The World Junior Hockey Championship provides NHL teams with an up-close look at how their own prospects fare against others in their age group. It also provides an opportunity for scouts to see the top draft eligible players in an environment where not only are they playing against the best players their age in the world, but alongside the best players from their country.
Oftentimes, teams will send multiple scouts to submit reports on the same game to get a sense of how different the evaluations are of a player.
Here’s a list of players scouts will be keeping a close eye-on as we inch towards the 2018 NHL Draft.
10. Michal Ivan, D, Slovakia: A scout turned me on to Ivan back in November, while watching the Acadie-Bathurst Titan. While he’s not a top-50 player and won’t get into the first round, there’s still a lot to like about this slick, puck-moving defenceman. He plays a simple game with the notion of moving the puck before skating with it — but he can do the latter as well. It will be interesting to see how he fares in this event on a Slovak D-corps that isn’t particularly known for its puck-moving abilities.
9. Philipp Kurashev, C, Switzerland: A slick Swiss-born player who’s had a solid start in the QMJHL with the Quebec Remparts, Kurashev is an averaged-sized centre (6-foot, 187 pounds) who can make plays in tight spaces. He’s got great vision and is not afraid to make the risky play. Mostly a disher, his role may have to change slightly for a Swiss team that will be challenged to score.
8. Nando Eggenberger, LW, Switzerland: Expected to be the centrepiece of the Swiss offence, Eggenberger enters the tournament as a fringe first-round pick. He’s got size (6-foot-2, 185 pounds) and the ability to play a two-way game. Eggenberger thinks the game well and can really shoot the puck. He’ll have less time and space to work with at the WJC, but it will be a good test of how well his skill matches up.
7. Quinn Hughes, D, USA: Hughes is extremely agile and has a unique ability to walk the blue line. He also plays with a ton of poise, which complements his smooth skills with the puck. In the Americans’ fist game, Hughes was listed as their seventh defenceman, but was the most-used blueliner and surpassed the 20-minute mark in a 9-0 route of Denmark. Hughes was a team-best plus-4 and had two assists in the game.
6. Rasmus Kupari, C, Finland: Kupari was lightly used against Canada and didn’t factor into the Finns’ 4-2 loss in their tournament-opener. A right shot with high skill, Kupari looked out of sync on Boxing Day, but with plenty of hockey left and a highly skilled team with good puck movers on the back-end, he should get his fair share of opportunities, especially against lesser-lites Denmark and Slovakia in Group A action.
5. Isac Lundestrom, C, Sweden: Swedish head coach Tomas Monten leaned heavily on his top line in the Tre Kroner’s first match, leaving fewer minutes for players like Lundestrom. His offence sticks out when he’s with his club team, but he won’t get nearly the opportunities here, and making the most of limited looks will be duly noted in his WJC evaluation.
4. Brady Tkachuk, LW, USA: Tkachuk should be inspired by getting back to his peer group. He should also be comfortable on a line with Logan Brown and Kailer Yamamoto. After an interesting first half at Boston University, where it took him 14 games to get on the board, Tkachuk responded with three goals in his last four games before joining Team USA. Matthew’s brother brings all the family elements to the table with size (6-foot-3, 196 pounds), grit and net-front presence. He had one assist while failing to record a shot in a 9-0 opening night win over Denmark.
3. Filip Zadina, RW, Czech Republic: Zadina is deadly with his shoot-first mentality and both of his points in the Czech Republic’s opening game came on the power play. He plays hard and enjoys taking the puck to the net. The Czechs’ first goal was a perfect display of Zadina’s strength, where he misses net side, chases down a loose puck then picks up an assist with a short touch pass.
2. Andrei Svechnikov, RW, Russia: If there’s any chance of Svechnikov challenging Rasmus Dahlin for top spot, it will have to start here. As the consensus No. 2 pick, Svechnikov recovered from a broken hand in time top make Russia’s team. As one of the country’s top offensive threats, Svechnikov was used sparingly in their first game, especially in the third period when Russia needed him most while trailing in what turned out to be a 5-4 loss to the Czech Republic. Head coach Valery Bragin has always been partial to his older players, meaning Svechnikov will have to prove he can play with the older age group before getting more time.
1. Rasmus Dahlin, D, Sweden: The legend is sure to grow in this tournament, especially if Sweden’s opening game win is any indication. Dahlin played more than 20 minutes and at least four minutes more than the next closest Swedish defenceman. He chipped in with two assists in a 6-1 win over Belarus. As one scout put it, “you noticed him every time he was out there.”