Most of the world’s best under-18 hockey players converged on the Czech Republic last week to take part in the prestigious Ivan Hlinka Memorial Cup tournament.
By all accounts, those who have identified as top prospects for the 2018 NHL draft acquitted themselves well.
Canada beat the hosts 4-1 on Saturday with four different players sharing in the scoring. The Canadians lost just one game in the tournament, 4-3 in overtime to Russia in their first game. Otherwise, they beat Finland, Slovakia and then Sweden in the semi-finals to go to the gold medal game.
Canada had five players in the top 10 in scoring, including highly touted prospects Joe Veleno, Akil Thomas, Calen Addison and Ryan Merkley.
This tournament is a showcase for the world’s best up-and-coming juniors who hope to compete in December/January in the IIHF U-20 championships and cement their credentials for the draft.
Here are 20 to keep an eye on this winter.
20. Jesse Ylonen, RW – Espoo United
Bloodline can sometimes factor into a player’s development and Scottsdale, AZ born Jesse Ylonen has a good one. Son of former NHLer Juha Ylonen (Phoenix Coyotes, Tampa Bay Lightning, Ottawa Senators), Jesse is a quick skater with good puck handling skills that he put on display at the IIHF U-18 world championships earlier this year. He finished tied for third in scoring at the U18 with four goals and five assists in seven games for Finland, where he moved to as a youngster. A point per game player in two seasons of junior hockey in Finland with Jokerit U18 and Blues U20, Ylonen will skate with Espoo United of the Mestis (2nd division) pro league this season.
19. Mattias Samuelsson, LD – U.S. National Team Development Program
Like Jesse Ylonen, Mattias Samuelsson comes by his hockey acumen honestly, being the son of former longtime NHL defenceman Kjell Samuelsson. He’s big like the old man at 6’3″, 205 lbs and being born in New Jersey, he was a big contributor to the USNTDP U17 and U18 program this past season. He had 10 points in 30 games with the USNTDP Juniors in USHL play and another 16 points in 47 games with the USNTDP U17 and U18 teams in U.S.D.P. play in 2016-17. He will continue to skate for the USNTDP Juniors and has committed to playing with NCAA powerhouse Michigan Wolverines in the future.
18. Calen Addison, RD – Lethbridge Hurricanes
He may not be the biggest defensive prospect at 5’10” and 179 lbs., but being mobile, puck-handling right shot will put Addison in high demand come June 2018. The 17-year-old from Brandon, Manitoba was a force for Canada at the Ivan Hlinka, finishing fourth in team scoring with two goals and four assists in six games. A big scorer in Bantam and Midget hockey in Brandon, Addison made a smooth transition to the big club, tallying 33 points in 63 games for the Wheat Kings in 2016-17. He also added two points in 13 playoff games. Addison also skated for Canada Black at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge last fall, collecting three assists in six games for the silver medalists.
17. Benoit Olivier-Groulx, C – Halifax Mooseheads
Groulx has the distinction of being born in Rouen, France and was another key contributor to Canada’s gold medal winning effort at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial tourney. He tallied twice and added an assist in five games for Team Canada and is ranked in the bottom third of the top 30 prospects for the NHL entry draft. However, he could improve his draft standing greatly by following up a great rookie season in the QMJHL with the Mooseheads, where he scored 17 goals and 14 assists in 62 games. The 2016 QMJHL first overall pick also added a goal and an assists in six playoff games for Halifax.
16. Jesperi Kotkaniemi, C – Assat Pori
If all goes according to plan, young Finnish center Jesperi Kotkaniemi will be skating with Assat of the Finnish top level Liiga this winter. The 17-year-old will probably begin the campaign with the Pori Juniors, but after great performances at the Ivan Hlinka (two goals and an assist in four games) and the IIHF U18 world championships earlier this year (six points in seven games), he’ll be a good candidate for promotion. With the Assat U20 team over the 2015-16 and 2016-17 campaigns the lanky 6’2″ pivot had 30 points (14 goals) in 40 total regular season contests. In this year’s SM-liiga U20 playoffs he also scored four times and added an assist in seven games for the Aces (Assat).
15. Oliver Wahlstrom, RW – USNTDP
Oliver Wahlstrom, like countryman Mattias Samuelsson, is another of those hybrid European/American players making waves in the U.S. National Team Team Development program. Now Oliver’s Dad, Joakim, didn’t play in the NHL, but he did skate with the University of Maine Black Bears in 1988-89, a team that featured future NHLers Dave Capuano, Scott Pellerin, Bob Corkum, Bob Beers, and Keith Carney. Oliver was born in Yarmouth, Maine and attended the hockey factory known as Shattuck St. Mary’s, where Sidney Crosby cut his hockey teeth, too. He, like Samuelsson, will compete in the NCAA too, with the Harvard Crimson starting in 2018. Wahlstrom scored four goals and had an assist for the World U18 gold medal winning American team this year and will skate again for the USNTDP Juniors. He is ranked in the middle 10 of the top 30 prospects for the 2018 draft.
14. Vitali Kravtsov, RW – Traktor Chelyabinsk
Kravtsov has already made history in the KHL, being the youngest player ever to score in the Russian pro league playoffs when he found the twine for Traktor in game 1 of a series against Barys Astana. He was also named Best Rookie of the first round of the post-season for his overall play in six games. The Vladivostok native graduated from the Belye Medvedi Chelyabinsk to the big club and will start the 2017-18 season there. At 6’2″ he has the size but will have to add some weight to a slight 170 lb. frame. Having not competed on the world stage for any national team, Kravtsov is the kind of player who will likely sneak into the first round of the draft, where he is currently projected to go high in the second round.
13. Evan Bouchard, RD – London Knights
Playing for Dale Hunter in London has been a boon to many a future NHL star’s game. The former NHLer and longtime coach of the Knights has graduated stars and Stanley Cup winners such as Corey Perry, Dave Bolland and Olli Maatta, among others to the NHL. Young defenceman Evan Bouchard, then, is in good hands and has progressed very nicely up the ladder of elite OHL defencemen with the Knights. The Oakville native, ranked smack in the middle of the top 30 prospects by several outlets, had a stellar sophomore season in London, scoring 11 goals and 33 assists in 68 games and was +30. In 14 playoff games for the Knights, he recorded three goals and four assists in 14 contests. At the U-17 World Hockey Challenge in 2015, he had six points in six games for Canada White.
12. Jett Woo, RD – Moose Jaw Warriors
His might be the best name in hockey right now. Woo, just turned 17 in July, won’t likely need a nickname once he reaches the big league, where he is projected to be a top-20 pick in June, 2018. The Winnipeg native is a solidly built (6’0″, 205 lbs.) right shooting defender who was the fourth overall pick of the Moose Jaw Warriors in 2015. He is a solid playmaker, having put up five goals and 18 assists in 72 total WHL games, along with four assists in 12 playoff tilts. On the world stage, Woo has done well, chipping four points in six games for Canada White at the U17 World Hockey Challenge last fall, then a goal and an assist in five games at the IIHF U18 championships. He didn’t score in five games for Canada at the Ivan Hlinka, but played a leadership role as the assistant captain.
11. Joel Farabee, LW – USNTDP
Among elite forward prospects out of the U.S. National Development Team Program, Joel Farabee is in very good company. He is one of but a few U17 players who got promoted to the U18 team early, a list that includes Auston Matthews, Clayton Keller and Jack Eichel. Like Eichel and Keller, the high scoring Farabee has committed to play at Boston University for the 2019-20 season. Farabee scored 12 goals and added 11 assists for the USNTDP Juniors in 30 games last season and was better than a point-per-game in two international tournaments. He had four goals and two assists for Team USA at the U17 World Hockey Challenge last fall and then added three goals and three assists for the gold medal winning Americans in seven games at the IIHF U18 championships.
10. Filip Zadina, LW – Halifax Mooseheads
Benoit Olivier-Groulx is about to get some high-scoring company in Halifax. Czech left winger Filip Zadina was taken 10th overall in the CHL import draft in June and the skilled international veteran will add a lot of scoring savvy to the Mooseheads line-up. Rated in the top 10 for the 2018 NHL entry draft, Zadina is coming off a great 2016-17 season with both his hometown HC Pardubice U20 Juniors and HC Dynamo Pardubice of the Czech pro league. He had 18 points in 20 games for the juniors and recorded two points in 25 games for the big club as a 17-year-old. In international play, he scored six points in five games at the IIHF U18 world championships, as well as a goal in five games during the IIHF U20 championships last year.
9. Ty Smith, LD – Spokane Chiefs
He may not be the highest scoring rearguard on this list, but Lloydminster, SK born Ty Smith will be a leader in the NHL someday. Ranked in the top 10 for the entry draft next June, Smith has already been captain of the silver medal winning Canada Black team at the U17 World Hockey Challenge last fall and then wore an “A” with the champion Canadian squad at the Hlinka Memorial tourney last week. Statistically speaking, Smith has 34 points in 68 WHL games and contributed eight points in 16 international games, including the IIHF U18 championships earlier this year. Smith was the Chiefs rookie of the year in 2016-17 and was third among all WHL 16-year-olds in points.
8. Akil Thomas, C – Niagara Ice Dogs
Make no mistake, Akil Thomas is a sniper to be reckoned with. The Florida born dual Canadian/American citizen lit it up in his rookie season with the OHL’s Ice Dogs in 2016-17, scoring 21 goals and adding 27 assists in 61 regular season games. For his efforts, he was named to the OHL’s all-Rookie team. His outstanding year included a three point effort for Canada White at the U17 World Hockey Challenge last autumn and this past week he was second among all Canadians in scoring with six points in five games at the Hlinka Memorial, which Canada won. Thomas had two assists in Canada’s 4-1 victory over the host Czechs in the Hlinka final and scored a goal in a 4-1 victory over Sweden in the semi-finals. He is ranked anywhere from top 10 to top 15 for the draft.
7. David Levin, LW – Sudbury Wolves
David Levin’s hockey journey began in his native Tel Aviv, on roller skates. As a youth, the Sudbury Wolves sniper and first overall pick in 2015 started playing the game on roller skates. A tryout on ice skates was an initial failure, but a move to live with his aunt and uncle in Toronto proved to be good for his burgeoning hockey career. Eventually, he would start with the Don Mills Flyers and then become the first overall pick in the OHL’s priority selection by Sudbury. He had modest totals of nine goals and 21 assists in his first 47 games with the Wolves, however, he’s become one of the elite playmakers in the league, registering 53 points in 66 games last year and another six points in six playoff games. Slated to go in the first round, he could become the NHL’s first ever Israeli born player.
6. Brady Tkachuk, C/LW – Boston University
Brady, son of longtime NHLer Keith and brother of current Calgary Flames forward Matthew, has to emerge from some long shadows. By all indications, the younger Tkachuk has things well in hand. Committed to powerhouse Boston University Terriers for the 2017-18 season, Brady is a big, tough forward in his father and brother’s mold who has done quite well at all levels. He scored 23 points in 24 games for the USNTDP Juniors last year and tallied seven points in seven games for Team USA at the IIHF U18 world championships, where he was captain for the champion Americans. He’s a load to handle on the ice and also sat in the sin bin for 73 minutes in those 24 games with the US Juniors this past season. Tkachuk is slate to go top 10 in the 2018 draft.
5. Ryan Merkley, D – Guelph Storm
There hasn’t been a defenceman of renown to skate with the Guelph Storm since Drew Doughty took his act to the Los Angeles Kings in 2008 as the second overall pick. And with his skill on the ice, Ryan Merkley may one day be just as good as Doughty has been at the NHL level. In fact, Merkley had a far more outstanding offensive rookie season than Norris Trophy winner Doughty, scoring 55 points in 62 games (Doughty had 33 points in 65 contests). That prolific output had the smooth-skating Merkley being named OHL Rookie of the Year and earned him a spot on the gold medal winning Canadian team at the premier Ivan Hlinka tournament. The top-5 ranked defenceman’s play there was outstanding, too, as he logged six assists in five games.
4. Joe Veleno, C – Saint John Sea Dogs
The highest ranked center in hockey belongs to the powerful Saint John Sea Dogs of the QMJHL. Montreal native Joe Veleno put his name to the fore of elite hockey prospects with a great 2016-17 season, scoring 40 points in 45 games. He ratcheted things up a notch with a great playoff run for the Memorial Cup bound Sea Dogs, scoring eight goals and three assists in 18 post-season contests. He capped off a great run with three goals and an assist for Saint John in the Memorial Cup. This all followed a pretty stellar season as a rare 15-year-old in Canadian junior hockey, when he had 43 points in 62 regular season tilts and seven points (six goals) in 17 playoff games during the 2015-16 season. He was also captain of the gold medal winning Canadian team at the Ivan Hlinka and was tops in scoring for them with seven points in five games. He should be a top-5 pick in next year’s draft.
3. Quinton Hughes, LD – Michigan Wolverines
Orlando, FLA would never be confused with a hotbed of hockey activity, but don’t tell that to superstar junior and native son Quinton Hughes. The 17-year-old phenom, son of former NCAA player Jim (Providence College), is the USNTDP’s highest rated player and projected to go top-5 in the NHL draft. Hughes is a defensive playmaker with few equals, having registered 26 points in 26 games with the USNTDP Juniors and another 53 points in 65 games for the U.S. National U18 team in 2016-17. Hughes was a catalyst on the gold medal winning Team USA at the IIHF U18 championships, too, scoring once and adding four assists in seven games. He is committed to the Michigan Wolverines hockey program for the 2017-18 season.
2. Andrei Svechnikov, RW – Barrie Colts
Depending on who is doing the evaluating, Russian sniper Andrei Svechnikov just might be the no. 1 pick in next year’s NHL entry draft in Dallas. A pure scorer, Svechnikov was taken first overall in the CHL import draft by the Barrie Colts and will be a load to handle for young OHL defencemen soon. The 6’1″ native of Barnaul, Russia was sixth in USHL scoring with the Muskegon Lumberjacks last year, scoring 29 goals and 29 assists in just 48 games. His stock rose considerably with his output at the U17 World Hockey Challenge last fall, when he fired five goals and added three assists in just four games. Svechnikov added a further nine points (four goals) in seven games at the IIHF U-18 world championships earlier this spring.
1. Rasmus Dahlin, LD – Frolunda Indians
According to hockey bird dogs, Swedish rearguard Rasmus Dahlin is the consummate “five tool” player who as of today tops most pre-draft rankings for the 2018 NHL draft. He skates well, makes good heads-up plays, is a leader, has an accurate shot and isn’t afraid of the heavy going. Dahlin has competed at all levels of international junior for Sweden, recording eight points (three goals) in 28 games between U17 and U20, which is pretty impressive stuff. The lanky 17-year-old also graduated from the Frolunda HC J20 team, where he had 22 points in 24 games, to the Swedish Elite League’s Frolunda Indians, where he saw action in 26 games with seasoned pros, recording three points. A solid campaign in the SHL should cement his status as no. 1.