The 2022 IIHF U18 World Championship starts on Saturday (April 23) in Germany and once again Team Canada will be a tough team to beat. The reigning 2021 champions will have future superstars and 2023 Draft eligibles Connor Bedard and Adam Fantilli as a one-two punch at center ice and projected 2022 first-rounders Owen Pickering and David Goyette on hand as well. But what’s the most impressive about this bunch is the number of players that will be hailing from the Western Hockey League (WHL) and one team, in particular, the Swift Current Broncos. In total, the league has 13 representatives going overseas (12 for Canada, one for Germany) and seven of them played for the Broncos this season.
Related: THW 2022 NHL Draft Guide
As a team, the Broncos did not have a good season going 26-35-5-2 and missing the playoffs by two points. They ended 2021-22 tied with the Calgary Hitmen and Regina Pats, who both had 59 points. Having said that, they did have some standout performances from 2022 Draft-eligibles Mathew Ward (57 points in 64 games), Josh Filmon (45 points in 67 games) and the aforementioned Pickering (33 points in 62 games). Goaltender Reid Dyck also was impressive at the recent CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game where he had a 23-save shutout for Team Red after taking over for Ivan Zhigalov in the second period, who had allowed Team White’s first three goals. All-in-all, some great individual success, even though the team couldn’t translate it into a playoff berth.
So with all that said, let’s take a closer look at the six players from the Broncos that were selected to help defend the gold medal Team Canada received in 2021 when they prevailed 5-3 over the Russians.
Undersized at 5-foot-8, 157 pounds, Ward has always been underestimated as a threat to make it anywhere in the game of hockey. Though, like many players with his physical attributes, that hasn’t deterred him one bit. One of the hardest-working players on the ice at any given moment, you wouldn’t know he was 5-foot-8 by the way he plays. He isn’t afraid of the dirty areas and he doesn’t shy away from throwing checks himself, despite his size.
“I think when you just look at me, people see I’m small, but I think I play bigger than how I look,” Ward told Guy Flaming during their interview on The Pipeline Show. “I’m not scared to get in the corners, cause I think I’m a competitive guy, obviously with some skill. I’m a good playmaker, but also I’m not just a straight playmaker, I think I have some touch around the net and can score goals as well.”
Ranked as high as 58th by Draft Prospects Hockey and 77th by TSN’s Craig Button, Ward is projected to go somewhere in the second or third round. In my latest April rankings, I have him going early in the third round at 68th, while my colleague Andrew Forbes has him later at 92nd. The head of prospects coverage here at THW, Peter Baracchini, does not have him ranked in his most recent top-96. However, if Ward impresses at this tournament, look for that to change.
Joining Ward as a 2022 Draft eligible is the 6-foot-2, 159-pound Filmon, who burst onto the scene this year as a scoring threat after only two goals in 17 games during the shortened 2020-21 campaign. The now 18-year-old had a career-high 23 goals and 45 points in 67 games this season and was also a noticeable player at the CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game in March.
A well-rounded player with the potential to be a power forward in the NHL, Filmon still needs to fill out before he turns pro. However, the raw skills he has are definitely worth a look at in the later rounds. Overall, the consensus among scouts is that he does a lot of things well, just nothing that really stands out as being exceptional.
“He [Filmon] doesn’t have one true standout trait, but he brings a nice blend of size, skating, shooting, puck control, and playmaking. There is a lot of versatility to his game, as he is able to make a difference in his shifts in a number of different ways” – Derek Neumeier, FC Hockey (from ‘Josh Filmon Player Report – Swift Current vs. Calgary’, FC Hockey, 4/18/22).
Ranked 74th by Button and 51st among North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting, Filmon could find himself as a late third, or early fourth-round pick depending on what teams need in their system. A good performance at the U18s might push that stock up a bit too. With his frame and well-rounded game, he could become a good third/fourth liner in the NHL that pots 10-15 goals a season while providing versatility in the bottom six.
Touted as one of the fastest skaters of the 2022 Draft class by FC Hockey’s Derek Neumeier, Davies packs a lot of skill into his 5-foot-10, 196-pound frame. With his exceptional speed and acceleration, he’s usually one of the first players in on the forecheck and can create a lot of havoc in the offensive zone with not only his skating and puck control but also his tendency to be a pest. While his size limits the effectiveness of his physicality, he can get under the skin of his opponents at times which usually gets him into trouble with the referees. With 119 penalty minutes in 64 games, he will have to address that as he moves up the ranks (from ‘Joshua Davies Player Report – Swift Current vs. Calgary’, FC Hockey, 4/18/22).
Having said that, guys like Brad Marchand thrive in the NHL by living on the edge, so Davies might not want to completely eliminate that from his game. At 5-foot-9, 181 pounds, Marchand is arguably one of the best players in the league, and Davies has a lot of those same attributes. Currently unranked by many outlets, he has a chance at boosting his draft stock at the U18s if he can use his speed and feistiness to his advantage and draw opponents into taking penalties for what promises to be a very potent Team Canada power play to capitalize on.
Connor Hvidston was impressive in his first go-around in the WHL as the 17-year-old Tisdale, SK native finished the season with a solid 13 goals and 32 points in 58 games. While he won’t be the biggest Connor playing in this tournament (that of course being Bedard), this will give him a chance to open the eyes of more scouts as everyone gets prepared for the 2022 Draft in July.
Selected 133rd overall by the Broncos in the 2019 WHL Bantam Draft and ninth overall by the Melfort Mustangs in the SJHL Bantam Draft, Hvidston played for the Yorkton Maulers U18 AAA team in SMAAAHL during the 2020-21 season where he had 12 points in seven games. Transitioning to the WHL in 2021-22, he started his career with a bang with his first WHL point in his first WHL game when he recorded an assist in his team’s 2-0 shutout win against the Medicine Hat Tigers on Oct. 1, 2021. He then followed that up with his first goal 18 days later against those same Tigers in a 5-4 overtime loss.
Joining Seattle Thunderbirds’ defenceman Kevin Korchinski, Pickering has been rocketing up the draft boards recently as well. With most scouting outlets placing him in the mid to late first round, he will be one of the key defenders at this year’s tournament. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if he puts on a similar show that Olen Zellweger did last year when he put up eight points in seven games en route to a gold medal.
Standing at an imposing 6-foot-4, 179 pounds, Pickering has the package every NHL general manager wants on their blue line at some point in their tenure. With size, mobility and a solid two-way game, he definitely has the potential to be a top-four defenseman in the future.
“A towering defenseman at 6-foot-4, Pickering has excellent feet for a player his size and noticeable offensive upside. He effectively carries the puck out of his own zone, acting as a one-man breakout at times, and is very good at carrying it through the neutral zone. Still a raw talent, there are consistency issues in his game, but his talent is undeniable.” – Austin Stanovich, The Hockey Writers
Leading all Bronco defensemen in goals, points and power-play goals, Pickering was one of the many bright spots on a team that didn’t make the playoffs. He still needs some work defensively, especially when it comes to his physicality as a 6-foot-4 defender, but that will come with time and development in an NHL pipeline. Look for him to make a huge impact on Team Canada’s chances to repeat as gold medalists in 2022.
Finally, to close out the Broncos’ Canadian Hockey League (CHL) record of six players with Team Canada at this year’s tournament, Dyck was not on many scouts’ radar when it came to goalies eligible for the 2022 Draft. In fact, he wasn’t even ranked on any lists from the major outlets. NHL Central Scouting currently has him 26th out of 32 North American goaltenders, which is not a positive outlook when it comes to being selected at this year’s draft.
However, after his brilliant performance at this year’s CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game, that may change when the final rankings come out following the Scouting Combine in June. As I mentioned off the top, he was perfect in a period and a half of work, including a sequence in the third period where he stopped three-straight high-danger chances.
“He displayed great movement and was really calm in net since coming in midway through the second period. He tracked the puck extremely well through traffic and didn’t panic when the chances mounted.” – Peter Baracchini, The Hockey Writers
Dyck didn’t have the best season with the Broncos, as he played the role of backup to overager Isaac Poulter, who ended up playing 49 games to his 23. His numbers didn’t sparkle at a 4.26 goals-against average (GAA) and .884 save percentage (SV%), but he did put himself on the map with that great performance against the CHL’s best going into this year’s draft. Depending on his overall role with Team Canada and the pecking order alongside fellow netminders Ethan Buenaventura and Nolan Lalonde, he might have a chance to up his stock even more and get selected in the later rounds where teams feel comfortable taking chances. Who knows, he might just become a Devon Levi (selected 212th overall in 2020) one day.
Broncos Might Not Be at the Bottom For Long
With youngsters like the ones mentioned above, the Broncos might not be hanging out at the bottom of the WHL standings for long. The experience they will receive at this year’s tournament should be invaluable for their development as they play alongside elite up-and-coming talent like Bedard, Fantilli, Goyette, Tanner Howe and the like. Not to mention the coaching they will receive from long-time NHLer and former Vancouver Canucks assistant coach Nolan Baumgartner. Top teams in the WHL would do well to keep an eye on them next season, as they might end up being the bounce-back team of the year.
Other WHL Players at the 2022 U18s
- Connor Bedard, Regina Pats
- Tanner Howe, Regina Pats
- Brayden Schuurman, Victoria Royals
- Kalem Parker, Victoria Royals
- Lukas Drajicevic, Tri-City Americans
- Grayden Siepmann, Calgary Hitmen
- Rayan Bettahar, Swift Current Broncos (Team Germany)
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Matthew Zator is the assistant managing editor at THW and a writer who lives and breathes Vancouver Canucks hockey, the NHL Draft, and prospects in general. He loves talking about young players and their potential. Matthew is a must-read for Canucks fans and fans of the NHL Draft and its prospects. For interview requests or content information, you can follow Matthew through his social media accounts which are listed under his photo at the conclusion of articles like this one about Tyler Motte.
Matthew also co-hosts The Hockey Writers Prospect Corner on YouTube.