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Sports IIHF U18 Men’s World Championship: 10 NHL draft-eligibles to watch in 2021

04:55  25 april  2021
04:55  25 april  2021 Source:   sportingnews.com

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One of the most notable events on the hockey calendar is just a few days away.

The 2021 IIHF U18 Men's World Championship is set to drop the puck in Frisco and Plano, Texas, gathering some of the top prospects for the upcoming 2021 NHL Draft into one tournament from April 26 to May 6.

In terms of the draft, this tournament could hold more weight than ever. The 2020-21 season has been a struggle globally, with seasons delayed, disrupted, and cancelled all over. On top of that, this draft has no clear-cut No. 1 prospect, meaning the top spot is still very much up for grabs and could be won on the back of a strong performance Texas.

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Its importance rises even more so with the official cancellation of the Ontario Hockey League season.  Because of this cancellation, numerous prospects have yet to hit the ice this season. Some found homes overseas, such as Brandt Clarke and Mason McTavish, but others, like Benjamin Gaudreau, have been left stranded up until now.

The U18s will be the first opportunity for Gaudreau, Ethan Del Mastro, Wyatt Johnson, Jack Matier, and Ryan Winterton to showcase themselves this season. These must-see OHL players haven’t hit the ice in a game setting in more than 14 months, and any steps taken (or not taken) in their development could have massive draft implications.

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It’s not just these players that are fighting for the draft spotlight though.

This year's draft is wide open, from the top-10 to the entire first round. A star performance at the tournament could see names jump up draft boards in a big way.

Here are FCHockey’s 10 players to watch at the Under-18s, alphabetically listed.

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10 NHL draft-eligibles to watch at 2021 U18s

Corson Ceulemans, D, Team Canada

FCHockey draft ranking: 11

A divisive prospect in the 2021 NHL Draft, Ceulemans is committed to the University of Wisconsin for the 2021-22 season. NCAA rules do not allow athletes to play in the CHL, so the 6-2 defender has been plying his craft in the Alberta Junior Hockey League (AJHL) for the Brooks Bandits.

Ceulemans, No. 11 in FCHockey’s spring ranking for the 2021 draft, has played in eight games this season, collecting 11 points (four goals, seven assists). He’s been ranked all over the first round in internal and external rankings, and with a leading role on Team Canada, he could cement his spot as a top prospect in this class.

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“He’s a dynamic, deceptive skater who has the ability and creativity to manufacture all sorts of advantageous scenarios with speed and angle changes via pivots or living on his edges,” FCHockey’s Western Canada head scout Justin Froese wrote in a recent scouting report. “He can make so many subtle adjustments in motion to catch and contain or deliver pucks via the pass to teammates.

“He can make elite-level plays while shifting his weight and when he’s carrying the puck, even though he’s not a small guy or the fastest player on the ice, he feeds false information consistently with his head, hands and feet which creates hesitation that allows for a new opening to be created.”

MORE: Josh Mallory breaks down Ceulemans game

Nikita Chibrikov, RW, Team Russia

FCHockey draft ranking: 21

Chibrikov, who will captain Russia’s entry, has appeared to be another divisive prospect in the public sphere, finding himself all over the first round. He is very much in the conversation as the top Russian prospect in this class and will look to solidify that honour with a strong Under-18 performance.

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The right winger, No. 21 at FCHockey, has spent his season all over Russia’s top leagues, from the top two men’s leagues the KHL and VHL, to the top junior league, the MHL, for SKA St. Petersburg. He collected two points (one goal, one assist) in 16 KHL games, eight points (three goals, five assists) in 20 VHL games, and nine points (three goals, six assists) in 11 MHL games, adding three assists in five playoff games.

“In terms of pure pull-you-out-of-your-seat skill, Chibrikov is among the elite of this draft class,” noted FCHockey’s head crossover scout Derek Neumeier. “With lightning acceleration and sublime hands, he is a real threat in transition. Give him a little too much time and space to work with in open ice and you’ve got a huge problem on your hands.

“He has the wheels to beat opponents wide and gain that all-important separation. He is also quite an elusive player, as he is able to slow the pace down, shift his weight seamlessly from side to side, and deceive defenders with his hands, feet or head movement. Shows poise with the puck on his stick and calmness under pressure.”

Brandt Clarke, D, Team Canada

FCHockey draft ranking: 5

If there is one 2021 draft-eligible prospect to watch in the tournament, it might be Clarke. In the conversation to go No. 1 on July 23, a star performance in Texas could be all FCHockey’s No. 5 prospect needs to separate himself from the pack.

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With no OHL season this year, the Barrie Colts defender found a home with HC Nove Zamky in the top men’s league in Slovakia. In 26 games, the offensively dynamic defenseman collected 15 points (five goals, 10 assists). He improved as the season went on, setting himself up for a grand finale for 2020-21 at the Under-18s.

“Clarke is a strong skater with excellent edgework and power through his strides” FCHockey scout Joseph Aleong reported after watching Clarke in Slovakia. “His legs splay slightly outwards in his stride, but his overall form and extension he gets on his strides are very good for his age.

“He is very confident with the puck on his stick, skating it through the neutral zone in transition with purpose and showing good management of his speed and balance to find open patches of ice to make zone entries.”

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Simon Edvinsson, D, Team Sweden

FCHockey Draft Ranking: 2

Sweden has its own defenseman in the hunt for first overall in Edvinsson. The 6-5 defender spent time in Sweden’s top leagues this season, playing 10 SHL games and 14 J20 Nationell games with Frolunda, collecting a total of seven points (one goal, six assists). He ended his season with 14 HockeyAllsvenskan games, notching five assists and adding three points (one goal, two assists) in six playoff games.

Edvinsson, FCHockey’s No. 2 skater, has been ranked all over the top-10 of this draft. He should be a leader on the blue line for Sweden and just like Clarke, a big performance could catapult him to the top of the list.

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“There’s no doubt Edvinsson has the ability to skate the puck up ice and displays excellent transition speed,” FCHockey head scout Dylan Galloway noted in a recent scouting report. “His skating and vision immediately stand out on the offensive side of the puck. His constant and quick movements combined with good four-way mobility are hard to miss with a frame like that.

“Edvinsson owns quite a smooth and powerful shot from the perimeter though and is capable of creating scoring chances in the slot with this shot. When he’s at his best he can be excellent at closing the gap on the break-in and box opponents out from the middle ice with his long stick and good physicality.”

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Dylan Guenther, LW, Team Canada

FCHockey Draft Ranking: 8

After a prolonged wait for the start of the Western Hockey League season, Guenther has shot out of the gate like a cannon. In just 12 games, he’s racked up 24 points (12 goals, 12 assists), leading the league in points per game. He also saw some AJHL action at the start of the season, adding five points (three goals, two assists) in four games.

Guenther is another one of those prospects sitting in the top-10 of this class that could make a big push up draft boards after this tournament. FCHockey’s No. 8 prospect is in the conversation as the top forward in the class and now has a chance to try and prove it on American soil as one of Canada’s top players.

“Guenther is lethal with time and space and is especially potent on the power play where he is an equal threat to pick a corner or find a teammate backdoor,” FCHockey scout Donesh Mazloum recently reported. "He has a knack for playing to his linemates strengths and really maximizes offensive opportunities.

“He has supreme confidence in his game reading abilities and always has a sense of his next move or next pass without telegraphing his intentions to the opponent. While his offense steals the show, I think he is a sound defender as well.”

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Fabian Lysell, RW, Team Sweden

FCHockey Draft Ranking: 10

Lysell is a prospect that many scouts can’t seem to agree on, from being ranked high in the top-five to outside the top-10. FCHockey’s No. 10 prospect, the Swede is expected to be a top player for his country and will look to solidify his ranking with an impressive performance at the World U18s.

He started the season with Frolunda in the J20 Nationell, collecting 13 points (three goals, 10 assists) in 11 games. Lysell transferred to Lulea to see some time in the SHL, playing in 26 games and recording three points (two goals, one assist) despite minimal ice time. With the potential for big minutes at the Under-18s, expect him to show why he’s a top player in this draft.

“Lysell uses his high speed to tear apart the opponent’s defense,” FCHockey’s scout Viktor Bergham reported earlier this season. “His quick strides and high acceleration help him to reach a high top speed, and he can also control and transport the puck at that top speed. This skill combined with his lateral movement and agility makes him really hard to catch.

“Lysell really likes to get involved in the situations where the puck is. He is not afraid to get into crowded areas to fight for the puck. He has a tremendous amount of potential when it comes to skill and vision.”

Mason McTavish, C, Team Canada

FCHockey Draft Ranking: 15

Like Clarke, McTavish took his talents overseas this season while waiting for a decision on OHL action. He joined EHC Olten, along with Canadian teammate Brennan Othmann, in Switzerland’s second-tier men’s league. While there, McTavish impressed with 11 points (nine goals, two assists) in 13 games, adding seven points (two goals, five assists) in four playoff games.

McTavish, No. 15 at FCHockey, is in a similar boat as Lucius where he’s on the outside of the top-10 entering the tournament. However, as one of Canada’s top prospects, he’s a player that could find himself rapidly rising with a deserving performance in Texas.

“McTavish is a quick-step skater and is often good with carrying the gameplay tempo,” FCHockey scouts Oliva McArtur reported on the OHL’s Peterborough Petes forward. “He is able to have a really good cruising speed with acceleration bursts to try and pick the puck off his opponents and get it back into either his possession or his linemates.

“McTavish has a hard, accurate shot which I’d say is probably his best asset. He is able to find his teammates for a safe tape-to-tape passing which usually helped complete a play and he’s really good at finding holes to get open.”

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Sasha Pastujov, C, Team USA

FCHockey Draft Ranking: 42

With top player Chaz Lucius out of the World U18s, look for his US-NTDP teammate Pastujov to really step as a leader on the team. The University of Notre Dame commit and BioSteel All-American Game MVP should be the top offensive player on the team and the leader of the group. Expect a big tournament from Pastujov as he looks to fill in the goal-scoring hole left by Lucius.

The left winger has racked up 52 points (23 goals, 29 assists) with the development program this season, in 34 games. That point total leads the U18 team on the year, eight points ahead of Team USA teammate Dylan Duke.

“Pastujov has great offensive awareness, staying above the puck most times and showing an ability to draw pressure towards him before making a play to a nearby teammate,” Aleong wrote in a scouting report. “He has a knack for flashy passing and can thread small lanes through the slot when he’s given time to curl off the boards into open ice.

“He has a quick release on his wrister and is a threat on his off-wing, showing an accurate one-timer that makes him a threat on the rush or on the power play.”

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Stanislav Svozil, D, Team Czech Republic

FCHockey Draft Ranking: 33

Svozil, another polarizing prospect, came into the season with high expectations. Spending most of his season in the top men’s league in the Czech Republic with HC Kometa Brno, he played minimal minutes and earned three points (one goal, two assists) in 30 games. He also appeared in eight playoff games without a point.

Just falling out of the first round in FCHockey’s latest ranking, the No. 33 prospect has a chance to lead the Czech Republic team and show off his talents against his own age group. He had a good showing at the 2021 IIHF World Junior Championship and should be a top defender in the upcoming World U18s.

“An agile skater, Svozil does an excellent job utilizing his edges and timing to shut down the attack, keep a good gap, and completely take away space from oncoming attackers,” Galloway reported following the World Juniors. "He was able to slow the attack by the top of the circles and utilize his active stick to separate the opponent from the puck.

“Excellent skater that showed off some good speed and an ability to find skating lanes while moving from outside lanes to the inside lane and entering the zone with control.”

Samu Tuomaala, RW, Team Finland

FCHockey Draft Ranking: 46

Tuomaala looks to be the top forward for Finland and should be an offensive leader for the group. Ranked No. 46 by FCHockey, the right winger is seen as a fringe first-rounder but has slid down some boards this season. With a big tournament, he could secure and raise his ranking.

Spending most of the year in the U20 SM-sarja with Karpat, Tuomaala collected 31 points (15 goals, 16 assists) in 30 games and added four points (one goal, three assists) in five playoff contests. He also appeared in five Liiga games without a point.

“He’s a graceful and gifted skater, who glides around the ice quickly and gets up to his top speed almost instantly,” Neumeier wrote in a recent scouting report. “He can receive and handle the puck in full flight and has the skill to undress defenders or shoot from the rush.

“Advanced playmaker who sees lanes open up and can be deceptive with his intentions. Can make hard, accurate one-touch passes. Has his moments where he anticipates the play and causes turnovers.”

Honourable Mentions: Sean Behrens (USA), Brett Harrison (CAN), Oliver Kapanen (FIN), Brennan Othmann (CAN), Francesco Pinelli (CAN), Prokhor Poltapov (RUS), Simon Robertsson (SWE), Isak Rosen (SWE), Samu Salminen (FIN), Logan Stankoven (CAN), Fyodor Svechkov(RUS).

Josh Bell is a scout and the director of content for FCHockey.

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