While the World Championship is mostly a tournament for established pro players, we often get a last-minute viewing of some players eligible for the NHL draft. Last year, we watched Jack EIchel score seven points in 10 games, while Connor McDavid led his Erie Otters in the OHL playoffs.
This year, McDavid has eight points in nine games at the World Championship, which actually trails the production of the top two prospects available at this year’s NHL draft: USA’s Auston Matthews and Finland’s Patrik Laine.
Finland has actually sent an intriguing mix of young talent and prime age veterans to this tournament, and they may be the best team there. Their three under-20 skaters are all top end prospects, headlined by Laine, who is tied for second in tournament scoring.
So how do we make sense of these scoring numbers? What do they mean?
Laine’s eye-popping numbers could be inflated by who he is playing with, and against. Through nine games, he has seven goals and 12 points and his 1.33 points per game average is the third-highest production rate for an under-19 skater at the World Championship ever, trailing only Sidney Crosby‘s 1.78 and Anze Kopitar‘s 1.50, which were both registered in 2005-06.
|Sidney Crosby||2006||9||8||16||1.78||P. Bergeron||B. Boyes|
|Anze Kopitar||2006||6||3||9||1.5||T. Razingar||M. Sotlar (D)|
|Patrik Laine||2016||9||7||12||1.33||A. Barkov||J. Jokinen|
|Steven Stamkos||2009||9||7||11||1.22||M. St. Louis||S. Doan|
|Magnus Paajarvi||2010||9||5||9||1||R. Wallin||M. Weinhandl|
|Auston Matthews||2016||9||6||9||1||D. Larkin||N. Foligno|
|Matt Duchene||2010||7||4||7||1||J. Tavares||R. Whitney|
|Mikael Granlund||2011||9||2||9||1||J. Immonen||J. Pesonen|
|Connor McDavid||2016||9||0||8||0.88||B. Marchand||M. Duchene|
|Jeff Skinner||2011||7||3||6||0.86||C. Stewart||J. Tavares|
|Jonathan Toews||2007||9||2||7||0.78||R. Nash||S. Doan|
|Ryan Nugent-Hopkins||2012||8||4||6||0.75||P. Sharp||J. Benn|
|Jack Eichel||2015||10||2||7||0.7||J. Vesey||T. Lewis|
You can see who each of these youngsters were playing with in the chart above, so it becomes apparent which guys were doing more heavy lifting. Kopitar, for example, was playing as part of a top-five man unit for Slovenia that had three defenders playing with him and fellow forward Tomaz Razingar, who alongside Kopitar managed to produce a point per game in 2006.
Laine’s main linemates this year have been Jussi Jokinen and Aleksander Barkov, both of whom produced more than 50 points in the NHL this season. He has also spent time on the power play with Mikko Koivu and Mikael Granlund who are top-line forwards for the Minnesota Wild.
Matthews has been lining up with the Dylan Larkin and Nick Foligno in recent games, but spent the early portion of the tournament playing with a mix of Brock Nelson, Patrick Maroon, Jordan Schroeder and top Boston Bruins prospect Frank Vatrano.
A large portion of the Canadian and American rosters are under the age of 24, with the US actually sending across four skaters who are under the age of 20, which is the largest under-20 contingent in the tournament.
The proportion of skaters in the tournament under the age of 20 and 19 may provide an interesting bellwether of NHL talent as they rise up through younger ranks. If we look at the past 15 years, there are definite spikes in specific points in time.
This year’s event has the second-highest number of U20 skaters in the past 15 years, comparable to spikes that occurred in 2010, 2006 and 2003. The massive wave of U20 talent in the 2010 tournament featured future elite NHLers such as Steven Stamkos, John Tavares, Erik Karlsson, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Victor Hedman, Matt Duchene, Nino Niederreiter, Evander Kane, Roman Josi, Sami Vantanen, Jordan Eberle, Tomas Tatar, and Chris Kreider. The wave of 2006 included Sidney Crosby, Anze Kopitar, Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel, and Nicklas Backstrom. The 2003 bump featured Ilya Kovalchuk, Jay Bouwmeester, Alex Semin, Frans Nielsen, and Jiri Hudler.
The amazingly high proportion of under-20 skaters at this year’s World Championship — and their excellent production against some of the best hockey players on the planet — bodes well for the game. If the names from previous spikes in U20 participation are any indication of what we can expect out of this year’s crop of prospects at the Worlds, it looks like McDavid, Laine, Matthews, Larkin, Ehlers, Mikko Rantanen, David Pastarnak and Noah Hanifin will be regular all-stars, winning individual awards and leading their teams to playoff success in the very near future.