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How does the cancellation of the world under-18s impact the 2020 draft?

It's the last major on-ice event before the draft, but the under-18s have been cancelled due to the worldwide Coronavirus pandemic. It's the right call for public's health, but it also makes the job harder for NHL scouting departments
Matthew Murnaghan/Hockey Canada

Matthew Murnaghan/Hockey Canada

As with most sporting events, the IIHF World Under-18 Championship has been cancelled due to coronavirus. Of course this was the correct course of action for a tournament that would have seen the bulk of its participants having to fly over from Europe, but since we are a hockey publication, let's look at the implications for the 2020 NHL draft. Simply put, this will have a significant impact.

"This draft could be a head-scratcher," one NHL scout told me the other day, when the tourney's cancellation was assumed but not official. "It might be an old-style draft."

What he meant was that teams will head into the draft with incomplete information, especially on European players that GMs don't get to see as often. While scouts always assess a player's value based on the prospect's body of work that season – not just international tournaments, but the entirety of their regular season – the under-18s is a great final look at some important players.

Goaltender Yaroslav Askarov for example, has been up-and-down in international play this season, getting somewhat exposed at the world juniors and having a so-so showing at the Five Nations in February – yet he is still the No. 1 netminding prospect for 2020 and an incredible talent. Askarov was seen as a potential top-10 pick for much of the first half, but will he slide a bit due to those international showings? A bang-up under-18s might have fortified his status but now he won't get that chance.

Two Finnish defensemen who could have answered some questions are Topi Niemela and Eemil Viro. Scouts like the fact Niemela could hang with men in Finland's top circuit, the Liiga, this season, but were disappointed in his Five Nations effort. As for Viro, scouts feel he was overhyped early in the season and he wasn't getting the expected ice time with his junior team recently. The under-18s could have been big for those two.

And though Canada's squad is always a little piecemeal due to the CHL playoffs happening as the same time as the under-18s, it has been a good showcase for players whose teams were either eliminated early from the major junior post-season or didn't make it at all. Daemon Hunt, for example, is a standout defenseman with the WHL's Moose Jaw Warriors, a team that was nowhere close to a playoff spot this season. Hunt missed a big chunk of the year after sustaining a laceration on his arm from an errant skate blade. Scouts are pretty high on Hunt already, but the IIHF stage may have boosted his stock even further.

In the end, the public's safety naturally wins out over a hockey tournament – but with the under-18s cancelled, expect a more volatile draft than usual, with teams gambling on players they might not have a full book on.

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