World Junior Prospect Portfolio – Which Young Guns Blossomed in Buffalo?
As we recover from the yuletide turkey coma and the post new year hangover we are left enjoying another holiday tradition: The World Junior Championship. While success in this tournament does not guarantee prosperity at the NHL level it does serve as a great platform for one to boost their draft stock and audition for their NHL team. Nico Hischier is a perfect example of this. He put on a herculean performance for Switzerland at last year’s tournament and went from a fringe top five pick to first overall. Likewise, back in 2013 Johnny Gaudreau proved to the Calgary Flames that they were wise to pick him 104th overall. He dominated the tournament scoring seven goals and was a huge reason why the United States took home the gold medal. He was called up to the Flames later that year and has never looked back, blossoming into an NHL superstar. This year in Buffalo the tournament was packed with high-end talent including several draft eligible players. As the dust settles and the faint sound of ‘Oh Canada’ drones on in the background let us take a look at which players performed on the biggest stage in junior hockey.
Rasmus Dahlin 🇸🇪 – 2018 Draft Eligible
The consensus number one pick coming into the tournament has only further distanced himself from the rest of the pack. While averaging well over 20 minutes of ice-time per game Dahlin chipped in 6 assists and a +7 rating on the Swedish blue line. The hype for the 17-year-old Dahlin is well deserved as he looks to be the best defensive prospect of the decade. He is gifted offensively and routinely makes brilliant solo rushes up the ice. It is remarkable what Dahlin is able to accomplish against stout competition at such a young age. He was one of the biggest reasons the Swedes managed to make it to the final and was rightfully voted Best Defenceman of the World Juniors. Dahlin had a mediocre game in the final against Canada but that should not overshadow what he accomplished throughout the tournament. NHL general managers are salivating at the thought of being able to draft the next great Swedish d-man.
Maksim Sushko 🇧🇾 – Philadelphia Flyers – 2017 4th round pick (#107 overall)
Although the Belarus squad ultimately ended up being relegated it was no fault of team captain Sushko. The Owen Sound Attack forward was easily the best player for Belarus registering 2 goals and 6 assists in 6 tournament games. This showing set a national team record for points in a tournament. The 18-year-old was poised and dangerous offensively for a team that seriously lacked star power. One of Sushko’s most impressive traits is his ability to win puck battles when he is engaged in the game; however, his defensive play needs work due to the fact he can be guilty of puck watching at times. With that being said, Sushko has recorded 26 points in 28 games in the OHL this year and his performance in the tournament has only made Flyers fans more excited about the skilled forward’s potential.
Casey Mittlestadt 🇺🇸– Buffalo Sabres – 2017 1st round pick (8th overall)
The Buffalo draft pick put on a show for the hometown fans (not that there were many) and took home the award for most valuable player. Mittlestadt tied for the tournament lead in points (4 goals 7 assists) and was the most dangerous option up front for the bronze medal winning United States. His creativity and vision with the puck stood out more than a non-alcoholic beer in Johnny Manziel’s fridge. He possesses what very well could be the best hands in the 2017 draft as he makes masterful dekes with relative ease. The outdoor game against Canada was perhaps his best performance as he recorded 3 gorgeous assists and helped fuel the American comeback. Mittlestadt also had the goal of the tournament against Slovakia which can be seen below. Sabres fans must be salivating at the thought of Mittlestadt and Jack Eichel together for the foreseeable future.
Jordan Kyrou 🇨🇦 – St. Louis Blues – 2016 2nd round pick (35th overall)
The slick Sarnia Sting forward had a solid tournament for the gold medal winners and incited several “Hey Baby” chants from the crowd. Kyrou finished with 3 goals and 7 assists in Canada’s 7 games. He showed his playmaking ability in the final when he put a beautiful pass on the tape of Dillon Dube to open the scoring. Kyrou is a deceptively fast skater with a delicate passing touch although he is prone to defensive lapses. He showcased his high-end skill throughout the competition and proved to the St. Louis brass that they struck gold at 35th overall.
Martin Necas 🇨🇿 – Carolina Hurricanes – 2017 1st round pick (12th overall)
It was a tournament to remember for the guy who centered arguably the best line in the competition. The explosive Necas tied for the tournament lead in points with 3 goals and 8 assists in 7 games with his stellar play fuelling the Czechs to a surprising semi-final run. Necas looked exactly like the skilled top 6 center the Hurricanes are desperately craving. His puck-handling ability and subtle agility made him a monster in the offensive zone. Regardless of whether it was at 5-on-5 or on the power play he controlled the pace of the game with the puck on his stick. He is a pass first player as he showcased the vision and hockey sense that will make him dangerous at the NHL level. He still needs to put on some more weight before Hurricanes training camp next year but Necas had one of the most impressive performances in the tournament.
Klim Kostin 🇷🇺 – St. Louis Blues – 2017 1st round pick (31st overall)
Although it was a disappointing finish for the Russian team – who saw their seven-year medal streak come to an end – their top sniper Klim Kostin can leave with his head held high. Kostin battled injury and inconsistency in his draft year resulting in his drop to 31st overall. NHL Central Scouting pegged him as the top international prospect going into the draft and he showed why he was deserving of that title in this tournament. With his 6’3 frame and wicked release Kostin tallied 5 goals and 3 assists in 5 games for the Russians. With such an impressive showing one must wonder if the Blues will call him up in the second half of the season. Pittsburgh traded the Kostin pick to St. Louis in the deal that netted them Ryan Reaves and it is already starting to look like the Pens may live to regret that transaction.
Brady Tkachuk 🇺🇸– 2018 Draft Eligible
It is only a matter of time before Tkachuk becomes synonymous with pest in the thesaurus. With that in mind, it should also be synonymous with hockey sense. The antagonistic Tkachuck put on quite the show for NHL scouts at the 2018 tournament. He played with the competitive fire that his family has become known for and showed off a skill set that would appeal to any organization. When one can look past his malevolent personality it is clear that Tkachuk has NHL calibre vision. He sees the ice as well as any player and brings a certain level of snarl and physicality to a team. He is a responsible forward who logged heavy minutes on the penalty kill becoming the backbone of the United States in tight contests. With his dogged determination to win each and every puck battle Tkachuk certainly looked like an NHL ready prospect. There is no doubt he vaulted himself up the draft rankings with this performance.
Elias Pettersson 🇸🇪 – Vancouver Canucks – 2017 1st round pick (5th overall)
The Canucks had one of the surprises of the 2017 draft when they took the two-way Pettersson at 5th overall. Nobody should be shocked anymore as the slick Swede performed admirably in a silver medal effort. The Sundsvall native tied for the team lead in points with 5 goals and 2 assists while showcasing his dependable play in the defensive zone. Pettersson has a large frame at 6’2 and possesses a cannonading wrist shot. He has a fluid skating stride, crafty one-on-one abilities, and is comfortable with the puck on his stick. Any Canucks fans that were doubting Jim Benning’s choice at 5th overall seem to be ecstatic right now. Pettersson has shown why he projects to be a top-6 forward at the NHL level.
Cale Makar 🇨🇦 – Colorado Avalanche – 2017 1st round pick (4th overall)
It is an impressive feat to be named to the World Junior all-star team as a guy who only played 6:54 in the tournament opener against Finland. The door opened for Makar after an injury to Kale Clague and he ran with this opportunity playing 25:12 in the next game against Slovakia. Makar’s deft passing ability was on display as he routinely hit Canadian forwards in full stride and continuously flashed the offensive instincts that have the Avalanche excited. He was tied for the tournament lead in points by defenseman putting up 3 goals and 5 assists in 7 games. Makar reads the ice well and seemingly always picked the proper times to jump into the rush. His effortless skating gave him some leeway when he did make mistakes but for the most part he was able to effectively get the puck out of his own end. Makar still projects to be a few years away from making the Avs but to play as well as he did is a promising sign for his progression.
Filip Zadina 🇨🇿 – 2018 Draft Eligible
Perhaps no draft eligible player helped boost their stock more than the dynamic Zadina. He had a fantastic tournament for the fourth place Czechs recording 7 goals and 1 assist in their 7 games. Playing on Martin Necas’ wing Zadina was a terror for opposing goalies and made the tournament all-star team. He recorded 4 power play goals in the competition as his quick release, dazzling creativity, and pinpoint accuracy were deadly with the extra man. Zadina is the leading scorer for Halifax in the QMJHL who have been a hot spot for developing international players over the past few years (Nikolaj Ehlers, Martin Frk, Timo Meier, Nico Hischier). This performance has given the electrifying winger a likely chance at being drafted in the top three.
Kieffer Bellows 🇺🇸– New York Islanders – 2016 1st round pick (19th overall)
His father was a renowned sniper who scored 1022 points in 1188 NHL games and the goal scoring gene seems to run in the family. Kieffer broke Jeremy Roenick’s national team record for goals in a tournament by putting up 9 in 7 games. The dominant power forward was quite the force in front of the net using his large frame to his advantage. His physicality and tenacious forechecking wore down opposition defenders and allowed him to work his magic below the dots. He has a hard, accurate shot in his arsenal and is a deceptively fast skater. Bellows showed the Isles that he is the total package and could make the jump in 2018 as the team moves towards a younger core.
Conor Timmins 🇨🇦 – Colorado Avalanche – 2017 2nd round pick (32nd overall)
In a competition that is dominated by high-skill forwards the Thorold product was exceptional on the back-end for Canada. As flawed a stat as +/- is, Timmins was a remarkable +15 only being on the ice for 1 goal against the entire tournament. He was fantastic at both ends of the rink and had a case to be named the Best Defenseman of the World Juniors. He was a force in the gold medal game and capped things off with a beautiful slap pass to Tyler Steenbergen to put Canada ahead. Timmins was poised breaking out of his own zone and Canada seemed to dominate possession when he was on the ice. Timmins is having a solid season for Sault Ste. Marie in the OHL and he will have a shot at making the Avalanche out of training camp next season.