While I try to reserve this space for players up for this year’s draft or ones who have already been picked, there’s a treasure trove of 2016s at the world under-18s right now. Auston Matthews just broke Patrick Kane’s U.S. NTDP scoring record, while Finland is getting a huge performance from Patrik Laine (Jesse Puljujarvi’s playing pretty well, too). And Dmitri Sokolov of Russia is already on the minds of NHL scouts. With that established, let’s take a look at some of the other great youngsters in the game today.
Erik Foley, LW – Cedar Rapids RoughRiders (USHL)
Foley is the type of player that scouts love to talk about – but not for too long, because they want him as a sleeper pick in the draft. Athletic, competitive and skilled, the United States League rookie has some great attributes.
“I’m a power forward type,” Foley said. “I like to play physical and I’d say my shot is my best attribute. I’ll bring the puck out of the corner to the net.”
Cedar Rapids had a big rookie cohort up front this season and every time coach Mark Carlson put Foley up with veteran scorers Andrew Ogilvie and Jiri Fronk, good things happened. So Foley went from prep school at Tabor Academy in Massachusetts to the top line on a USHL team in one season.
“ ‘Ogie’ and Jiri are two high-end players,” Foley said. “So it made the transition easier for me.”
Even though he’s from New England, Foley has loved his time in Iowa. Cedar Rapids has a minor league baseball team and the left winger used to play centerfield himself when he was younger, so that’s a fun diversion. But he will return to the East Coast when he joins the national champion Providence College Friars next season, something he’s excited about.
“It’s close to home,” Foley said. “And I really like how (coach) Nate Leaman runs the organization.”
Foley still wants to work on seeing the ice better, but with his physical skills, teams will have to watch out for the Friars again next year. Draft eligible in 2015.
Ivan Barbashev, C – Moncton Wildcats (QMJHL)
Moncton and Halifax are going to a seventh game and based on the firepower available, who wouldn’t want this series to have gone the distance? Barbashev has almost kept pace with Nikolaj Ehlers, putting up 15 points in the series to the Dane’s 16. That’s a power matchup. Drafted 33rd overall by St. Louis in 2014.
Michael Dal Colle, LW – Oshawa Generals (OHL)
Dal Colle has been money for the Gens in the post-season, using his devastating shot and great finishing skills to put up 21 points in nine playoff games. That has him second only to Connor McDavid in scoring and if Dal Colle can get Oshawa past North Bay, he might win that playoff points crown. Drafted fifth overall by the New York Islanders in 2014.
Nic Petan, C – Portland Winterhawks (WHL)
In his last go-around with the Hawks, Petan is making every moment count. The small but prodigious scorer leads his team with 19 points in 11 games as Portland gets set to take on Kelowna in what promises to be a high-octane Western Conference final. Drafted 43rd overall by Winnipeg in 2013.
Ilya Samsonov, G – Magnitogorsk Stalnye Lisy (Rus.)
One of the hottest goaltending prospects in the world right now, Samsonov managed to shut down Team USA and Auston Matthews in the world under-18 opener and the big Russian has continued to be fire ever since. Quick, focused and aggressive, Samsonov leads the tourney with a .965 save percentage. Draft eligible in 2015.
Matt Barzal, C – Seattle Thunderbirds (WHL)
A knee injury truncated Barzal’s season and draft exposure, but scouts know what he can do. Thanks to the world under-18s, the B.C. kid is getting a chance to show the public. A premier playmaker who controls the puck thanks to his top-notch skating, Barzal leads Canada with 10 points through four games, tying him for first overall with USA’s Matthews. Draft eligible in 2015.
Matheson Iacopelli, LW – Muskegon Lumberjacks (USHL)
The Jacks had a pretty tall order in the first round of the playoffs, drawing juggernaut Youngstown. But the veteran Iacopelli and crew were game and it’s Muskegon moving on instead. The big Western Michigan recruit has a bomb shot and five points in four games so far. Drafted 83rd overall by Chicago in 2014.
Vili Saarijarvi, D – Green Bay Gamblers (USHL)
Playing on a bad Green Bay team, Saarijarvi didn’t stick out much, but he has risen at the world under-18s, leading Finland in scoring with nine points through four games. A smaller D-man at 5-foot-9, 161 pounds, he is very effective when he jumps into the rush. Draft eligible in 2015.
Denis Malgin, C – ZSC Lions (Swi.)
Malgin scored Switzerland’s most important goal at the world under-18s; the overtime winner against Latvia that saved the host nation from playing for relegation. Otherwise, the small and speedy center leads the team with three points in three games. Draft eligible in 2015.
Mitchell Stephens, C – Saginaw Spirit (OHL)
Team Canada’s captain, Stephens has contributed to more than just the leadership side of the ledger at the world under-18s. Quick, skilled and competitive, the Saginaw pivot ranks second in team scoring with six points in four games. Draft eligible in 2015.