May 11, 2021

10 risers from the 2021 Under-18s

For the first time since 2013, Canada won gold at the IIHF World Under-18 Hockey Championship.

With Connor Bedard and Shane Wright leading the charge, the Canadians defeated Matvei Michkov and Russia 5-3 in the final game of the tournament.

The two-week event evolved into an incredible look at the 2023 NHL Draft with the Bedard versus Michkov show. Bedard, the Canadian standout, tied Connor McDavid’s under-16 scoring record with 14 points (seven goals, seven assists) and Michkov, the Russian sensation, came within two goals of the tournament record en route to leading the Under-18s with 16 points (12 goals, four assists) and earning Tournament MVP honors for his remarkable performance.

Wright, eligible for the 2022 NHL Draft, captained Canada and put his exceptional-status talent on display with 14 points (nine goals, five assists) in just five games. Despite being held out of two games for precautionary reasons, Wright’s nine goals are a Canadian record in this event.

Many other 2022-eligibles put on a show in this event as well, with Russia’s trio of Danila Yurov, Ivan Miroshnichenko, and Sergei Ivanov, the Team USA’s Lane Hutson, and Belarus forward Yegor Sidorov getting fans and NHL teams excited for what’s to come.

While the tournament was a stage for 2022 and 2023 draft-eligible prospects, the Under-18s is annually a platform for prospects in the upcoming draft.

In a normal season, the event is the last opportunity for prospects to impress scouts before they hear their name called in the biggest moment of their lives. This year, however, the Under-18s will carry even more weight leading into the 2021 NHL Draft.

With the OHL season cancelled, prospects scoured the globe for ice time. 

Some found it, such as Canada’s Brandt Clarke, Mason McTavish, and Brennan Othmann. Some didn’t get any game-action though, like their teammates Ethan Del Mastro, Wyatt Johnston, and Jack Matier

For all of these prospects, the Under-18s provided a glimpse into where these prospects are in their development compared to their peers. Getting them onto the same ice surface is huge for scouts trying to lock in their rankings. 

On other teams as well, the tournament can raise a prospect’s profile heading into the draft. A fringe first-rounder can secure their spot in the top-32 or a player that no one knew about can burst onto the scene. In this tournament – we have both cases.

With the 2021 IIHF World Under-18 Championship now complete, let’s take a look at the 10 prospects that have boosted their draft stock over the course of the tournament.

Benjamin Gaudreau, G, Team Canada
FCHockey’s Spring ranking: 32

After Canada split the goaltending duties between Benjamin Gaudreau and 2022-eligible Thomas Milic through the preliminary round, Gaudreau seized the reins of the starting job and carried Canada through the medal round and to the gold medal win. For his efforts in the event, he was honored by the IIHF as the tournament’s Best Goaltender.

Gaudreau won all five of his starts, and collected a tournament-best .919 save percentage and 2.20 goals against average. The Sarnia Sting netminder is one of the prospects in this tournament that didn’t hit the ice this season with the OHL season cancellation. With the World U18s being his only action in 2020-21, he’s put on an excellent display for scouts.

One of his biggest assets shown off in the Under-18s was his rebound control. The netminder showed excellent tracking in his games while staying square in his net and showing impressive patience. Gaudreau’s glove hand is lightning quick, resulting in some big saves for Canada. He’s an aggressive netminder that could very well be one of three to hear his name in the first round of the 2021 draft.

Aleksi Heimosalmi, D, Team Finland
Spring ranking: 77

While Finland didn’t medal in the event, they had a number of standout individual performances. One of those belonged to Aleksi Heimosalmi, the team’s No. 1 defenseman. The agile rearguard collected eight points (two goals, six assists) through seven games, and was named the tournament’s Best Defenseman by the IIHF. He was also named a top-three player on Team Finland.

The two goals that the defender scored showed off his impressive skating, his evasiveness, and his creativity, going end-to-end for highlight-reel plays. While the entire team was shut out in the bronze medal game, Heimosalmi collected two assists in a semifinal loss to Russia as he tried everything he could to get his team into the gold medal game.

Heimosalmi showed off a strong two-way ability in the tournament, too, with some flash in his game that could be very intriguing to NHL teams. While his goals showed off his offensive flair, he’s solid in his own end as well, showing strong positional awareness. He’s a player that could be used on both special teams at the next level.

Danila Klimovich, C, Team Belarus
Spring ranking: Not ranked

The surprise of the tournament undoubtedly was Danila Klimovich, who came out of nowhere to capture attention in this tournament. Well actually, he came from the Belarus Vysshaya league, where he had 52 points (28 goals, 24 assists) in 37 games. He exploded out of the gate in this tournament, potting six goals through his five games. In fact, all six of his games came within the first three games.

Named a top-three player for Belarus, Klimovich showed off an absolutely wicked shot with a very quick release. He excels at finding the soft ice, slipping behind defenders and getting open in the offensive zone. On top of this, he has excellent hands and confidence that lead to him being a fearless competitor when it comes to facing defenders, especially in one-on-one situations.

Klimovich might just be the biggest riser of the tournament as he’s a player seemingly no one knew about. While all of his goals came on the power play, his shooting ability should see him hear his name called in the 2021 draft.

Ville Koivunen, LW, Team Finland
Spring ranking: Not ranked

A prospect who’s raised his stock all season, Ville Koivunen put his game on display in this event in showing up big for Finland. In seven games, he finished second on the team with 10 (four goals, six assists) and was one of the key players in their lineup.

Koivunen had a big season in the U20 SM-sarja with Karpat U20, being named the Rookie of the Year with 49 points (23 goals, 26 assists) in 38 games. The intelligent winger continued his impressive draft year in the tournament and was a big part of Finland’s big comeback wins against Russia and the Czech Republic.

Koivunen works the cycle so well, utilizing his playmaking and vision to create offense for his team. The winger made some very impressive plays in the tournament. On top of his movement with the puck, Koivunen shows an ability to get it done by himself too, finding the lanes and cutting to the slot. Koivunen looks like he could be a name to watch in the first three rounds of the 2021 draft.

Dmitri Kuzmin, D, Team Belarus
Spring ranking: Not ranked

While Klimovich was a surprising treat on the Belarus roster, Dmitri Kuzmin was an expected star. And he did not disappoint. The crafty defender had five points (one goal, four assists) in five games, helping his team to the quarterfinal round and being named a top-three player for Belarus.

Kuzmin captivated viewers in his second game of the tournament where he pulled off the Michigan, a lacrosse-style goal, in a 7-1 win over Switzerland. He followed up with a three-assist performance against Latvia. His skill was on full display in every game, immediately drawing viewers to his magic on the ice.

The blueliner is extremely mobile, utilizing his edges so well as he carves through oppositions in transitions. His ability to change both his pace and direction with the puck makes him so difficult to defend. Kuzmin should be the top Belarusian selected in the 2021 draft, potentially within the first three rounds.

Fabian Lysell, LW, Team Sweden
Spring ranking: 10

Sweden struggled as a whole to find their footing in the preliminary round, but not Fabian Lysell. The winger was the top player for his country all tournament, putting the team on his back when they weren’t able to find offense. He collected a team-leading nine points (three goals, six assists) and was a key figure in the team winning the bronze medal. 

Lysell’s speed and creativity are key components of his game and were on full display at the Under-18s. He’s a shifty forward that is so hard to defend, having the ability to create offensive opportunities out of nothing. His playmaking is high-end as well, pulling off some highlight-reel assists.

Lysell is a top-10 prospect in the 2021 draft, but where he falls is still very much up in the air. He could very well be a player to crawl up into the top five and if this tournament carries any weight for NHL scouts, he might just do that.

Isak Rosen, LW, Team Sweden
Spring ranking: 31

It wasn’t just Lysell that stood out for the Swedes in their bronze medal tournament though. Isak Rosen tied Lysell for the team lead in points with nine (seven goals, two assists) and finished third in the tournament in goals. He was named a top-three player on the team for his performance.

Rosen was noticeable in every game of this tournament and improved with each contest. Much like Lysell, Rosen’s speed is remarkable, getting up the ice in a hurry and stunning offenses. He also has a hard, accurate wrist shot that he can get off in a second. Plus, unlike many offensive players at this stage, Rosen is solid in his own end, never giving up in the defensive end.

With the first round of the 2021 draft seemingly wide open, Rosen has been a worthy name in the conversation all season. Between his SHL performance this season and his Under-18s showing, Rosen is a player that could rise up into the top-20 of this class. 

Logan Stankoven, C, Team Canada
Spring ranking: 20

While Bedard and Wright were the offensive leaders on Canada, the play of Logan Stankoven stood out in a big way in this tournament. He collected eight points (four goals, four assists) in seven games, helping his team to the gold medal victory. Stankoven wore the ‘A’ for Canada, and more than lived up to the letter.

The Kamloops Blazers forward never took his foot off the gas, contributing whether he has the puck or not. He pushed the pace of the game, and while there may be reservations with his 5-foot-8 stature, he plays a much bigger game. He’s fearless, willing to take on any player. He can be used on the power play or on the penalty and is one of the more versatile players in this class. 

Stankoven is one of those players that seems to be on the fringe of the first round. If the Under-18s are any indication of what this young player is capable of, he should secure his spot in the top-32 and there is very much a case for him to be in the top-20 as one of the best players in the draft out of the WHL.

Fyodor Svechkov, C, Team Russia
Spring ranking: 18

Along with Michkov, Fyodor Svechkov was one of the most effective players in this tournament. The center was a top player for the Russians, racking up 10 points (four goals, six assists) and showing off his impressive two-way ability. Svechkov, FCHockey’s top-ranked Russian in the 2021 draft class, lived up to the hype in this event.

Svechkov is just so good in all of the little aspects scouts look for in a player. He’s competing, battling to get the puck for his team. He can steal pucks so easily, turning and taking it back up the ice. He’s not a flashy player, but he looks to be a consistent, steady presence for a team that drafts him. He looks to be one of the safer picks in this class.

With Svechkov having a solid season in Russia and a standout performance in Texas at the Under-18s, there’s a possibility we see him selected in the top-15 of this class. If you’re looking for a dynamic player that can be used in every situation and excels in both ends of the rink, Svechkov might just be your guy.

Samu Tuomaala, LW, Team Finland
Spring ranking: 46

Samu Tuomaala is the third member of Finland on this list as a player that looks to have helped his draft stock in the 2021 draft, showing his offensive prowess in scoring 11 points (five goals, six assists) in seven games. The winger was named a top-three player on the team and to the All-Star Team.

Tuomaala’s 11 points led the Finnish team and slotted him fifth overall in the tournament. What is most impressive about his points is how they came, coming up absolutely clutch by scoring game-tying, overtime-forcing goals, and some game-winners. Even some of his assists came in the most important moments of games, pulling off some very impressive plays.

Tuomaala is yet another player that has found himself as a fringe first-rounder. However, the Finnish forward had one of the most impressive individual performances in this tournament and could very well push himself up into the first round. His lethal shot and ability to show up when the team needs him are going to be very intriguing traits for an NHL team.

Honourable mentions: Corson Ceulemans (🇨🇦), Nikita Chibrikov (🇷🇺), Kaiden Mbereko (🇺🇸), Aku Koskenvuo (🇫🇮), Mason McTavish (🇨🇦), Sasha Pastujov (🇺🇸), Samu Salminen (🇫🇮), William Stromgren (🇸🇪), Olen Zellweger (🇨🇦).

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