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World Juniors: Moving Up or Moving Down?

United States v Czech Republic: Bronze Medal Game - 2018 IIHF World Junior Championship Photo by Kevin Hoffman/Getty Images

The World Juniors is a tremendous evaluation tool for scouts. It can be difficult to effectively judge players playing much older competition(NCAA) or younger competition(CHL). But playing in a high-skill environment with one’s own peer group is a rare opportunity to get a true gauge on a player’s talents.

I’ve long believed in the Bob McKenzie ladder theory that prospect’s stock is constantly either moving up or down based on their play. With that said, which US players helped their pro stock the most with this year’s World Juniors, and which players didn’t?

Moving Up

Casey Mittelstadt- Everybody seemed to have an opinion on Mittelstadt’s play this year, with about a 50/50 split between people who thought he was being way too selfish with the puck and people who thought he wasn’t being selfish enough with the puck. The thing is, everybody had an opinion because he was basically the only guy doing anything out there. Mittelstadt was unquestionably the leader of the US offense, and was named the tournament’s MVP.

His numbers have been good, but not great at Minnesota, but this tournament seemed to confirm that Minnesota’s scoring issues lie elsewhere. He delivered a star performance in Buffalo and looked ready for the NHL sooner rather than later.

Kieffer Bellows-Bellows is a niche player, but when he’s in the right role, he can be really effective. He played with a lot of confidence in his shot and it paid off as the top US goal scorer. After a rough season at BU last year, he looks back on pace to being a dependable goal-scorer at the pro level.

Joey Anderson-Aside from a few uncharacteristic mistakes in the semifinal loss, Anderson continued to be the smart, dependable player that Team USA needed him to be. He was a top line player at this tournament, which remains very good for a third round draft pick.

Brady Tkachuk-After maybe not being as effective as hoped in the first half of his freshman season at Boston University, Tkachuk shined here against his peer group, where his tough, heavy game was very effective. He probably solidified his position as a top-5 draft pick this summer at this tournament.

Dylan Samberg-Another guy that had some struggles adjusting to older play at college hockey, but I thought Samberg’s great physical abilities and athleticism really shined at this tournament against the world’s best. He showed just how high his ceiling could be.

Mikey Anderson-Not much to say about him, which is the type of role they asked from him in this tournament.

Quinn Hughes-Not really an outstanding tournament. He was tasked with quarterbacking the second power play unit which was a disaster, but the saying goes that a first-year draft eligible can’t hurt himself playing in this tournament, and Hughes showed the skills that will make him a top-10 pick this summer.

Trent Frederic-I thought Frederic was good in the role he was asked to play on the lower lines. I would have liked to see him get more opportunity to play on a scoring line to see if he could have created more offense. He had chances but nothing to show for it when the games mattered, but finally broke out in the bronze medal game.

Patrick Harper-He wasn’t able to get on the scoresheet as often as one might have hoped, but I thought he was a lot more effective at this year’s tournament than last year’s tournament. He showed offensive flash and creativity and created some good chance, even if they didn’t lead to goals.

Andrew Peeke-I thought there was maybe potential for Peeke to be a top pairing guy that the US really leaned on. That never really happened, although there weren’t too many situations where the US was on their heels either. He had a nice, solid tournament on the blue line.

Joe Woll-Shook off some shakiness in the prelim rounds, which is what they are for, and after giving up a bad first goal against Russia, gave the US exactly what they needed in the money rounds.

Jake Oettinger-Didn’t have to do much, but won both times he got to see the ice. Can’t ask for much more.

Jeremy Swayman-DNP, but gets to say he won a bronze medal for the rest of his life.

Moving Down

Ryan Poehling-When Poehling was taken in the first round by Montreal last summer, the big question was how his offensive game would progress. He showed some promising signs, averaging over a point-per-game in the first half of his college season, but I didn’t see a big change in his overall skill set, and this tournament seemed to confirm it. He was still an 18-year-old in a tournament for 19-year-olds, but Poehling didn’t show much ability to create offensively. He’s still a very good player in other areas of the ice, though his defense could have been better at times, but it’s looking less likely that he’ll be a big scorer at the next level.

Riley Tufte-I left this tournament with the same feeling I have nearly every time I see Tufte. He showed some flashes of brilliance, but it’s never quite enough to leave you feeling satisfied. Tufte was a project when he was selected, and has shown steady improvement, but it’s starting to get to the point where you’d like to see results a little faster.

Kailer Yamamoto-Generally I think having NHL experience coming into this tournament is a bit over-rated, and Yamamoto finished with a decent scoring line, including a big goal against Russia. But I can’t help but feel he could have played a bigger role here. If the problem was that the US didn’t score enough goals, and the first line did score enough goals, the second line is the next place you look.

Max Jones-Jones did a lot of good things. His size, speed, and physicality played big roles in the US being so good in possession. But what the US needed more than anything was some secondary scoring. Jones has the shooting ability that he could have had a similar tournament to Bellows, but only finished with a single goal.

Scott Perunovich-This is a tough one to grade. For the most part, I thought Perunovich was good and showed why the US was right to pick him. But at his size, in his last year of draft eligibility, he needed to have an outstanding tournament to really raise eyebrows, and after a really rough game in the semifinal, I think he showed why he’s unlikely to get drafted this summer.

Adam Fox-The defensive deficiencies were on full display in the Russia game and unfortunately, the US weren’t able to get the offensive upside from him at the time they needed it the most. He did a fairly decent job running the US top power play unit though.

Josh Norris-Very similar to Poehling. I thought he played a solid tournament, but didn’t do anything to quell concerns about his offensive upside.

Ryan Lindgren-Lindgren was far from a liability. He was steady and reliable, but he’s always lacked a bit of high-end upside, and hasn’t looked quite the same since injuring his leg last year.

Logan Brown-Didn’t get a chance to show much due to injury. Could make the argument that he showed his value by how much the US missed him.

Will Lockwood-Like Brown, injuries kept him from showing off much in this tournament. He survived an injury scare in a pre-tourney exhibition game, but crashing into the boards during the outdoor game against Canada will likely cost him the rest of his season, as he undergoes surgery on the same shoulder for the second time in eight months.