There are a lot of players with a lot to prove as the Under-18 World Championship kicked off in Dresden and Crimmitschau, Germany. One player who really seems to be poised to make the most of his increased exposure at the event is Sweden's Mika Zibanejad.
Much has been made of Sweden's strong defensive prospects over the past couple of years and this year is not much different with Adam Larsson and Oscar Klefbom both likely to go in the first round of the NHL draft, but Sweden is producing some forwards who are equally as exciting. Last year at this event, Ludvig Rensfeldt and Johan Larsson stole the show; so far this year Sweden's forwards have been led by Zibanejad.
A talented and technical player, Zibanejad is a big, strong, hard worker who dictates the pace of every shift he plays. He has a rocket shot with a tremendous release and can score from a variety of areas in the offensive zone. His intensity creates a lot of turnovers and it's obvious opposing defenders are aware of his presence on the ice.
Sweden lost a competitive and spirited first game to the surprising Czechs, but rebounded with a blowout of Norway on Day 2. Zibanejad was a man on a mission in this game and led the way with a three-goal and three-assist effort. He paces Sweden's top line and shows excellent chemistry with fellow top prospects Viktor Rask and Jeremy Boyce-Rotevall.
As the tournament progresses, Zibanejad should draw the eyes of almost every scout in attendance as he looks poised to make a huge jump up the rankings of every organization. He has been far from a secret this year, but he continues to impress and will certainly be a big part of what looks to be another big draft for the Swedes.
Ross MacLean is the head scout for International Scouting Services and is considered one of the rising stars of the business. A young, diverse and versatile hockey mind, MacLean leads ISS' network of scouts and puts his domestic and international hockey experience and knowledge towards ranking and providing industry-leading profiles and information on draft eligible players around the world.