As the season winds down in North America at the major junior, USHL, and Tier 2 Junior levels, the annual World Under 18 Championship begins Saturday in Germany, with Team Canada looking to defend its crown.
The host communities this season are Landshut and Kaufbeuren. Both cities have a rich history of supporting the game of hockey. Communities like this take a great deal of pride in hosting events at the international level.
I will be based out of Munich -- between those two destinations -- for the tournament and look forward to providing in-depth scouting reports and analysis on players representing their countries.
The competing countries this year:
Group A: Canada, USA, Czechia, Germany
Group B: Sweden, Finland, Switzerland, Latvia
This week my colleague Sam Cosentino published his latest NHL Draft Prospect Rankings, and some of the names that appeared on his list are competing at the U18s. This tournament is the final opportunity for draft eligible prospects to display their skill and earn more trust from the scouting community, and it also provides a chance for some players who are 2023 draft eligible to enhance their resume before next season.
Along with the summer Hlinka/Gretzky tournament, the U18s are the most heavily scouted event on the calendar for all 32 NHL franchises. All teams will have their directors, head scouts, and most of their staff from both North America and Europe in attendance. Some GMs will also make the trip. Especially those overseeing teams that will be taking part in the upcoming draft lottery on May 10.
This tournament always seems to produce some surprises. Last year Danila Klimovich was the breakout player who raised his stock to the point he was drafted in the second round by the Vancouver Canucks (41st overall). Time will tell who catches the eye of NHL scouts at this year’s event.
With that, I wanted to highlight a few players of interest to keep an eye on during the event, which runs April 23-May 1.
Joakim Kemell, Team Finland
He has gone through some ups and downs this season (similar to countrymate Brad Lambert) but Kemell's impact in Liiga increased in the second half after suffering through a 14-game goal drought.
After playing with and against men at the highest level of pro hockey in Finland I’m interested to see his shift-to-shift, game-to-game impact playing within his peer group. Kemell should have a productive week and play to his point-producing identity.
He landed at No. 9 on Sam's April rankings list and I'll be interested to see if he improves his stock at this event.
Owen Pickering, Team Canada
He’s right on the "cut line", ranked No. 15 on Cosentino’s April list. I call it the “cut line" because this is always an area of the first round that becomes volatile. Teams will value this player within the top 20 of their lists.
I’m looking to see if he has the ability to take charge in all areas of the ice at this tournament. Can he contribute offensively and provide sound defending at the same time? Will he be used in all situations? This week is important for Owen to further define his upside as a prospect. He could end up being a “trade up” or “trade back” target come draft day.
Logan Cooley, Team USA
He was disappointed at where he sat in Sam's March rankings (No. 4). Cooley believes in his ability and thinks he can challenge for No. 1 overall. I believe him! (Sam did move Cooley to No. 2 in April's rankings.) This player exudes confidence and is a threat to produce offence every time his blades spill over the boards. He’s flat out fun to watch.
I’m anxious to see if Cooley shows everyone in attendance at the U18s that he is not only the best player at this tournament, but deserves to challenge Shane Wright in consideration at No. 1 overall. He’s on the clock. This is his last opportunity to further impress.
Lane Hutson, Team USA
From the outside looking in the most obvious concern is his size (5-foot-8, 148 pounds). After the combine we will know more about his growth potential. He might be a late bloomer. What we do know already is that he’s a dynamic player who transitions pucks, makes plays and competes on both sides. A treat to watch.
I’m looking for him to establish control, and to impact the game every shift of this tournament. Team USA's first game is against a Canadian team that traditionally plays heavier than most at this event and that will set the tone for Hutson's tournament. I’m not sleeping on this kid. He has potential to open some eyes.
Reid Dyck, Team Canada
This is the most important week of Reid’s season. He was excellent at the Top Prospects Game in Kitchener, but his stat line isn’t all that impressive on the season playing behind a non-playoff Broncos team. A good-sized goalie who has shown he can make big saves, move quickly side to side, and battle to make second stops.
I don’t have a crystal ball. I’m not sure if his game is in order to be the starter at this tournament. If he does get the net he needs to elevate and run the table in order to earn more trust from NHL teams in attendance.
Adam Fantilli, Team Canada
He’s a late birthday (Oct. 12, 2004).
What does that mean? It means he is not eligible for the U18 tournament next spring in his NHL draft year as he ages out of the division. He will likely wear the Team Canada jersey at the 2023 World Junior Tournament this Christmas, but he will want to take charge on the U18 stage this week.
Fantilli brings size, pace, skill, and the IQ to be deployed in all situations. Connor Bedard is the 2023 draft eligible player who everyone is obviously keeping an eye on at the U18 tournament, but Fantilli should not be overlooked. Let the debate begin comparing his game to Bedard's.
Liam Ohgren, Team Sweden
At the J20 level in Sweden, he has dominated offensively (33 goals, 58 points in 30 games). There is no question he has skill. On the rush Ohgren is equally dangerous off the edge or cutting to the middle to beat opponents 1-on-1. He has great hands in tight. There wasn’t a ton of physical push back at the J20 level, though. Teams will hound him much more at this event and try to make him work for his ice. It will be interesting to see how he responds.
Ohgren also played 25 games in the SHL (Sweden's top pro league) this season, but in a limited role (one goal, one assist). His attention to detail on the defensive side is an area of weakness by choice. He will have to be more aware and committed without the puck as he matures. I’m looking for Ohgren to have an elite week offensively and play to his identity.
Filip Bystedt, Team Sweden
He brings size (6-foot-2, 194 pounds) and skill. Off the rush he is long and when he gets the edge on an opponent he shields defenders off very well. More of a passer than a shooter. He needs to keep his feet moving; there’s a ton of glide in his game off the puck.
I’m looking for more energy and, hopefully, physical engagement. If he shows he can be harder to play against in all three zones his draft stock has a chance to rise.
Tyler Duke, Team USA
This ball of hate won’t turn 18 until after the draft in Montreal. Take a look at his stats line. He isn’t going to bring a ton of offence. What he does do is make life miserable on opponents. He’s fun to watch. Tyler plays hard between the whistles (and sometimes after the whistle) and I’m interested to see how he is deployed in this tournament. His physical, tenacious, “in your face” style of play could contribute to the team's success.
David Goyette, Team Canada
An intriguing prospect whose draft ranking is all over the map depending on who you speak to. Goyette was drafted by the Sudbury Wolves in 2020 when he was coming off a year in which he produced 49 goals and 153 points in 65 games with Selects Academy 15U AAA. He was only 5-foot-8 and 147 pounds when the Wolves selected him, but has grown and added weight and strength (5-foot-10, 172 pounds now).
Sudbury was hoping to be a better team this year, but things didn’t work out that way. Goyette carried the mail offensively (33 goals, 73 points in 66 games) and projects to continue playing to his identity. More explosiveness will be required, though. He will be forced to elevate his pace in this tournament. Only six of his 33 goals this year came on the power play. He produces at even strength, which is a huge plus.