May 1, 2023

What we learned about the 2023 NHL Draft class at the U18 Worlds

The 2023 IIHF World Under-18 Championship was a last-ditch effort for many members of the 2023 NHL Draft class to leave a lasting memory on teams, scouts, and general managers keeping a close eye on tournament action in Switzerland.

Many opened eyes.

Others reaffirmed belief.

Some faltered.

But there’s no mistaking the fact that at the U18 Worlds — the final major on-ice exhibition of the scouting season — there’s no shortage of discussion and fodder for rankings debates, both internally from teams beginning to put together what will be their final lists or the public sphere trying to evaluate what to take from what they saw over 11 days and 30 games from over 150 players with legit NHL Draft aspirations.

None thrust himself into the spotlight more than Will Smith of Team USA.

There wasn’t much that Smith, No. 6 in FCHockey’s Midterm ranking for the 2023 draft, didn’t accomplish at the showcase — except maybe purchase another suitcase to get his hardware home. In all, the 18-year-old netted gold with Team USA, was named the tournament’s best forward by the IIHF directorate, cracked the media all-star team, and was named by his coaches as one of the top three Americans to suit up.

He did this all after pacing the tournament with 20 points 20 points (nine goals, 11 assists) in seven games — tying a Team USA for most points alongside Jack Hughes — who also netted nine snipes — at the 2019 tournament.

Hughes, for the record, went No. 1 in the 2019 NHL Draft.

Smith, who was outproduced by Nikita Kucherov‘s 2011 tournament by one point for the all-time lead, isn’t going to stake claim to that position in 2023, but he certainly inched himself closer to top-four contention with his dynamic offensive explosion.

He’ll have some company in the top-10, too.

Dalibor Dvorsky of Slovakia, who has flip-flopped positioning in the public sphere for the better part of a season, can look forward to a locked-in position in what’ll likely go down as a single-digit draft position for the forward.

Dvorsky, ranked at No. 11, helped the once-relegated Slovakian squad into the bronze-medal match — and to within 70 seconds of ending a 20-year medal drought — with a consistent, standout performance that also landed him on the tournament’s all-star team.

He came as advertised as a player that could seemingly do it all for Slovakia, including logging the most minutes of any forward at the U18 Worlds at 22:39.

The likes of Jacob Perreault, Ryan Leonard, Eduard Sale, Kasper Halttunen, Otto Stenberg, and Axel Sandin Pellikka were also notable standouts in the tournament.

But the affair also had some more under-the-radar types that contributed to the cause and might’ve significantly helped their draft stock in the process.

David Edstrom might be the biggest beneficiary of that.

Edstrom, unranked at FCHockey’s midterm, was a key cog for Sweden in all three zones in the tournament riding shotgun to Stenberg. He checked well, helped generate possession, touched on both special teams units, and managed to produce nine points (five goals, four assists) in seven games, fully putting on display his two-way game that’ll have teams wondering ‘how high is too high’ for the 200-foot center who boasts impressive size and a frame to build on.

The only blemish on Edstrom was a momentary mental lapse late in the third period that put Team USA on the power play to tie the gold medal game, and eventually win it in the extra frame.

Still, seven games of work should trump several seconds of error for Edstrom.

While Edstrom might’ve launched himself into first-round candidacy, Julius Sumpf might’ve just put himself on the map altogether. Unranked at FCHockey and NHL Central Scouting, the forward was one of the lone bright spots for Germany, who was relegated after a winless tournament.

The result was despite Sumpf’s best efforts. he shared the team lead with four points (two goals, two assists) in six games, but really showcased an all-round game with no glaring or massive deficiencies on a team that was overmatched by nine other opponents. It’ll bode well for him come June.

So too will Tom Willander‘s performance, but for different reasons.

While Sandin Pellikka, his teammate in Switzerland, will compete as the top blueliner in the 2023 draft class, teams that will inevitably be disappointing with him coming off the board can quickly turn their attention to Willander.

Simply put, Willander is cut from the same cloth. Those dynamic moves at the top of the blue line in the offensive zone, that vision to scan situations and problem-solve on the fly, they’re all also present in Willander, who can touch on many of the same aspects as Sandin Pellikka.

The eight points (three goals, five assists) in seven games can attest, just as anyone watching can say Willander, No. 61 at the midterm, will garner some serious attention as a first-round candidate in a draft not too deep on impact defensemen.

Maxim Strbak, No. 39, and Jakub Dvorak, No. 67, might benefit a bit from that bump, too.

Strbak, who finished with six assists, led the U18 Worlds in ice time for Slovakia, and provided an incredible second layer of offense to Dvorsky from the blue line. He was named one of his country’s top players as a result of his excellent awareness in all three zones and transition abilities that helped feed Slovakia’s offense.

Dvorak, an imposing, towering blueliner, doesn’t have the same level of offensive prowess in his game and won’t wow to the same level of Strbak, but there’s something in an able-footed, 6-foot-5 blueliner who can help close out games without completely sacrificing an offensive game in the process.

The list goes on, with the likes of Anton Wahlberg (Sweden), Juraj Pekarcik (Slovakia), and Felix Unger Sorum (Sweden) also worthy of nods for their efforts, too.

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