U18 Update 04/20/2011
Come Spring time in Canada hockey is the only thing happening in the minds of most. You have the Stanley Cup playoffs and the World Championships for the players who’s teams fell just shy of a post season berth. You also have the CHL playoffs and the Memorial Cup, a great tournament that gets hockey fans in even the smallest Canadian city’s feel like they’re in the spotlight. But there is a forgotten tournament that deserves just as much attention as the other three, a tournament that usually dictates how future World Juniors turn out, this tournament is the World U18 Championships.
    Four games in it is clear who the upcoming stars are in this years draft and next years. At the top of the scoring standings is a 2011 draft eligible Russian named Nikita Kucherov, a very underrated threat in this years draft. Kucherov, in these four games, has eight goals and seven assists for fifteen points! How is he not being considered as a first round pick in the draft? One reason why some scouts may not think he’s as good as his stats say he is would be his line mate and potential first overall pick in 2012 Mikhail Grigorenko. They play on the same line in the MHL for CSKA and have torn up that league. Now, as they take over Germany, they are showing the whole world what they are capable of. Grigorenko himself has 13 points in the tourney so far, four goals and nine assists (several we can imagine were to Kucherov). Kucherov actually out points Grigorenko by about 20 points in the 38 MHL games this year, which just makes one wonder even more how this kid is going unnoticed in this years draft. It is also important to know that Ovechkin had a total of 31 points in his 14 games in the U18 Championships, I am by no means comparing these two youngsters to the “Great Eight” but it is just fun to point that out.
    There is one more star in the U18 from Russia that I would like to talk about before I move on to other nations and that is Nail Yakupov, the OHL Rookie of the year who is another potential first overall pick in 2012. Nail made the transition from European to North American hockey look far too easy and no one seems to be able to slow him down in the U18 tournament either as he currently has nine points while wearing the “A” on his sweater. As I had previously mentioned, the U18 can say a lot about World Junior tournaments in the near future, by looking at this trio we can easily believe Russia will have a great shot at repeating next year.
    Another impressive forward so far has been the Finn Joel Armia. He was believed to be a sure fire top ten pick in 2011 early on but has significantly dropped of late. He knew coming into the U18s that he would have to have a great tournament to get back into the scouts good books and so far he has, with his two goals and nine points in four games. Armia is a huge forward, coming in at 6 foot 3. In his 48 games with the big boys in Finland this year he had 18 goals and 29 points. If he can lead Finland deep into the tourney look for him to be picked in the top 15.

    How could we not talk about a Swede when discussion international hockey, they seem to have taken the prospect scene by storm. Everyone knows about Landeskog but there is another youngster by the name of Mika Zibanejad who has not stopped climbing up anyones draft rankings all year. Initially ranked 30th overall by NHL Prospect News in November, Mika now seems to be securing a top ten spot, some sens fans (now realizing that there loved Swede Gabriel Landeskog will not fall to 6th overall) believe Ottawa should select him. It is very hard to argue against Mika as a top ten pick, he plays the gay hard, finishes every hit, scores goals and makes plays happen. The sky is the limit for Mika, and although he has not played North American hockey yet, he plays with the same grit that is necessary.
    And last but not least there is a Canadian making an impact in this years edition of the U18. Mark Scheifele of the Barrie Colts has five goals in his three U18 games so far and only one assist, which is unusual for the 6 foot 3 playmaker. In the OHL Mark was playing for one of the worst teams in the league and yet managed to record an impressive 55 helpers to go along with his 22 markers. He is a good skater and an even better stick handler and has been the fastest climber in the 2011 rankings. Scheifele is having a coming out party here in Germany and he most likely hopes that this can push him into a top 15 spot come June in Minnesota.
    Much has been said about the talent level of the 2011 draft, not much of it has been positive. But we here at NHL Prospect News believe this years edition of the NHL Entry Draft will be one of the best because of the parody and the underrated skill level of the players. This is by far one of the hardest years to predict where someone will go, one thing is for sure however; there should not be too many teams or fans disappointed by their selected guy.

- Alex MacDonald



08/20/2011 14:12:33



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