International Ice Hockey Federation

Scouts’ treat of the year

Scouts’ treat of the year

A lot of players to watch at U18 Worlds

Published 13.04.2017 18:35 GMT+2 | Author Chapin Landvogt
Scouts’ treat of the year
POPRAD, SLOVAKIA - APRIL 13: Canada's Jett Woo #8 stands on his teams blue line prior to preliminary round action against Latvia at the 2017 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship. (Photo by Andrea Cardin/HHOF-IIHF Images)
As in every April, the IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship will be the site of an event filled with action, emotions, and a glimpse at an exciting future.

There was a time when the tournament itself, having first been initiated in 1999, was little more than a blip on the springtime map of season-ending events, but it has since become akin to no less than the NHL scouting community’s journey to the ice hockey Mecca.

One look at NHL rosters will quickly have you understanding why. A plethora of young superstar impact players across the NHL including Auston Matthews, Connor McDavid, Jack Eichel, and Patrik Laine, just to name a few, have led their countries to medal glory at the U18s in recent years. Even greater is the number of NHLers who, over the past 18 years, have participated in the U18s at some juncture, with a few having made appearances over the course of several years. More importantly, the event has gained a huge amount of importance in the eyes of the NHL, as it serves to give teams one last opportunity to see and make a final assessment of the young men they, to a large degree, plan on picking in the following NHL draft, which will take place in June, as in every summer.

This year is expected to be no different.

Hosting the event this time around are the Slovak towns of Poprad and Spisska Nova Ves. The Slovakian U18 national team will be stationed in Poprad for the preliminary round, a town of just over 55’000 inhabitants which fairly recently fielded a professional team in the KHL, and faces off opening night at 19:30 against defending champion Finland. Regularly hosting one leg of the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament every summer, this will be the second time ever that Slovakia has hosted the U18 World Championship and it’s safe to say that the whole area and the Slovak Ice Hockey Federation have been experiencing a virtual hockey fever in preparation for the tournament.

With a boatload of highly touted talent soon to invade the foothills of the High Tatra mountains, here’s a little look at each team and what NHL scouts will be most curious about seeing.



As with most years, Canada has collected a number of the top players hailing predominantly from its famed CHL junior circuit, be it from the OHL, WHL or QMJHL, to form its U18 team for this spring’s tournament. The job for these boys is to come together under coach Darren Rumble in a short period of time and beat out everyone else in an intensive race. The USA has usually been the hump that Team Canada just can’t get over, but their players haven’t spent all winter playing with each other in various domestic and international events.

This year’s team will likely feature Jake McGrath and Alexis Gravel in net, both of whom played gobs of hockey this past winter as the number one netminders for their respective teams. Both also managed to man the cage for their respective teams for six playoff games before bowing out in the first round. Chances are, either of these young men would be the starter on a number of the teams competing in this tournament.

The attack will be led by several forwards expected to be among the top 60 picks in this summer’s draft, starting off with likely first rounder Maxime Comtois. At 6’2”, 200 lbs., the forward was thought to be one of the top prospects in hockey entering the season, but has seen his stock drop in only managing 51 points in 64 games for his QMJHL club. This came although he 60 points in 62 games last season. A veteran of the U18 tournament, he’ll be counted on to lead the way and make use of his one last shot to up his draft ranking.

He’ll get support from the OHL’s Matthew Strome, whose brothers are each property of an NHL team and have each represented Canada in junior hockey play, and WHL centre Jaret Anderson-Dolan. Strome managed to pump in 34 goals this winter and collected another eight points in seven playoff games while Anderson-Dolan unassumingly racked up 39 goals and 76 points in 72 WHL contests. Both could be among the top offensive producers in the tournament.

Some offensive help should come from Stelio Mattheos, who had 61 points in 69 WHL games, and Isaac Ratcliffe, who had 54 points in 67 OHL contests. Likely top 65 draft picks this summer, the belief is that Ratcliffe’s edgy game at 6’6” and Mattheos’ elusive skating and two-way play could make them difference-makers on the bigger international ice surfaces. Seeing as how Ratcliffe successfully dealt with putting away injuries this season, a strong U18 tournament could see him become a first round draft pick. Not to be forgotten is right winger Kyle Olson who had a 57 points and a +25 rating for his WHL club, and is thought to be a solid two-way energy player.

A couple of underagers will be included on the roster up front as well. Akil Thomas is first eligible for the 2018 draft, but his 48 points for the Niagara Ice Dogs of the OHL this season have him checking in as one of the better producers in this squad. He may end up lining up next to towering 6’3” Jack McBain who is scheduled to attend Boston University next fall and is also first draft-eligible in 2018.

But underagers may be the topic of the tourney for Canada’s defensive group. Heading the blueline may very well be Jared McIsaac, a 17-year old who collected 32 points and a +7 in 59 QMJHL games this season. He’s joined by Ty Smith, who had 32 points as well in 69 WHL contests, and Jett Woo, who quietly collected 22 points and a +12 rating in the WHL. Yet the most fascinating underager of perhaps the entire tournament is defenseman Ryan Merkley. Still just 16 until August of 2017, the 5’11”, 165 ball of skill collected 12 goals and 55 points for one of the worst teams in the OHL this season. Although his defensive game needs plenty of polishing, scouts are very much looking forward to seeing his progression in his draft year.

Each is first eligible for the 2018 draft, scouts feel he could be a first rounder in next summer’s draft. The rest of the blueline will be manned by players looking to up their draft position, most notably Josh Brooks, who managed 40 points and a +17 in the WHL while then gathering another seven points in seven playoff games. He’s joined by QMJHL alum Jocktan Chainey and future University of Denver defenseman Ian Mitchell. How this group shapes up in a short period of time will likely be decisive to Canada’s gold medal aspirations.

Although the Canadians unexpectedly bowed out without a medal last spring, the country had garnered a medal in every tournament from 2012-2015. Not to be forgotten is that the team usually makes a fairly strong addition or two in the course of a tournament, depending on what players become available after dropping out of the CHL playoffs back home.


After a three year hiatus, the Swedes finally checked in with a U18 medal last spring, garnering bronze in losing to the Finns in the final. This year’s squad will have its eyes on gold and will once again feature many players of interest to NHL scouts.

It starts in goal with Olle Eriksson Ek, whose brother Joel was a first-round draft pick for the Minnesota Wild. He’s one of the top three goalies in Europe for his age group and will be the likely starter. Backing him up should be Adam Ahman, also considered one of Europe’s top three goalie prospects.

The team’s defensive group is one considered one of the tournament’s best. One of the main reasons is that in Timothy Liljegren and Erik Brannstrom, the blueline will feature two of the most highly regarded defensive prospects for the NHL draft this summer and both will bring a boatload of SHL experience with them from this past season. Heading into the season, it was even felt that Liljegren might be a top five draft pick this summer. That is yet to be seen, but both players have the ability take over a game at this level and scouts will be very excited about seeing if they do just that.

Supporting them will be likely draft picks this summer, Calle Sjalin and Filip Westerlund. Both were able to get their feet wet at the pro level this winter and add a physical component. The largest of the bunch will be the 6’3” Adam Ginning, who suited up for 12 SHL games this season despite first being eligible for the 2018 draft. He’ll be joined by fellow underager Adam Boqvist, a slick-skating defenseman whose older brother will be one of the team’s offensive leaders.

Speaking of offense, the big question will be what the forward group for Sweden can get done. Although there’s no big star like a Filip Forsberg or William Nylander as in years past, the team will feature a deep group that can come at you wave after wave. Although there’s not a likely first rounder among them, each of Jesper Boqvist, Lucas Elvenes, Rickard Hugg, Kalle Miketinac, Emil Bemstrom, and Fabian Zetterlund knows where the net is and can expect to hear his respective name called this summer at the draft. Particularly Boqvist and Hugg have been talked about in scouting circles now for a while and Jesper scored at more than a point-per-game clip in the Allsvenskan after collecting six assists in 16 SHL games.

Almost more impressive is that underagers Isac Lundestrom, Jacob Olofsson, David Gustafsson, and Oscar Back are first eligible for the draft in 2018, yet may already assume pivotal offensive roles in this squad, particularly Lundestrom. They almost have to if Sweden is going to be able to medal again, as most of the contenders have more proven scorers in their outfit. But there’s no doubt that watching this group will give scouts and fans alike a taste of just how exciting things could be next winter. Especially if a player like 16-year-old Rasmus Dahlin, currently playing in the SHL playoffs with the Frolunda Gothenburg, makes his way to the tournament as a late arrival.


The tournament’s perennial gold medal contender, the USA have taken part in a medal game 13 times in a row and 14 of the past 15 tournaments. Finishing with a disappointing bronze medal while hosting the tournament in Grand Forks, North Dakota, last spring, the nation has nonetheless racked up 9 gold medals and 14 overall medals since the tournament began. Nonetheless, for a club that has featured names such as Eichel, Matthews, Larkin, and Tkachuk in recent years, this year’s edition is entering the tournament with less allure.

Heading the way on the prospect list is forward Ryan Poehling, who is the team’s only addition from outside the core USNTDP program. Poehling just completed his first season of collegiate hockey at St. Cloud State University and is expected to be the first player on this roster taken in this summer’s NHL draft. Having only been used relatively sparingly by his college program, viewers can expect Poehling to look to make quite an impact with this opportunity. He’ll be aided up front by winger Scott Reedy, a 6’1”, 203 pound all-rounder who can do a little bit of everything and incorporates many of the power forward elements NHL teams tend to treasure. Joining the two of them may very well be one-timing wizard Grant Mismash, a fair sized forward with a good portion of toughness who’ll be counted on for offensive production and setting the tone. All three are felt to be among the top 45 players taken in this summer’s draft.

Shorthanded specialist Josh Norris and banging winger Evan Barratt will each be expected to take important roles for this year’s squad and both could be Top 75 draft picks this summer. Nonetheless, like with Team Canada, several US forwards of special note are first available for the 2018 NHL draft and may already play a very big role at this spring’s U18 tournament. The most notable is Oliver Wahlstrom, a player of partial Swedish descent who has been making waves in the scouting community for several years now. Just 16, Wahlstrom is already 6’1”, 198 lbs. and has already played 84 games this season for the USNTDP. He’s accompanied by standout 2018 forward prospects Joel Farabee and Brady Tkachuk, the latter of which is of course the brother of Matthew Tkachuk, a huge part of the USNTDP in recent years and current rookie for the Calgary Flames. Both Farabee and Tkachuk have already assumed rather large scoring roles as underagers.

The blueline will not feature the big names we’ve known in recent years, but will nonetheless look to be among the best in the tournament. Leading the way are David Farrance and Max Gildon, both of whom bring a solid game in all three zones and are felt to be likely top 60 draft picks this summer. Tommy Miller will provide brawn and a heady defensive while mighty mite Quinton Hughes, only 5’9” and 168 pounds, is being looked at for a major offensive contribution from the blueline. Heading to the University of Michigan next fall, Hughes has collected 13 goals and 73 points in 83 games this winter.

A relative tiny Denis St. Cyr has been the go-to guy in goal for the US this winter, even if 6’3” back-up Adam Scheel saw a good bit of action as well. The son of Manon Rheaume, a female goaltender who once attended the Tampa Bay Lightning NHL camp and also played pro games in men’s leagues as high as the ECHL, St. Cyr has shown strong athleticism and is scheduled to attend Notre Dame next season while Scheel will head to the University of North Dakota. Both goalies are draft-eligible this summer and viewers could very well see both in the course of the tournament, one in which Team USA must again be seen as a top favorite, if for nothing else because this team has spent the bulk of the past two winters playing and practicing with each other.


Czech Republic

For the Czechs, there could end up being a bit of a home ice advantage throughout this tournament, as the team should experience a good bit of support from fans from both the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

Leading the way into this tournament are no two players of note, namely centre Martin Necas and winger Filip Zadina, who contributed four goals and five points at last spring’s U18 tournament. For Necas, it has been a year of astounding growth and after having played 51 games with Brno’s pro team (11 goals), many feel he’ll be a surefire top 15 pick in the upcoming draft. For Zadina, who also spent the season playing in the Czech Republic’s top men’s league, this tournament will be a chance to put his name up there with the top 10 prospects in next summer’s draft.

These two stars, so to speak, will not have to carry the load alone. WHL legionnaire Daniel Bukac is 6’5” and will be given plenty of responsibility on the blueline, perhaps lining up with the highly touted Jakub Galvas, who spent most of the season taking a regular shift in the Czech Republic’s top men’s league. They’ll be joined by U18 returnee David Kvasnicka, a heady defenseman who, like Galvas, spent the majority of the winter playing first league hockey at home. The later two are thought to be probable draft picks within the top 150 this summer.

The defensive group will look to keep things clear for their 6’2”, 210 pound goalie Jiri Patera, who dominated the Czech U20 league and is considered one of the top five goaltending prospects in Europe for this upcoming draft. Often featuring a strong number one, the Czech Republic feels Patera could be the difference maker, especially in a very difficult group that includes Russia, Sweden, and the USA.

Up front, much is expected of Filip Chytil, who spent all season in the Czech Republic’s top men’s league and is considered to be a high draft possibility this summer. He’ll likely line up with the aforementioned Necas and possible top 60 pick Ostap Safin, a 6’4”, 200 pound giant with a bit of a scoring touch. The same can be said for a hulking Krystof Hrabik, whose physical play will be counted on to not only create space, but keep opponents honest. Further contributions are expected from U20 league stars Marek Skvrne, Jan Hladonik, Jan Kern, and Jaroslav Dvorak, all of whom tasted pro play this winter, as well as OHL center Ondrej Machala.

Topping things off for the scouting community will be the play of 2018 draft-eligible Jachym Kondelik, whose father enjoyed a practically cult career as a goaltender in Germany. Born in Hanover, Germany, the 16-year-old Jachym is playing in the USHL and felt to be seeking a college hockey career.

All in all, the Czech Republic will be one of the most highly viewed teams by the scouting community.


Having fielded a lethal squad led by a dominating Jesse Puljujarvi last spring, the Finns are heading to Slovakia as the reigning gold medallists. Nonetheless, the entire program has to shake off the dust from having taken part in the WJC relegation series against Latvia. Before that, the Finns had been the shining star of the junior world in recent years with several gold and silver medals throughout recent WJC and U18 tournaments.

What bodes well for Finland is that they have Europe’s top goaltending prospect, Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen, who already posted a 2.00 goals against average in three games in winning gold last spring. He heads into this tournament as the top overall goaltending prospect showcasing in Slovakia for the upcoming draft.

Another player who all eyes will be on is the rather huge Kristian Vesalainen, a winger who checks in at 6’3”, 210 lbs. Having started the season in Sweden with the Frolunda Indians, he eventually switched back to Finland where he’s played for HPK. His offensive success with both clubs has been moderate, at best. However, he entered the season as one of the most promising prospects and many think this season’s stalling has much more to do with Kristian still being a teenager in a man’s body, asked to do a bit more than he was ready for. This tournament will be his opportunity to put himself back on the draft map, even if he’s clearly a top 60 pick at the moment.

As opposed the prior Finnish clubs, offense will have to come from some of the lesser-knowns on the roster. The most notable is Frolunda junior forward Joni Ikonen, a 5’10” power packet, who did some big time scoring at the Swedish U20 level and also saw 10 games of action in the SHL. Santeri Virtanen was thought to be a decent prospect heading into the season, but has missed a lot of action due to injury. At the same time, Aarne Talvitie has climbed the ranks this winter with a very strong offensive season in Finland’s U20 league. Both will need to contribute offensively for this team to have a shot. Any help from 2018 draft-eligible Rasmus Kupari, already a well-grown boy who spent most of the season playing at the U20 level, would be much appreciated.

Even if the future University of Denver defenseman Eero Teravainen carries a well-known name, seeing as how his brother Teuvo currently plays for the Carolina Hurricanes in the NHL, things are looking questionable on the Finnish blueline. The team will kick things off with a group of blueliners who may not be drafted this or next summer, with tiny Juho Korhonen being the most offensively inclined, but the thought is that the program is simply waiting to see if top prospects such as Miro Heiskanen and Henri Jokiharju can join the team soon. Both are busy with their club teams and expected to be top 45 draft picks this summer. Without them, a medal would have to be considered almost unlikely.

Also fascinating is that the club has decided to bring along two 16-year olds, namely defenseman Toni Utonen and center Jesperi Kotkaniemi. Eligible for the 2018 draft, both have been absolutely outstanding internationally for the program’s U16 team and spent this winter with the U18 team as well, where Kotkaniemi has collected nine points in eight games. As things stand, they’ll have to contribute as much as the older players, if not more. 


After last spring’s debacle, in which the planned U18 squad had to stay home after internal doping tests and was replaced by the U17 class, this year’s team will be able to present a whole lot of boys returning from last season’s unexpected venture. None will be more anticipated than the team’s captain, lightweight centre Alexei Lipanov, who is felt to be a top-45 talent in this summer’s draft. He chipped in with three points in five games in last spring’s tournament. He’ll be joined up front by plenty of talent, including five forwards who spent this season plying their trade in North America.

Yaroslav Alexeyev (52 points), Ivan Chekhovich (59 points), and Pavel Koltygin (47 points) are each coming from a sojourn in the QMJHL. They’ll be joined by Kirill Maximov (38 points in the OHL) and Andrei Svechnikov (58 points in 49 USHL games), all of whom are expected to be major offensive contributors at this tournament. Of them, only Koltygin was not part of last spring’s U18 entry. More importantly, Svechnikov is first eligible for the 2018 NHL draft and at the moment, is considered to be one of the best three talents available. He’ll gain plenty of attention over the course of the next 10 days.

Also expected to add a good bit of punch to the offense are domestic stars Maxim Marushev, Kirill Slepets, and Alexei Toropchenko. Particularly the 6’3” Toropchenko had a very strong winter and is felt to be a surefire draft pick this summer, perhaps even among the top 75 picks. All three could easily prove to be just as lethal as their colleagues joining from North America.

Interestingly, the blueline will be led by Mark Rubinchik (OHL) and Dmitri Samorukov (WHL), both of whom played junior hockey in Canada this winter and finished off the season with rather rough plus/minus values. They’ll be leading a group consisting of players who spent this winter in the Russian MHL, most prominent among them being Veniamin Baranov. A solidly built player, he already showed some very promising offensive instincts this past winter and is a returnee from last spring’s U18 tournament.

Underagers of note who’ll be eligible for the 2018 draft include forward Mikhail Bitsadze (three points last spring) and defenseman Danila Galenyuk, a solid all-round player who is likely Russia’s top defensive prospect for the 2018 draft.  

Goaltending could again be one of Russia’s strength, even if the all-star names of previous seasons aren’t to be found on this roster. Still, likely starter Kirill Ustimenko is considered one of Europe’s top five goaltending prospects and is hoping to strut his stuff. If he doesn’t, don’t be surprised to see the USHL’s Maxim Zhukov, a 6’3” goaltender who has made a name for himself on the North American market. Both are expected to be drafted this summer.

For Russia, it’ll clearly be interesting to see if one of the world’s top ice hockey nations will reap the benefits of having unexpectedly sent their U17 team to the U18 World Championship last spring. Rarely has a team been able to feature so many returnees at a U18 event and Russia must be taken seriously at every international tournament as is.


For host Slovakia, the U18 has become a battle to avoid the relegation round, something the team usually achieves by the slightest of margins. But hopes are high that the hometown support will be strong enough to help push the squad to a quarterfinals appearance as many within the Slovakian ice hockey scene feel this is the most talented group of young men the program has had in quite some time.

Leading the way will be hulking defensemen Marek Korencik, a 6’3” defensive defenseman, and midsized Martin Fehervary, a fine skater who brings a good bit of moxie and smarts to the table. Both have spent past two seasons in Sweden’s junior circuit honing their craft, Korencik with Lulea and Fehervary with Malmo. After an impressive winter that saw Fehervary take a regular shift at the WJC in Canada, he even made nine appearances suiting up for the program’s SHL squad. Most notable here is that he is first draft-eligible in 2018. These two will get help in the defensive zone from possible 2017 draftee Martin Kupec and 2018 prospect Michal Ivan, who already spent the entire season with Zvolen in the top men’s league despite having first turned 17 in November.

The team will look to get offense up the middle from a pair of draft-eligible 6’4”, 200 lbs. Centers, namely Filip Krivosik, a who spent this winter with HPK’s U20 program in Finland, and Adam Ruzicka, who impressed many with his 46-point performance in the OHL. Both are believed to have some fantastic upside and scouts will be anxious to see what they can do for the hometown Slovaks. They’ll be joined up the middle by six foot Jakub Urbanek, who not only led the way for the Slovakian U18 team all winter, but added another eight points in 11 playoff games for the U20 squad.

Help up front will also come from Patrick Hrehorchak, a tough little winger who put up 62 points and 87 penalty minutes in 53 U20 league games for Trinec and his teammate Jakub Lacka, who also had 62 points in just 49 games and got in another nine games of play with the club’s pro team. Winger Milos Kelemen spent a good portion of the season with Zvolen in Slovakia’s top men’s league and is felt to be a likely late round draft pick this summer.

Milos Roman is a two-way forward who spent most of the season in the top Czech men’s league and is first eligible for the 2018 draft, but will likely have a top six role for this squad. Some magic may also come from fellow 2018 draft-eligible winger Martin Pospisil, who had a strong scoring season for the Red Bull Salzburg U18 team.

The biggest question will be about how the goaltending will hold up. The net-minding duties will be assumed by two players over six feet tall, namely Juraj Sklenar and Juraj Ovecka. It is felt that Sklenar will be the clear-cut starter and a player very much anticipated to use this tournament to up his draft chances. He’ll enter the event well aware that a goalie’s ability to steal a game or two can mean a lot for his team - and his drafting chances.


Nico Hischier, Nico Hischier, Nico Hischier! What players like McDavid and Matthews have been in previous tournaments, that’s what Hischier should be in this spring’s event. Easily the most highly touted prospect at this year’s tournament, Hischier’s move to QMJHL hockey not only put his face on the map for fans across North America, it engrained him as a likely top-3 draft pick this summer. An exciting player featuring a boatload of talent, Hischier has been representing Switzerland internationally for years and was already the leader of the U20 squad this past winter. His talent, smarts, and leadership profile are already cherished. He’ll now face great expectations at this tournament, which could ultimately entrench him as the top draft pick this summer.

But one man does not a team make and he’ll need to get some considerable help from several other players. NLB regular and 6’4”, 200 lbs. Timo Geisser and QMJHL rookie Simon Le Coultre, both of whom are defencemen, will be expected to lead the blueline group and eat up major minutes. Up front, any assistance will come in the form of Nando Eggenberger (NLA), Axel Simic (QMJHL), Sven Leuenberger (NLB), and Nicolas Muller (SWE), each of whom is expected to get some consideration in the upcoming draft and will be bringing some valuable experience from top foreign programs or having played against men at the pro level. The 6’2” Eggenberger was also part of the U20 team at the WJC and has prior experience playing internationally with Hischier.

Also vital to the attack will be QMJHL regular Philipp Kurashev, who managed 57 points in 69 games and is first eligible for the 2018 draft. A second wave of production generated by this nifty talent could end up being decisive in light of the attention Hischier should receive from opponents. All other skaters on the roster are hailing primarily from the country’s junior circuits.

The team is entering the tournament with questionable goaltending, at least in comparison to other contenders. Not a one of their three goalies is currently in serious consideration for the upcoming NHL draft, albeit the 6’2” Akira Schmid is only 16 and first eligible for the 2018 draft. At the moment, it looks as those the responsibility of success at this tournament will be spread out on very few shoulders, but none at the tourney are as wide as Hischier’s.

Looking to survive


In deciding the most recent U18 World Championship Division I Group A right in Minsk, the Belarusians earned their way back up to the show, as would their U20 squad at the Division IA in Bremerhaven, Germany. Now the team needs to find a way to survive. This will not be done with a bunch of prospects sought after by NHL teams.

Most of the team has spent this past season with the U18 club and in Belarus’ second men’s league. Whereas the majority of the team knows each other well, there will be a few additions from players playing outside of Belarus, primarily defenceman Vladislav Yeryomenko, who collected 25 points in the WHL this winter. A possible draft pick this summer, he’ll be familiar with the 6’4” Artyom Baltruk, who also suited up for a rival in the WHL, for which he had a tough season offensively in collecting just five points in 60 games.

Interesting to see will be whether 16-year-old Artyom Borshyov, who is already 6’3”, can make an impact now. He played in a lower league in North America and is believed to be on course for a college hockey career, which is also the case for NAHL winger Artyom Anosov. In order to retain the class in this group, U20 team pivot Igor Martynov will have to play a vital role as he is about the most experienced player in the team.

On paper though, the Belarusians will enter every game as the underdog, even if they should wind up in the relegation round.


Making their way up at every junior level in recent years, the Latvian editions have done some good things at the U20 and U18 levels and have clearly left some of their closest competitors behind them. Still, this team has an uphill battle ahead of it and scouts will be anxious to see how the few names of note manage in facing this huge challenge.

Draft-eligible Deniss Smirnovs was not only a three-goal scorer at last spring’s tournament, he also played at the World Junior Championship with the U20 team this past winter. His role in this team will be crucial. Playing his junior hockey in Switzerland, he is one of the few players on this team who is on the NHL drafting map whatsoever, but it is currently unlikely that he’ll be drafted. He is nonetheless one of eight players who spent this past winter playing in another country.

Goaltender Niklavs Rauza (Finland), defencemen Sandis Smons (Switzerland), Niks Krollis and Regnars Udris (both USA), and forwards Verner Egle (USA), Viktors Jasunovs and Artjoms Lapiks (Sweden) spent this season honing their craft outside of Latvia and are expected to bring that experience to this tournament. Particularly Egle, whose brother Haralds has spent many years with the national team, will be expected to bring no less than a physical edge and some timely scoring. Lapiks’ performance is something scouts will be keen to see as the six foot 195 pound winger had a promising year in Sweden and is felt to have the most promising future in the group.

Valuable experience will be provided by 6’2” Lukass Sicevs and feisty winger Emils Gegeris, both returnees from last spring’s tournament. A good outing from either could see them drafted in a later round this summer. Otherwise, scouts know that aside from an upset in the preliminary round, the lightweight team has built itself on being able to survive the relegation round.


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