The IIHF World men’s U18 championship begins Thursday morning in Poprad and Spisska Nova Ves, Slovakia. The U18s means that any player born in 1999 or before is eligible. The majority of the players in this tournament will be eligible for this summer’s NHL Draft, making this a great last showcase for team’s as they finalize draft lists, and a good starting point for some of the elite prospects in next year’s Draft.
This is traditionally one of the strongest international events for the United States. With a roster primarily composed of the NTDP U18 team, the US is one of the only teams that plays together for an entire season. It also helps that a decent percentage of Canada’s top players are unavailable to play in the tournament due to the CHL playoffs.
Last year, the United States won a relatively disappointing bronze medal, playing on their home turf, but have won gold in six of the last eight tournaments, and have won a medal in every tournament since 2004. This is not the strongest team the US has fielded for this event, but a gold medal should still be the expectation.
Here is the US schedule for the tournament. (Times are local/EST)
As you can see, NHL Network will be broadcasting all of the US games. If you live in Canada or feel like international communications laws don’t apply to you, TSN is also showing a number of games:
The US Team
For a quick rundown on most of the team this report on the majority of the team comes from earlier in the year, but holds up fairly well.
After three straight seasons of historic, record-breaking performances from Jack Eichel, Auston Matthews, and Clayton Keller consecutively, this year’s US team lacks the same star power.
They’re led in scoring by a gritty two-way center in Josh Norris(Michigan), and a mid-sized power forward in Grant Mismash(North Dakota). Both are projected as late-first round/early-second round picks for this year’s NHL Draft.
Perhaps the best overall forward is Brady Tkachuk(Boston University), who isn’t eligible for the Draft until 2018, but is already drawing some buzz as a potential high pick. He’s gotten better and better as the year has progressed, including scoring twice in this team’s exhibition win over Finland, and could be in line for a breakout tournament.
The other wildcard that could be an offensive leader for the United States is Ryan Poehling, who played college hockey this past season for St. Cloud State. Poehling didn’t produce much offense at the collegiate level this year against much older competition, but playing at this level may be like swinging a baseball bat after taking the doughnut weight off.
It’s also worth keeping an eye on the two underage 2000-born forwards on the US roster. Oliver Wahlstrom(Harvard) has electrifying one-on-one skill. Joel Farabee(Boston University) was a bit of a surprise as the breakout offensive producer on this year’s NTDP U17 team, but he moves the puck extremely well to create chances.
On defense, the US is big, and has some decent mobility, but a lack of overall hockey sense has led to some players—Max Gildon, Tommy Miller, Nate Knoepke, Tyler Inamoto—that were once looked upon as potential high draft picks, to really slide as the year as progressed.
The best player on the blue line, Quinn Hughes(Michigan), isn’t eligible until next year’s NHL Draft. Hughes is a good skater, and really strong puck-handler. David Farrance(Boston University) will also provide a lot of offensive from the blue line.
Goaltending wasn’t a particularly strong point for the NTDP U18s this year, but they were able to bolster that position before the tournament started with Lincoln(USHL) goalie Cayden Primeau(Northeastern). The other goalies may see time, but I would expect Primeau to play in the knockout games. He’s a big, solid goalie, and could be the difference-maker that carries this team throughout some rough stretches.
As I said above, this isn’t the best team the US has ever fielded for this tournament, but the good news is that everybody else seems a little down as well(this year’s draft is considered to be incredibly weak).
Here’s Canada’s roster for the tournament. As always, they’ll be solid, but there aren’t a lot of huge names on here. 15th-ranked Isaac Ratliffe is the highest-ranked player for this year’s Draft. There’s quite a few 2000 birthdates getting the early call up too.
It’s worth noting that there are two NCAA prospects that made Canada’s team as well. ‘99 defenseman Ian Mitchell is committed to Denver, and ‘00 forward Jack McBain is committed to Boston College.
One of the big threats appears to be Russia. After last year’s debacle in which Russia had to send their U17 team because most of their U18 would have likely tested positive for banned substances, Russia returns many of those same players, including Andrei Svechnikov, who tore up the USHL this past season as a 2000-born player, and is one of the leading candidates to be selected first overall in the 2018 Draft.
Beyond that, traditional U18 powers Finland and Sweden look to be a bit down. The Swedes lack big name forwards, but have some very good defensemen, including Timothy Liljegren, who started the year as the second-ranked prospect for this year’s Draft, but slipped after a rough year. ‘00 D Rasmus Dahlin, who made a big splash at the World Juniors this year, was expected to play for Sweden too, but will miss the tournament because his pro team is still in the playoffs.
Finland are the defending champs, but will return very little from last year’s team, which had a lot of late ‘98 birthdates. The Finns also had a lot of good players playing in North America this year that will miss the tournament, including Boston College commit Eeli Tolvanen, who is in the USHL playoffs with Sioux City.
But that’s made up for by the fact that Switzerland, Czech Republic, and Slovakia should be fielding good teams.
Switzerland will be led by forward Nico Hischier, who could make a strong case to go first overall in this year’s Draft. He might be the one true offensive difference-maker in this tournament. They’ve got a few players behind Hischier with a lot of international experience too, including Axel Simic, Nando Eggenberger, and Nico Gross.
The Czechs got a huge boost when potential top-10 Draft pick Martin Necas was released by his pro team to play in this tournament. 2018 prospect Filip Zadina is another potential high-end scorer.