As the round robin portion of the IIHF World Under 18 Junior Championship comes to a close, the theme of the tournament thus far has been more about what’s been missing than anything else.
Unfortunately the trio of Andrei Svechnikov, Alexander Khovanov and Grigori Denisenko were not available for the host Russian team in this pinnacle event of the scouting season. Various reasons were given ranging from minor injury to curious excuses but not having these talented forwards were a big blow to a Russian team who needed a shootout victory over Slovakia to grab only their second tournament win and second seed in their preliminary group. All three formed a strong top line for the Five Nations tournament back in February but the team suffered a couple embarrassing losses while in Plymouth and leads to some curious theories regarding their absence.
The American squad has been a bit of a disappointment thus far as well dropping two of their round robin games to Canada and Sweden and finishing third in their preliminary group. Draft eligible standouts Oliver Wahlstrom (5G, 1A) and Joel Farabee (3G, 2A) have produced but the defense and team as a whole has been a let down. This is the event the US typically dominates as they bring their national development program squad for this event. There’s still time for redemption as the Americans face a lackluster Russia team in their quarterfinal match.
— USA Hockey (@usahockey) April 24, 2018
Not having Rasmus Dahlin, Filip Zadina or Svechnikov at the event is certainly a contributing factor to the dimmed luster of the year 2000 born draft eligible group in attendance but there have been few standout performances from the class. Adam Boqvist (3G, 3A) and Joe Veleno (3A) have shown well and held up their end of the bargain for their national teams as top draft eligible candidates and have shown well in their final look in front of the scouts and NHL executives.
— Tre Kronor (@Trekronorse) April 24, 2018
On team Canada it’s been a scoring by committee approach but two draft eligibles who might boost their stock to possible first round candidacy through their performance in this event are 6’1, 190 lb right shot center Ty Dellandrea (1G, 3A) and 6’0, 173 lb left shot defenseman Johnathan Tychonick (1A). Their stats might not jump off the page but both are some of the more underscouted and underrated draft eligibles. Dellandrea plays on a terrible OHL team in Flint and was their leading goal scorer with 27 markers and 59 points and has been a riser all season. It took this tournament to really see the leadership, determination and intangibles along with the skill, speed and size at 6’1, 190 lbs all put together to be a major factor on the top scoring lines. Tychonick has been further under the radar playing in the BCHL for Penticton but has been gaining momentum all year for his slick puck moving ability. Both of these guys may not end up as the headliners from this tournament but could be on draft day. Additionally, both are great personalities who interview very well and will shine at the combine.
— Hockey 360 (@hockey360) April 20, 2018
Candidates for the next draft start getting traction for their draft seasons earlier and earlier as now this event is where underage players can make a statement on a big stage heading into their draft year. Jack Hughes (3G, 6A), Kaapo Kakko (2G, 5A) and Alexis Lafrenière (4G, 2A) are producing and are names who are going to get a lot of talk over the next year and in the latter’s case two years. They are elite forwards now and and will continue to show as such in many events in the future.
2020 NHL Draft prospect Alexis Lafreniere gets the overtime winner off of his own rebound. This kid has been an incredible player all tournament. 3-2 win for Canada. #U18Worlds pic.twitter.com/AS2SySQVcM
— Steven Ellis (@StevenEllisNHL) April 24, 2018
Besides those elite players who were expected to sizzle in the spotlight, it’s been the 2019 group as a whole who have impressed more than their 2018 draft eligible counterparts. That may be an indicator of the strength of the following draft if they keep their momentum going. Another pair of standouts on the Canadian team are budding right shot power forward Raphael Lavoie (5G) and defenseman Bowen Byram (1A). Lavoie already stands at 6’3, 175 lbs and has brought his 30 goal scoring touch from the QMJHL in Halifax over to Russia. Bryam is a smooth, steady, smart two-way 6’0, 175lb left shot defenseman who plays for Vancouver in the WHL Don’t let the lack of production now fool, he’s going to take a huge step in his draft year and be someone to watch. Byram is already trusted to play top pair with Ty Smith just to show the confidence he has from the coaching staff as an underage player.
To save the best for last, the biggest story of all is the unexpected leader in tournament scoring, Slovakian forward Maxim Cajkovic (4G, 7A). He just edges Jack Hughes by one point and is also another 2019 draft eligible. He’s been a big reason why Slovakia grabbed the third position in their preliminary group and has points on 11 of the team’s 19 goals. Cajkovic wasn’t totally off the radar prior to this tournament as he just completed his first season on Malmö’s under 20 team in the Swedish SuperElit league scoring 21 points in 28 games. He’s a 5’11 and 187lbs right shot winger who will now be someone else to watch heading into the 2019 draft and possibly this summer’s CHL import draft.