The World Under-18s is usually crucial in the shape of the NHL Draft, but this year’s tournament that wound up on the weekend in Fargo, N.D., is the exception. Scouts were thoroughly sour about it. “Really, the worst tournament in years, can’t think of one worse,” one veteran NHL scout said. “Just too many weak teams in the bottom half of the field. I wanted to see the U.S. kids in against someone good—they didn’t have any real game until they met Finland [in the semis]. And it didn’t help that the Russians sent a mostly underage team [after the regulars on the ’98 team were dropped because of positive drug tests].”
That’s not to say that the tournament was a complete bust. A couple of players were must-see viewing—not kids who are vying for a top spot in the draft, not big names, but rather a couple of kids who were making a big step up in class from their regular seasons: centre Tyson Jost and defenceman Dante Fabbro of the Penticton Vees of the British Columbia Hockey League.
Both were first-picks in the 2013 WHL Bantam Draft, Jost by Everett, Fabbro by Seattle. Both are bound for the NCAA next season, Jost to University of North Dakota, Fabbro to BU. They’ve had opportunities to play against the best in their class before—both won golds with Canada at the Ivan Hlinka last August, Jost scoring three goals in five games. And they’ve had other showcase moments along the way—both played in the Jr A Challenge. Still, they had a lot riding on the tournament, weak though it might have been.
“The U-18s is a step up in class for the CHL kids, but it’s a lot bigger step for somebody coming out of the BCHL,” said one scout returning from the tournament. “You know what you’re looking at with CHL players or players in the [U.S. National Development Team] or European leagues. The tougher evaluations are the ones playing at levels below that—the BCHL isn’t the worst that way. It’s a lot tougher to judge a kid in the U.S. preps or maybe with a weak USHL team. Hard to tell how good they are if you can’t get a read of the competition they’re facing. And it’s a tough position for these two Penticton kids to be in and I thought they did really well given the circumstances.”
Jost was 15th among North American skaters on NHL Central Scouting Service’s midterm rankings and 16th in its final installment. Scouts Monday suggested that he might have improved his stock in Fargo.
“Right now I think the consensus on our staff is that Jost’s a definite first-rounder and really a good shot at top 20,” one scouting director says. “I was glad when I saw that Penticton had been knocked out of the playoffs so he’d be at the tournament—I saw him at the Hlinka, which you can’t tell much from, and at the Jr A Challenge and a couple of BCHL games. But I wanted to get a couple of more views in.
In talking about the step up from Junior A to the under-18s, a couple of scouts mentioned another who skated down this road before, Kyle Turris, who was NHL CSS’s top-ranked North American skater (ahead of Patrick Kane and Jakub Voracek among others) based on his play at the Hlinka, the Jr A Challenge and BCHL play. That Turris might not be the best in his class was pretty plain based on his play at the under-18s.
“What Turris did at under-18, though, was a red flag,” one scout says, “he struggled. Once he stepped up in class (at the under-18s) it was pretty clear that he was more comfortable working out on the perimeter and got shy in heavy traffic, more so than when he was playing in the BCHL. That’s what I like about Jost.
“Yeah, he’s not as skilled as Turris but he does go to the net and work through hold-ups and contact—he gets in a much better position to use his skill than Turris did. And he did that against much better and more developed players than he was used to playing against in the BCHL.”
You’d presume that this might be the case: Central Scouting measured Jost just under six feet and 191 lb, Turris was six-feet-half-inch and 170 lb, although the latter probably was on the generous side.
Jost’s favourite player and the player he aspires to be is Jonathan Toews, which informed the younger player’s decision to commit to UND.
“I think there’s a fall off [in this draft class] at around six or seven,” one scout said. “Is there a chance that Jost turns out to be the best player out of that next group? I’d say that there’s a pretty good chance.
“I don’t think that his ceiling is a first-liner. That was Toews from the get-go and that was the thinking on Turris even if he didn’t play up to [it]. Second-line upside seems a lot more reasonable as a projection. But he’s more of a wildcard given his background.”
Dante Fabbro didn’t play to quite the enthusiastic reviews that Jost did in Fargo but then again that’s not his game.
“Fabbro’s more of a complementary defenceman, a play starter, rather than a kid who jumps up into the rush,” said one scout who saw Penticton three times during the season. “He’s a two-way defenceman even in the BCHL, where you’d think he could make more plays by himself than he does. When he’s most effective then others are playing well.
“It would have been tough for him to make a bigger impression in the tournament, but he did just what you wanted him to do. I don’t know that he moved himself up the board like Jost might have but he solidified his position. I don’t have him in my top 20 but he’s in the mix for my next 10. And I suspect he might not be ready [for the NHL] as fast as Jost might, but that’s okay. That’s sort of driven by his position.”
Even in a dismal tournament, even in games that are already decided by the first intermission (e.g. Canada’s loss to the U.S. in the bronze-medal game) somebody is playing for something and in the case of Jost and Fabbro, they had more at stake than others in their line-up.