Another world junior tournament is behind us and I gotta say – it was a weird one. On the positive side, the 2018 draft class was excellent. Rasmus Dahlin, Filip Zadina and Brady Tkachuk were all amazing, while Andrei Svechnikov and Quinn Hughes did what they could with limited roles. On the other hand, the lack of crowds was a downer and half the medal-round games were duds. But the gold-medal game was tight, even if Sweden deserved at least another power play or two and at least one less penalty-kill.
This was also the toughest year to vote on tournament all-stars because there was a lot of balance on the best teams and since I published my ballot on Twitter, a lot of folks are wondering why I didn’t have Casey Mittelstadt. So here’s the deal: I weigh the medal round a lot heavier than I do the prelims. I thought Kieffer Bellows was more effective there and he led the Americans past Russia in the crucial quarterfinal. Canada was the best team in the tournament and Drake Batherson was hot in the medal round. In hindsight, Mittelstadt’s overall body of work deserved the nod over Batherson – I was overthinking things. I also would have put Carter Hart as goalie instead of Filip Gustavsson had I been able to vote after the gold medal game (I was torn between the two), but votes are due by the first intermission, so I couldn’t really factor that in. Life goes on.
In the meantime, the CHL went crazy with trades and a couple involved world junior stars. This week is a little unbalanced in terms of leagues covered, but I feel you need the news, so here it is.
Casey Mittelstadt, C, University of Minnesota Golden Gophers (Big Ten) – Enjoy this kid now, Gopher fans, because he’s going to be playing in the NHL for the Buffalo Sabres next year. Mittelstadt’s offensive skills and creativity are bursting at the seams and he has the speed to make a difference at the next level. He can also play wing if need be. NHL arrival: 2018-19
Jake Bean, D, Tri-City Americans (WHL) – Fresh off gold with Canada, Bean was traded from Calgary to Tri-City, where he will join fellow WJC D-man Juuso Valimaki on the blueline. Bean, a Carolina Hurricanes first-rounder, has excellent hockey IQ and can do significant offensive damage from the back end. NHL arrival: 2019-20
Robert Thomas, C, Hamilton Bulldogs (OHL) – It’s weird seeing the London Knights trade away talent, but with Jesper Bratt and Victor Mete sticking in the NHL, this hasn’t been the season they anticipated. That meant Thomas, the St. Louis Blues first-rounder and WJC gold medallist, was part of a trade deadline exodus. He’ll bring his excellent all-around game to the Bulldogs, the top team in the Eastern Conference. NHL arrival: 2018-19
Gabe Vilardi, C, Kingston Frontenacs (OHL) – Vilardi, the L.A. Kings first-rounder, was part of a pre-WJC blockbuster that saw him and New York Rangers ‘D’ prospect Sean Day go from Windsor to Kingston, where the Fronts are making a go for it (Kingston also nabbed Sabres pick Cliff Pu and Anaheim’s Max Jones in separate deals with London). Vilardi has six points in three games since making his season debut, as the talented, puck-protecting pivot had previously been dealing with back problems in Windsor. NHL arrival: 2019-20
Taylor Raddysh, RW, Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (OHL) – The Hounds are the best team in all of junior hockey, so it’s scary that they added Raddysh and D-man Jordan Sambrook (DET) at the deadline. Raddysh brings championship pedigree from Erie and the world juniors, where his scoring ability and experience can only make the Soo more deadly. He’s a Tampa Bay prospect. NHL arrival: 2019-20
Drake Batherson, C, Blainville-Boisbriand Armada (QMJHL) – Fresh off his lights-out scoring performance at the world juniors, Batherson is now part of the Armada after a trade from Cape Breton. The Ottawa Senators pick brings a great combination of offense, size and still-growing potential to an already solid B-B lineup. NHL arrival: 2018-19
Merrick Rippon, D, Ottawa 67’s (OHL) – Rippon was part of a very interesting trade from Mississauga, where the Steelheads have been the biggest disappointment of the season. A first-year OHLer out of Jr. A, Rippon has a nice two-way profile but struggled to find his place in ‘Sauga. The 2018 draft prospect and Ottawa native is now home and has two points in his first two games – so maybe the change in scenery was exactly what he needed. NHL arrival: 2020-21
Logan Brown, C, Kitchener Rangers (OHL) – Another Memorial Cup champ from Windsor changed addresses, this time Team USA's Brown. The Ottawa Senators first-rounder battled injury at the world juniors, but he'll be a great boost to Kitchener in the OHL's lethal West thanks to his size, experience and scoring ability. The Rangers also added power forward Givani Smith (DET) from Guelph to bolster its lineup. NHL arrival: 2018-19
Libor Hajek, D, Regina Pats (WHL) – Regina hosts the Memorial Cup, so you know they had to go all-in. Hajek, the Tampa Bay pick, was a star for the Czechs at the WJC, tying Canada’s Cale Makar as the top-scoring D-man in the tourney with eight points in seven games. He also logged a ton of minutes and can play in all situations. The erstwhile Saskatoon Blade is now a Pat and Regina needs him; they’re just surviving in the East. NHL arrival: 2019-20
Isac Lundestrom, C, Lulea (SHL) – They don’t all have to be trades, right? I wanted to give Lundestrom a shout-out because the 2018 draft prospect was terrific for Sweden at the world juniors. He centered one of the team’s most effective lines with Tim Soderlund (CHI) and Oskar Steen (BOS), showing a maturity and two-way game beyond his years. Lundestrom has 10 points in 24 games for Lulea this season. NHL arrival: 2019-20