Now that the last major event of the scouting season has concluded with Finland taking home the U18 tournament title, there’s little else to move the needle on the 2018 draft class with regards to on-ice performances. A small handful are still alive in the CHL and Junior A playoffs but for the most part the draft eligibles are focusing on getting ready for the combine at the end of May. There the physical testing and interviews will have a large impact on draft boards but for now a look at those who have seen a shift in perception lately.
Jesperi Kotkaniemi – Center – Assat (Finland)
Winning gold never hurts and forming a stout top line with fellow draft eligible Nicklas Nordgen and budding 2019 top pick Kaapo Kakko worked in Kotkaniemi’s favor. He scored nine points and three goals in seven games and was one of the top producers in the tournament. Kotkaniemi created the gold medal winning play shorthanded and showed all tournament long his smart and versatile type of play. He had a strong season with Assat in Finland with 29 points in 57 games. Ultimately where Kotkaniemi ends up on draft day will be determined by how much upside offensively and dynamic quality a team sees in his skillset but as someone who has been trending up all season it’s possible he finds himself near or even in the top 10 on draft day.
Vitali Kravtsov – Center – Traktor Chelyabinsk (KHL)
No player has recieved the high profile surge in recent months like this 6’2 170 lbs center from Traktor Chelyabinsk. Kravtsov was making nightly highlight reel plays in the KHL playoffs scoring six goals and 11 points in 16 playoff games. This was a breakout performance for Kravtsov considering he scored just seven points in 35 regular season games. Now the task heading into the draft is to sort whether this was a breakout performance for Kravtsov once he finally recieved an opportunity and the ice time or was just a circumstantial hot streak. Kravtsov doesn’t have the international tournament exposure to judge his performance on either and bounced around both the MHL and VHL this year as well. Where he goes on draft day may be one of the more interesting storylines to watch and he could possibly sneak into the top 15.
Jonatan Berggren – Right Wing – Skelleftea (Sweden U20)
One of the draft eligibles who impressed the most with a dazzling performance at the U18 finishing in the top five in scoring with 10 points including five goals in seven games. Berggren spent most of his season with the Skelleftea junior team scoring 57 points and 18 goals in 38 games with a few looks at the men’s level. He’s not the largest guy at 5’11 and 183 lbs but he uses his frame to advantage with slick skating, great hands and a nose for the net. Berggren was looking to be a great under the radar pick up but his international performances have put a spotlight on him and could jump into the first round.
Ty Smith – Defenseman – Spokane (WHL)
Despite enjoying a wildly successful season in the WHL to the tune of a 73 point campaign with 14 goals and seven points in seven playoff games, Smith has fallen under scrutiny for his performance outside of Spokane. The Top Prospects Game wasn’t his best showing and then in the U18 tournament Smith lacked the poise and smart decision making that made him so successful in the WHL. It didn’t help that he was the only defenseman for team Canada to fail to register a point and captained the team who had a disappointing 2-1 defeat to the Czech Republic in the quarterfinals. Smith is still a top talent for the draft despite these difficulties but they might cause him to slip a bit on draft day, but not too far as he’s still a likely top 20 selection.
Benoit-Olivier Groulx – Center – Halifax (QMJHL)
Through no real fault in his performance, Groulx has fallen off the radar a bit. He’s one of the few true centers available early in the draft with good size at 6’1 and 192 lbs. Groulx plays a pro style game already no doubt thanks to his father being AHL Syracuse Crunch head coach Benoit Groulx. He had a productive year with 28 goals and 55 points plus eight points in nine playoff contests but is overshadowed by his bigger name Halifax Mooseheads teammates including Filip Zadina. An injury kept him from suiting up for Canada at the U18 and put him off the radar even further. A team that’s had their eye on Groulx this year in the QMJHL might have themselves a nice value pick late in the first round or early second round.
Adam Boqvist – Defenseman – Brynas (Sweden U20)
As a still likely top 10 selection in the upcoming draft, labeling Boqvist a faller might be a touch unfair. However, he has slipped from a secure fourth or fifth position to much more uncertainty as evidenced by Bob McKenzie’s draft lottery rankings. Boqvist now has competition for the second defenseman off the board from at least Evan Bouchard and Noah Dobson and possibly others. As the headline draft eligible at the U18 tournament Boqvist didn’t perform terribly with six points and three goals in six games but it wasn’t the type of top five setting performance that Miro Heiskanen displayed with 12 points just a year ago. Nonetheless, Boqvist is still a top talent and a team will be very happy to select him early come June.