Bell’s 10 Takes: World Under-18 Championship
Bell’s 10 Takes is a monthly column from FCHockey’s crossover scout Josh Bell. This column will highlight Bell’s analysis of 2021 NHL Draft-eligible prospects and reaction news in the prospect world.
The 2021 IIHF World Under 19 Hockey Championship has commanded NHL Draft enthusiasts’ attention over the past few weeks, and as someone who watched every single game in the tournament, this month’s 10 Takes is filled with my reactions and thoughts from the event.
From the wonderful 2023-eligibles to guys who haven’t played this season, here are my 10 Takes from the World U18s.
Matvei Michkov: World U18s Tournament MVP
What Matvei Michkov was able to do in this tournament is absolutely remarkable. The young Russian led the tournament in points with 16 (12 goals, four assists), helping Team Russia to a silver medal finish. Michkov’s 12 goals were just two back of Alex Ovechkin and Cole Caufield’s 14-goal tournament record. What is most impressive about the 16-year-old’s tournament though is how those goals came. The prospect showed that he can score in so many ways, from pulling off the Michigan to a between the legs marker, to just your everyday wrist shot. Not eligible to the 2023 NHL Draft, this young player is a force to be reckoned with. It’s going to be very exciting following his path over the next two years.
Bedard ties McDavid’s record
Speaking of remarkable 2023 NHL Draft-eligibles, how about that Connor Bedard? The youngest player in this tournament took on a huge role with Team Canada, stepping up when captain Shane Wright was held out of the lineup, and showing off strong play in both ends of the rink. While other players were benched in the dying moments of the game, the Canadians relied on Bedard heavily, playing him in all situations. He got better in every game in the tournament, finishing with 14 points (seven goals, seven assists) in seven games en route to the gold medal. His point total was not only second in the tournament but tied Connor McDavid‘s U16 total from 2012-13, the record for that age group in this event.
Wright sets Canadian goal-scoring record
Speaking of exceptional players, 2022-eligible Wright put on quite the performance himself. The 17-year-old was the captain of the team, leading them whether he was on the ice or on the bench. Despite many players older than Wright on this team, he stepped up, showing leadership beyond his years. After not playing all season, Wright tied Bedard for points with 14 (nine goals, five assists) despite playing just five games after being held out of two for precautionary reasons. His nine goals were the most from a Canadian in this tournament’s history, passing McDavid’s eight goals in 2012-13. McDavid’s eight goals came in seven games compared to Wright’s five, making it all the more impressive.
2021-eligibles who haven’t played impress
On top of Wright not playing all season, five other Canadians lost their season due to the OHL cancellation. Ethan Del Mastro, Benjamin Gaudreau, Wyatt Johnston, Jack Matier, and Ryan Winterton all got their first taste of action of their draft years, and some really impressed. First and foremost, Gaudreau was dominant in this tournament. He’s been in FCHockey’s first-round all season and showed why over the past two weeks. Named the tournament’s Best Goaltender, he won all five of his games, including every elimination game en route to the gold medal. He finished with a 2.20 goals against average and a .919 save percentage, both tournament bests.
Del Mastro showed some holes in his game defensively and in decision making, but he was relied on heavily by the Canadians and showed a physical game that should draw some NHL scout’s eyes. Johnston is likely the most impressive skater of the bunch, showing a reliable two-way presence who never takes his foot off the gas. Matier won’t be a flashy player, but he had one of the stronger performances in his own end of all Canadian defenders and is a confident player. Finally, Winterton is another player that showed high competitiveness, playing hard on the forecheck and backcheck. I think all of these players helped their draft stock at the World U18s.
Other Canadian standouts
On top of the young guns and the OHLers that haven’t played, there were a number of other standout players for the Canadians. Mason McTavish was great all tournament, showing strong playmaking ability and grit to his game on top of the scoring ability that we knew he had. He had 11 points (five goals, six assists) through the tournament and was unquestionably one of the Canadians top forwards. Another key player was Logan Stankoven. The WHL forward had eight points (four goals, four assists) and was all over the ice for Canada. He was a forechecking machine, showing a never-give-up attitude every time he stepped on the ice.
On the back end, Brandt Clarke showed why he’s in the conversation for the first-overall pick with his excellent offensive prowess, racking up seven points (two goals, five assists) plus he was the most reliable defender in their own end. Olen Zellweger is a close second though, in both ends of the ice. He had eight points (two goals, five assists) through the tournament, really showing off his playmaking skills and his knack for jumping up into the offense.
Finns raise their draft stock
One team that really stood out to me was Team Finland. While they couldn’t generate offense in the bronze medal game versus Sweden, they had an impressive tournament to get there, with excellent games against Russia and the USA. Samu Tuomaala led this charge, significantly raising his stock in my eyes. He came up clutch when the team needed him, leading the team with 11 points (five goals, six assists). His shot is among the best in this class, and he put that on full display in this tournament on top of some very impressive passing.
Right there with him was Ville Koivunen with 10 points (four goals, six assists) who showed excellent chemistry with Tuomaala, impressive work on the cycle, and a strong offensive game. The final forward of note is Samu Salminen, who I’ll admit I’m not the biggest fan of, but he is very good at knowing where to be. His excellent positioning and ability to get open led to him collecting nine point s(seven goals, two assists).
On defense, Aleksi Heimsolmi was my defender of the tournament, and the IIHF’s as well, winning the tournament’s Best Defenseman honor. He led all defenders in scoring in the event, with eight points (two goals, six assists) including two highlight-reel goals where he showed excellent skating and evasiveness. Finally, goaltender Aku Koskenvuo didn’t put up the best numbers with a 4.23 goals against average and a .874 save percentage but he had a very good tournament, keeping the Finns in games when required.
Mixed reviews of Swedes
Team Sweden didn’t have the strongest of tournaments, yet they came away with the bronze medal. That was in no small part due to the play of Fabian Lysell and Isak Rosen all tournament, both showing off enormous amounts of skill and creativity to produce offense on an offensively-starved team. Rosen, who had nine points (seven goals, two assists) showed off an impressive shot, an ability to find the lanes, and excellent mobility. Lysell also had nine points (three goals, six assists), showing off stellar playmaking, great hands, and impressive skating. William Stromgren was on the fence, with some big plays and goals at times, but he did take a backseat to the big guns for the majority of the tournament.
Simon Edvinsson struggled to open up the tournament but improved as it went on, especially in the elimination games. While he remains a top prospect in this draft, the holes in his game were on full display, especially against the Canadians. Anton Olsson and Simon Robertsson also struggled in this tournament. Olsson struggled in his own end, while Robertsson was really in and out of games, sometimes completely disappearing.
Russian forwards put on a show
On top of Michkov, fellow youngsters Danila Yurov and Ivan Miroshnichenko were two of the biggest parts of the Russian’s silver medal tournament. Both 2022-eligible, Yurov was one of the top forwards in the tournament, collecting 11 points (four goals, seven assists), and was significantly involved in the team’s offense. Miroschnichenko was right there as well, as he showed off his goal-scoring ability with eight points (six goals, to assists). These two very much add to the excitement that is the 2022 NHL Draft.
Looking closer to the 2021 NHL Draft, Fyodor Svechkov, Nikita Chibrikov, and Prokhor Poltapov all stood out for the Russians. Svechkov’s two-way ability was present as he also showed off some impressive offensive skill with 10 points (four goals, six assists) in seven games. In my mind, there’s no question that he’s the top Russian in this class. Chibrikov, Russia’s captain, was fourth in the tournament in points with 13 (four goals, nine assists) and really put the team on his back when needed. He had some crucial goals for the Russians and was a centerpiece in their offensive attack.
Poltapov boosted his draft stock in my eyes. while he brought the offensive skill that we all know and love with seven points (two goals, five assists) through the U18s. But he also showed more competitiveness and defensive prowess than we’ve seen consistently in the MHL. I was expecting slightly more offense from him, but his overall play in the event really stood out.
Americans falter without key players
Team USA entered the World U18s already down Luke Hughes, Chaz Lucius, Jake Martin, and Andre Gasseau. They brought in a handful of younger players to replace them, and couldn’t hold up as the tournament went on. While Sean Behrens, Sasha Pastujov, and Dylan Duke had some great games and good moments, the rest of the 2021-eligible really struggled, not doing much to help their draft stock. Alright, one more – goaltender Kaiden Mbereko had a really strong tournament as well.
The true star of the Americans was 2022-eligible Lane Hutson. The defender was among the best in the tournament, using his feet and strong playmaking skills to get into high-danger areas and create opportunities for his teammates. He was so evasive and so poised and patient with the puck, making him a must-watch name in the 2022 NHL Draft.
Bell’s All-Star Ballot
With all of that explained, here’s my official All-Star Ballot for the World U18s:
- Forwards: Michkov, Bedard, Lysell
- Defensemen: Heimosalmi, Hutson
- Goaltender: Sergei Ivanov
- Tournament MVP: Michkov