With the official cancellation of next month’s under-18 world championship and unofficial end of the draft year in general due to the coronavirus pandemic, several prospects are missing out on an opportunity to boost their stock.
Everybody is in the same boat — impacted by their season being cut short — but some stood to benefit more than others by getting that best-on-best showcase. That includes the recent risers still lacking in exposure, those coming off injury absences or playing for poor non-playoff teams, and those trying to solidify their status as first-round picks or needing to bookend their campaign with another standout performance on the international stage.
Related: 2020 NHL Draft Guide
Here are 10 of the prospects that could have boomed — and really blown up — at the U18 worlds.
1) Dmitri Ovchinnikov (LW, Russia, Sibirskie Snaipery Novosibirsk MHL)
MARCH RANKING: 100
ANALYSIS: Ovchinnikov was rocketing up my rankings — surging in the second half to become the MHL’s leading scorer among under-18 draft eligibles. I had Ovchinnikov on my radar throughout the first half but only debuted him in February as my highest debutant for that month at No. 133. He was up to No. 100 for March and trending towards the top 75 for me. With momentum on his side, Ovchinnikov could have made a case as a first-round talent by lighting up that U18 tourney.
2) Anton Johannesson (LD, Sweden, HV71 J20)
MARCH RANKING: 69
ANALYSIS: Johannesson was also soaring towards first-round consideration — consistently climbing my rankings since debuting in November (171, 132, 98, 79, now 69). Johannesson wasn’t among the top 124 in my preseason rankings or October — omitted following an injury-plagued previous season — but has been making up for lost time with a productive draft year. Johannesson is a smaller puck-mover and offensive-minded defender who may have been hyped similar to Erik Brannstrom had he been healthy all along. Instead, Emil Andrae (No. 25 for me) has been getting that push as a first-round prospect, but Johannesson’s ceiling is just as high — if not higher than Andrae. However, some see shades of lesser Swedes such as Gustav Forsling and Sebastian Aho, so scouts were wanting to draw their own conclusions on Johannesson at the U18 worlds.
3) William Wallinder (LD, Sweden, MODO J20)
MARCH RANKING: 35
ANALYSIS: Wallinder played a depth role for Sweden at last summer’s under-18 tournament — the Hlinka Gretzky Cup — to begin the draft year but had his breakout later in August at the less prestigious Junior Club World Cup. Wallinder opened the scouting community’s eyes to his potential there, looking a lot like 2019 top-10 pick Philip Broberg with his size, skating and offensive tools. Wallinder went as high as No. 17 in my rankings before slipping in recent months. I have been torn over the top Swedish defenceman for 2020 — Wallinder, Johannesson, Andrae and Helge Grans (No. 46) are competing for that distinction — and had been hoping to see them all on the same stage once more at the U18 worlds.
4) Joni Jurmo (LD, Finland, Jokerit U20)
MARCH RANKING: 34
ANALYSIS: Jurmo has a lot of similarities to Wallinder — and thus to Broberg — and had been on the cusp of cracking my first round for the first time as one of my notable risers for March. Jurmo was coming off a strong showing at the under-19 Four Nations tourney in February, which vaulted him ahead of Topi Niemela (No. 39) and Eemil Viro (No. 45) as my top Finnish defence prospect. Those three could go in any order in the top two rounds, especially now that scouts won’t be able to further evaluate them at the U18 worlds. Jurmo’s momentum might have taken him to another level at that tournament.
5) Theodor Niederbach (RC, Sweden, Frolunda J20)
MARCH RANKING: 47
ANALYSIS: Niederbach has been another big riser for me since debuting in November (173, 156, 73, 78, now 47) — reminiscent of fellow Swede Johannesson, with much the same back story after missing all of last season to injury. The more I watched Niederbach, the more I saw first-round potential, but unfortunately those viewings were still limited and I had been looking forward to focusing on him at the U18 worlds. Niederbach could have launched himself into the top 31 there.
6) Daemon Hunt (LD, Canada, Moose Jaw WHL)
MARCH RANKING: 87
ANALYSIS: Hunt suffered a freak injury — a severe cut to his arm from a skate blade — that sidelined him long term after starting out as an A-grade prospect for NHL Central Scouting. Out of sight, out of mind, Hunt had been falling in all the rankings before returning for five games prior to the season being suspended — recording four assists over those five games but finishing without a goal in 28 total games during his draft year (registering 15 assists). With Moose Jaw missing the WHL playoffs, Hunt would have surely been named to Canada’s roster for the U18 worlds and could have lived up to that first-round billing from Central Scouting. It would have been a chance for Hunt to play with a more talented supporting cast, giving scouts a better glimpse of his upside.
7) Ryan O’Rourke (LD, Canada, Sault Ste. Marie OHL)
MARCH RANKING: 38
ANALYSIS: O’Rourke may have been named Canada’s captain and certainly would have played a leading role at the U18 worlds. He would have been Canada’s top blueliner on paper — projected to log big minutes in all situations and perhaps rising into the first round with positive results. O’Rourke rose to the occasion at the CHL Top Prospects Game — boosting his stock there — but was limited to a regular shift in sharing the spotlight with his peers. At the U18 worlds, O’Rourke could have been the go-to guy for Canada as a real workhorse.
8) Daniel Ljungman (LC, Sweden, Linkoping J20)
MARCH RANKING: 70
ANALYSIS: Ljungman looked like a first-rounder at the Hlinka — emerging as one of that tournament’s breakout stars — but lost his lustre over the course of the season, only scoring 10 goals in 40 games. His lack of success in the Swedish junior league had many questioning whether that Hlinka performance was a fluke — being a small sample size in a short tournament — so the U18 worlds were looming large for Ljungman. He would have been eager to prove his worth again — to prove he ranks right up there with the best prospects in this draft class. The Hlinka was a long time ago and some have seemingly forgotten just how impressive Ljungman was there, but had he repeated those heroics at the U18 worlds, Ljungman would have been thrust back into the first-round conversation. The aforementioned Broberg is a testament to that, having punched his first-round ticket at the two under-18 tourneys.
9) Alexander Pashin (RW, Russia, Tolpar Ufa MHL)
MARCH RANKING: 24
ANALYSIS: Pashin had a pretty stellar season, all in all, but scouts may not remember his dominance from the Hlinka. That is no longer top of mind, so the U18 worlds could have served as a reminder of Pashin’s elite talent. I have been bullish on him since October and he never fell out of the first round for me (40 in preseason, then 18, 20, 21, 21, 19, now 24). I remain much higher on Pashin than most public rankings — he has, admittedly, become a personal favourite from this draft class — and I stand by the Artemi Panarin comparison. Time will tell, but it’s too bad the rest of the hockey world won’t get to judge for themselves at the U18 worlds.
10) Entire NTDP Roster (Team USA)
ANALYSIS: The U18 worlds are always a key showcase for The Program since they skip the Hlinka, but they were also slated to host in Michigan. This year’s NTDP team pales in comparison to last year’s powerhouse, but I’m convinced there are going to be steals from this roster in 2020 — even more convinced now that this tournament isn’t taking place. Without that best-on-best measuring stick, I feel a number of NTDP prospects are flying under the radar — for me and presumably for everybody. Some of those prospects have underachieved this season for whatever reasons, posting stat-lines that leave a lot to be desired and thus keeping them further down the rankings.
For the record, I have 10 NTDPers in my top 100 and 13 in my top 150 but only one in my first round and just two in my top 50. I have 14 in my top 300 for March, so there could be double-digits drafted from The Program again. As for who will be the steals among that group, your guess is as good as mine because I was saving much of my NTDP scouting for the U18 worlds as per usual. I typically watch the Americans closer than any team at that tournament and now I’ll be scrambling for additional film and footage of the NTDP kids during these unprecedented times. That list, as it stands today, is comprised of: Jake Sanderson (15), Thomas Bordeleau (36), Ty Smilanic (60), Luke Tuch (61), Tyler Kleven (62), Brett Berard (73), Drew Commesso (75), Dylan Peterson (80), Brock Faber (96), Landon Slaggert (97), Chase Yoder (128), Eamon Powell (129) and Jacob Truscott (150), plus honourable mention Owen Gallatin (273). There are going to be some good NHLers beyond those top two.
NOTE: Here are eight more prospects that had a lot to gain at the under-18 worlds.
Marat Khusnutdinov (LC, Russia, SKA-1946 St. Petersburg MHL)
MARCH RANKING: 41
Daniel Torgersson (RW, Sweden, Frolunda J20)
MARCH RANKING: 72
Roby Jarventie (RW, Finland, Ilves Liiga)
MARCH RANKING: 106
Martin Chromiak (LW, Slovakia, Kingston OHL)
MARCH RANKING: 32
Kasper Simontaival (RW, Finland, Tappara Liiga)
MARCH RANKING: 44
Juuso Maenpaa (LC, Finland, Jokerit U20)
MARCH RANKING: 92
Jacob Perreault (RW/RC, Canada/USA, Sarnia OHL)
MARCH RANKING: 37
Brandon Coe (RW, Canada, North Bay OHL)
MARCH RANKING: 79
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Larry Fisher is a senior writer and head scout for The Hockey Writers, having been an at-large contributor for THW since August 2014. Fisher covers both the NHL and the WHL, specializing in prospects and NHL draft content, including his annual mock drafts that date back to 2012. Fisher has also been a beat writer for the WHL’s Kelowna Rockets since 2008, formerly working as a sports reporter/editor for The Daily Courier in Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada from 2008-2019. Follow him on Twitter: @LarryFisher_KDC.