CANADA – As usual the Canadian entry featured more prospects that are destined to be drafted than any other team at the Ivan Hlinka. One scout noted that this was the best Canadian team he had seen at the tournament in recent memory, and after dropping the opening game in overtime to Russia, the club was a defensive force, allowing just one-goal-per-game in the remaining four matches thanks in large part to a defensive group that had depth, talent and promise. It’s not out of the question to expect all seven defencemen to have their names called in the first round of the 2018 NHL draft – certainly, all are expected to be selected in the top 50 at this time.
Joe Veleno – Canada’s most highly-regarded forward prospect heading into the Ivan Hlinka did little to hinder his status after captaining the team to a Gold Medal while finishing tied for second in tournament scoring. Veleno was a difference-maker throughout the tournament with his non-stop motor, puck skills, speed and elite playmaking ability. With a little more finish by teammates Veleno could have finished the tournament with a dozen or more assists. Similar to Sam Steel in regards to his ability to control the play and spot open teammates, his superior speed/size combination makes him a solid contender to be selected in the top ten of the 2018 NHL draft.
Jack McBain – He was one of Canada’s most effective forward prospects playing a diversified role at both center and the wing while tying for the team lead in goals. McBain was the star of the Gold Medal game, scoring one goal and two assists while being a constant threat offensively in Canada’s 4-1 win. A 6-3 center with strong skating skills, keen hockey sense and an ability to dominate along the boards and on the cycle, he already has scouts wondering aloud if he shouldn’t play at a higher level than the OJHL this season as a member of the Toronto Jr. Canadiens, and he will have a big decision on whether he should maintain his college eligibility and attend Boston College next season instead of joining the up-and-coming Barrie Colts, who will add Andrei Svechnikov and first overall OHL pick Ryan Suzuki to the lineup. McBain needs to keep working on his puck skills…if those come as the season goes along he may well push for a top-ten selection in the draft.
Barrett Hayton – The 6-1 Sault Ste. Marie center fulfilled a third-line center role admirably at the tournament. Going into the Gold Medal game at least one scout had him pegged as the best forward on the Canadian team through the first four games, so he certainly had left an impression. Hayton finished tied for the team lead in goals with three, displaying a really nice toe drag and shot that was hard to defend and afforded him numerous scoring opportunities. A hard worker with solid defensive instincts, Hayton will be expected to build on his solid OHL rookie season in a lineup where several veterans have graduated.
Benoit-Olivier Groulx – The first-overall pick in the 2016 QMJHL draft and son of longtime coach Benoit Groulx had a solid tournament in a second-line center role. In the Gold-medal match, despite failing to pick up a goal, Groulx’s line with Anderson McDonald and Luka Burzan dominated the opposition and spent the majority of their shifts in the offensive zone. Groulx’s role grew as the tournament went on, gaining the coach’s trust as a pivot who could take care of both ends of the ice with smarts, anticipation and speed. If, as expected, Nico Hischier stays with the New Jersey Devils after being picked first overall in the NHL draft, Groulx will be expected to step into a first-line center role on a young line that will likely include fellow highly-touted draft-eligible prospect Filip Zadina. He looks ready to assume an important role.
Anderson MacDonald – After scoring 29 goals in just 50 QMJHL games last season with Sherbrooke last season. MacDonald was expected to fill a scoring role on this team. Through the first four games of the tournament, the 6-2 winger failed to live up to expectations despite plenty of opportunities on scoring lines and the power play, showing less intensity and skill than was expected from the highly-regarded native of Saint John. In the Gold Medal game MacDonald competed at a higher level, and perhaps that was all that was missing in his game as his size, speed and puck skills made him a dangerous force even though he failed to pick up a point. Consistency may be the key in allowing McDonald to enter the picture as a top ten prospect next June.
Akil Thomas – After the regulation round an NHL scout told Recrutes that he was expecting more from Thomas, who was a 48-point scorer in Niagara last year and one of the more offensively-gifted forwards on the Ivan Hlinka team. Thomas delivered in the playoff rounds with a key goal versus Sweden in the semi-final and a pair of assists in the Gold-Medal game as he finished tied for fifth overall in tournament scoring. A skilled winger with deft puck skills and quickness, scouts will be looking for consistency in his work ethic this season and continued high production if he hopes to challenge for a top-15 selection.
Serron Noel – The rangy 6-4 winger provided solid board play, work ethic and speed on Canada’s most effective line with Veleno and McBain. While he finished the tournament with just one goal and no assists, the second-year Oshawa General showed enough intangibles to place himself firmly in the discussion for the 20-40 range of the draft. Noel will have to display more puck skills and production this OHL season to be considered in the first round – certainly, he looks like a solid player away from the puck…but teams want to see offensive upside in the first round, and Noel’s hands aren’t the softest.
Luka Burzan – Despite playing in a top-six role and showing off impressive speed and a solid work ethic, the Moose Jaw winger failed to pick up a point in the tournament. Much like Noel he looks solid in the defensive and neutral zones, especially without the puck, but from the blueline in when he was given the biscuit he either tightened up or failed to show off the puck skills required to finish off plays. He looks to have the speed and competitiveness to project as a possible bottom-line NHL prospect..if he’s able to put up some numbers this WHL season he may challenge for a second-round spot at the draft.
Ty Dellandrea – One of only two draft-eligible forwards to play for Canada at both the U-18’s last April and the Ivan Hlinka, the 6-1 center failed to pick up a point in either competition, and he was asked to play a fourth-line shutdown role at this tournament. Dellandrea possesses good speed, sense and puck skills, so scouts are hoping he can translate those talents into 50+ points and climb into consideration for the first round as a pivotal forward on Flint this season.
Gabriel Fortier – A shade under 5-10, the speedy winger had a solid camp and tournament in an energy/defensive role that included effective penalty-killing and plenty of scoring chances due to his blazing speed. The fourth overall selection in the 2016 QMJHL draft, if he can put up big numbers in his first full junior season with Baie Comeau he may get some interest from teams in the second round. His speed, smarts and competitiveness in a smaller package evoke some comparisons to Hamilton Bulldogs forward Will Bitten, who played a similar role for Canada at the Ivan Hlinka two summers ago.
Jackson Shepard – The diminutive winger played an energy role for the Gold-Medal winners on the fourth line, causing havoc on the forecheck with his speed and tenacity. His lack of offensive upside and size will make him a longshot to be drafted before the late rounds, if at all.
Noah Dobson – Canada’s main defensive anchor throughout the tournament in a shutdown pairing with Kevin Bahl, Dobson’s offensive confidence grew as the tournament went on, culminating in a two-assist performance when it counted the most in the championship game. Dobson reads the play well, makes few mistakes moving the puck and is rarely out of position. By the end of the tournament he was Canada’s most trusted defender and played 25-plus minutes as Canada dominated the Czechs for Gold. Steady, mistake-free, good size and strength and elite sense make him a coveted prospect, perhaps even a top-ten candidate if he can put up good numbers in Acadie-Bathurst.
Calen Addison – The skilled 5-10 defender made a major impression on a good portion of the scouts attending the event early on as he drove Canada’s offence through the regulation round, scoring two goals and assisting on three as he flashed his elite sense and passing skills. Defensively he relies on his mobility, reads and quick stick to break up plays, and with the puck, he has a knack for making the right play and joining the rush at opportune times. A frequent visitor to the high slot on powerplays, expect him to notch a few on the man advantage this season if his coach in Lethbridge allows him to roam.
Ty Smith – Canada’s best underage player in the U-18’s last spring, Smith played a more conservative style on a team that had less need for a rushing defencemen this time around as Addison and Merkley were able to provide much of the offence from the back-end. Smith held back at the Ivan Hlinka and took care of his own end first and foremost as one of the leaders on the blueline wearing an ‘A’ on his sweater. A solid defender in all three zones, Smith will need to show those same puck-carrying skills that were evident in the spring if scouts are going to consider him in the draft’s top ten.
Jared McIsaac – The Halifax blueliner was a steady second-pairing defenceman that was an integral part of Canada’s Ivan Hlinka championship run even if he didn’t exhibit a ton of flash and dash. McIsaac scored the all-important first goal in the Gold Medal contest that got the Canadians rolling after dominating play for most of the first period. Perhaps even more importantly, he was a solid contributor in his own zone as Canada was far and away the top team defensively, surrendering just eight goals in five games, and McIsaac was a big part of that with few mistakes and a bit of a physical edge.
Ryan Merkley – No defenceman in this year’s draft will offer more “high risk, high reward” moments than the highly-talented blueliner, who is infinitely more impressive with the puck in the offensive zone than without it anywhere on the ice. For a player who skates so well with the puck, Merkley sure gets caught flat footed a lot defensively, and will need to clean up his game in his own zone if he hopes to get drafted in the top ten no matter what his point totals this season. Merkley handles the puck and skates around opponents with ease on the powerplay, finding open teammates with precision passes several times per game.
Jett Woo – One of the pleasant surprises on Canada’s blueline at the U-18’s in April in a top-four role, Woo had a solid defensive performance at the Ivan Hlinka in a secondary role as he took a backseat to other blueliners on what may have been the deepest group of defencemen ever in the three-decade history of the event. Woo was the only Canadian defenceman to go pointless in the tournament, but he did have some offensive forays and as always showed scouts that he has good mobility and puck skills. Like every other Canadian blueliner, Woo had a relatively mistake-free tournament, and also like the others, scouts will be looking for offensive production this season on a junior team in Moose Jaw where he should be able to play an offensive role on a top pairing with Josh Brook.
Kevin Bahl – The 6-6 blueliner did not look like a player who totaled four points in his OHL rookie season. especially in the Gold-Medal game when his top-shelf wrist shot was the key insurance marker in a 4-1 victory. Bahl was paired with Dobson on Canada’s main shutdown duo, and the two of them only improved as the tournament went on, playing key roles in the final two games where they saw the ice more than any other defence pairing. While by no means a dangler, Bahl showed scouts that his puckhandling and passing skills are adequate enough to make him a solid bet to be looked at in the 20-40 range next June if he can provide some offence in Ottawa this season. At the very least, he will be a key part of the 67’s in a defensive role this season given his smarts, mobility and reach.
Oliver Rodrigue – Slated to be the backup goalie heading into the tournament as fellow QMJHL goalie Alexix Gravel was more highly touted and a member of the U-18 team last April, Rodrigue got the nod in the second game and played so well that Gravel never won back his starting job. Canada had a tremendously strong defence corps, but it was only bolstered by the solid play of Rodrigue, who surrendered just four goals in his four games. Rodrigue made every key stop in close contests in the medal round, especially versus Sweden where the score was tied 1-1 going into the third period. One of the key components of any successful goalie is mental toughness, and the Drummondville netminder passed that test with flying colours.
Alexis Gravel – Touted as a potential first-round prospect by many heading into the event after a solid rookie season in Halifax where he won the starting job in training camp and was a large part of a near upset in the QMJHL playoffs when defending champions Rouyn-Noranda was extended to six hardly-fought games, Gravel was handed the starting role in Game 1 of the Ivan Hlinka, only to lose the job after surrendering as many goals in that game as Rodrique would in the remaining four games. Gravel has lots of time to regain the trust of scouts as it was just one shaky performance, and there’s a good chance that by the time June rolls around he is once again at the top of goalie rankings as he possesses impressive athletic ability and is two inches taller than Rodrigue.