2018 U20 World Junior Championship

Preliminary Round: Ranking the WJC Draft Prospects

Big names produced big games in front of NHL’s scouting community
Steve Kournianos  |  1/1/2018 |  Nashville  |  [hupso]

Photo courtesy of USA Hockey

NASHVILLE (The Draft Analyst) — One event that scouts use to assess the progress of some of the more notable prospects for the NHL Draft is the under-20 world junior hockey championship, which began in Buffalo last Tuesday. This year’s tournament — considered to be hockey’s premier prospect event — is showcasing several North American and European players who are in their first year of draft eligibility. The nearly 30 participants aged 18 or younger more than doubled the amount featured in last year’s competition. Among those drawing the most attention are the two phenoms many expect to be one of the first two picks chosen — Swedish defenseman Rasmus Dahlin and Russian right wing Andrei Svechnikov.

Beyond Dahlin and Svechnikov, however, are several quality players who though Monday have played well enough to not only leave a significant imprint on the event, but possibly shake up most of the pre-tournament draft rankings. Nine of the 10 participating nations have at least one player who for the first time wil be available for the NHL draft, with Canada being the lone exception. The increase in the number of first-year eligible prospects adds a different wrinkle to an event where national pride appears to be the prevailing motivator behind the intensity of most of the contests.

Below is a list of most of the draft prospects playing at the world junior hockey championship who this year are draft eligible for the first time.

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2018 Draft Prospects

1. LW Filip Zadina (Czech Republic): Could of went either way here with Zadina or Brady Tkachuk, but Zadina’s been impossible to slow down and his 200-foot play has been impeccable. He leads the tournament with 24 shots and two of his three goals put the Czechs ahead to stay in wins over Russian and Belarus. I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if up to this point he’s done enough to replace Rasmus Dahlin or Andrei Svechnikov on several NHL team-internal rankings.

2. LW Brady Tkachuk (United States): It’s hard for anyone to not fall in love with Tkachuk’s abrasive style and exceptional hockey sense. The decision to pair him with Casey Mittelstadt on Team USA’s top line proved decisive, as the duo spearheaded the third-period rally in the 4-3 win over Canada. Tkachuk has been a load to handle around the net, and his pivots, straight-line speed and sharp directional changes make him difficult to fix into an untenable position.

3. RW Andrei Svechnikov (Russia): It’s time to put to bed the idea that Svechnikov is just an elite goal scorer. The young Russian has been outstanding creating chances for his linemates, and he’s the biggest reason why linemate Klim Kostin (STL) is one of the tournament’s top scorers. Svechnikov is so powerful on his skates, and he made quick  work of defenders who tried to shove him off the puck. He was used sparingly in the opening loss to the Czechs but forced coach Valeri Bragin’s hand to play him consistently.

4. LHD Rasmus Dahlin (Sweden): There’s nothing suspicious about ranking the tournament’s top-scoring defender (and consensus top pick for 2018) behind several draft-age peers — Dahlin’s play in his own end has been hot and cold, as he’s turned pucks over and was guilty of chasing players well beyond the slot. Still, watching him control the game at his own pace and orchestrate a power play to perfection are just two of the countless reasons why he’s worth the price of admission. 

5. RW Martin Kaut (Czech Republic): Kaut has been one of the tournament’s top set-up men, as his five assists in four games tied for the most among WJC forwards. And they haven’t been cheapies either — Kaut’s made some sweet set-ups to linemates Martin Necas and Filip Zadina. He’s a defensively-responsible winger and a sound decision maker, and his nifty go-ahead power-play goal against the Swiss proved to be the game winner.

6. C Philip Kurashev (Switzerland): The Swiss competed hard in every preliminary-round match, and Kurashev was a big reason why they stayed in games. Shifty, slick and incredibly skilled,  Kurashev’s shoot-first mentality has created a lot of chances for both himself and his linemates. What I liked the most of his game, however, was his willingness to battle in front of both his and the opponent’s net. He didn’t always come out on top, but the effort and the recognition at this stage of his development are good enough for me.

7. C/W Milos Roman (Slovakia): The Slovaks’ upset win over the Americans was the opening round’s lone shocker, and they can thank Roman for doing a ton of yeoman’s work for them. Normally a skilled player who can wow you with puck skills, Roman played a smart, disciplined game and was in the face of every opponent who controlled the puck. He’s delivered hits, picked off breakout passes and dished the puck himself with accuracy and authority. The Slovaks avoiding a fourth-place finish in Group A was a collective effort, but Roman’s service proved to be invaluable.

8. LHD Quinn Hughes (United States): Displays of jaw-dropping finesse are commonplace when you watch this fluid puck mover work his magic. But Hughes appeared to become intoxicated with the desire to press the issue and attack deep into the opposing zone, which at times put his partner in precarious situations. He’s been on the ice for several odd-man rushes against, and most were a result of untimely pinches or gambles. That being said, the kid is really fun to watch and did more than hold his own against bigger, thicker opponents. Team USA will need him to tighten his game up if they want to repeat as champions.

9. LHD Michal Ivan (Slovakia): Not the sexiest prospect among WJC draft eligibles, and I expected Ivan to be more of a focal point on offense as opposed to the shutdown nuisance he was to enemy offenses. He was used in every situation and made countless plays in his own end — shot blocks, poke checks and takeaways — that saved a beleaguered bunch from lengthy cycle pressure. Ivan has a massive reach and a long stick, and was sound one-on-one outside of the puck fishing that got him posterized on Casey Mittelstadt’s late goal in the win versus the Americans. It’s not easy being the youngest defender on an underdog but he’s held his own and has legitimate Top-4 upside.

10. LHD Filip Kral (Czech Republic): The Czechs came to Buffalo with a solid defense corps, but it’s been the play of this first-year eligible that helped stabilize them through some harrowing moments. Kral has played Top-4 minutes in each of the four games and has seen time on both the power play and the penalty kill. He can skate, shoot and pass the puck, and he’s an absolute nightmare to enter the zone against.

11. LHD Dmitry Deryabin (Belarus): The Belorussians played spirited, never-say-die hockey in two of their four losses, and Deryabin was entrusted with an expanded role despite being the second-youngest skater on the roster — his 18:20 TOI through four games was second among Belarus defenders. He’s poised with the puck and has a nice set of wheels that he used to outskate pressure. Deryabin showed a lot of promise and should be a fixture on next year’s WJC squad.

12. C/W Jakub Lauko (Czech Republic): One of the 2018 draft’s fastest skaters was relegated to a support role and did not dress in the Czechs’ lone loss to Sweden. In his limited minutes, however, the excitable forward busted it from whistle to whistle and used his speed to create a significant amount of separation  Lauko is a useful player who backchecks and will throw his weight around, and the constraint of playing under 11 minutes a game has not limited his ability to make the most out of every shift.

13. C/W Isac Lundestrom (Sweden): It’s doubtful anybody viewed Lundestrom’s inclusion to a medal-contending roster as anything more than a depth add. And it was obvious the young speedster was not going to be the type of player the Swedes would summon to bail them out of a jam. He’s played sparingly at offensive-zone situations and hasn’t seen much on the power play, but he’s done well handling the puck and creating turnovers off an aggressive forecheck.

14. C Ivan Drozdov (Belarus): Poised skill forward who can stickhandle his way out of a jam and uses quick feet to pivot away from pressure. Drozdov, who has been consistently noticeable for a Belorussian team with a decent amount of firepower, has created a handful of plays and was involved in some of his team’s better cycles . Far from a floater, Drozdov is always around the puck and it conveniently finds him when he’s not. He’s the youngest skater on the squad but he was used in every situation, including late in a one-goal game with the Czechs. 

15. LHD Nico Gross (Switzerland): The manner in which a mobile defender like Gross controls the puck reveals a very confident young man. Part of it may be that this is his third WJC. But watching him enough showed me a two-way defenseman who his teammates seemed to trust to turn a dangerous situation into a tenable one. The offense hasn’t been there — neither at the WJC or in league play with the Oshawa Generals — and that could have an impact on where he gets drafted in June. For now, Gross is easily one of the tournament’s more reliable puck movers.

16. C Krystof Hrabik (Czech Republic): One of the more defensively-responsible draft prospects, Hrabik has seen most of his playing time on the penalty kill or for defensive-zone draws. A good checker with size, strength and decent hands, he’s been good at using his weight and reach to win his puck battles and clear pucks deep enough to get lines changed. Hrabik isn’t very fast but he can weave his way out of a jam and can ward off opponents long enough to get the puck into the hands of a quicker carrier.

17. C Rasmus Kupari (Finland): A possible Top-10 pick in the NHL draft, Kupari through four games has been nothing more than a roster filler for a Finnish team that came to Buffalo with a boatload of talent.  The blowout loss to Canada in the opener may have set the tone for his tournament-wide usage, as the Finns are desperate to make up for last year’s near-relegation disaster. Nonetheless, Kupari is a confident kid with an array or moves and shots to beat you, but instances where he has the puck in open ice have been few and far between. Kupari, who was born in 2000, likely has two more cracks to make his mark on the tournament.

18. LHD Martin Fehervary (Slovakia): A mobile defenseman with good hands and strong balance who improved as the tournament progressed. Known more of a half-court defender than a puck rusher, Fehervary’s been average in his own end and hasn’t been a danger with the puck outside of a few rushes past center and a harmless wrister than snuck in for a goal against Denmark. Although expectations were high prior to the tournament and his two nondescript performances were in blowout losses to Canada and Finland, his play in the other two matches was relatively solid.

19. RW Nando Eggenberger (Switzerland): Zero points and a minus-7 while averaging almost 18 minutes a game is hard to sugarcoat. But the effort from this two-way power winger has been there, and Eggenberger has been far from a disappointment or liability. He plays under control while dishing out hits and using his speed to apply pressure on defensemen, plus he makes neat little plays to maintain possession. Still, he’s the team captain and needs points to validate the effort.

20. LW Adam Liska (Slovakia): I expected more from this 200-foot winger, especially since he entered the tournament riding a recent hot streak with his Kitchener Rangers. Liska didn’t generate much offensively but made up for it with some tight chest-to-chet checking in his own end.  He remains a threat around the net because he always appears to be lodged somewhere inside the low slot.

21. LHD Tim Berni (Switzerland): Berni is a hard-working puck mover who can hold his own in the physical department but wasn’t as creative as he could have been. It seemed as if Berni and his defense partner — fellow neophyte Davyd Barandun — had trouble dealing with the forecheck more than the other Swiss pairings. Nonetheless, Berni was solid in his one-on-one battles and maintaining a rigid position at his blue line to slow down or turn back opposing entries. He didn’t provide much offense but his speed and playmaking ability are two things he should exploit for next year.

22. RHD Lasse Holm Mortensen (Denmark): Talk about a baptism by fire. This poor kid and his mates have been under a relentess attack for what seems like 55 minutes of every 60-minute match. But Mortensen’s continuous dealings in his own end revealed a big kid who had quick feet and was decisive in his step-ups. He didn’t have many forays into the offensive zone but wasn’t shy about dropping below the circles. There were times he looked lost and intimidated, but being pinned in your own end for 2-3 minutes a pop would do that to any defenseman.

23. LHD Davyd Barandun (Switzerlan): Barandun is a quick puck mover who looks like he’s trying to avoid making a major mistake, but that IS the mistake. The puck doesn’t stay on his stick for more than a second, which in turn is boxing in his forwards who are taking his passes in traffic in a clogged neutral zone. There’s a fine line between puck poise and puck mismanagement, and Baradun appeared to consistently lean towards the latter. Being paired with 2000-born blueliner Tim Berni hasn’t provided him with much of a safety net.

24. RW Vladislav Mikhalchuk (Belarus): The Prince George sniper and power play specialist has barely touched the ice in Buffalo, and it was an adventure when he did. Tall, lanky and heady, Mikhalchuk hasn’t budged from the fourth line and was not used consistently with the man advantage, which in major junior is where he makes his money. He didn’t have major issues handling the ferocity of opposing neutral zone pressure because he knows how to use his long reach and lean away from shoves.

25. G Jakub Skarek (Czech Republic): One of the top goalies in the elite Czech Extraliga was nothing short of abysmal in the preliminary round, surrendering nine goals  — five on the power play — on 64 shots and whiffing on stoppable chances. I still think he’s a first-round quality and that this is just a bump in the road. But there’s a good bet he turned off the majority of scouts and will take a hit on everyone’s draft board.