The Under 18’s : A Retrospective Part 1
The Under 18 World Junior Championships is a great little tournament. It offers a glimpse into the top prospects of draft years going forward. It provides a last chance for prospects in the current draft group to shine and increase their stock. Lastly, it provides the younger players of the draft to distinguish themselves against similarly aged players. The older September/October born players have to sit it out. Why is that important? Historically, the cluster of top-5 ranked players tend to be born before March. It’s extremely rare for players born after that to be a top ranked player. One of the few exceptions was Nathan MacKinnon and Aleksandr Barkov’s draft year where both were born 3 and 2 days away from the 2014 draft cutoff. A more typical example would be Yakupov, Murray, Galchenyuk and Reinhart all falling into that category.
This year was very interesting for several reasons. There were some fantastic performances by players semi-forgotten and clustered in the late first round. We got to see the expected 1st Overall Pick in 2019 play against the expected 1st Overall Pick in 2020. A goalie might have played himself into the first round.
Before diving in, I’d like to congratulate the Finns on their Gold Medal victory. The Finns are pumping out more and more great young players. Really nice to see as there was that big lull in the mid-2000’s where they were producing nothing of substance other than goalies.
Olivier Rodrigue – Goaltender, Canada, 3GP 1.33GAA .949SV%
The last time a Canadian born goalie was drafted in the first round was way back in 2012 when the Bruins selected Malcolm Subban. It’s rare to be a goalie selected in the first round and even rarer to be a Canadian. When we look at the careers a lot of those guys had…well maybe people were right to stop selecting Canadian goalies so early. Rodrigue enters the year as the top ranked North American goalie. According to various lists, he’s usually the second or third ranked overall. While Rodrigue only played 3 of the 5 games in the tournament, he should have played them all. He was lights out while Colten Ellis was woeful. He stole the starting position after Ellis let in 4 goals to the Americans and followed that up with 3 allowed against Belarus. Rodrigue went on to shut out the Swiss, win a hard fought 3-2 OT against the Swedes and kept Canada in it against the Czech’s. They would lose that game 2-1 which ended their tournament. 3 games and 3 goals allowed. Not bad. Especially when Ellis got lit up for 7 goals with the same defense in front of him.
From what I saw, Rodrigue plays a very similar style to Marc-Andre Fleury. He looks a bit small in the net, but is lightning fast and intelligent. Using athleticism and a really good blocker to make up for only being 6’1. He had a couple highlight reel saves in the tournament. Including a beauty on Matej Blumel (Czech). One cause for concern for me is that as wonderful and entertaining as flamboyant glove saves are, a lot of the times for goalies they only make those saves because they were out of position. A calm goalie usually isn’t making crazy saves. They’re making it look easy as if everything is just hitting them in the chest (disregard if playing against Jason Blake). He’s a bit wild and he’s plenty skilled. Teams looking for a goalie of the future would do well to take him should he fall into the second round.
Comparable : Marc-Andre Fleury
Players Raising Value
Jan Jeník - Centre, Czech Republic, 7gp 0g 6a 6p
Jan Jenik is the youngest player in the 2018 Entry Draft. He was born on September 15th. One day before being the oldest player in the 2019 draft. Funny how that works. People would be skeptical of him if he was in 2019 and here in 2018 he’s underrated! What insanity! Regardless, Jenik really impressed me despite not scoring a single goal. The zero goals thing is also not really his fault. He had a lot of good scoring chances and fired a lot of rubber at the net. He was a bit unlucky and also generated two goals off of high quality rebounds. He was dynamic as the Czech Republic’s first line centre and showed a lot of poise and patience with the puck. He was really good finding lanes and impressive when behind the opponents net. Very shifty and very good at identifying open players. I was also surprised at how physical he was. Especially because he was probably the lightest guy on the ice most games. This is also not the first time he has excelled internationally. He was a force for the Silver Medal Czech’s at the Ivan Hlinka this year. Scoring 6 goals in 5 games.
He’s currently ranked around 93rd by scouting agencies that list players that deeply. By Central Scouting he’s 16th for European Skaters. That means around that 80-200 range generally. After this tournament and being named a Top-3 Player on his Team, I think he’s going to be pulled in the second round. People will look at his age, his talent and his undeveloped body (6’1 165lbs) and see a long term investment.
Comparable : Mikael Granlund
Jared McIsaac - Left Defenseman, Canada, 5gp 1g 2a 3p
Playing in his second U18 tournament, McIsaac really impressed me at both ends of the ice. Every game I saw he was easily Canada’s best defenseman. Lacking the dynamism of Merkley or the physical intimidation of Bahl, but showing excellent decision making and skating ability. McIsaac is a curious case as his stock never seemed to rise during the season. Despite a very good year and being highly regarded, he has trended to being a bit of the “forgotten” top defense prospect in this draft. He’s ranked as high as 17th overall, which would be a very reasonable place for him to be selected. McIsaac was named a top-3 player on Team Canada and for good reason. He played the hardest matchups including having an epic battle with Jack Hughes where he dumped him on his rump three times in about 15 seconds. Of the three points Hughes had, only one came with McIsaac on the ice. The USA were very smart to double shift Hughes and Wahlstrom to get away from him. I think McIsaac had a really good tournament and cemented himself in that cluster of top defense prospects. Very few holes in his game. Just a solid and smart player.
Comparable : Mattias Ekholm
Allan McShane - Centre, Canada, 5gp 1g 5a 6p
McShane has seen his draft stock putter out a bit as he didn’t have the regular season a lot of people were expecting from him in the OHL. He put up 65 points in 67 games for the Generals. That was good for second on his team however and the Generals play a very defensive style of game. McShane had a very good tournament though and a lot of the time he was the straw stirring the offense. I hadn’t seen a lot of McShane in the OHL, so I was quite taken aback at how well positioned and polished his defensive game was. He was very strong at controlling the neutral zone and putting pressure on opposing players trying to enter the zone. Combine that level of mature awareness with NHL level passing and I can see an NHL player here. He’s a very smart player and you can see it out there. He makes simple plays and smart passes. Something that I think could translate well to the NHL. I think he showed a lot of growth in the tournament and answered a few of the questions regarding offensive consistency. Currently he’s ranked around the 62-120 range. If he’s there with any of those picks, I would not hesitate to grab him. I doubt he can reach the levels of a top-6 centre at the NHL level, but he has smart, responsible and versatile 3rd line centre written all over him.
Comparable : Nick Bonino
Jonatan Berggren - Right Wing, Sweden, 7gp 5g 5a 10p
In my opinion, no other player has seen his stock shoot up as much as Berggren. Not only due to this tournament, but his overall year. He torched the SuperElit for 57 points in 38 games. Only he and Lias Andersson (7th, 2017) led that league in scoring as an undrafted player. In the tournament he was Sweden’s second best player all tournament. The top honours going to goaltender Olof Lindbom. Berggren’s that classical Swedish speedster. So dangerous off the rush and so smart with and without the puck. He causes turnovers left and right. At this moment Berggren is ranked 30th of European Skaters by Central Scouting. Which is ludicrous. Have they seen him play? He has top tier skating with some hands to boot (looking at you Hagelin and Grabner). ISS has him at 30 overall, which is much more reasonable, but doesn’t take into account his fantastic tournament. He put on a dominant performance against the Czech Republic to help steal the Bronze. I really like this guy and I think he has some serious potential to be the steal of the draft. His rise very much reminds me of Teuvo Teräväinen who went from being ranked in the 60’s to ranked in the top-10 as the year went on (selected 18th).
Comparable : Nikolaj Ehlers
This is getting a bit long, I’ll break this up into two parts to get the rest. Thanks for reading.