The 2013 IIHF World Under-18 Championship is now more than a week in the rearview mirror, but the performances are still being dissected in scout meetings across the National Hockey League. With the NHL Draft just under two months away and the lottery decided, many teams will use the World U18 Championship and junior hockey playoffs as the last impression before its time to make a selection.
This year’s Under-18s featured a bevvy of top draft talent from a variety of countries. It was one of the deepest fields in the tournament over the five years I’ve been there and it offered an incredibly intriguing evaluation point.
The event also signaled the end of a dynasty, with the U.S. falling just one goal short of its bid for a fifth consecutive gold medal at the World Under-18s. Canada downed Team USA 3-2 in a thrilling gold-medal game.
While the U.S. squad didn’t have the star quality of previous years, many of the draft-eligibles on the squad acquitted themselves well. Coming up after the jump, post-tournament reports on each of Team USA’s draft-eligible players including projected ranges for their selection.
Players listed in alphabetical order. Only 2013 Draft Eligibles included.
Gage Ausmus – Though he was overshadowed by teammate Steven Santini, Ausmus was an integral part of the U.S. defense. He averaged more than 21 minutes a game and often drew opponents’ top lines in match ups. Ausmus showed high-end defensive sense and anticipation skills. He was able to use his body well defensively and while not a high-end skater, he uses his feet very well. Ausmus was also solid in making effective zone exits with the puck on his stick or a good first pass in transition. His footspeed could use some work, but he plays a physical brand of defense and is tough to beat one-on-one. There’s not a ton of offensive upside, but his ability to defend with some nastiness is going to draw considerable amount of interest. U18WC Statline: 7 GP, 0-2–2, 6 PIM, +5. Projected Range: Fourth to Fifth Round
Will Butcher – A solid offensive defenseman, Butcher saw a lot of important minutes for Team USA and was often on the ice in must-score situations. He was a weapon on the power play and also showed improved decisionmaking with the puck on his stick. Butcher has good puck skills, is a high-end skater and possesses good distribution skills. His defensive game isn’t the strongest, but he showed an ability to make up for his lack of size with good anticipation and a strong defensive stick. He was very difficult to beat one-on-one and was able to hurry back. Butcher is prone to take risks with the puck and occasionally got burned, but he is effective enough offensively for that to be forgivable. The size is going to concern scouts, but there is upside in his offensive capabilities, which were fully on display in Sochi. He’s a tough guy to project, but he’s worth taking a chance on. U18WC Statline: 7 GP, 2-2–4, 2 PIM, +2. Projected Draft Range: Late Third Round
Connor Clifton — Undersized, but physically strong, Clifton showed off some solid offensive capabilities, but some questionable decisions throughout the tournament make him more challenging to project. Clifton has a terrific shot from the point and is able to get pucks to the net well. Sometimes he got lost in the offensive zone, however, leading to turnovers and odd-man rushes the other way. A little too go-for-broke at times, Clifton will need to improve his decision-making in the future. That said, the offensive capabilities and his desire to play a mean, physical game despite his size are attractive qualities. Unafraid to mix it up and play the body first, there’s plenty of upside in Clifton and that could lead to a team taking a later-round stab at that potential. U18WC Statline: 7 GP, 1-0–1, 2 PIM -3. Projected Draft Range: Fifth to Sixth Round.
Clint Lewis — Despite suffering an injury on his first shift in the team’s exhibition game, Lewis played through some pain to have a mostly effective tournament for Team USA. A big, strong defender, Lewis was very good at containing opponents and limiting chances against. He showed good footwork in his own zone and stepped up physically on many occasions. His ice time was limited due to the injury, but he seemed to make the most of every shift. A lack of offensive upside may give scouts some pause, but he showed a desire to play an NHL-style brand of defense in Sochi and should be on enough radars for a late-round selection. As well as he played while not at 100 percent, it would’ve been interesting to see what he could have done fully healthy. U18WC Statline: 7 GP, 0-0–0, 0 PIM, -2. Projected Draft Range: Sixth to Seventh Round
Steven Santini — For my money, Santini was Team USA’s most valuable player and it seems the directorate agreed as he was named the tournament’s best defenseman. That despite not having any points. Santini was dominant defensively throughout the tournament. When he was on the ice, it was very difficult for the opposing team to score. In fact, Santini was only on the ice for a grand total of two goals against and only one was at even strength. He saw the toughest competition and averaged a team-high 23:22 per game. Santini played 31-plus minutes in the semifinal win against Russia and looked every bit like a first-round caliber defender. A terrific skater, Santini doesn’t loose many races to loose pucks. He takes good angles, closes gaps at a high level and does a great job with positioning and keeping everything in front of him. Though he lacks offensive prowess, he moves the puck well enough. There’s a lot to be said about being an elite defender, though, and that’s what Santini showed he can be. It was a completely different game when he was on the ice. U18WC Statline: 7 GP, 0-0–0, 0 PIM, +8. Projected Draft Range: Late First to Early Second Round
Keaton Thompson — Thompson’s been on a slight slide on some draft rankings and his performance in Sochi is unlikely to curtail it. Thompson’s ice time fluctuated over the course of the tournament, as his top-four minutes slowly became closer to that of a fifth or sixth defenseman at times. Thompson has tools as he skates well and has shown a willingness to be physical. He also has some solid offensive upside, but he didn’t have ample opportunity to display it at the World Under-18s. Prone to some poor decision making with the puck, Thompson seemed to lack confidence while carrying it. At times he was overmatched against top lines defensively as well. The fact is, Thompson still has a lot of upside. The tools are there to be a very gifted defenseman, but he’s somewhat in a holding pattern. Earlier in the year he was beginning to project as a potential first-rounder and was one of my favorites early on. The tools are all still there. It’s just a matter of putting them all together with some improved decisions and confidence. He has the ability, but it could take a little time for it all to materialize. 7 GP, 0-1–1, 2 PIM, -2. Projected Draft Range: Mid-Third Round.
Tommy Vannelli — There is a lot of skill and upside in Vannelli, who perhaps should have spent this last year playing junior hockey. Some of the decisions he made looked like the kind he could get away with in high school, but not at the elite U18 level. That said, the puck skills and skating are both high-end. Vannelli has pretty good offensive instincts and does a nice job when jumping into the play. On a few occasions, he got caught too deep and was unable to recover on a few goals against. He’s going to take risks with the puck, which is fine for someone with his offensive capability. Vannelli needs to put on a lot more muscle , but he has a good frame to build on. He has a good shot, solid distribution skills and I thought his puckhandling was at a fairly high level. As he gets challenged more in college, he should develop into a very good two-way defenseman with top-end offensive capabilities. He should be fun to watch grow as a player as his upside is immense. 7 GP, 2-1–3, 0 PIM, E. Projected Draft Range: Late-Second to Early-Third Round
Evan Allen – Over his two years at the NTDP, Allen was mostly a goal scorer and he certainly has the shot to fit the bill. He was a bit quiet at the World Under-18s however, potting two goals over the course of the tournament. Allen does a nice job of getting to the scoring areas and usually gives himself a chance to generate something. His puck skills and skating are adequate, but aren’t necessarily projectable NHL skills. That said, he has pretty good offensive instincts and the other elements of his game could come along. He’s got enough of a tool set to get drafted and has an opportunity to grow into an NHL-caliber player. U18WC Statline 7 GP, 2-2–4, 0 PIM, -2. Draft Range: Fifth to Sixth Round
J.T. Compher — Between him and Tyler Motte, it would be tough to pick which was Team USA’s most impactful forward. Compher tied Motte for the team scoring lead with seven points (3-4). Compher brought a lot of energy and played a ton of tough minutes for the U.S. in Sochi. He scored a few huge goals including the game-winner in the semifinal shootout against Russia. Additionally, Compher was one of the more reliable defensive forwards as an expert penalty-killer and tenacious back-checker. Compher played physical, drew penalties, got under opponents skin and simply made plays. He average more than 20 minutes a night and often found himself matched up against top lines. Compher is a good skater who competes and plays with a lot of grit. He uses his speed to create and has good enough puck skills to generate offense. His shot is heavy and accurate. Compher is very much a complete hockey player. 7 GP, 3-4–7, 8 PIM, +2. Projected Draft Range: Late-First to Early-Second Round.
Dawson Cook – Snubbed in Central Scouting’s final rankings, Cook acquitted himself well at the World Under-18 Championship in a bottom-six role. A strong forward, with sound defensive capabilities and a knack for killing penalties, Cook can play physical, but is also responsible. He’s tough to knock off the puck and goes to the hard areas of the ice. There’s not a ton of offensive tools to speak of with Cook, but he certainly handles the puck well enough and uses his frame to create time and space. A little extra snarl to his defensive game could go a long way. He may be a bit of a long shot to get picked, but a late-round stab at Cook may prove fruitful in the long run. U18WC Statline: 7 GP, 0-0–0, 2 PIM, E. Projected Draft Range: Seventh Round, if drafted.
Hudson Fasching — On a bit of a slide down the rankings, Fasching gave some good reminders as to why he shouldn’t fall past the second round on draft day. While he may not have the productivity of a first-round pick, Fasching’s potential remains high to be a solid player at the professional level. He led Team USA with six assists, almost all of which were hard-earned. Fasching drew a lot of contact throughout the tournament and oftentimes was difficult to displace from the puck. He got better around the net and utilized his physical strength to absorb contact and in turn, create space for his linemates. Tyler Motte was a big beneficiary of Fasching’s work down low. On top of using his size, Fasching showed above average puck skills in possessing the puck and getting around defenders to give himself a shot on goal or make a good feed. Overall, the tournament was a huge showing for Fasching, who remains one of the top Americans eligible for this year’s draft. U18WC Statline: 7 GP, 0-6–6, 4 PIM, +4. Projected Draft Range: Second Round
John Hayden — Drawing more buzz from his high ranking from Central Scouting, Hayden showed that he is a future power forward in the NHL. It wasn’t a great overall tournament for Hayden, whose impact ended up being less than expected, but he got good minutes and showed some of the skills that will translate to the next level. Hayden is a hard-working, physical forward who has a great power move to the net. He uses his frame well in all areas of the ice and battles in all situations. Central might have been a bit overly-optimistic with its ranking, but not by an overwhelming margin. His puck skills may not project at a first-round level, but clearly his size, physicality and strength do. It’s going to be interesting to see where teams slot him now. U18WC Statline: 7 GP, 1-1–2, 2 PIM, E. Projected Draft Range: Mid-Second to Early-Third Round
Tyler Kelleher – As the NTDP’s leading scorer this season, Kelleher probably needed to be a little more consistently productive in the tournament, but he did manage six points to tie for third on the team in Sochi. His puck skills and speed are notable, but at times the size factor came into play for the 5-6 Kelleher. He still did a good job of getting to the net front and actually ended up scoring a couple of the tougher goals of the tournament off of net-front scrambles. He wasn’t ranked by Central Scouting and it’s going to be tough for a lot of teams to overlook his size. He has the puck skills to play at a high level, but we’ve seen a lot of similar players get passed over. U18WC: 7 GP, 3-3–6, 2 PIM, +2. Projected Draft Range: Seventh Round, if drafted.
Anthony Louis — Though similarly sized to Kelleher, Louis is drawing a touch more interest from scouts and still appears to have an outside shot at getting drafted. The big thing about Louis is that he engages very well for a player at his size. He showed some good creativity, creating time and space for himself and teammates and making good feeds in the offensive zone. He scored the biggest goal of Team USA’s tournament with the late game-tying marker against Russia in the semifinal. Louis somehow dove and connected with the puck to knock it under the Russian goalie in a net-front scramble. That goal was somewhat indicative of Louis’ tournament. He wasn’t afraid to pay the price for offense and at times he was rewarded. He’ll still have the doubts about his size, but his competitiveness could win a team over late. U18WC Statline: 1-3–4, 2 PIM, -1. Projected Draft Range: Late-Sixth to Early-Seventh Round
Sean Malone — A highly-competitive center, Malone was one of Team USA’s most reliable faceoff men and took many key draws. Additionally, he was very good at both ends of the ice, showing some grit and tenacity. Malone is a good skater with some subtle skill. He has the ability to walk defensemen, but also relies on his physical strength to get an advantage. Malone played physical and eventually earned a promotion to Team USA’s second line, where he seemed to excel. Though his numbers weren’t spectacular with just one assist, Malone was able to impact the game in other important ways. He’s given himself a good shot to get picked in June. U18WC Statline: 7 GP, 0-1–1, 0 PIM, -2. Projected Draft Range: Fifth to Sixth Round
Mike McCarron — A revelation in the tournament, McCarron should continue his rise up many draft boards. At 6-5, 225, he doesn’t have to do much to be noticeable, but it seemed he was doing something every time out. Not just a bruising forward, McCarron showed terrific skating and puck skills. He was incredibly difficult to out battle along the boards and while he didn’t throw his weight around a ton, he showed he can be physical. McCarron has elite puck skills for a player of his size and showed both a willingness to distribute and a lack of fear of his shot, which is quite good. His footwork is solid enough and improving. There’s a good chance a team is going to take the risk late in the first round just because of McCarron’s immense upside. His decision-making could improve a bit, but the physical tools are right where they need to be at this point. McCarron could turn into a heck of a pro hockey player down the line. U18WC Statline: 7 GP, 3-2–5, 14 PIM, E. Projected Draft Range: Late-First to Early-Second Round
Tyler Motte — One of Team USA’s best players in the tournament, Motte was making an impact in all zones and in all situations. He led Team USA with five goals, but was also an expert penalty killer for a team that allowed just two power-play goals against. He did a lot of the little things like blocking shots, jumping passes and stripping a lot of pucks to show that despite his relative lack of size, he can contribute defensively. Motte also has very good speed and solid puck skills to go along with a good, accurate shot. The size factor may hurt his final draft position, but whoever selects him is going to get an incredibly competitive forward with some good offensive upside. U18WC Statline: 7 GP, 5-2–7, 4 PIM, +5. Projected Draft Range: Third Round
Hunter Miska — Team USA’s lone draft-eligible netminder did not dress during the tournament. Projected Draft Range: Not drafted.