It was a very entertaining week of junior hockey as the World U18 Championship came to a thrilling end. Sweden managed to come out on top and win gold over a dominant United States team 6-4, but the talent was on full display from the opening puck drop.
The tournament was a great opportunity for players eligible for the upcoming 2022 NHL Draft to impress the scouts and more importantly, improve their draft stock. There were many names to take note of, but here are five players that made an immediate impact and improved their worth come draft day.
Jiri Kulich- Czechia
Central Scouting ranking: 22nd (among EU skaters)
If you didn’t know who Jiri Kulich was before this tournament, you should be very familiar with him right now.
Related: THW 2022 NHL Draft Guide
Kulich had a dominating performance for Czechia helping them to a fourth-place finish. Slated to possibly be a late first or early second-round selection, he appears to have cemented himself as a top-25 prospect. He led the tournament in goals with nine and power play goals with seven, while finishing third in points with 11. He was extremely dynamic with his offensive skillset and powerful shot as he was always a target on his off-wing for a shot.
A strong two-way centreman, Kulich was an offensive catalyst every time he was on the ice along with 2023 NHL prospect Eduard Sale. When you needed a critical goal in the game, you wanted the puck on Kulich’s stick as he came up clutch every time. He registered a hat trick and an assist against Canada, including the game winner. He always plays with a ton of energy and he has a strong motor offensively. He was extremely noticeable with his reads away from the puck, as he was always a factor on the forecheck and made smart plays in the neutral and defensive zone.
His play and production landed him tournament MVP and on the All-Star Team. Not a bad way to improve your draft stock.
Isaac Howard- United States
Central Scouting: 12th (among NA skaters)
Right from the beginning of the tournament against Team Canada, Isaac Howard was an immediate standout kicking things off with an impressive four-goal game. From that point on, he didn’t slow down as he went on to finish the tournament with 11 points in six games and a silver medal.
Howard displayed what makes a him a true threat and highly touted name in this draft. He was able to find the open lanes and create space to unleash his wicked shot off in the high danger area. He was hard to contain in transition with his speed and impressive puck handling skills and was constantly finding the open ice to maintain possession and locate his teammates.
There were questions about Howards’ play away from the puck and defensive positioning as he slipped in some rankings. However, at this tournament he did seem to improve in that aspect as he did a better job to help out in his own end and provided support when he didn’t have the puck. The offensive game has always been there, but needs to find that same aggressive play defensively as he does offensively. Overall, the offensive game is a reason why he continues to impress and improve his value.
Noah Östlund- Sweden
Central Scouting: 25th (among EU skaters)
I could’ve picked Jonathan Lekkerimäki or Liam Öhgren, but Noah Östlund was a major standout from that Djurgården line that was phenomenal in their gold medal performance. Ranked inside the top-30 among European skaters by Central Scouting, Östlund should be ranked higher when the new rankings come out.
Östlund was absolutely dynamic during the U18s with 10 points in six games, as he dictated the pace of play extremely well and displayed excellent awareness and vision. When the puck was on his stick, he was dancing around everyone, showing off his excellent handling and control. He made a number of highlight reel moves, but none were more important than this goal in the finals.
Östlund is an extremely skilled and highly creative playmaker, but he went into shooting mode with four goals in the tournament, close to half of his goal production in the Nationell league in Sweden. He’s always in motion and playing with a level of pace and work ethic. He displayed great awareness as he was always in the right place at the right time for a scoring opportunity to unfold. Now that he may have found that goal scoring potential like Lekkerimäki and Öhgren, Östlund’s stock definitely will rise.
Mattias Hävelid- Sweden
Central Scouting: 43rd (among EU skaters)
Viewed as a possible second or even third-round selection before the tournament, Mattias Hävelid definitely made a lasting impression at this tournament.
Hävelid was a major factor at even strength and on the power play with his mobility, speed and offensive skillset. He displayed excellent patience and vision with his passing and isn’t afraid to throw the puck on net. He led all defenseman in tournament scoring with 12 points, including three assists in the gold medal game to help Sweden knock off the United States.
Julian Lutz- Germany
Central Scouting: 33rd (among EU skaters)
Out of all the draft eligible players in this tournament, no one needed to have a standout tournament more than Julian Lutz. Viewed as a possible first rounder heading into the season, he missed substantial time in his draft year due to injury. He returned in February and was made available for the U18 Championship.
While Germany was in tough to go past the quarter-finals, Lutz made his presence felt on the scoresheet, as he finished the tournament with two goals and four points in four games. The production was there as well as his power forward game as he likes to be engaged on the forecheck. He has an excellent size to shield and protect the puck. He was quick in transition with his skating and was extremely dangerous when getting into the open lane for a shot.
Although it’s been a rough season for Lutz, he did quite a bit to improve his stock in a short amount of time.
Who do you think impressed and improved their draft stock? Have your say in the comment section.
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Peter is in his third year with The Hockey Writers, covering the Toronto Maple Leafs and heading the Draft and Prospects section. He has previously interned at The Hockey News and worked on Toronto Marlies broadcasts for Rogers TV. He currently is the co-host of the podcast Sticks in the 6ix and a frequent guest on Maple Leafs Lounge. Aside from hockey, he also enjoys drumming, animation and impressions/ voices.