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U18 Championship Prospect Notebook: Lottery team targets and NHL draft gems

LANDSHUT, GERMANY — Team Sweden upset Team USA last Sunday afternoon in Landshut, Germany to take home the World U18 Gold Medal for the second time in their history.

As usual, the tournament provided pause for thought. Some players performed above their grade. Others struggled to maintain momentum.

Not surprisingly, the vast majority of the high performances came from Team Sweden, Team Finland, and Team USA. Team Czechia had a couple surprises, as did Team Germany. Team Canada patched together a roster that never established itself and were eliminated in the quarterfinals by Finland.

Here are some of my observations:

FORWARDS

Jonathan Lekkerimaki, Team Sweden

U18 Championship Stats: 6GP, 5G, 10A, 15PTS                                                                           

Led the event in scoring and was voted one of the top forwards. His stock is on the rise and the results speak for themselves after he scored in big games last week. In the gold medal game his one goal and three points against the USA has to stand out to teams. He elevated in the biggest game of the season and played to his identity. He possesses an elite release and sniffs out offence at every opportunity. Don’t be surprised to see a team step up early on this player. (Think back to when Detroit selected Moritz Seider sixth overall in 2019). Colleague Sam Cosentino had Lekkerimaki ranked seventh in his April list.

Jiri Kulich, Team Czechia

U18 Championship Stats: 6GP, 9G, 2A, 11PTS

He is likely to rise the most in team rankings. His 39 shots on goal led the tournament. Kulich scored seven of his nine goals on the PP. The kid can really shoot the puck. He scored from long-range using his lethal wrist shot. He also showed he can find quiet ice and one-time pucks when he has more time and area to work with. He was voted the MVP forward of the event and has established himself as a first-round candidate. Teams will build their lists and have long conversations about this player. His ranking has been all over the map worldwide this season, but don’t be surprised to see him go around No. 20 in the draft.


Isaac Howard, Team USA

U18 Championship Stats: 6GP, 6G, 5A, 11PTS

Everything he touched seemed to go in the net early in the tournament. His four-goal game against Canada in the first game of the round robin sent a message to scouts that he was here to perform and finish his season on a high. The team didn’t win gold, but Howard certainly pulled his weight. Players like this have a knack for finding pucks in scoring areas. He reads/reacts very well. When he does get a puck in a high danger area it usually ends up in the net. A team looking to draft a goal scorer around No. 15 in the draft will be rewarded.


Rutger McGroarty, Team USA

U18 Championship Stats: 6GP, 8G, 1A, 9PTS

One of the draft eligible players who’s a “hash marks down” contributor in the offensive zone, but his skating will be scrutinized. When he gets into a shift that is full of stops and starts (or small-area cuts) he breaks down. Having said that, he is a heavy lifter who is hard to defend when he is leaning on opponents. The captain of Team USA faced the music admirably after the loss to Sweden. He’s a character kid and a leader. He’s a first-round candidate, but a “back half” of the first-round target.


Noah Ostlund, Team Sweden

U18 Championship Stats: 6GP, 4G, 6A, 10PTS

Along with Kulich (Czechia) this player will be another who rises significantly in draft rankings after an excellent week. The diminutive forward (5-foot-11, 163 pounds) is highly competitive and very skilled. He’s more of a playmaker than a shooter. He played on the first line for the Swedes at the tournament and drove the play. Not only does he produce offence, he has the hockey sense to be used on the PK. Draft prognosticators forecasted him in the middle of the second round to early in the third round. If his name is still on the board at the beginning of Day 2 in Montreal, I expect him to be called very early that morning.

Logan Cooley, Team USA

U18 Championship Stats: 6GP, 3G, 7A, 10PTS

There is still a possibility he lands at No. 1 on some team’s draft lists. His game had peaks and valleys at the U18. His stats line is positive. There is no question he is a highly skilled and determined prospect who wants to be a difference maker. He made some unbelievable plays (including a Michigan goal versus Latvia) in the tournament, but also had long stretches of average play. His body of work speaks for itself. Teams will hold him to a high standard, but also pick at him a bit based on the way his season ended. I still believe he is going No. 2 in this year’s draft.

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Joakim Kemell, Team Finland

U18 Championship Stats: 5GP, 6G, 2A, 8PTS

His tournament was derailed a bit at the start as he fought through illness that kept him out for one game. He plays to the identity of a highly competitive forward. He does get a bit hectic at times, but there is no doubt he is attempting to make a difference. The power play ran through him at the U18. He’s a shooter more than a distributor. His ability to play quick, fast, and be involved physically while scoring goals are attributes that keep him in the top 10 for the draft.


Frank Nazar, Team USA

U18 Championship Stats: 6GP, 3G, 6A, 9PTS

Teams need to value this kind of player as they build their draft lists. His brought offence in an elevated role and can be used on the power play. At worst he has established himself as a secondary scoring option who plays quick, fast, and with some grit. He’s a 10-15 first round option.


Liam Ohgren, Team Sweden

U18 Championship Stats: 6GP, 3G, 6A, 9PTS

Full disclosure: I underestimated this player in earlier viewings. He came into the tournament as a bit of a question mark due to injury. A lower body (believed to be an ankle injury) is never easy to play through at the end of a long year. However, he not only produced offence but his presence was noted almost every shift. A well-rounded, detailed prospect. He makes several plays a game in small areas to extend zone time for his team. When he isn’t scoring he provides detail off the puck and from the red line down into his zone. He isn’t shy about battling and using his 6-foot-1, 187-pound frame in hard areas. It would not surprise me in the least to see him sneak into the top 15 of this draft.

Julian Lutz, Team Germany

U18 Championship Stats: 4GP, 2G, 2A, 4PTS

It has been an up and down season for Lutz as he has played through injury. He attempted to carry the mail for Team Germany at this tournament to the best of his ability. He moves well and brings size (6-foot-2, 179 pounds) and skill to the equation. On the power play he showed he can one time pucks and score goals. This is a player who might be flying under the radar a bit and I believe showed enough to come under consideration in the second round of the draft. Big bodies who extend plays, battle, and have skill are a wanted commodity. The Soo Greyhounds hold his CHL rights, but he is under contract in Germany with EHC Munchen in the DEL and unlikely to come to North America next season.

OTHER NOTABLE FORWARDS:

Jere Lassila: Team Finland’s captain was noticeable. A solid skater with a compact frame. He sees the ice well and brings better than average secondary scoring upside.

Cutter Gauthier: The big forward from Team USA had a solid week overall. He produced offensively and was involved in the hard areas. He played to his identity. He isn’t a player who drives a line but he knows where to find pucks.

Matyas Sapovaliv: Team Czechia forward who plays for Saginaw in the OHL. At 6-foot-4, 190 pounds he brings size and reach. There is no doubt this kid is more of a playmaker than a shooter. He didn’t produce a ton of results (6GP, 1G, 2A) but he handled the puck almost every shift and is a creative thinker who protects pucks. This is a player who will be targeted somewhere in the middle of the second round.

Topi Ronni: There’s significant room for more strength and weight (currently 6-foot-1, 176 pounds). The Finnish forward has to be watched closely to be appreciated. He makes several smart, small, responsible plays with the puck in all three zones and competes against top end match-ups. A name to keep an eye on. He won’t go early, but someone is going to get a potential third-line NHL player here. He scored two goals and two assists in the tournament.

Connor Bedard: The underage forward from Team Canada attempted to carry his group on his back. He was dynamic at times and scored a couple of goals that only someone with his pedigree could attempt, never mind execute.

Adam Fantilli: He will be dissected in the next year and has potential to challenge for a top slot in the 2023 draft. He competed at the Worlds. Fantilli is a wonderful skater, very explosive and difficult to defend off the rush. He likes to take control himself and prefers getting pucks to the net off his stick. The downside with his game last week was he was trying to do too much at times, which led to turnovers in key areas of the ice and unfortunately goals against his team.

DEFENCEMEN

Mattias Havelid, Team Sweden

U18 Championship Stats: 6GP, 4G, 8A, 12PTS

Mattias had a fantastic week for Team Sweden. It seemed like he had the puck on his stick every shift. A playmaker who can run the power play. He’s an elite passer. Scouts will debate his size (5-foot-9, 170 pounds) as a possible drawback to his upside. I don’t see an issue. He was reliable defending out front his net and along the boards down low in his zone. His pre-draft ranking has ranged from late-first round to mid-third round. He’s an early second day pick at worst after this tournament.

Tomas Hamara, Team Czechia

U18 Championship Stats: 6GP, 0G, 8A, 8PTS

Tomas was noticeable last week as one of the key contributors for Team Czechia. He’s not an imposing defender, but he’s plenty steady. His element is clearly his ability to manage pucks. He outlets well and is a trusted contributor distributing in the offensive zone on the PP. His stats line speaks to his element. There’s much to like about this player. He’s a “safe” option that I see being a value pick in the third round of the draft.

Owen Pickering, Team Canada

U18 Championship Stats: 4GP, 0G, 2A, 2PTS

Sometimes at these events players are tasked with having to try to play outside their comfort zone. Pickering appeared to fit into that category. There was no question the Canadians were leaning on him to log big minutes and take a leadership role. His attention to detail with his defending was off a bit at times, as was his execution offensively. Having said that, there weren’t enough red flags with his game to suggest his body of work for the season will take a beating off this tournament. It is clear now he needs to keep his game simple and take fewer risks to be effective. There is too much to like, too much upside, to discount him any further than between 20–30 in the draft.


Ryan Chesley, Team USA

U18 Championship Stats: 6GP, 2G, 3A, 5PTS

He finished the tournament at plus-13 and logged a ton of minutes for Team USA. This is a player who contributes in a variety of ways. He gaps up to kill zone entries from opponents, and competes in the hard areas in his zone and wins pucks. He chips in with some secondary offence, too. A well-rounded prospect that a team will value come the draft in July. He’s a Day 2 pick, but I see him landing somewhere around No. 40 overall and the team that picks him will get a very reliable, consistent defender who is a leader.


Lane Hutson, Team USA

U18 Championship Stats: 6GP, 0G, 8A, 8PTS

Who will be the team brave enough to select this player earlier than the draft prognosticators have him? I have no hesitation putting his name forward in the early stages of the second round. If he slips past No. 40 overall the team drafting him is getting into potential “steal” territory. Lane is one of the most elite thinkers in the draft. He sees the ice and makes plays. The obvious is the fact he will need to get physically stronger, but he isn’t a poor defender even now. An example of a smaller defenceman drafted in the second round in the past: Samuel Girard – 5-foot-9, 165 pounds – to Nashville 47th overall in 2016.


Elias Salomonsson, Team Sweden

U18 Championship Stats: 5GP, 0G, 1A, 1PT

He was suspended for the semifinal game after getting ejected for a high hit against Team Germany in the quarterfinals. What he doesn’t bring offensively he makes up for with overall reliability. Elias is not shy about playing the body. He takes away time and space effectively in his zone. He outlets pucks and is capable of making some plays in the offensive zone. He’s NOT a vanilla player however. Every NHL team has players like this in their lineup. I project him to be a two-way NHL defenceman who can log up to 20 minutes per night and be used at even strength and on the penalty kill. He’s a name to keep an eye on between 35-40 in the second round.

Calle Odelius, Team Sweden

U18 Championship Stats: 6GP, 0G, 3A, 3PTS

Calle is a powerful skater. He was deployed in all situations for Team Sweden and contributed steady minutes. Although not elite offensively he does have enough offence to project as a secondary producer from the back end. On occasion he will see a hole and lead the rush on his own. Another reliable defender for the draft who projects to be a two-way NHL defenceman. He will be on teams’ lists at the start of Day 2 for the Montreal draft

Seamus Casey, Team USA

U18 Championship Stats: 6GP, 3G, 3A, 6PTS

There are similarities to Casey and Hutson’s game from Team USA. The difference, for now, is Casey is a bit bigger and shoots the puck more than Hutson. This is a player who can also run the power play and projects to be a transitional defenceman at every step of his development. There are times he flies a bit under the radar in terms of playing to his identity, but he’s an interesting name who is also likely to be called at some point in the second round of the draft.


GOALIES

The goalie group at this tournament doesn’t scream No. 1 puck stopper at the NHL level, but there were some intriguing moments throughout the tournament.

Reid Dyck, Team Canada

It will be interesting to see where Reid gets selected this summer in Montreal. His tournament was a roller coaster ride. He moves well for a goalie his size and is quick from side to side. He has a better than average glove and made some huge saves for Team Canada in the tournament. He would also like to have some pucks back, though. His rebound control off his pads was an area of concern. He also tends to backhand pucks (trying to catch them from long range) resulting in some misplays. He’s a late-round consideration who needs time to mature and show he has the mental makeup to contribute big stops over a full 60 minutes.


Hugo Havelid, Team Sweden

Hugo was one of the nice stories coming out of this tournament. He faced 51 shots in the gold medal game and although he allowed four goals he gave his team a chance to win. The clear cut No. 1 goalie for the Swedes, he played every game. Size (5-foot-10, 170 pounds) will be the discussion when teams debate if they should draft Hugo. It won’t be for lack of heart and desire if he doesn’t get picked. He was positionally sound and never quit on a puck. He has a stocky look and takes up enough net. Sure I would like him to be three inches taller, especially when he drops into his butterfly. But I’m betting on him getting selected in the fifth or sixth round in Montreal and giving the team that picks him four years of development to see where he ends up.

Topias Leinonen, Team Finland

The top-ranked goalie in Europe for NHL Central Scouting. The obvious is his stature, 6-foot-5, 207 pounds. He’s a big body goalie who takes up the net. His play in the tournament was mostly solid. He is at his best in a structured format. When his team plays lost in their zone he tends to follow suit and kicks pucks back out into scoring areas or allows a goal he would like to have back. The kid has all the tools, but he will need time. He could be the first goalie off the board in Montreal. A team with multiple picks in the second round could roll the dice.

FINAL SUMMARY

Most of these players are now finished for the season and have given the scouting fraternity all the exposure they can provide. It’s never a bad thing to have a ton of picks for the draft. Amateur staffs drool at the opportunity to stock the cupboards of their organization. In my opinion this is a draft year that will provide its share of NHL players, but it’s an unusual world we live in right now. Team Russia was not at this tournament. Will players from Russia slide in the draft? Several Canadian players are still with their major junior teams in the playoffs or finishing the regular season (QMJHL) so they still have an opportunity to impress.

With just over two months to go until the draft in Montreal there remains a lot of work to be done.

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