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The 2023 NHL Draft is Set to Take Over the U-18 World Championship

The U-18 World Championship will be dominated by 2022 NHL draft prospects, but the strong 2023 draft will surely have a presence as well.
Connor Bedard

The World Under-18 Championships get underway this week with some of the best NHL draft-eligible talent set to participate. 

And while the 2022 draft has some talented prospects, many of the best are still busy with their respective seasons. So, instead, the top prospect happens to be a 2023 prospect, Canadian phenom, Connor Bedard. In an ideal world, he'd be going against Russia's Matvei Michkov in a battle for top prospect supremacy. But Russia was banned from the tournament, knocking one of the top 2023 prospects out of the running.

Luckily, there's still no shortage of top talent from the 2023 draft class.

C Adam Fantilli and C Connor Bedard | Canada

This center duo is going to be absolutely thrilling, akin to a thunder and lightning type duo. Bedard was the second-highest scorer at the tournament last year with an impressive seven goals and seven assists through seven games for a tidy two points-per-game. His ability to burn just about any player with his speed is enough to worry about but Bedard’s puck skill and tools have all continued to develop around his skating ability. The dynamism that entails his game is remarkable and there’s a reason that he is the most electrifying prospect in hockey. The Regina Pats star finished the WHL season with 51 goals and 100 points, a total that has only been surpassed by a 16-year-old three times ever, with the most recent coming in 1987.

If Bedard is the lightning, Fantilli is the thunder. Already a physical specimen standing at 6-foot-2 and pushing 200 pounds, Fantilli blends power and skill at a level we will not see from any other player at this tournament. The Chicago Steel star has already matched the USHL’s all-time scoring season for a player in his draft minus one season and he did it in two fewer games than Kyle Connor’s 2013-14 season. Fantilli’s goal scoring is lethal, thanks in part to his penchant for attacking high danger areas in a variety of ways. 

C Leo Carlsson and D Theo Lindstein | Sweden

Both Carlsson and Lindstein have played a significant amount of time in the SHL level this season. Carlsson has spent the majority of his season with Örebro HK, playing in 35 games at the top level in Sweden while putting up nine points as a 16/17-year-old. An absolute physical force against U-20 competition, his 27 points in 14 games likely mean that he may not see the level again next season. Carlsson is a strong skater who still has some room to grow when it comes to the nuances of driving play at the pro level. He possesses a good shot and some interesting passing ability which should allow him to really put his name on the map at the U-18s where he can fully establish himself as a top-10 prospect for the 2023 class.

Lindstein is a steady and capable blueliner who does a lot of things well but doesn’t quite have the standout trait that could make him a consistent difference-maker quite yet. Splitting his season primarily between the J20 level (34 games) and SHL level (12 games), Lindstein has shown the ability to carry over his intelligent and savvy game to an increased level of competition. The Brynäs IF defender understands what his game is and rarely seems to try and play outside of his capabilities. He will likely play a depth role at this event but could find himself as the foil to one of his more offensively inclined teammates on the blueline.

C Charlie Stramel and RW Gavin Brindley | USA

Two of the most intriguing Americans at the U-18s are very much on two different ends of the spectrum from a physical perspective. Brindley is a slick undersized forward who makes those around him better as a playmaker. He isn’t as fleet of foot as you would ideally like to see from a player his size but he makes up for it with a consistently engaged motor. Rarely lacking effort, Brindley is always looking to find pockets off space off the puck, fighting his way into the net-front areas. There has been a number of times this year where the Tri-City Storm forward is being battered around as he recovers a puck in traffic but he has the ability to battle through it and make a play. The Florida product is a true gamer who has pinpoint passing ability.

Stramel on the other hand, is a hulking 6-foot-3, 215 pounds center who has a bit more dual-threat to his game. Playing for both the U-17 and U-18 groups with the U.S. National Team Development Program, Stramel has used his size to his advantage at both ends of the ice. Defensively, he uses his length to clog passing lanes and disrupt puck carriers by forcing them to the outside. His physical strength allows him to push smaller players off the puck and quickly turn play up ice by hitting a teammate in transition. As of now, Stramel should slot in as a middle-six center for the Americans which could allow him to be a sneaky good producer at the Under-18s.

RW Kasper Halttunen and D Arttu Kärki | Finland

As with any international event, the Finns do not come into the tournament as a favorite but they will be sneaky good because of their systems play and underrated talent throughout the roster. Halttunen and Kärki will both play into their success, should they have it at the under-18s. Standing at 6-foot-3, Halttunen is physically developed and should continue to add strength to his frame over the next couple of years. Halttunen won Rookie of the Year in the U-20 SM-sarja this season thanks in part to his excellent goal-scoring ability. He works extremely well on the power play, controlling the left half wall and utilizing his shot to threaten offensively every chance he gets. There is room to grow as a playmaker, but he could be a key weapon for the Finns offensively.

Kärki has played at the U-18 and U-20 levels in the Tappara organization this season, working his way into a key role for the U-20 squad. The 6-foot-2 blueliner has sneaky good puck skill that has given his the ability to walk opponents at the offensive blue line on a number of occasions this season. Kärki has some risk-factor to his game as with any offensively skilled defender. His positive play creation generally outweighs the odd mistake though. Kärki will most likely start as a depth defender but could emerge as an important cog on yet another underrated Finnish squad.

LW Eduard Šalé and C Dominik Petr | Czechia

This pair of young Czechia forwards have played together in pre-tournament action and should be a dynamic duo together as the Czech squad looks to surprise a few teams at this year’s under-18s. Petr has been playing in Finland the last couple of years in the Lukko system and has seen success with the U18 team this year, racking up 36 points in 32 games. He's a tall center but is still quite lanky and has struggled against physically stronger competition at times but that rarely deters him from trying to engage in the tough areas of the ice. Although his mobility is a bit lacking, he reads and plays off his teammates quite well with a deft passing game.

Petr’s expected under-18s running mate, Eduard Šalé, should bring the dynamism to their line. He has been an absolute force at the Czech U-20 level with 42 goals and 89 points to sit second in league scoring while having just turned 17 years old. Šalé has gotten into 10 Czech men's league games this year as well and showed some flashes of intriguing offensive ability. His shot is his biggest weapon and he isn’t shy about using it. He has a tendency to throw the puck on net from just about everywhere. While this is likely a trait that he will have to reign in when it comes to his long-term NHL potential, at the U-18 level internationally, he should be able to score in bunches.

Best of the Rest

There are a number of interesting players littered on the rosters of the teams in this tournament. Canada has a number of 2023 NHL draft-eligible players that will likely be overshadowed by Bedard and Fantilli. Tanner Howe is a skilled forward who has a Howe-izter of a one-timer and some silky passing skill. He has shown some nice chemistry with Bedard as well in Regina. Lukas Dragicevic is a right-shot defender who has put together quite the impressive draft minus-one season with Tri-City of the WHL. He brings a nice blend of size and skill, with some impressive puck-moving ability from the back end. There is also BCHL star, Matthew Wood who put up 45 goals and 85 points with the Victoria Grizzlies to lead the league in scoring. He has size and wicked hands, providing plenty of highlights throughout this season. He could be Canada’s secret weapon at the under-18s.

Will Smith will likely get into some action for the American squad as a high-end offensive talent. Smith works the puck to the slot in the offensive zone as a puck carrier and possesses a good shot. Like Stramel, he has seen action with both the U-17 and U-18 groups with the NTDP this season, producing point-per-game results with both. On the backend, Hunter Brzustewicz will likely play a depth role with the squad as he has with the USNTDP. Brzustewicz has a bit of everything in his game, playing smart and efficient hockey at both ends of the ice but he hasn’t really been able to fully carve out a distinct role for the NTDP squad this year. Could this be a chance for him to step up?

Tuomas Uronen has a ton of skill and brings an element of fun to the game but his lack of mobility could factor into him playing a bit more of a depth role for the Finns. Otto Stenberg has had a good season for Frölunda’s J20 team. Stenberg is the youngest player on the Swedish roster but his intellect could earn him a depth role at the U18s. He lacks flash but there is plenty of substance in his game.

Eric Schneller or Thierry Schild will need to be factors for the Swiss if they have any realistic shot at challenging the bigger nations at the under-18s. The Germans and Latvians will both bring rosters that will likely need contributions from young players as well. 

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