By DraftPro Staff

The IIHF World U18 Hockey Championships just wrapped up last week in Espoo and Vantaa Finland, and was a scouting hotspot as a last big event for NHL staffs who are charged with evaluating the next wave of NHL talent.

There were some bright spots for the upcoming 2024 NHL draft that stood out and some future draft eligibles that really grabbed the spotlight. In this ten-part series we will look at each team entry and provide some review of prospects, how they performed and how their performance might have affected their draft stock. We will start with the last place team, Kazakhstan, and work our way through to the gold medal winning Canadian squad.

The Canadian roster was driven by underage performers and future NHL stars who are still a year or two out from being NHL Draft eligible. While not all difference making performances were from the underage contributors, plenty of 2024 NHL Draft eligibles also stepped up and made differences as the Canadians captured gold in Finland.  

Here are some player reports from our Liam Staples on the Canadian U18 players that stood out.

#9 F Gavin McKenna, Medicine Hat Tigers (WHL), 6’0” 165 L. 20-12-2007

Heading into the tournament Gavin McKenna was a highly touted household name in the Western Hockey League (WHL) but by tournament’s end Gavin McKenna made his presence known on the International stage leaving scouts enthralled, eagerly having to wait in anticipation to draft Gavin McKenna. McKenna was Canada’s best player at the tournament and performed at his best when the moments mattered most. McKenna finished with 10 goals, 10 assists for 20 points in 7 games at the tournament, just two points behind American standout, James Hagens, for the tournament lead. The remarkable accomplishments McKenna achieved at this years U18 tournament become even more impressive by the fact that McKenna dominated a tournament meant for draft-eligible 17 year olds, McKenna aged 16 is considered a “double under-ager”, meaning he is not draft eligible until the 2026 NHL Draft, as he has a late 2007 December Birthday. He is a dynamic skater with a natural smooth straight-line stride. He excels playing at top speed with excellent control of the puck. His great edgework ability allows him to dodge opponents and move laterally without losing control. Gavin thinks the game at an elite level, he anticipates plays before they happen at an advanced level. As Canada progressed through the knockout stages, Gavin grew to become more of a leader on the ice for Canada, driving the play offensively, leading zone entries and became the player his defenceman would pass the puck to, to calm the storm in the defensive end and exit the zone in transition. McKenna saved his best performance for the gold medal game against the highly-skilled, favoured American side. Being heavily outshot and dominated in the possession game through the first half of the game. McKenna gave Canada life capitalizing on power play advantages with timely goals and stamped his performance with the empty net insurance goal for Canada to complete the hat-trick and secure the gold medal for Canada. McKenna’s skillset, skating and hockey IQ are at elite levels. If hockey fans were unaware of who Gavin McKenna was before the tournament, the Yukon native from Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in First Nation (Whitehorse) certainly is a player everyone needs to watch now.

#24 F Tij Iginla, Kelowna (WHL), 6’0” 185 L. 04-08-2006

Slotted on the forward line alongside Jett Luchanko and Ryder Ritchie. Iginla was strong on the puck, resilient and found ways to get his stick on pucks. When sizing up against his opponent to protect the puck, he was effective at opening up his skating gait by widening his stance, to distribute the strength in his lower body making it more difficult for opponents to knock him off the puck, by opening up his gait it provided that needed additional time and space for Iginla to find his teammates and make a play. This may sound familiar but Tij is an Iginla who likes to score goals. Iginla finished third in total points on the team with 12 points, 6 goals and 6 assists, in 7 games. Iginla averaged just below 4 shots per game in the tournament, about one shot less than his shots per game in the WHL this past season. Iginla elevated his game during the knockout stages of the tournament, recording 7 of his 12 points in the final 3 games, including the eventual game winning goal in the gold medal game against the United States. The gold medal winning tradition continues to run in the Iginla family, like his father Jarome, Tij carries a gold medal for Team Canada.

#30 G Carter George, Owen Sound (OHL), 6’1” 185 L. 20-05-2006

The crease for Canada’s number one goalie belonged to Carter George. The Canadian goalkeeper was insurmountable in his performance backstopping Canada to the gold medal. George finished the tournament with a .914 save percentage and 2.33 Goals-Against Average in the tournament. George was named a Tournament All-Star and awarded as the Best Goalie of the tournament. His reaction time was superb in the gold medal game against the United States. The Americans were a team that likes to move the puck quickly, maintain possession through cycles and timely passes and use the threat of deception through shot fakes and outlook passes to get goalies to react and move out of position. George managed to weather the storm for Canada, making key saves and remaining composed when being bombarded with shots by the Americans. Down by two goals and being outshot by close to 20 shots in the second period, George quite literally saved the game for Canada by making an acrobatic stick save on the goal-line to deny USA forward James Hagens from putting a stranglehold on the game by pushing the game to 4-1. George stayed square to shooters by getting to the top of his crease to make saves. There were moments when George was scrambly in his crease after having to recover from multiple shot attempts in close but he kept his composure and did not lose sight of the puck. George’s performance was remarkable throughout the entirety of the tournament. George played like how a NHL playoff goalie is expected to perform, play well enough to make timely saves, keep your team in the hockey game and possibly steal a victory for your team when it matters most and George certainly lived up to that.

#22 F Porter Martone, Mississauga (OHL), 6’3” 170 R. 26-10-2006

Martone was named captain and the only returnee for Canada at the tournament. Playing on a line with Gavin McKenna (Medicine Hat) and Caleb Desnoyers (Moncton), all three forwards are not eligible until the 2025 and 2026 NHL Draft. Martone is not draft eligible until 2025 because he was born with a late 2006 birthday. The combination of skill and size Martone possesses was too much for defenders throughout the tournament. Watching Martone with the puck, he draws in multiple defenders to challenge him for the puck forcing the defence to collapse and create valuable open space for his teammates in the offensive zone. Martone is so effective at shielding the puck with his size and thoroughly understands how to use his body to gain advantages on the ice. Martone plays similar to a power forward; he finishes his checks, he hunts down pucks and uses his body to create offence. Yet, his skill with the puck is his strongest trait. Martone was a perfect fit for a top line with McKenna and Desnoyers, players that create offence using speed and quick in transition, Martone was so effective for this line because he utilized his size to create space on the ice for McKenna, who is so dangerous playing with speed and open space, and Martone possesses great passing ability that allowed him dish pucks out into open space for teammates in high danger scoring areas.  Martone finished the tournament with 17 points, 5 goals and 12 assists in 7 games. He possesses a strong shot, capable of scoring from distance and great hand-eye coordination, he keeps plays alive in the offensive zone by batting down pucks out of the air and even scored a goal against Kazakhstan by batting the puck out of the air. Important to consider, Martone recorded secondary assists in the semi-final and gold medal game. Although secondary assists are not always praised as much as primary assists by some, His effort on the assists should be noted as Martone started the scoring play and through his effective passing and puck protection, it led to significant goals for Canada in the respected hockey games. Martone is projected as a top prospect for the 2025 NHL Draft and will be a key player for a highly competitive Steelheads team aiming to make an OHL Championship run next season.

#8 D Frankie Marrelli, Ottawa (OHL), 5’11” 185 L. 16-02-2006

Paired with Ottawa 67’s teammate Henry Mews. Marrelli was a key piece on Canada’s backend who all played an excellent tournament. The defensive pairings on this Canadian roster, you could pick and choose who stood out to you and make a case for every player but Marrelli was a player who really stood out defensively in the tournament. Marrelli accepted his role of shut down duties as one of Canada’s defensive defenceman. Marrelli was excellent in his own zone occupying skating lanes pushing opponents to take further lanes to the puck. Marrelli was dependent upon on the penalty kill and shutting down the opposition’s best players. Marrelli maintained excellent gap control, eliminating his man from the play at the blue line by using perfectly timed stick checks and physical play. There were instances when Marrelli and his partner needed to play closer together to close down the middle of the ice, the pairing got burned a few times by opponents using speed to split through the pair for a breakaway. Marrelli was smart with his decisions when pinch in the offensive zone, he was rewarded with his lone assist of the tournament for his efforts on a pinched play against Sweden in the semi-final. Marrelli managed puck retrievals well and made smart passing decisions on zone exits. Marrelli inherited physicality well, he committed to blocking shots consistently, he boxed out opponents in front of the net and provided support for his partner along the wall. When it came to defending one-on-one situations against highly skilled, elite goal scoring forwards like USA forward Cole Eiserman, Marrelli played physical, using his body and strength to separate his man from and puck, completely eliminating them from the play. Marrelli was great with puck protection along the boards, shielding the puck with his body allowing no chance for his opponent to win back the puck. Marrelli was correctly pinning his opponent to the boards through proper body positioning, not allowing his opponent to escape with the puck. Marrelli was a key piece in Canada’s defensive core in the tournament. 

#4 D Harrison Brunicke, Kamloops (WHL), 6’3” 187 R. 08-05-2006

Brunicke was another standout on Canada’s blueline for his defensive efforts throughout the tournament. A tall right-handed shot defensive-defenceman Brunicke performed well to everything that is expected from a defensive-defenceman. Brunicke played an important role on Canada’s penalty kill, often paired with Frankie Marrelli on the penalty kill. Brunicke was quick to close the gap on his opponents, eliminating their time and space forcing turnovers or dump-in. Brunicke managed puck retrievals well, made smart passes to teammates and utilized his stick to knock pucks loose and obstruct passing lanes. The physical aspects noticeable in his game was how he used his strength to spin out his opponents, altering their momentum and direction effectively removing them out of the play. Brunicke was a committed shot blocker and boxed out opponents, clearing the front of the net. For a defenceman that played a more defensive role, Brunicke achieved four points in the tournament with one goal and three assists and led the Canadian defence with a +11 rating.

#5 D Henry Mews, Ottawa (OHL), 6’0” 185 R. 09-03-2006

Mews was the catalyst offensively on Canada’s blueline activating in on the rush and contributing offensively. Paired up with his Ottawa 67’s teammate, Frankie Marrelli, Mews served as another passing option for his partner during breakouts. The 67’s defence pair worked well together, building on their chemistry and understanding each other’s playing habits. Marrelli plays more defensively and prefers to move the puck, Mews plays more offensively, preferring to carry the puck more often and quarterback the offence from the blueline. Watching Mews play, he would leave you amazed with his decision making, for example, he baited forwards in to come pressure him in the corner below his own goal-line, once they committed to pressuring, he opened up his skating gait and used his edges to twist and turn his opponents around and break free, carrying the puck out of the zone. His skating agility is certainly impressive but the risks he would take in the defensive zone could easily cause negative consequences if the risk does not pay off. He played well defensively overall. He did not give up too much space after activating into the play. He was able to recover back defensively through his skating. He made smooth passes consistently. Mews finished with the most points on the Canadian blueline with 7 points, 2 goals and 5 assists, in the tournament. 

Photos courtesy IIHF.com


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