U18 World Junior Championships - Standouts and the Draft
Hey! Would you look at that! I’m late to the party again. Fantastic. Time to see if there is anything leftover in those bottles over there. I’m not entirely above dumpster diving.
I watched the U18 tournament this year and had a good time. TSN broadcasting it has been a great improvement over watching terrible streams, usually in Finnish and trying to make out who is doing what. I was beginning to do a write up of the US team when work turned insane and I ultimately flushed the idea down the toilet. I believe one of the paragraphs waxed poetic about how impressive the Americans have become in developing talent and chemistry through the USDP, but then they lost…so poo to all that. In lieu of that, I’m going to do a rundown on some players that impressed me, in tomorrow’s blog I will be discussing players who did not. This will all tie in to the Mockable Mock Draft™, which is happening, I think. Without further ado, here are some players who impressed me during the tournament and a look at some names your favourite team might be looking at in June.
Jack Hughes – Centreman, 5’10 170lbs, 7gp 9g 11a 20p for America
This one is pretty straight forward as Hughes led the tournament in points with 20 and was arguably (because he didn’t win it) the best player there. He was 1 point away from tying Nikita Kucherov’s tournament record of 21 points.
Hughes’ hope for hearing his name called by the Devils was riding really high after this tournament. It kind of felt that he had finally put the last nail in Kaapo Kakko’s coffin. Then the Gold Winning Finn danced around NHL players at the World Championships with Hughes relegated to a fourth line role…and suddenly we have Taylor vs. Tyler all over again. Regardless, this is about Hughes’ performance at the U18’s and he was a standout.
His speed is ridiculous and I while I wouldn’t quite say it is McDavid levels, it certainly feels MacKinnony. He has this dangerous burst that leaves defenders in a spot of trouble. His neutral zone play and zone movement are so smart and calculated. While the offensive side of his game and amazing vision are what are getting him noticed, when watching him at the U18’s I was a little bit blown away at just how good he is defensively. Not in a shot blocking, hit you to the ice kind of way, but like a chess player. He has this uncanny ability to seemingly know where everyone is on the ice and more importantly, where they plan to go. I was really impressed with his play…as I should have been considering where he will go this draft.
Cole Caufield – Right Winger, 5’7 163lbs, 7gp 14g 4a 18p for America
The 5’7 wizard is one of the most interesting players in this draft. He’s shattering records all over the place and scoring like he’s the 5’7 Ovechkin. At the U18 level of the USNDP, he scored 70 goals…in 62 games. Yes, you read that correctly. At the U20 level he had 29 goals…in 28 games. He is a goal scoring force with the best release in the entire draft with little competition.
Now the above 14 goals in 7 games is not a mirage. He tied Alex Ovechkin’s 14 goals in 8 games from way back in 2001-2002. An extremely impressive feat that helped him win the MVP and be named the Best Forward. I’m sure he would have preferred Gold to those honours, but sometimes that’s how life works out.
He is an electrifying goal scorer with the hands, speed and creativity to back it up. He is three steps faster than his opponents and ten steps ahead in knowing where to be on the ice to maximize offense. His hatrick performance against the Swedes to defeat them 6-1 was fantastic. It was his goal that sparked the comeback after the USA went down 1-0 in the first period. He generates so many chances and is never afraid to go into the hard areas and get as much rubber on the net as he can.
At 5’7…we all know the one (dumb) question that will arise. “Can he survive the big man’s game?” Debrincat at 5’7 (2nd round) just scored 41 goals, Mats Zuccarello at 5’7 (Undrafted) has had 4 50 point seasons, Cam Atkinson at 5’8 (6th round) has had 6 consecutive 20+ goal seasons and the mother lode that is Johnny Gaudreau at 5’9 (4th round) came one point shy of 100. This is not to say Caufield will ever hit these heights or even be an effective NHL player. He looks like he will be, but things happen. All I can say is that if letting these ultra-talented players fall in the draft continues, I think heads should roll in scouting staffs across the league.
Alex Newhook – Centreman, 5’11 190lbs, 7gp 5g 5a 10p for Canada
Alex Newhook is a player I’ve heard a lot about, but never had gotten to see. He plays in the BCHL and if you can find a stream of their games you must be some kind of Anonymous level hacker. He has a lot of dark horse hype this draft and could be a wildcard. The BCHL and other Junior B Leagues can be tricky guesses of talent with the lower levels of competition. He showed me a lot of what the hype is about. He’s a very odd player in the way that he isn’t very physical, but he never shows an ounce of fear on the ice. To see a high end skill player jump in front of pucks is nice to see, as well as not giving a crap if people are coming to nail him to the boards. He got smoked twice making plays in the slot against the USA and kept about his business. I know it sounds a bit red flaggy, but if it doesn’t get him hurt, it’s the type of traits every team wants from their scorers.
He’s a character guy with a lot of speed. I think he was probably the 4th best skater in the tournament. The one issue I had with him is that he’s a bit of a puck hog. That’s both a good and bad thing and might be a holdover from being in the BCHL where he’s head and shoulders above everyone. While you can deke three Belarussians in the neutral zone cleanly, it’s a lot different against good teams. Regardless, I really liked his play.
Karl Henriksson – Centreman, 5’9 174lbs, 7gp 3g 6a 9p for Sweden
Henriksson was the centreman for what the Swedes are calling the “Gold Line.” He was a large part of Sweden finally winning their first ever U18 Gold Medal. Overshadowed in hype by linemates 2020 1st Overall Contender Alexander Holtz and expected 2020 First Rounder Lucas Raymond, Henriksson was extremely impressive and noticeable. The diminutive centre is a really hard working player and has amazing passing ability. He’s very fast and has great agility. Which makes sense because apparently he was considered the best 15 year old Midfielder in Sweden and on their national soccer team before deciding to play hockey full time. It’s hard to stress his positioning and zone work. He was a really good foil for Holtz and Raymond who are both speedsters and love to rush the offensive zone. He was the defensive backbone of the line and was really good at transitioning them the puck. He’s a really creative playmaker and likes to defer more often than not.
He’s ranked very low in the draft being ranked in the Third Round for the most part. Probably from a mix of lack of exposure and being 5’9. He led the SuperElit in points this past year, but still gets little respect. I was really impressed by his play and I think some team will get a really interesting prospect late when they select him.
Hugo Alnefelt – Goaltender, 6’3 194lbs, 5gp 2.75GAA .921SV% for Sweden
The Gold Winning Goalie was really solid all tournament long. It helped that the Swedish defense was pretty darn good, but if you can’t make a save it doesn’t matter. Alnefelt is the number two ranked goaltender from Europe by Centreal Scouting. He’s big, he’s quick and he plays the butterfly to a tee. He was a big reason that the Swedes were able to squeak out the OT win. He made 35 saves against the Russians and frustrated them all night. I really liked his battling as he got run twice by Podkolzin in that game alone (one ended up being a goal despite the initial call of Goalie Interference). Despite that, he never stopped squaring himself on the edges of the blue ice. Goalies are always tricky, but he showed a lot of good things in a tournament where there were several standout goaltending performances. Wouldn’t shock me if he’s gone early in the Second Round.
Maxim Cajkovic – Right Winger, 5’11 187lbs, 7gp 3g 4a 7p for Slovakia
One of the oldest players in this tournament. Being 2 days from the cutoff. Cajkovic is a really interesting player this draft. He went into this draft year as a potential top-10 pick coming off a dominant U18’s as a 17 year old and all figured the move to the Q would seal that fate. Alas, playing for the dreadful Sea Dogs, he led the team in goals and points with just 22 and 46 in 60 games played. Despite the poor numbers, he was still playing very well and was a bright spot on the second worst team in the league. Similarly, Cajkovic had the distinction of being the lone bright spot for Slovakia as well. On a team that couldn’t really score, couldn’t really defend and couldn’t get a save more often than not, Cajkovic put in a feisty and memorable performance.
He’s a straight line player and moves quickly up and down the ice. He has a very Kessel style of play in terms of always looking for the stretch pass to break into the zone and using defenders as screens for a wrister off the wing. That’s his go to move by and large. He’s a high volume shooter and really loves to rip it 15 feet or so from the goalie. His play when the game is moving is really impressive, though he looks frustrated in both the offensive and defensive zones when the play becomes static. This frustration also led him to some undisciplined play and while it’s nice that he will play physical, the tripping and slashing penalties need to go. He had the dubious distinction of being the most penalized player in the tournament. Overall he’s an interesting player and a sleeper that could bloom given some quality teammates and more maturation.
Yaroslav Askarov – Goaltender, 6’3 163lbs, 6gp 2.31GAA .916SV% for Russia
Another year and another Top Russian Goalie Prospect. It’s weird to think that just 15 years ago or so, there were only two good Russian goalies on the planet. Now they’re churning out great goalie prospects left and right. Askarov looks to be just another name to add to that growing list. The expected 2020 Top Goalie Prospect was a star in the tournament and came away with the Best Goaltender Award as a 16 year old. Very impressive. He is fast as lightning and all reflexes. He was very good in the Gold Medal Game despite the 4 goals allowed and made some unbelievable saves on some blown coverage by a Russian defense that really wasn’t that good to be honest. At the end of the day he was Team Russia’s MVP and gave a great performance overall. I love the lateral movement and at just 16 and already 6’3 (and looks it) he might end up at 6’5. Really exciting young goalie and his future looks bright.
Thanks for reading. I think I’ll have to do a part two as this has gone on way longer than I thought and I have 7 more players from my notes.