Future Considerations: Highlighting draft eligible players to watch at U18s

Owen Sound Attack's Colby Barlow skates during on-ice testing ahead of the CHL/NHL Top Prospects game, in Langley, B.C., on Tuesday, January 24, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

The highly anticipated Men’s U18 Hockey Championships are underway in Switzerland. The host cities this year are Basel and Porrentruy.

Team Canada got off to a slow start (to say the least) in their opening game versus a very talented Team Sweden. The Swedes rolled to an 8-0 victory. Highly touted defenceman Axel Sandin Pellikka scored a goal and four assists for the Swedes. He’s one of the many first-round draft prospects at this, the final U18 tournament of the year.

Canada then rebounded for a 8-0 win over Germany on Friday.

I’m heading overseas today for the tournament. I will be posting updates on developing trends and players who are standing out both positively and negatively. This is, for most prospects, the final opportunity to impress NHL scouts and GMs before the draft June 28-29 in Nashville.

Here are some of the players I’m excited to view:

Colby Barlow – Forward – Team Canada

Barlow projects as a goal scoring power-forward. The 6-foot-1, 187-pound winger has fantastic hands and the ability to box out opponents and snap home pucks in tight quarters. Here’s my scouting report on Barlow heading into the tournament:

Cam Allen – Defenceman – Team Canada

Allen is captaining Team Canada again this spring after he also wore the ‘C’ for this group last summer at the Hlinka/Gretzky Cup. The 5-foot-11, 190-pound right shot defenceman had an up and down season playing for the Guelph Storm (OHL), so his stock has fallen. He’s a two-way “D” on projection who can occasionally contribute secondary scoring and isn’t shy about getting involved in the battle areas. I’m expecting him to be extremely motivated. NHL Central Scouting has him rated as the 46th-best player in North America – which is a significant fall-off from where his season began.

Nick Lardis – Forward – Team Canada

One of the biggest risers in the second half of the season. Lardis was excellent in Hamilton (OHL) after arriving in a trade with the Peterborough Petes. The 5-foot-11, 165-pound forward scored 25 goals and 21 assists for the Bulldogs. He’s an effortless skater who leans goal scorer more than distributor.

Andrew Cristall – Forward – Team Canada

Cristall is the 15th-ranked skater on NHL Central Scouting’s final draft ranking. He has been somewhat polarizing for scouts. Some view the 5-foot-10, 178-pound forward as an elite offensive talent who is too good to overlook for his skill set. Others are concerned about his three-zone compete and detail. The bottom line is, Cristall scored 39 goals and 56 assists for the Kelowna Rockets this season. Cristall will be looking to impress NHL executives at this event. Time will tell, but I have him in the top 10 rankings heading into this tournament.

Eduard Sale – Forward – Team Czechia

Sale is the fourth-ranked European skater for NHL Central Scouting. The 6-foot-1, 168-pound forward is highly skilled and he has excelled when playing in events versus players his own age. He’s also shown teams he can play a responsible game on both sides of the puck with his effort at the world juniors. Sale is equal parts goal scorer and playmaker. He will be one of the first 15 picks at the NHL draft and it wouldn’t surprise me to see him picked in the top eight.

Max Strbak – Defenceman – Team Slovakia

Strbak is another polarizing prospect who will be looking to leave a positive impression with scouts at this event. The 6-foot-2, 198-pound right shot defenceman was outstanding for Team Slovakia at the world juniors, where he was thrust into a top four role and elevated his game accordingly. He matched up against top six opponents and sacrificed on the penalty kill. Unfortunately, he didn’t carry-over the momentum to his USHL team, the Sioux Falls Stampede. He’s been average at best. He projects as a two-way defenceman who isn’t likely to produce much offence as a pro. Strbak has produced five goals and 13 assists in the USHL.

Axel Sandin Pellikka – Defenceman – Team Sweden

As stated in the opening paragraph, Sandin Pellikka is off to a great start in the tournament. The two-way/transitional defender, who’s ranked seventh by NHL Central Scouting for European skaters, has played a ton of hockey this season. He was thrust into a significant role at the world juniors and appeared to run out of gas at the end of that event, but on balance he tried to play a responsible game defensively and make plays on the offensive blue line.

Here’s my report on Sandin Pellikka heading into the U18’s:

Dalibor Dvorsky – Forward – Team Slovakia

Dvorsky is the third-ranked skater in Europe. The Slovakian forward has good size (6-foot-1, 201 pounds). Dvorsky leans shooter more than playmaker. He has a quick release and is very dangerous on the power play. He was originally projected as a potential top eight pick in the draft. I don’t think he is going to be a top 10 pick now, but he’s definitely looking to leave a positive impression with NHL teams at this event. Here’s my report on Dvorsky:

Will Smith – Forward – Team USA

Smith is the third-ranked skater in North America, behind Connor Bedard and Adam Fantilli. He’s an elite offensive talent who could disrupt the order of selection in the top five of the entry draft. It wouldn’t surprise me to see a team select Smith third overall. Here’s Smith’s scouting card:

I’m just scratching the surface with these names. Other players at the U18’s who will be selected in the first two rounds of the NHL draft include:

• Gabe Perrault – Fwd– Team USA

• Ryan Leonard – Fwd- Team USA      

• Oliver Moore – Fwd – Team USA       

• Noah Dower Nilsson – Fwd – Team Sweden

• Tom Willander – D – Team Sweden

• Otto Stenberg – Fwd – Team Sweden

• Theo Lindstein – D – Team Sweden

• Kasper Haltunnen – Fwd – Team Finland

• Matthew Wood – Fwd – Team Canada

• Lukas Dragicevic – D – Team Canada

• Calum Ritchie – Fwd – Team Canada

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