While most hockey fans are tuned in to the Stanley Cup playoffs, some of the best draft-eligible players are showing off their skills to legions of scouts at the world under-18s in Finland. The semifinal matches have been set for Saturday, with Canada taking on the Czech Republic and Team USA facing Sweden. Here’s a little catch-up on the action so far.
Willie Nylander is on fire: Sweden beat archrival Finland 10-0 in the quarterfinal in Finland, which is as bad a beatdown as I can ever think of between two countries that are usually well-matched. Willie Nylander, who will most likely be the first European taken in the draft this summer, had four points in the demolition and leads the tournament with 15 points in just five games. He’s a highlight-reel winger and the son of ex-NHLer Michael Nylander.
Jack Eichel continues to impress: The Boston University commit will challenge Connor McDavid for No. 1 overall in 2015 and is leading the Americans in scoring with eight points through five games. He’s a dominating center who has flanked 2014 prospects Sonny Milano and Alex Tuch this year with the U.S. National Team Development Program and that trio leads the Americans in Finland, too.
Travis Konecny saved Canada: The Canucks faced off against those pesky Swiss in the quarterfinal and thanks to fast-rising 2014 prospect Kevin Fiala, the game went to overtime. That’s when Konecny saved Canada’s tournament with the winning goal. The gritty and talented center was the first overall pick in last year’s OHL draft and currently stars for the Ottawa 67’s. He’s draft eligible in 2015 and looks like a top-15 pick, since he’s a bit undersized. But if he continues to play the way he has, he could easily sneak into the top-10 of a loaded class.
Defenseman Travis Sanheim of the Calgary Hitmen has also been clutch, chipping in five assists in as many games. One of the those helpers got Canada on the board against Switzerland, while a second led to Konecny’s winner. Sanheim has been blazing up the draft charts lately and it will be interesting to see how high the 6-foot-3 mobile blueliner ends up going in June.
The Czechs are actually good: Notice how I haven’t mentioned Russia yet? That’s because they bombed out of the tournament in the quarters to the rival Czechs. The Russians actually had a penalty shot early in overtime, but couldn’t convert. That left the door open for the speedy and sharpshooting Jakub Vrana to win it for the Czechs minutes later. Vrana is one of several 2014 prospects having an excellent run for the Czechs, with Vaclav Karabacek, David Pastrnak and Dominik Masin joining him. Pavel Zacha, a top-10 prospect for 2015, is also playing very well.