World U18s: 7 underagers to watch
The 2021 IIHF World Under-18 Hockey Championship is days away from dropping the puck, and while the tournament will be a focus for those keeping an eye on the 2021 NHL Draft, it could very well be the 2022- and 2023-eligibles that steal the show.
The event will take place from April 26 to May 6 in Frisco and Plano, Texas. There are a number of future draft-eligibles in this tournament that not only should be leaders on their teams but leaders in the tournament. We will very likely be watching the top-two prospects from the next two drafts take over, on top of numerous future first-round picks.
This list started out as five underagers to watch but couldn’t be limited that much so was bumped up to seven. Even then, there is so much young talent taking part in the tournament that the honourable mention list extended to 1o players. There’s an argument to make for other players to be included as well, in the main list or the honourable mentions section.
The list could, however, be cut down to four obvious choices. But where’s the fun in that? Here are FCHockey’s seven underagers to watch in the quickly approaching World U18s.
Connor Bedard, C, Team Canada (2023 NHL Draft)
The first of two CHL exceptional prospects on this list, Connor Bedard has already been defying the odds in his young career. Still just 15 years old, the North Vancouver, British Columbia native has earned the honour of being the first player to ever be granted exceptional status in the WHL. This came after his 14-year-old season playing in the CSSHL U18, putting up 84 points (43 goals, 41 assists) in 36 games.
We had to wait for his WHL debut with the Regina Pats this season due to the season delayed, but he still found time to wow us by heading overseas to play with HV71. He dressed for one J18 Region game, collecting a goal and an assist, before moving up to the J20 Nationell, where he had four points (two goals, two assists) in four games.
With the WHL finally dropping the puck on its season, Bedard has continued to impress by recording 28 points (12 goals, 16 assists) in just 15 games. One of two early favourites for the 2023 NHL Draft, the generational talent should be a key player for Team Canada at the World U18s, whether he plays his natural center position, or slides to the wing to move up the lineup. Bedard might just be the player to watch in this tournament.
Brad Lambert, C, Team Finland (2022 NHL Draft)
We’ve already had a chance to see Brad Lambert on an international stage this season, as he dressed for Team Finland at the 2021 IIHF World Junior Championships. The young centerman stood out as one of the youngest players in the tournament, collecting four points (one goal, three assists) in seven games and helping the team to a bronze medal.
Lambert has spent the season in the Liiga, the top men’s league in Finland. In 46 games with JYP, he’s racked up 15 points (seven goals, eight assists). He’s one of two top prospects for the 2022 NHL Draft, very much in the hunt for the first overall spot this early. While the World U18s are dominated by 2021 NHL Draft-eligibles, Lambert should be a top player for Finland and could just be one of the leaders in the tournament when all is said and done.
His skating is elite, his processing ability is remarkable, and he’s extremely creative. With him already standing out this season against men and against U20 players, Lambert looks to be one of the best players in this tournament.
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Rutger McGroarty, C, Team USA (2022 NHL Draft)
Another 2022 NHL Draft-eligible, Rutger McGroarty could have been one of many American’s on this list. For the sake of ensuring multiple countries are included, he takes the lone Team USA spot as likely the top 2022-eligible American for now. But rest assured, Jack Devine, Isaac Howard, and Jack Hughes 2.0 (all honourable mentions) are all considered underagers to watch as well.
McGroarty has been on the radar for a couple of years now, and not just because of his incredible name (although that certainly factors in). Last season with the Oakland Jr. Grizzlies 15U AAA, the centerman put up a ridiculous 160 points (82 goals, 78 assists) in 63 games. This season, he’s showing off his skill with the USNTDP, playing 34 games with the U17 team, putting up 35 points (17 goals, 18 assists) in 34 games, and 12 with the U18 team, adding 19 points (12 goals, seven assists).
The Lincoln, Nebraska native should be a key offensive player for the USA, leading a pack of extremely strong American 2022-eligibles (and one 2023 eligible in Charlie Stramel). He’ll also be a leader on the U.S. National U18 Team next season, his draft year, so you’d best start keeping an eye on his if you haven’t already.
Matvei Michkov, RW, Team Russia (2023 NHL Draft)
The second and final 2023 NHL Draft-eligible on this list, Matvei Michkov is very much in the conversation for first overall in his draft. As surprising as that might be with a player of Bedard’s calibre, the Russian forward is right there with him as a potential generational talent. Could this be the start of the next Sidney Crosby vs. Alex Ovechkin battle? Maybe.
The right winger spent his season in the MHL, Russia’s top junior league, and to say it was successful would be an understatement. Only turning 16 in December, Michkov amassed 56 points (38 goals, 18 assists) in 56 games between SKA-1946 St. Petersburg and SKA-Varyagi. He also added another three points (one goal, two assists) in five playoff games.
Michkov’s goal total led the entire league, and his goal and points total set a new U17 single-season record in the league – previously held by superstar Nikita Kucherov. The elite forward should be a top player for Russia, bringing his dynamic offensive skill to the international stage. If everything works out, we could also witness our first Bedard versus Michkov game (if the two meet in the playoffs).
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Ivan Miroshnichenko, LW, Team Russia (2022 NHL Draft)
While he almost wasn’t even in this tournament, Ivan Miroshnichenko is a must-know name for the 2022 NHL Draft and in this tournament. Russia Hockey had announced that the young forward was going to have to miss the tournament due to an issue at the American border, but luckily the team was able to work it out and we’ll get to elite skater in this competition.
Miroshnichenko spent his season with the MHL’s Omskie Yasterby, collecting 15 points (five goals, 10 assists) in 20 games. It was last season, however, where we really saw what the forward was capable of after he captained the Russian team at the Youth Olympic Games to a gold medal, finishing second in the tournament with 12 points (six goals, six assists) in four games. The leader of that tournament? Michkov.
The Russian might not only be a top player on his team in this event but should be among the top players from any team. Miroshnichenko is a top player for the highly anticipated 2022 NHL Draft, and could very well be a top-five selection in the draft. He has chemistry with Michkov, and that should lead to some very exciting hockey.
Elias Salomonsson, D, Team Sweden (2022 NHL Draft)
The lone defender on this list (there were a few strongly considered), Elias Salomonsson is a right-shot defenseman that will be intriguing to see how he is used by Team Sweden. Looking at their strong defensive group, the defender might be near the bottom of the depth chart, but should still standout even if in a third-paring role.
Playing in the J20 Nationell this season, the puck-moving d-man collected 15 points (four goals, 11 assists) in 14 games for Skelleftea AIK, leading the North Division in assists and points by a defender at just 16. He also got his first taste of the SHL, playing three games in the country’s top men’s league.
The defender should be one of the top defensemen in the 2022 NHL Draft, and a top-10 selection. As European players can be hard to watch for viewers without some sort of subscription, the World U18s will be an excellent starting point to get your eyes on the rearguard.
Shane Wright, C, Team Canada (2022 NHL Draft)
The final player on this list is yet another CHL exceptional-status player, in Team Canada’s Shane Wright. Right up there with Lambert as a strong contender for the first overall selection in the 2022 NHL Draft, Wright is a victim of the OHL cancelling their season this year, as he has yet to play a single game.
He did, however, head to Team Canada’s selection camp for the World Juniors, looking very strong in the process. Last season, the Kingston Frontenacs’ centerman kicked off his OHL career with a bang, earning the “A” as an alternate captain as he collected 66 points (39 goals, 27 assists) in 58 games. While leading all rookies in goals and points, he was named to the OHL’s First All-Rookie Team, OHL Rookie of the Year, and CHL Rookie of the Year. Not a bad coming-out party.
In the World U18s, Wright should be a top player for the stack Canadian team. Expect him to hold on to his center position, likely fitting into the top six. Could we see Wright and Bedard on the same line? Battling against Michkov or Lambert? The four look to be the top two picks in each of the next two drafts, setting up what should be a wonderfully entertaining event.
Honourable Mentions: Jack Devine (USA), Simon Forsmark (SWE), Luca Hauf (GER), Isaac Howard (USA), Jack Hughes (USA), David Jiricek (CZE), Julian Lutz (GER), Denton Mateychuk (CAN), Noah Ostlund (SWE), Ludwig Persson (SWE), Yegor Sidorov (BLR), Sandis Vilmanis (LAT), Simon Wolf (GER), Danila Yurov (RUS), Danny Zhilkin (CAN).