The IIHF Under-18 World Championship is set to begin April 26, in Plano and Frisco, Texas. Typically held earlier in April, organizers have worked tirelessly to put the 10-team event together. With hockey intermittently played and several important tournaments cancelled, this event will be looked at as the premier scouting event of the season. It will be the only time first-year draft eligibles (and younger) will participate best-on-best within their peer group.
It’s important to note that only players born in 2003 and later are eligible to play in this event. Several players who were born after Sept. 15, 2002 and are first-year draft eligible are not permitted to play, and that leaves several projected first-round picks on the sidelines. From our April draft rankings, for example, Owen Power, Matt Beniers, Kent Johnson and William Eklund are all top 10 projected, yet are too old to play in this event.
Injuries and COVID-19 protocols have also taken their toll (Luke Hughes, Carson Lambos, Cole Sillinger, etc.) but there are still plenty of players to see.
As for Canada’s entrant into this event, it should be noted that this will be one of their strongest teams in some time, despite not having QMJHL players available. The Q had enough of a regular season to go ahead with a modified playoff format and crown a league champion. In a typical year, CHL players would not be made available for this event, because they'd all still be in season.
Here’s a look at a number of players to watch in this event, not just for the 2021 NHL draft and not just on Team Canada, but well beyond, too.
The narrative surrounding this draft class is how many high-end defencemen are available and while there are some missing from this tournament, at least the first two on this list will garner first overall consideration.
Brandt Clarke, Canada: Set the Barrie Colts record for points scored by a 16-year-old with 38 in the 2019-20 season. With no games to play in Ontario this year, Clarke took his act to Slovakia where he worked his way into being one of his team's top defencemen before returning home to play in this event. The big right shot defenceman is assertive and he’s a wizard with the puck.
Simon Edvinsson, Sweden: As is always the case, Team Sweden will have more than its fair share of projected first-round players. At 6-foot-5 and 210 pounds, Edvinsson has played at three different levels this season and should feel at ease in a prominent role.
Stanislav Svozil, Czech Republic: Made a great first impression in high-level competition at the world juniors where he logged just under 17 minutes per game, while putting up one assist. He’s the only A-rated player on the Czech roster.
Corson Ceulemans, Canada: Fits the bill as a 6-foot-2, 200-pound right shot defenceman. Earned heavy minutes when he was able to play in the AJHL. Should be interesting to see what role he will play with Canada and how he’s able to manage it.
Young Guns, 2022 draft eligible
Shane Wright, Canada: There may be no player in the tournament more raring and ready to play than Wright. After a 39-goal rookie season as an exceptional player in the OHL, the typical path would’ve seen Wright excel as a second-year player in that league. Instead, the pandemic left only the world juniors as a reasonable goal for Wright. That experience also proved futile, as a pre-camp quarantine was followed by another two-week shutdown before Wright was cut, without ever having a real chance to show his stuff. He looks in top physical shape and if he can get the rust out in pre-tournament practice/play, there’s no reason why he can’t dominate this tournament.
Brad Lambert, Finland: Lambert is the nephew of Islanders assistant coach Lane, and the son of former WHLer Ross. Lambert made some noise at the world juniors, where his usage increased as the tournament wore on and he ended up with four points in seven games. A phenom in his own right, Lambert spent the entire season in the Liiga, where he put up 15 points over 46 games.
Ivan Miroshnichenko, Russia: He’s in, he’s out, he’s in again. Another player who introduced himself to the hockey world at the Youth Olympics with six goals and 12 points for the gold medal-winning Russians. He’s big for his age, he’s a shooter, and he definitely has presence.
Young Guns II, 2023 draft eligible
Connor Bedard, Canada: The sensational 15-year-old Regina Pat put up 28 points in 15 WHL games before leaving for the tournament. The first overall pick in the 2020 WHL Bantam draft, Bedard was held off the scoresheet just once this season, while putting up multi-point efforts in two-thirds of his games. He’s got so much flare that his rookie season ended with an overtime game-winning goal against Brandon. With plenty of 2003-born players available to Team Canada, it’s a real feather in the cap for him to have been selected to play as a double under-ager.
Matvey Michkov, Russia: Michkov is to Connor Bedard, what Brad Lambert is to Shane Wright; players who will compete with a more well-known player to the public to be the first overall pick in the 2022 and 2023 drafts, respectively. An internet sensation, the 5-foot-9, 148-pound right winger lit up the MHL (Russia's junior league) with 38 goals and 56 points in 56 games played. He’s not unfamiliar to the international hockey world, where he scored nine times in four games during the 2020 Youth Olympic Games en route to a gold medal.
Dylan Guenther, Canada: Was a projected top 10 pick going into this shortened season, but after putting up six goals and 10 points in his first three WHL games, top five talk was quickly generated. No doubt Guenther will be in the conversation to be the first forward selected in the draft. He’s an excellent shooter who is light on his skates.
Chaz Lucius, USA: Recovering from injury, Lucius got into only 12 games with the USNTDP team, but he made his time count. In his first game back, he scored twice and wound up with 13 goals and 18 points in 12 games. He will be one of the more well-rested players on a team that should do some damage.
Samu Tuomaala, Finland: Currently projected as the only Finnish-born player expected to go in the first round of the 2021 draft. He possesses big-league scoring ability and would represent a successive string of Finnish phenoms that peaked in 2017 when Miro Heiskanen was the first Finn to go in the draft, getting selected third overall by Dallas.
Mason McTavish, Canada: Sharp shooter who had a successful rookie campaign in 2019-20 with 29 goals for the Peterborough Petes. One of a handful of high-end OHL players who was able to get games in overseas (Switzerland for McTavish). This tournament is huge for him.
Fabian Lysell, Sweden: A move to Lulea didn’t produce expected point totals, and that makes playing in his peer group so much more important. While there is no denying Lysell's abilities and there is no question his skillset suggests he'll get picked in the top half of the first round, it will nonetheless be interesting to see how he fares in a national team setting.
Sasha Pastujov, USA: Led the USNTDP in points this season. Slightly weighted towards being a playmaker, yet not afraid to shoot, Pastujov is an effective skater with good hands. He bucked the brotherly trend to go to Michigan and is instead committed to Norte Dame.
Nikita Chibrikov, Russia: Is fun to watch thanks to elite skating and edge work. The hands work well with the feet. As Russia’s team captain he will be looked to lead in more ways than just on offence.
Simon Robertsson, Sweden: Plays a power game that looks better the more you see it. This tournament should be able to provide ample runway to see his entire skill set at work.