Every year NHL scouts flock to the IIHF World Under-18 Hockey Championship in an effort to get one last viewing of some high-end potential draft picks before meeting them face-to-face at the NHL scouting Combine come June.
Those high-end prospects will be counted on to lead their respective squads and in reality only a bad showing could drastically affect their draft rankings.
The 2011 tournament, taking place in Crimmitschau and Dresden, Germany from April 14 though the 24, has the potential to also help push the stocks of some lesser known prospects up the draft lists of NHL organizations with some breakout preformances. Those prospects will be the key spotlight of this U18 preview post as we look to find those who have the ability to either elevate their draft stock or send it plummeting.
C Rocco Grimaldi – Team USA
Grimaldi will be relied upon heavily to provide the offense he has contributed all year for the Americans. Internationally in his career with the NTDP, the Auburn Hills, MI native has been able to really light it up on the bigger ice surface. He will again have the ability to show scouts in attendance one final time that his lack of size will not deter him from carving out an eventual highly productive NHL player. If he fails to produce consistently on the score sheet in Germany his stock will likely take a bit of a nose dive, esspecially with those scouts who are just looking for proof that size does matter.
G John Gibson – Team USA
The top North American goaltender in the tournament, John Gibson will have a mobile defense infront of him and a nice blend of two-way forwards to help him keep the puck out of the American net. If required, he also has the ability to steal some games and really make a mark in the minds of those NHL personnel watching. Gibson and Finnish goalie Samu Perhonen are the top tenders playing in this event and also likely the top goalies to come off the board in Minnesota this June. A solid performance by Gibson would go a long way to ensuring his name is called first.
RW Reid Boucher – Team USA
One of the drafts most underrated performers by most NHL scouts because of a lack of size and speed, all Boucher does is give the U18 squad a consistent scoring threat each and every game he plays a game in the USA uniform. Boucher has a nose for the net and great scoring instincts which boad well for his future. A high scoring performance in Germany would go along way to boosting his draft stock for the draft.
D Connor Murphy – Team USA
An injury riddled past couple seasons have made getting a look at the talented Murphy a tough thing to do but with recent strong performances at the Ivan Hlinka tournament in August and most recently a steady job manning the blueline at February’s Five Nations, Murphy might need this tournament more than any other draft eligible prospect to ease the minds of scouts in attendance as he has the top-60 skills but an 8th round history of injuries. Murphy has the ability to be the top defenseman for the American squad and push his draft ranking into the top three rounds with a solid tournament.
RW Brett Ritchie – Team Canada
Injury and illness have derailed Ritchie’s draft season even though the power forward has managed a good production clip (41 pts in 49 gms) when he was in the line-up for the Sarnia Sting. The big powerful forward, who had a very solid Ivan Hlinka tournament, could use a breakout performance to push his draft stock back into first round consideration after being bypassed by other draft eligibles over the cource of the season. Ritchie has the raw tools to be a very effective north/south power winger in Germany who can add some timely offense for the Canadian squad.
D Scott Harrington – Team Canada
After coming into the year considered first round material in the minds of many, Harrington was the classic case of a prospect trying too hard to become something he is not and in his case it was trying to hard to improve his play in the offensive zone. Harrington’s defensive game, which was his main strength last season, suffered when his focus shifted and left scouts disappointed in his overall play. He could use this tournament to showcase his defensive game is still a strength worth investing in.
C Colin Smith – Team Canada
A true draft sleeper as Smith has not gained much hype this season playing in Kamloops with the Blazers. The feisty playmaker has the speed and smarts to play a strong defensive role in Germany but also the skill to add some secondary scoring to the mix. NHL scouts will be watching closely to see how his game matches up with the best of his peers which could really make or break his draft stock.
C Victor Rask – Team Sweden
After seen as a potential top-10 selection last year, Rask has let down hockey observers with his lack of progression this year from last and even taking some pretty big steps backwards in the eyes of most. Not only was he sent down from the senior team at mid-season because of his lackluster play, but most recently his play on the Junior squad has left people scratching their heads as well. Rask has one final shot to rebound his once lofty reputation and earn back some of the ground he has lost this year on most if not all draft list.
RW Dmitri Jaskin – Team Czech Republic
Another injury riddled draft eligible prospect, Jaskin has the chance to show his dominance against his own age group which could push him into solid first round standing with a few NHL organizations and off the first/second round fence that he has been stuck on most of the season. Jaskin has the skill and size to be the most effective and dominant Czech prospect to come along in quite a few years.
C Markus Granlund – Team Finland
Granlund has a chance to utilize the U18 to convince scouts that he is more than a small sized, oft out muscled, perimeter player. He has the ability to be the teams offensive engine and answer some of the questions that are out there about his game. While not as skilled as big brother and Minnesota first rounder Mikael, little brother does play with some heart and has nice playmaking ability in his own right.
RW Nikita Kucherov – Team Russia
One of the squads most offensively gifted players, Kucherov had a great Five Nations Tournament in February and will likely be one of the Russian teams main point producers in Germany. Some see a selfish puckhog who is unwilling to play a team based game. While his skill is unquestionable, he could use the games in Germany to show scouts that he can contribute in a team environment and possible earn a mid-to-late round draft selection come June.
Dan Stewart is the chief scout of Future Considerations. Follow the latest 2011 NHL Entry Draft news from FC via FC’s Official Twitter Feed at www.twitter.com/FCHockey on Facebook at www.facebook.com/fchockey and on YouTube at www.youtube.com/futureconsiderations