April 23, 2022

Howard, Kulich make statements on opening day of Under-18s

The first day is in the books at the 2022 IIHF World Under-18 Championship, and that day belonged to one of the tournament’s top-ranked American prospect for the 2022 NHL Draft. 

Isaac Howard, No. 38 in FCHockey’s Spring ranking for the 2022 draft, had himself a day in propelling the Americans to a lopsided 8-3 victory over Canada. 

“It’s definitely nice,” Howard said, according to the IIHF website. “Just playing with great linemates, just finding me and sliding into soft areas and today it was just capitalizing on that.”

Finland bested Switzerland 6-2 in its tournament-opener thanks in part to Joakim Kemell and his two points (one goal, one assist), and Czechia bested the host Germany 4-2 on the strength of a pair of goals from Jiri Kulich. Latvia upset Sweden 3-2 in the day’s game thanks in part to a 23-save performance from goalie Deivs Rolovs. 

Here’s who stood out on the first day of the World Under-18s: 

Third Star: Connor Bedard – Canada

Connor Bedard, Canada’s captain and top-ranked prospect for the 2023 NHL Draft, picked up right where he left off in his last Under-18s experience. Last spring, Bedard finished in a tie for second in tournament scoring with 14 points (seven goals, seven assists). He kicked off his 2022 tournament with one goal and one assist — including an early candidate for goal of the tournament. His helper was no slouch, either. 

Second Star: Jiri Kulich – Czechia 

Kulich was highlighted as a player to watch coming into the tournament, and his first impression certainly didn’t disappoint. Kulich, whose points-per-game in the Czech league was sixth-highest all-time among U18 players, paced Czechia to a win on the strength of a pair of goals. The No. 26-ranked prospect on FCHockey’s board fell short of the hat-trick, but it wasn’t because of a lack of effort or opportunity. 

First Star: Isaac Howard – Team USA

Howard kicked off the tournament in a fiery fashion, pacing the Americans to a two-goal lead in the first period before completing the hat-trick in the second and adding a fourth in the third to round out the 8-3 win. Howard has seen his draft stock fluctuate — he was originally slotted at No. 11 in FCHockey’s Preliminary ranking for the 2022 draft back in the fall — but he’s clearly put his best foot forward with an initial effort on the Under-18s stage with a five-point effort to kick things off. 

Highlight of the night

Bedard scored seven at the tournament a year ago, and his first in 2022 was a dandy, out-waiting Trey Augustine before sniping on a sharp-angle shot from the bottom of the faceoff circle. 

Reporting in: Frank Nazar (Team USA)

Frank Nazar is a smooth-skating forward who plays a high pace game in the middle of the ice. I thought there were a lot of positives to take away from this game with him, starting with him constantly having the puck in the middle of the ice. It always seemed he was positioned in the slot or was transitioning up ice between the faceoff dots, and while he was at center this game he still found ways to get from the perimeter towards the middle. It was what worked for Nazar, as he got numerous scoring chances from some pretty high danger areas of the ice. He had quick feet and was effective when in transition while also showing flashes of some in zone edgework. He made some great passes, showing off his vision and overall awareness of where his linemates were on the ice. One thing that I really wasn’t able to get a read on were Nazar’s hands. He really never attempted any fancy dekes from what I saw. Instead, he usually just tried to go around the opposition and with his speed and size — I would do the same. I’d like to see more shot attempts from him going forward, as he didn’t have many this game and I think would be beneficial to him and his team if he used it a bit more. While he was at center this game and looked real good, I think on the wing is the best spot for him. He plays in the middle of the ice, but he can attack with the puck from the outside in more easily if he was a winger. Either position works for me as I’m sure he’ll play the same way regardless of where he’s at. I think Nazar is will be a middle-six forward that gets time on a team’s second PP unit. I’d look to take him somewhere in the 15-20 range of the first round. — FCHockey scout Douglas Larson.

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