While most of the world’s best 16- and 17-year-old hockey players gathered in Sochi, Russia to play in the Under-18 World Junior Championship in late April, it was 15-year-old Connor McDavid who stole the show.
McDavid dazzled scouts, fans and other players with an assortment of high-end skills, remarkable vision and goal-scoring ability that showed the world why he is the clear favorite for the top spot in the 2015 NHL Draft. McDavid scored eight goals in seven games, and added six assists to complete the tournament with 14 points. His totals nearly doubled those of Canada’s second-leading scorers Nick Baptiste and Morgan Klimchuk (both of whom are eligible for the 2013 draft).
However, the Canadian roster featured another underage player who put on quite a performance. Sam Reinhart, an early candidate for the top selection in next year’s NHL Draft and captain for Team Canada at the U18, put three goals and four assists on the board to finish the tournament tied for fourth overall on a deep and impressive Canadian squad. Sam is the youngest of the three Reinhart brothers (Griffin, selected fourth overall last year by the New York Islanders, and Max, a third round pick of the Calgary Flames in 2010), and may be the most talented of them all. He dominated the face-off circle in Sochi, winning nearly 61% of his draws. He was named best player in Canada’s opening game against Slovakia.
Ivan Barbashev, the highly skilled Russian forward who played for the QMJHL's Moncton Wildcats this season scored three goals with six assists, and helped lead the Russian team through the preliminary rounds. He captained the team in its opening game victory over Team USA, and was alternate captain thereafter (Valeri Nichushkin assumed the captaincy when he joined the team after the end of his KHL title run). Barbashev scored two goals and was named the player of the game in the preliminary round victory over Finland. His speed and offensive instincts were on full display throughout the competition, and he looks well-positioned for a run at a top spot in next year’s draft.
There were two other underage players for the Russian squad that stood out in the tournament. Vladimir Tkachyov, the small but crafty forward, was chosen by the coaches as one of Russia’s best players of the tournament. Tkachyov scored 11 points in his seven games, and was second overall in tournament scoring.
17-year-old netminder Igor Shestyorkin finished the tournament with a .937 saves percentage and a scant 2.26 goals-against average. Finnish netminder Juuse Saros may have received the most attention among the tournament’s goaltenders, but Shestyorkin played extremely well while backstopping the Russians to the medal round. Shestyorkin spent most of his year with MHC Spartak in the Russian junior leagues, where he stopped 92 percent of the shots he faced in the regular season. At 6’0" and 183 pounds, he has decent size, but it is his sound positioning and aggressive style that sets him apart.
A player that was featured in the most recent Beyond Tomorrow, Leon Draisaitl, was easily Germany’s best player in the tournament. Draisaitl scored one of the German team’s twelve total goals, and he assisted on more than half of the others (six assists in total). He was a constant source of offense and energy, and was honored as the team’s top performer.
On a Finnish team loaded with top prospects for the 2013 draft, Kasperi Kapanen finished second among his teammates in scoring in Socchi. The son of former NHL forward Sami Kapanen scored five times and assisted on three goals, for a total of eight points for the bronze medal team. Kapanen was among the youngest players on a deep Finnish squad. He will play for KalPa in the Finnish Elite League next year.
Jakub Vrana had a relatively disappointing tournament for the Czech Republic, and scored just two points while playing mostly third-line minutes. His play improved throughout the tournament, however, with his most effective games coming against the Finns (one goal on five shots in 17 minutes of ice time) and the Russians (he was player of the game, and scored his second goal of the competition from a team-leading seven shots) in the final games of the preliminary round. Vrana was moved up to the first line for the team’s quarter-final match-up against Canada. Although his team was shut out by the eventual gold-medal winners, Vrana led the team in shots and was the Czech squad’s most dangerous player.
For both Sweden and Team USA, there were few underage players skating in the tournament. The bright spot for Sweden was Oskar Lindblom, the young, 6’0” winger in the Brynas system. Lindblom scored two goals with two assists, good enough for a fourth-place spot on the underperforming Swedish team. William Nylander also played for Tre Kronor, but finished with just two goals and a single assist. The future looks promising for both, even if none of the Swedish players were at their best in Sochi.
The U.S. team was well-stocked with 17- and 18-year-olds who will be available for this year’s draft. As such, there was little ice time for any underage players. Jack Eichel started the tournament on the team’s second line with 2013 prospects Tyler Motte and Hudson Fasching, but was later relegated to the fourth line in favor of Sean Malone and finished with just one goal and one assist. Goaltender Thatcher Demko played all seven games for Team USA, and although he allowed only 2.24 goals per game, he saved just 89.9 percent of the shots he faced.
Next Time in Beyond Tomorrow
The next installment of Beyond Tomorrow will take one last look at the best that the 2014 draft class has to offer and will include a preliminary ranking of the top players for the 2014 draft before turning attention to the 2015 draft-eligible prospects.
Follow Brian Fogarty on Twitter via @Brian_Fogarty