For the first time since 2013, Canada won gold at the IIHF World Under-18 Hockey Championship.
With Connor Bedard and Shane Wright leading the charge, the Canadians defeated Matvei Michkov and Russia 5-3 in the final game of the tournament.
The two-week event evolved into an incredible look at the 2023 NHL Draft with the Bedard versus Michkov show. Bedard, the Canadian standout, tied Connor McDavid’s under-16 scoring record with 14 points (seven goals, seven assists) while Michkov, the Russian sensation, came within two goals of the tournament record; he led the way with 16 points (12 goals, four assists) and earned MVP honors.
Wright, eligible for the 2022 NHL Draft, captained Canada and put his exceptional-status talent on display with 14 points (nine goals, five assists) in just five games. Despite being held out of two games for precautionary reasons, Wright’s nine goals are a Canadian record in this event.
Canada vs. Russia results: Wright, Bedard lead Canadians to 2021 U18 gold
Many other 2022-eligibles put on a show in this event as well, with Russia’s trio of Danila Yurov, Ivan Miroshnichenko and Sergei Ivanov, Team USA’s Lane Hutson, and Belarus forward Yegor Sidorov getting fans and NHL teams excited for what’s to come.
While the tournament was a stage for 2022 and 2023 draft-eligible prospects, the Under-18s is annually a platform for prospects of the upcoming draft. In a normal season, the event is the last opportunity for kids to impress scouts before they hear their name called. This year, however, the U18s will carry even more weight leading into July’s NHL draft.
With the OHL season cancelled, prospects scoured the globe for ice time. Some found it, such as Canada’s Brandt Clarke, Mason McTavish and Brennan Othmann. Others didn’t get any games in, like their teammates Ethan Del Mastro, Wyatt Johnston and Jack Matier.
For all of these prospects, the Under-18s provided a glimpse into where they are in their development compared to their peers and is huge for scouts trying to lock in their rankings. The tournament can also raise a prospect’s profile; a fringe first-rounder can secure their spot in the top-32 or a player that no one knew about can burst onto the scene.
In this tournament, we have both cases.
With the 2021 IIHF U18 World Championship now complete, let’s take a look at the 10 prospects that have boosted their draft stock over the course of the tournament.
(In alphabetical order)
2021 NHL Draft risers
Benjamin Gaudreau, G, Team Canada
FCHockey’s Spring ranking: 32
After Canada split the goaltending duties between Gaudreau and 2022-eligible Thomas Milic through the preliminary round, the North Bay, Ont., native seized the reins of the starting job and carried Canada through the medal round and to the gold medal win. For his efforts in the event, he was honored by the IIHF as the tournament’s top goaltender.
Gaudreau won all five of his starts and collected a tournament-best .919 save percentage and 2.20 goals-against average. The Sarnia Sting netminder is one of the prospects in this tournament that didn’t hit the ice this season with the OHL season cancellation. With the World U18s being his only action in 2020-21, he’s put on an excellent display for scouts.
One of his biggest assets shown off in the Under-18s was his rebound control. Gaudreau showed excellent tracking in his games while staying square in his net and showing impressive patience. His glove hand was lightning quick, which resulted in some big saves for Canada. An aggressive netminder, he could be one of three to hear his name in the first round of the 2021 draft.
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Aleksi Heimosalmi, D, Team Finland
Spring ranking: 77
While Finland didn’t medal in the event, they had a number of standout individual performances. One of those belonged to Heimosalmi, the team’s No. 1 defenseman. The agile rearguard collected eight points (two goals, six assists) through seven games, and was named the tournament’s Best Defenseman by the IIHF. He was also named a top-three player on Team Finland.
The two goals that the defender scored showed off his impressive skating, his evasiveness, and his creativity, going end-to-end for highlight-reel plays. While the entire team was shut out in the bronze medal game, Heimosalmi collected two assists in the semifinal loss to Russia as he tried everything he could to get his team into the gold medal game.
Heimosalmi showed off a strong two-way ability in the tournament, too, with some flash in his game that could be very intriguing to NHL teams. His goals showed off his offensive flair and he was solid in his own end too, showing strong positional awareness. He’s a player that could be used on both special teams at the next level.
Danila Klimovich, C, Team Belarus
Spring ranking: Not ranked
The surprise of the tournament — and probably the biggest riser from the tourney — was Klimovich, who came out of nowhere to capture attention despite scoring 52 points (28 goals, 24 assists) in 37 games in Belarus Vysshaya League. He exploded out of the gate at the U18s potting six goals in his first three games.
Named a top-three player for Belarus, Klimovich showed off an absolutely wicked shot with a very quick release. He excelled at finding the soft ice, slipping behind defenders and getting open in the offensive zone. On top of this, he showcased excellent hands and confidence that makes him a fearless competitor when it comes to facing defenders, especially in one-on-one situations.
While all of his goals came on the power play, his shooting ability should garner attention at the 2021 draft.
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Ville Koivunen, LW, Team Finland
Spring ranking: Not ranked
A prospect who’s raised his stock all season, Koivunen put his game on display in Texas. In seven games, he finished second on the team with 10 points (four goals, six assists) and was one of the key players in Finland’s lineup.
Koivunen had a big season in the U20 SM-sarja with Karpat U20, and was named the Rookie of the Year after scoring 49 points (23 goals, 26 assists) in 38 games. An intelligent winger, he works the cycle well utilizing his playmaking and vision to create offense for his team. On top of his movement with the puck, Koivunen showed an ability to get it done by himself too, finding the lanes and cutting to the slot. It looks like he could be a name to watch in the first three rounds in July.
Dmitri Kuzmin, D, Team Belarus
Spring ranking: Not ranked
While Klimovich was a surprising treat on the Belarus roster, Kuzmin was an expected star — and he did not disappoint. The crafty defender had five points (one goal, four assists) in five games, helping his team to the quarterfinal round and being named a top-three player for Belarus.
His skill was on full display in every game, immediately drawing viewers to his magic on the ice. In his second game of the tournament, he pulled off “The Michigan” (a lacrosse-style goal) in the team’s 7-1 win over Switzerland. He followed it up with a three-assist performance against Latvia.
The blueliner is extremely mobile, utilizing his edges so well as he carves through oppositions in transitions. His ability to change both his pace and direction with the puck makes him so difficult to defend. Kuzmin should be the top Belarusian selected in the 2021 draft, potentially within the first three rounds.
Fabian Lysell, LW, Team Sweden
Spring ranking: 10
Sweden struggled as a whole to find their footing in the preliminary round, but not Lysell. The winger was the top player for his country all tournament, putting his team on his back when they weren’t able to find offense. He collected a team-leading nine points (three goals, six assists) and was a key figure in their bronze medal campaign.
Lysell’s speed and creativity are key components of his game and they were on full display at the Under-18s. A shifty forward that is so hard to defend, and someone who has the ability to create offensive opportunities out of nothing, he also pulled off some highlight-reel assists.
Lysell is a top-10 prospect in the 2021 draft, but where he falls is still very much up in the air. He could very well be a player to crawl up into the top five and, if this tournament carries any weight for NHL scouts, he might just do that.
Isak Rosen, LW, Team Sweden
Spring ranking: 31
It wasn’t just Lysell that stood out for the Swedes, Rosen was also a key player. He tied Lysell for the team lead in points (nine) and finished third in the tournament in goals (seven). He was named a top-three player on the team for his performance.
Rosen was noticeable in every game of this tournament and improved with each contest. Much like his teammate, Rosen’s speed was remarkable, getting up the ice in a hurry and stunning offenses. He also showed off a hard, accurate wrist shot that he could get off in a second. Plus, unlike many offensive players at this stage, Rosen was solid and tenacious in his own end.
With the first round of the 2021 draft seemingly wide open, he’s been a worthy name in the conversation all season long. Between his SHL performance and his Under-18s showing, Rosen is a player that could rise up into the top-20 of this class.
Logan Stankoven, C, Team Canada
Spring ranking: 20
While Bedard and Wright were the offensive leaders on Canada, the play of Stankoven stood out in a big way. He collected eight points (four goals, four assists) in seven games as they won gold. He also wore an ‘A’ and more than lived up to the letter.
The Kamloops Blazers forward never took his foot off the gas, contributing whether he had the puck or not and pushed the pace. While there may be reservations regarding his 5-8 stature, he brought a much bigger game and was fearless and willing to take on any player. Stankoven can be used on the power play or on the penalty and is one of the more versatile players in this class.
One of those players that seemed to be on the fringe of the first round, if the U18s was any indication of what he is capable of, he should secure a spot in the top-32. There is also a case for him to be in the top-20 as one of the best players in the draft out of the WHL.
Fyodor Svechkov, C, Team Russia
Spring ranking: 18
FCHockey’s top-ranked Russian in the 2021 draft class, Svechkov lived up to the hype in Texas. Along with Michkov, he was one of the most effective players in the tournament, racking up 10 points (four goals, six assists) and showing off an impressive two-way ability.
Good in all of the little aspects scouts look for in a player, he’s always competing and battling to get the puck for his team. Svechkov can steal pucks easily, turn and take it back up the ice. He’s not a flashy player, but he should be a consistent, steady presence for whichever team drafts him.
With Svechkov having a solid season in Russia and a standout performance at the Under-18s, there’s a possibility we see him selected in the top-15. A dynamic player that can be used in every situation and excels in both ends of the rink, he looks to be one of the safer picks in this class.
Samu Tuomaala, LW, Team Finland
Spring ranking: 46
The third member of Finland on this list, Tuomaala showed his offensive prowess at U18s, with 11 points (five goals, six assists) in seven games. He led the Finnish team in points and finished fifth overall in the tournament resulting in him being named a top-three player for his country and to the All-Star Team.
What is most impressive about his points is how they came: coming up absolutely clutch by scoring game-tying, overtime-forcing goals, and some game-winners. Even some of his assists came in the most important moments, as he pulled off some very impressive plays.
Yet another player that has found himself as a fringe first-rounder, the Finnish forward did have one of the most impressive individual performances at the tournament and could have pushed himself up into the first round. His lethal shot and ability to show up when the team needed him should be intriguing traits for an NHL team.
Honourable mentions: Corson Ceulemans (CAN), Nikita Chibrikov (RUS), Kaiden Mbereko (USA), Aku Koskenvuo (FIN), Mason McTavish (CAN), Sasha Pastujov (USA), Samu Salminen (FIN), William Stromgren (SWE), Olen Zellweger (CAN)
Josh Bell is a scout and the director of content for FCHockey.
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