The 2016 IIHF U18 World Hockey Championships came to a conclusion Sunday, with Jesse Puljujarvi recording a hat-trick to put a bow on Finlands 6-1 victory over Sweden for the gold medal.
That was enough to cement Puljujarvi’s status as a top prospect in the minds of NHL teams and scouts alike heading into the draft this June. And while he stole the spotlight with his final game showing, there were terrific performances abound from this tournament – including players much lower on the ranking totem pole.
Vancouver Canucks general manager Jim Benning has said in the past that he places a large amount of emphasis on international tournaments when making draft selections. Dmitry Zhukenov, Lukas Jasek and Guillaume Brisebois – all mid-round picks from last year’s draft – had varying amounts of success at the 2015 U18 tournament in Switzerland, but clearly enough to catch Benning’s eye.
With that in mind, it would be good to quickly highlight a few of the ‘lower’ ranked players from this draft class who showed well in North Dakota.
When I thought about these lowly ranked draft prospects that stood out, Quenneville immediately came to mind. The 5’8′, 185 pounds prospect led all defenceman in points with 8, that included 5 goals, which to no one’s surprise also led defenceman. The Edmonton native is a smooth skating, puck moving defenceman who despite his size will use his body to create separation between the puck and attacking players.
If he does make the NHL, that won’t be his calling card though. It will be his offensive abilities, which were on display a few times:
Based on his 55 point season (11-44-55) with the Medicine Hat Tigers, when looking at players who are equal in statistics and stature, there was only one match and it didn’t amount to much of an NHL career. This isn’t a bad thing, as in the past smaller players were often overlooked, where as now defenceman like Jared Spurgeon can make an impact. The key for Quenneville is that he can skate and appears to have a good hockey sense.
Quenneville isn’t someone that I would target early in this draft class, but if he is available in the mid to late rounds, his performance at Grand Forks should be enough of a showing to be worthy of the dice roll.
Janne Kuokkanen (Ranked #20 – EU Skaters)
The highest ranked player of this grouping, Kuokkanen had a good showing after being place on a line with Puljujarrvi. Kuokkanen was ranked 27th amongst European skaters in the mid-season rankings, so his climb up has been going on for some time. Mckeens has a good scouting report on the young Finn:
Quick footed Finn pivot who drove the offensive attack for his nation at the U17s. Capable of holding onto the puck under pressure, Kuokkanen shows an ability to wait for soft spots to open and teammates to arrive. His competitive approach will certainly draw suitors.
What also stuck out to me was Kuokkanen’s hockey sense. Yes, he was playing with one of the highest ranked players in Puljujarvi, but he was still making plays that afforded Puljujarvi his opportunities to succeed. His pass on Puljujarvi’s first goal in the gold medal game was a prime example. Kuokkanen carries the puck for a few strides to allow the winger to get speed, then puts it on Puljujarvi’s tape:
Kuokkanen ended the U18’s with three goals and four assists. He would be someone to keep an eye on in the very late second round or third round in the draft.
Joey Anderson (Ranked #56 – NA Skaters)
Playing with Clayton Keller and Keiffer Bellows, both expected to be top 20 picks this year, helped Anderson’s draft stock. The 5’11” and 190 pounds winger ended the tournament with seven goals and two assists in 9 games. Anderson has generally been ranked in the late second to early third round in mock drafts but after a solid performance in North Dakota, he may have separated himself enough from the rest of that grouping to ensure he doesn’t fall.
His seven goals were tied for the most with two very highly rated 2017 draft eligible players in Eeli Tolvanen and Kailer Yamamoto.
Based on his regular season numbers – when looking at comparable players to Anderson, only 4.5% went onto becoming NHL regulars. Given that the odds are stacked against him for carving out an NHL career. He is committed to Minnesota-Duluth next season, and his performance at the U18 tournament was impressive – so the team selecting him would hope his recent play is a sign of things to come in the NCAA.
So similar to Quenneville, Joey Anderson isn’t someone to target in the early rounds but has improved his stock enough that teams will start to have to look very hard at taking him if still available in the mid rounds.
Jordan Kyrou (Ranked #34 – NA Skaters)
Like Anderson, Jordan Kyrou is in that grouping of players that could go as early as the mid second or fall past the third round. The Sarnia Sting winger (and centre) put up 51 points (17-34-51) in 65 games and then followed that up with 7 points in 7 OHL playoffs games.
He then went to North Dakota and scored five goals and three assists in seven games. His forte is his playmaking abilities, but he showed a few times that he can make his chances count.
When looking at comparable players, once again based on his regular season numbers, 21.3% went onto becoming NHL regulars. That is equal to a mid to late second round pick. The 6’0″ forward will need to put on same weight, as he only weighs 180 lbs, to make it at the next level.
Kyrou has always been a player that has peaked my interest this year and still does. He is one of those players that would be a great compliment to a first round player, and given his comparable number, is worthy of picking any time after the mid second round.
James Greenway (Ranked #121 – NA Skaters)
Younger brother of Minnesota Wild prospect Jordan Greenway, James put up 7 points (1-6-7) in 7 games and was +16. The young left-handed defenceman measures in at 6’4″ and 205 lbs, James is a very good skater for his size and as evidenced by his offensive numbers at the tournament, is no slouch in the attacking zone.
When looking at comparables, 16.7% went onto being NHL regulars. He also caught the eye of TSN’s Craig Button, who had him ranked at 49 in his mid season rankings.
Aapeli Rasanen (Ranked #21 – EU Skaters)
Another young Finn who impressed at the U18, Aapeli Rasanen is currently ranked as the 21st best European skaters by NHL Central scouting. Rasanen has skyrocketed in the rankings, as he was ranked 85th in their mid-season list and may have improved his stock even more after posting 3 goals and 6 assists in 7 games with the gold medal-winning Finland.
The right-handed centre possesses the whole package, he can skate well, he has good awareness and is adept at burying his chances. If he is available for the Canucks or any team for that matter in the late second or early third round, they would be very wise to add him to their prospect pool.
It’s possible that after being selected this June in the draft, that he will play next season in the CHL via the import draft.
It’s possible to go on and on about players who showed well these past two weeks, but the players mentioned above were just some that caught my eye while watching the U18’s. It will be interesting to see if their performances will vault them up in the rankings.
Any of the aforementioned players could easily be snapped up in the mid to late second round and although there might be some raised eyebrows, it wouldn’t be an egregious reach. As always with any prospect, time will tell what happens after they get selected. Their development over the next couple of years will really determine if their performance in North Dakota was just an illusion or a glimpse into the future.
We have less than 60 days until the draft to find out where all these guys go.