The IIHF U-18 World Hockey Championship has come and gone and given the struggles just to get to that point, everything about it can be seen as a success.
It was the first outing for this event since 2019, and for many of the players, it was the first time they hit the ice in any meaningful way, period. Can you imagine the only time you show scouts what you’re capable of this season is through an international tournament where the stakes are high every time you hit the ice?
That’s a ton of pressure, and in the end, Canada managed it the best to win gold.
The tournament was highlighted by a couple prospects from future draft classes. Shane Wright, Brad Lambert and Ivan Miroshnichenko were the big names from the 2022 class and we got to finally see the first big matchup between 2023 powerhouses Connor Bedard and Matvei Michkov in the final. That game in particular lived up to all the hype, but the real focus for scouts at the tournament was the 2021 class.
The players in that draft are probably sick of hearing how 2022 and 2023 are considered better prospect crops. That gave many something to prove in Texas, especially those who didn’t show their full capabilities in the 13 months prior to the start of the event.
Let’s take a look at 15 standouts from the 2021 draft class from the U-18 World Championship:
Samu Tuomaala, RW (FIN)
Whenever Finland needed a timely goal late in a game, Tuomaala seemed ready to lift the group up. A potential first-round pick, Tuomaala had five goals and 11 points for Finland, including three power-play goals and a game-winner to his credit. Tuomaala’s release is quick, accurate and painful for anyone trying to get in his way and while he sometimes used his quick legs and moves to take himself out of a play, there were very few times where he wasn’t one of the most noticeable guys on the ice for Finland in a good way. Tuomaala has never had a bad tournament for Finland and this year was no different.
Mason McTavish, C (CAN)
McTavish’s championship game performance was so notable, and not because of his offensive prowess. He seemed to hit everything that moved on the ice and kept taking Russia’s best players out of their own game and forcing themselves to have to play what McTavish. It worked in his favor and he ultimately finished tied for fifth in scoring with five goals and 11 points while mainly being Bedard’s wingman. McTavish spent the year in Switzerland with his usual OHL home in Peterborough out of service and he looked good there. He was in proper game shape when the tournament began in Texas and even led the tournament in points early on. His draft profile took a big boost over the past couple weeks.
Aleksi Heimosalmi, D (FIN)
Hard to be disappointed with the guy who ended up with the top defenseman award, right? Whether it’s his eight points in seven games or his strong positional play against some high-powered offensive threats. His awareness at both ends of the ice is a real highlight: when he jumps into the offense, he’s passive, but he’s smart about his passes and typically isn’t the cause of an offensive zone giveaway. While he had some rough moments getting beat by skilled opposing forwards, he didn’t lose a ton of 1-on-1 battles on the rush. He’s been a big draft riser this season and this really helped his cause.
Niktia Chibrikov, RW (RUS)
Chibrikov entered the tournament as one of the key forwards for Russia and he didn’t disappoint. Whether he played with Michkov or not, Chibrikov seemed involved on the scoresheet in nearly every game, only failing to put up a point against Belarus in the quarter-final. With 13 points in seven games, Chibrikov was a consistent performer for Russia and used the tournament to help solidify his status as a first-round prospect. One scout said: “Offensively, he always seems two steps ahead of the play. He’s not afraid to punch up a class physically, either.”
Sasha Pastujov, LW (USA)
Pastujov was one of the few bright spots for an American team that found themselves out of the tournament in the quarter-finals, ending a 16-year run as a medalist at the U-18s. Pastujov led USA with five goals and eight points in five games, highlighted by a three-point night against Russia in the opening contest and USA relied on him heavily late in games – he was almost always up to the task. In domestic league play, Pastujov led the USNTDP with 52 points, with just two instances of being left off the scoresheet after Dec. 16 – specifically, twice in his final three games. If you give Pastujov too much space, he’ll make you pay with his quick release and he’s downright dangerous on the man advantage.
Aku Koskenvuo, G (FIN)
There was no clear No. 1 goaltender overall throughout the tournament, but Koskenvuo put in his best possible effort every night and gave Finland a chance to win games they had no business winning. A big goaltender at 6-foot-4, Koskenvuo’s calm nature and quick movement in the crease is exactly what teams are looking for in a young goalie, especially when the stakes are high. A Harvard University commit, Koskenvuo showcased his ability to adjust to passes and react quickly without getting too far of position on quick chances. His right pad seemed to be in the way of scoring chances more often than not. There aren’t a ton of high-profile goalies in the draft this year but Koskenvuo definitely helped his case with a strong tournament.
Brandt Clarke, D (CAN)
What else can be said that hasn’t been said about the talented two-way defenseman? Clarke is viewed as the best Ontario-based defenseman and is a legitimate threat to go No. 1 in the NHL draft and his U-18 performance was a good microcosm of everything that makes him so good. Clarke was the power-play quarterback and with seven points in seven games, he knew a thing or two about putting points beside his name on the scoresheet. Coming off of a strong season in the Slovak men’s league, Clarke showed a high sense of maturity and as the games went on, he got more comfortable with his opportunities and finished with 15 points in 26 games. Like Dougie Hamilton? You’ll love Clarke.
Olen Zellweger, D (CAN)
Zellweger wasn’t one of the bigger names on Team Canada, especially as a guy projected to go in the third or fourth round. But as Everett Silvertips fans have become accustomed to, there’s so much to love about Zellweger’s game and his U-18 tournament was as good as you could have hoped for with a goal and eight points. Mainly dressing on the third pairing alongside Jack Matier and Guillaume Richard on occasion, Zellweger saw significant time on the power play and was exceptionally impressive against Switzerland with a four-assist night. Zellweger is a mobile blueliner that can hit a top speed to get the puck cleanly quickly and he was one of the better passers among defensemen in Group A play. Clarke may have taken the spotlight, but Zellweger was too darn good to ignore.
Benjamin Gaudreau, G (CAN)
Gaudreau never really had to be that incredible for Canada – they basically ripped through almost every opponent they had. But in the end, he won the top goalie honors and was fully deserving of it. Gaudreau allowed just 11 goals in five games and posted a tournament-leading .919 save percentage. That’s not too shabby for a guy who didn’t see any game action until the tournament began and never seemed to miss a beat. Despite not getting the start for the opening game against Sweden, Gaudreau got two starts in the round-robin while splitting time with Thomas Milic. Milic allowed just one goal against Sweden and one against Sweden, but Gaudreau was given the start in the quarter-final and didn’t disappoint with a couple of highlight-reel saves. Canada rode him out and the rest is history.
Fabian Lysell, RW (SWE)
Earlier in the tournament, a scout said Lysell “has the skillset of Artemi Panarin and the speed of a Bugatti.” That’s a pretty odd scouting report, but… also quite accurate, too. Projected to go in the top 10 of the draft this year, Lysell is so dangerous with the puck and is one of the most creative forwards in this draft class. You can audibly hear him in a lot of clips calling for a pass and when he gets at full speed, he has the ability to make moves at a high velocity that makes him tough to defend against. Lysell never seems to give up on a play and while his defensive zone play can be ugly at points, he makes up for it with his pure skill with the puck. He needs to learn to use his teammates more, but there’s a lot to love there.
Fyodor Svechkov, C (RUS)
From time to time, Svechkov falls into little lulls where you just can’t feel but hate his game-to-game consistency. That was far from the case in Frisco. Svechkov had a point in every game but the final, but he still finished with 10 points and was always a factor for the Russians. Svechkov’s reliability in his own zone was a major positive and no matter who he played with in the top six, he was noticeable. Svechkov is not an explosive skater by any means, but he can handle his own and might surprise you from time to time.
Simon Edvinsson, D (SWE)
There’s a lot of people that believe Edvinsson could be selected first overall in 2021. While it’s better to be on him falling closer to No. 5 than No. 1, Edvinsson further validated the opinions of scouts who like his overall play. Edvinsson had just one 5-on-5 point in the tournament, coming in an 8-0 victory over Finland in the bronze medal game, but even when the going got tough in Texas, Edvinsson was typically a positive standout for Sweden. At 6-foot-5 and just over 200 pounds, Edvinsson is a tremendous skater with a great long stride and a high top speed. In one-on-one situations, he uses his long reach to knock the puck away effectively and he definitely has the power to rip pucks in the back of the net.
Dmitri Kuzmin, D (BLR)
If there was a Most Valuable Defenseman award in this tournament in terms of value to their team, Kuzmin would be a prime choice. Outside of the great play from Danila Klimovich early on, Kuzmin was consistently dangerous and had five points in as many games to show for it. In that same game where Klimovich got his hat-trick, Kuzmin went from the blueline to behind the net before pulling off the first of three total lacrosse in this tournament, a big statement to Kuzmin’s overall skill. Not a big guy at 5-foot-10 and 176 pounds, Kuzmin is projected to go in the mid-fourth to fifth round this year but in terms of eye-opening performances, Kuzmin – dominant at preventing entries at the blueline – did a lot of positive damage.
Francesco Pinelli, C (CAN)
It wouldn’t be a Team Canada game if Pinelli wasn’t on the scoresheet. Dating back to the 5-1 win over Finland in exhibition play, Pinelli had at least one point in all but one of Canada’s games and even had a three-goal, four-point night against Switzerland to conclude the round-robin. A projected first-round pick at the 2021 draft, Pinelli proved himself as an OHL rookie a year ago with 18 goals and 41 points in 59 games, good for eighth on a team dominated by older players. Had Pinelli been able to play in the OHL this season, he would have likely gone for 70-80 points as a sophomore.
Isak Rosen, RW (SWE)
Sweden’s tournament was a rocky one, but Rosen had a memorable run with Tre Kronor. Tied with Lysell for first in scoring on Sweden with seven points, Rosen had at least a goal in every game of the tournament outside of the 12-1 loss on the team’s second game of the tournament – but, mind you, nobody on Sweden looked good in that game. Rosen always seemed to be in the right place at the right time, and even though he’s often applauded for his playmaking skills, his goal-to-assist ratio looked silly with seven goals and two helpers. Rosen always seems to pick his performance up against his age group, but don’t be too worried about his zero goals in the SHL this year – it’s rare for even the top Swedish teenagers to get a ton of opportunities back home. Look for him to be selected around the 20th pick.
Other notables: Logan Stankoven, LW (CAN), Ville Koivunen, RW (FIN), Viljami Juusola, D (FIN), Carl Lindbom, G (SWE), Sean Behrens, D (USA), Danila Klimovich, C (BLR)