In a sense, the U-18 World Hockey Championship mirrored the NHL playoffs: it featured big upsets (who had the United States losing to anyone?) and questionable officiating.
But the hockey was impressive. Sweden took gold for the first time in tournament history, while Cole Caufield and Jack Hughes showed why they’re two of the greatest players to ever suit up for the U.S. National Team Development Program. Despite winning the Hlinka-Gretzky tournament, Canada missed another opportunity to win gold despite featuring many of the same players, and the Russians will have to wonder what could have been if Vasili Podkolzin had played to his full potential.
With the draft set for June, though, the real focus was on how players developed throughout the season. For most, it was the final chance to showcase their abilities, while others were simply hoping to put their names in the discussion. That's one of the exciting parts of the tournament: for many of these players, it's the last major opportunity they have to represent their nation, and for the Americans, it was a cumulation of a two-year centralized program.
Today's focus is on 10 players who helped their draft status thanks to an impressive U-18 tournament. Let's take a look:
Cole Caufield, RW (USA)
The size narrative really needs to die when it comes to ‘Goal' Caufield, whose 14 goals tied Alex Ovechkin’s single-tournament record. While half of Caufield’s goals came in the first two games, he was consistently one of the top players throughout the tournament, winning MVP and best forward honors despite finishing two points behind linemate Jack Hughes for the tournament scoring lead. Caufield’s 18-point performance was the fourth-best output ever. Caufield has forced his way into top-five draft consideration, so as long as you value goals more than size, which, if you’re an NHL team worth your salt, you should.
Jamieson Rees, LW (Canada)
Injuries and a suspension limited Rees to 32 points in 37 games with the OHL’s Sarnia Sting in what was a tough regular season. But just like he did at the Hlinka-Gretzky tournament in August, Rees turned on the jets on the international stage, registering two goals and eight points to finish fourth in team scoring. Rees brought a strong mix of physical play and speed and did a tremendous job of driving Canada’s offense on the team’s powerful fourth line with Connor Zary and Brayden Tracey.
Brayden Tracey, LW (Canada) There wasn’t a lot of buzz surrounding Tracey, a projected second-round pick, heading into the tournament. A late bloomer, Tracey played an extra year of midget before cracking the WHL’s Moose Jaw Warriors lineup full time, but with 86 points on the team’s top line, you couldn’t ask for much more from the rookie. Tracey earned power play time and was an impact player at the tournament, scoring four goals and seven points while playing a more aggressive game than he showed in the WHL. Not all scouts are sold on the idea of Tracey becoming the real deal, but his speed and ability to hold the puck for long periods makes him an interesting player to watch.
Patrik Puistola, LW (Finland)
Scouts have had mixed reactions to Puistola’s play this season, but his five goals for a Finnish team that struggled to score were impossible to ignore. He was one of the only forwards who made an impact in a 4-2 loss to the Czech Republic, a game that meant the Finns had to beat Switzerland in the final game to avoid heading to the relegation round. He scored twice against the Swiss. Puistola had more than a point per game in the second Finnish League and was often one of the only players to actively create offense each game for the Finns. The skilled winger will likely land in the second round in June, but his goal-scoring ability could move him closer to the start of the round than the end.
Maxim Cajkovic, RW (Slovakia)
Slovakia had a rough tournament – they were relegated for just the second time ever – but Cajkovic was a bright spot. A year after finishing with 11 points as an under-ager, Cajkovic scored three goals and his seven points were three more than any other Slovakian skater. Cajkovic was in dire need of a big performance after falling off from his first-round prospect status heading into the season. He has struggled in his North American debut with the QMJHL’s Saint John Sea Dogs, recording just 46 points in 60 games after going first overall in the CHL import draft. With another good tournament under his belt, though, Cajkovic has shown he can still be a big-time contributor in the right situation.
Karl Henriksson, C (Sweden)
Most people were fixated on 2020 draft prospects Lucas Raymond and Alexander Holtz during the tournament, but Henriksson was Sweden’s top scorer with three goals and nine points. On a team deprived of a top 2019 prospect, Henriksson thrived as the team’s first-line center. One thing that really stood out was his net-front presence, likely due to the fact he had two future stars as linemates. Henriksson, who led the Swedish SuperElit junior league with 36 assists, created havoc, both with and without the puck, and showed he can be more than a great playmaker, showcasing his strong defensive play at the tournament.
Yegor Spiridonov, C (Russia)
One of the biggest knocks on Spiridonov during the Hlinka-Gretzky in August was that he was inconsistent, but that wasn’t an issue this time around. With six points in eight games, Spiridonov had his best international showing to date while filling in offensively while Vasili Podkolzin struggled to find his groove. Slated as a late third-round pick, Spiridonov has been panned by scouts this season, but the speedy winger displayed a more well-rounded game than he had previously shown. Spiridonov is a solid playmaker who does well in springing his linemates. If he refines his skating, he could move his way up a team’s rankings by draft day.Arturs Silovs, G (Latvia)
Latvia has produced some decent goaltenders over the past few years, and Silovs, a 6-4, 203-pound behemoth, is definitely one of them. Silovs helped Latvia advance to the quarterfinals for the first time ever, his 40-save effort against Canada ranking among the best performances of the tournament. Silovs’ .918 save percentage was fourth among goalies with more than three starts and was the main reason Latvia even had a chance in a 2-1 loss to the Canadians – and if one of his own defensemen didn’t score on him, Silovs could have led the Latvians to a major upset. He wasn’t on the NHL’s Central Scouting Service’s lists this year, but Silovs made his name known with a couple of important performances for one of the weaker teams in the tournament.Filip Koffer, RW (Czech Republic)
Don’t expect Koffer to be taken in the first half of the draft, but he was the Czech Republic’s most consistent player and this won’t be the last you hear from him. He had four goals and six points, including a pair against Switzerland in a game that clinched a spot in the quarterfinals for the Czechs. It was a good showing for Koffer, who played with four teams this year back home. While not one of his team's top prospects, Koffer put himself on the radar by outscoring Michal Teply, Jan Mysak and Marcel Barinka, among others.
Vladislav Kolyachonok, D (Belarus)
Kolyachonok could become just the third Belarussian drafted in the first round when June rolls around, and the U-18s were a fantastic opportunity for him to showcase his talents. A top blueliner with the Flint Firebirds, Kolyachonok helped guide a weak Belarus team to the quarterfinals and led all blueliners with 27 shots throughout the tournament. Kolyachonok proved he can be a very competitive player and he didn’t back down from tough matchups, of which he had many in this tournament. He held his own against some of the tournament’s toughest sharpshooters. If he wasn’t on your radar for the first round before, he is now.
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