It’s semi-final time at the WJC and most of the scouts have packed up and headed home or to other games to scout as five games into the tournament most have gotten a solid grasp on the draft contenders and pretenders. Here is a look at how the top draft-eligible players have performed:
Filip Zadina – Czech – The second-leading goal scorer in the QMJHL as a rookie when he left for the WJC tournament in early December, Zadina after the quarter-finals was tied for second in goal scoring at the WJC, yet another feather in his now full draft cap. Zadian has flashed great puck skills, competitiveness and a wicked shot on many occasions in this event, only further cementing his status as a top-five draft prospect. At one time Andrei Svechnikov was considered the odds-on favourite to be drafted second overall, but as this season has gone on and after five games in the WJC, Zadina has at the very least worked his way into the discussion along with Brady Tkachuk and Adam Boqvist.
Jakub Lauko – Czech -Even though he has just one point in the WJC after the quarter-finals, Lauko hasn’t hurt his draft stock at the WJC as he has been asked to play a secondary role as the only 17-year-old on a Czech squad led by 18-year-olds that guided the Czechs to a Gold Medal two summers ago. Lauko has worked hard in his limited bottom-line duties. Scout that have watched him all season are well aware of the skill and great skating potential, so he has neither risen nor fallen on most lists; they’re just glad to see him competing hard, and next year will be the time for him to start showing his prodigious skills as he gets a larger offensive role.
Martin Kaut – Czech – Going into the event there were scouts who were down on Kaut’s draft stock following a disappointing performance at the last U-18 5 Nations tournament. Safe to say, however, those concerns have been greatly allayed after Kaut’s strong performance in the regulation round with six points in four games. Kaut is on the Czech’s first power-play unit where he has done most of his damage setting up Zadina and Necas. Good size, skating and smarts will tempt scouts to grab him at some point in the second round…mind you some have him ranked in the first round now. He is the player who has perhaps helped his draft stock the most in this tournament.
Jakub Skarek – Czech – This WJC has been one that in a lot of ways separated the wheat from the chaff. Scouts had been giving Skarek’s poor showing in recent events the benefit of the doubt as there was a time when he was thought to be the next great Czech goalie prospect as he led the nation to an upset at the Ivan Hlinka two summers ago. When you compile a 4.39 GAA and .859 SP, however, even his most optimistic backers have to concede that he is no longer a top 50 or even a top-90 prospect.
Andrei Svechnikov – Russia – While he was by no means an abject disappointment as he collected five points in five games, the consensus number-two prospect heading into the competition has always scored goals and been a dangerous threat around the net, so to see him end the tournament with no goals and only four shots on net, tied for the least shot total on the entire team despite spending most of the event on the top line, it was an indication that his improvement curve has stalled to a certain extent. Yes…he is only 17 year of age and recently returned from an injury, and this is a tournament predominantly for 18- and 19-year-olds, but fellow draft-eligible prospects Tkachuk and Zadina have managed to shine and help their teams advance to the semi-finals.
Alexei Polodyan – Russia – The 1998-born left winger scored three goals for the Russians and worked his way onto some scouts’ lists with his effort and skill display. He arguably looked better than the other 19-year-olds, including first-round NHL pick German Rubtsov, and will likely hear his name called this June in the later rounds. Skates well, competes hard, and displayed a scoring touch.
Nikolai Knyzhov – Russia – Failed to register a point at the WJC as a 19-year-old, and that leads to several conclusions regarding the swift-skating blueliner – he’s a defensive defenceman with limited puck skills/offensive hockey sense. He was asked to play a defensive role, and for the most part accomplished that objective, although there are some who question his sense. He’s big, and he can really skate..and those two attributes will result in some interest in taking him late on draft day.
Rasmus Kupari – Finland – Scouts won’t be taking a lot from his performance at this tournament as he was essentially a spare part on a Finnish team that frankly could have used his scoring potential. It was a learning experience for the young center, and next year he’ll be expected to play a larger role for the club. Kupari in limited ice time showed flashes of his high skill level, but the U-18’s in the spring will be where he is truly judged.
Nando Eggenberger – Swiss – There’s no kind way to put it….the Swiss captain laid an Eggenberger in this event, finishing with a tournament-worst -9 while collecting no goals and no assists. Much more was expected from the team’s most internationally experienced skater. Eggenberger played in the Ivan Hlinka in the summer of 2015 at the age of 15 and did not look out of place. The main issue with the 6-2 winger is that his skating has not noticeably improved ever since, and he had trouble keeping up the pace in this event, especially when he had to move laterally. Eggenberger stayed in Recrutes top 90 list up until this tournament as he had always impressed in international events as an underager, including a three-goal performance last spring in the U-18’s more than a year before he was draft eligible, but he no longer looks like a viable prospect for the draft.
Philipp Kurashev – Swiss – After scoring three goals at the U-18’s and 53 points as a QMJHL rookie the year before he was drafted, much was expected of the Swiss-Russian center this season, and while he hasn’t been bad, he doesn’t appear to have improved either, and that’s not what scouts like to see. Once thought to be a top-40 lock, Kurashev is not on a lot of top 60 lists and more. He had some flashes at the WJC but they were few and far between.
Nico Gross – Swiss – Out of the three draft-eligible prospects who scouts went to see on the Swiss this WJC, Gross was the one who most impressed. One of the rare WJC skaters to wear a letter at the age of 17, Gross more than earned that honour with his solid play on a team that simply didn’t have the horsepower to compete with the top six teams in the WJC. Neither flashy nor offensively gifted, Gross simply does his job in his own zone with intelligence and poise. A strong skater with decent size and competitiveness, Gross remains a strong candidate to be selected somewhere in the 50-80 range. There are enough tools there to compete for a bottom-pairing NHL position in a few years.
Milos Roman – Slovakia – Scouts already are aware of Roman’s playmaking talents as one of the better puck distributors as a WHL rookie in Vancouver, so there was little concern that he failed to register an assist at the WJC as he wasn’t playing with overly skilled linemates on the underdog Slovakian team. He did manage a couple of goals and that won’t hurt his draft stock.
Rasmus Dahlin – Sweden – The consensus number-one prospect going into the WJC has only cemented his status while leading all Swedish defencemen in ice time, points and plus/minus through the first five games. A force at both ends of the ice with his size and natural abilities, Dahlin makes it look easy at times when he takes the notion to rush with the puck and leave several defenders in his wake. He has a rare combination of size, hands and puck skills that make him one of the more promising defence prospects in the history of the draft.
Isac Lundestrom – Sweden – If you are going to pick up your game, the playoff round is a great place to do so. Lundestrom had been held off the scoresheet in the preliminary round and saw spotty ice time as the top line stole the Swedish thunder, but in a tight game versus Slovakia the talented center was the difference as he notched two goals and was the best forward on the ice in a 3-2 win. The performance evoked memories of the final game in the Summer Showcase when Lundestrom had two key assists in Sweden’s win over Finland in their final meeting. He exhibits the will/skill to rise to the occasion when it’s most needed, and that will help him immensely on draft day.
Quinn Hughes – USA – The first thing you notice when the 5-9 defender is around the puck is the elite skating skills, and when he gets the puck you soon discover that he can make plays at high speed that put him in a rare category in terms of offensive skill. Hughes has had some struggles at times in his own zone, but that’s usually the case for any draft-eligible defenceman playing in such a high-level tournament. Hughes has entered the discussion as a top-five prospect..at least one scout now likes him more than Svechnikov.
Scott Perunovich – USA – The defenceman who is causing a large buzz as an NCAA freshman has not looked out of place on the USA blueline thanks to his high hockey sense and puck-moving attributes, and while his size and age will keep him out of the top couple of rounds on draft day, it would not be a surprise to see him selected in the third round of the 2018 NHL draft. Puck movers are all the rage, and the Minn-Duluth blueliner is one of the better ones at this tournament.
Brady Tkachuk – USA – Just like Zadina, Tkachuk is the supreme power forward who has only helped his draft stock with his WJC performance, going from a third-line spot on the US team to the top line with Casey Mittelstadt and showing instant chemistry. Tkachuk has used his size, strength, puck skills and innate hockey sense to dominate down low, and with two goals and four assists in the first five games he has reassured scouts that his lack of high production as an NCAA freshman has little to do with his offensive upside and instincts. He looks like a chip off the old block, playing a game similar to his father and older brother Matt, but with better skating skills at the same age.
Jacob Schmidt-Svejstrup – Denmark – The WJC was looked at as the litmus test for the USHL’s leading scorer – scouts wanted to see if he could keep up with the higher pace…he couldn’t. There was buzz before the competition that he would get drafted thanks to his terrific production to start the USHL season, but it’s going to be tough for US regional scouts to talk head scouts into that one after seeing him struggled mightily with the speed in the WJC.
Dmitri Deryabin – Belarus – Scouts are split on the upside of the draft-eligible Belarus defenceman; some look at him as a draft possibility, others aren’t interested in him or any of the Belarus skaters. As one scout noted…”How many defencemen from Belarus make the NHL?” A 6-2 blueliner with decent mobility and smarts, he may get some consideration later in the draft, but a lack of exposure playing in Belarus will hinder him.
Yegor Sharangovich – Belarus – The 1998-born forward led Belarus with three goals and impressed scouts with his size/speed combo at this tournament. Already a KHL regular, he’ll get some views in the second half of the season and may even garner some interest from NHL teams in the latter stages of the draft.