessive charge, and he’s coming off the best season by a U17 participant in Czechia’s prime U20 league.
Finland’s Kasper Haltuunen has additionally turned some heads on this occasion. The 16-year-old is 6-foot-3, 195 kilos and is troublesome to cease on the frenzy. He scored two targets in Finland’s win over Latvia and showcased a heavy recreation with nice work ethic on prime of getting good ending talent.
In all, there are 36 gamers which have appeared in a recreation on this match which can be eligible for subsequent yr’s draft, 20 of them have registered not less than one level and two goaltenders have made appearances.
We typically get just a little overzealous in declaring this draft or that draft sturdy a couple of yr out, however I do suppose the 2023 class is a little more attractive, and the presence of so many younger gamers on this occasion has elevated the worth for NHL groups and scouts to be right here and see what they’re about as a preview for subsequent yr.
There’s greater than sufficient to maintain you busy with the 2022 class on this match, but it surely’s laborious to not discover 2023 guys catching your eye in a variety of these video games.
Emptying the pocket book
Top Finnish prospect Joakim Kemell missed his group’s second recreation of the match with a non-COVID sickness. It is anticipated to be brief time period and he’s believed to be coming again as early as Thursday’s preliminary-round finale towards Sweden.
The pleasure surrounding 15-year-old Aron Kiviharju just isn’t going to decelerate a lot now that he’s began his match with three assists. After he put up 30 factors in Finland’s prime U20 league final season, there’s a variety of hype surrounding him. There are some caveats, although. Kiviharju is a smaller defenseman, however there’s hope he can develop some extra. His hand expertise, imaginative and prescient and passing capacity are all high-end traits, although. As he will get stronger and performs older, stronger competitors, he’ll have to search out methods to regulate, however he doesn’t look misplaced right here and primarily has been a top-pairing man for Finland. He’s not draft eligible till 2024.
Top Russian prospect Ivan Miroshnichenko, who was recognized with Hodgkins lymphoma earlier this yr, is being handled in Germany proper now and has attended a few of the video games in Landshut. It’s allowed the younger Russian to talk with groups to replace them on how therapy goes. Before the analysis and every part else with Russia, he regarded like he may very well be a top-five choose. Regardless of what any of this implies for his draft inventory, it was simply good to see the participant in good spirits.
Canada’s roster was actually up towards it this yr. Hockey Canada doesn’t have gamers depart their groups in the midst of the CHL playoffs, in order that limits the pool considerably. In this explicit match, they don’t have a single QMJHL participant as a result of that season continues to be ongoing, and they’re lacking quite a few the largest names within the 2022 NHL Draft class. This goes to be a down yr for Canada on the draft as it’s, however to be lacking such an enormous chunk of gamers, it has proven on this match. Beyond Bedard and Fantilli, Canada hasn’t had sufficient from different sources. That doesn’t imply it may well’t win all of it nonetheless, although. There’s a great quantity of expertise on the roster and Bedard and Fantilli simply will be the two finest gamers within the match. Still, we’ve seen stumbles like getting throttled by the U.S. and permitting Germany again right into a recreation earlier than pulling away within the third interval, that are trigger for concern. Still, it’s essential to know the context about how this match operates and significantly how Hockey Canada has to pick out its group on this explicit season after profitable gold final yr when it actually was solely lacking its QMJHL gamers.
Speaking with Sweden coach Magnus Havelid after Sweden’s win over Switzerland, he introduced up a very good level about how disjointed their begin was. He reminded us how in a traditional setting, these gamers would have performed much more tournaments collectively in the previous couple of years. While different issues just like the World Juniors and Under-18s got here again, a variety of smaller tournaments like Four Nations or Five Nations weren’t held attributable to COVID-19 dangers. He mentioned the teaching employees didn’t totally admire how huge of a problem that offered. They couldn’t strategy this World Championship like they usually would as a result of the gamers are nonetheless studying one another. That may be why the group’s huge line of Lekkerimaki, Ostlund and Ohgren are so good for them. They performed collectively all yr and for a bit of their youth careers at Djugardens. It was one other reminder of how COVID has actually put the clamps to decrease ranges of hockey and hindered nationwide group improvement specifically for some nations.