Team USA won the world under-18s in Finland, which is really no surprise because the Americans are always the favorite. What was surprising however, is that they didn’t play Canada in the final: the Czechs took out the Canucks in the semis, earning a silver medal and putting the national program on a new positive track after some dark years. Here’s a look at some of the noteworthy players from that tournament and from around the world of prospects.
Haydn Fleury, D – Red Deer Rebels (WHL)
A veteran of Canada’s gold-medal summer team at the Ivan Hlinka tournament, Fleury reprised his anchor role on the blueline at the under-18s and was named top defenseman for his efforts, playing on a pairing with Kingston’s Roland McKeown.
“We were together at the Ivan Hlinka too, so we’re familiar, Fleury said. “You like to have that in a short tournament.”
Both defensemen are big puckmovers and will likely be two of the first blueliners taken in the draft, once Aaron Ekblad is off the board. Fleury was a stalwart for the Western League’s Rebels this season and the team lost a heartbreaking tiebreak game with Prince Albert, missing the playoffs as a result. Still, the defenseman stood out in his draft year.
“It went well personally, but our team struggled at times,” he said. “We were a bit inconsistent, especially on home ice. So we’d like to change that up next year and hopefully have a good team.”
Since defensemen take a bit longer to develop, Fleury will likely be back in Alberta for 2014-15, even if he goes in the top 10. But he’s got an NHL-caliber bench boss working with him in Brent Sutter, who could also coach the Saskatchewan native at the world juniors.
“He treats all of us like pros and that’s how it should be,” Fleury said. “We all want to get to the next level and if he treats us like that, we’re already ahead.”
Big, mobile and strong, Fleury is the most likely of the Rebels to hit that next level in an impactful way. Draft eligible in 2014.
Jakub Vrana, C – Linkoping (SHL)
Vrana was an absolute force at the under-18s, racking up eight goals and 10 points in seven games. Scouts thought he would play more Swedish League and less junior this year, but a special mid-season conditioning program took his skating up a notch and got his confidence back. As he showed in Finland, his sniping ability is back and it is deadly. Draft eligible in 2014.
Dylan Larkin, C – U.S. NTDP (USHL)
Anchoring the second line for Team USA at the under-18s, Larkin chipped in four points in six games, but his overall value goes beyond the scoreboard. Scouts love the University of Michigan commit for his speed, strength and work ethic – they feel he’ll be a no-doubt NHLer in the future and a leader. Draft eligible in 2014.
Willie Nylander, C – Modo (SHL)
Whomping the Finns 10-0 certainly didn’t hurt Nylander’s numbers, as Michael’s kid posted four in the rout and finished the under-18s with 16 points in seven games. That was tops in the tournament and did nothing to dispel the notion that Nylander is one of the most dynamic players in the draft and one who can make plays at high speeds. Draft eligible in 2014.
Jack Dougherty, D – U.S. NTDP (USHL)
A solid two-way defender for the gold medalists, the University of Wisconsin commit always seems to get his point shot through to the net, whether it’s on a wire or a simple wrister with eyes. Dougherty opened the scoring for the Americans in the Czech game and they never looked back. Draft eligible in 2014.
Antoine Bibeau, G – Val-d’Or Foreurs (QMJHL)
The Foreurs head into Game 7 with the equally potent Halifax Mooseheads and Bibeau will have to be sharp. Even though he gave up five goals in a 7-5 Game 6 win, the big netminder also stopped 38. Overall, he’s winning the goaltending duel with Montreal pick Zach Fucale. Drafted 172nd overall by Toronto in 2013.
Oliver Bjorkstrand, RW – Portland Winterhawks (WHL)
Once again, it’s Portland and Edmonton vying for the WHL crown and there will be a lot of weapons on display. The Winterhawks are led offensively by Bjorkstrand, the top post-season scorer in the ‘Dub’ with 15 goals and 28 points in 14 games. The smart and gutsy Dane may be skinny, but he gets the job done out there. Drafted 89th overall by Columbus in 2013.
Michael Amadio, C – North Bay Battalion (OHL)
Living up to the name, the Battalion moves as one under coach Stan Butler, so the individual accolades are tougher to come by. But Amadio is helping his draft stock immensely in North Bay’s incredible playoff run, running the second line and playing an effective two-way game with plenty of physicality. Draft eligible in 2014.
Mark Friedman, D – Waterloo Black Hawks (USHL)
The Hawks and Indiana Ice appear to be on a collision course for the United States League final and Friedman will have to be good for Waterloo. The Bowling Green commit provides offense from the blueline and has been a solid contributor with six assists in five games. Smart and slick-skating, he has also been great on the power play. Draft eligible in 2014.
Brett Pollock, C – Edmonton Oil Kings (WHL)
On a talented team, Pollock is having a coming-out party with 17 points in 14 playoff games. His size is a definite plus, as the pivot is 6-foot-2 with room to fill out, plus he has a slick pair of mitts. And even with his height, Pollock knows how to find the quiet scoring areas in the offensive zone. Draft eligible in 2014.