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 Latvian roster was overmatched as were the other four bottom of the standing teams against the powerhouse nations like Canada, USA, Sweden, and Finland. The Latvian crew did manage to claw their way to an eighth-place finish meaning they will be back for the 2025 tournament.

Here are some player reports from our Joseph Stanislau on the Latvian U18 players that stood out.

14# Olivers Murnieks, C, 6’1, 181 lb, born 31.07.2008 (HK MOGO)

Murnieks  has put up 3 points in 5 games with 2 assists. He is growing into his frame early on in this phase of his hockey career for team Latvia. He could grow to be a similar player to Juraj Slafkovsky in a few years where he is a really good power forward, strong as an ox, and already has the nose for the net. Olivers defends his own zone better than kids his age minus the -5 in plus minus on the Latvian national team. He forechecks really well and at this early on in his life he looks like a 3rd line center, but he’s only going to get better and could easily become a really solid 2nd line centerman as he progresses. Versus Finland and Slovakia he played over 20 minutes a game getting 1 goal and 1 assist and Slovakia was a team that failed to medal in the Bronze medal game. So the upside is absolutely there and could definitely build into something special overtime.

8# Oskars Nyls Briedis, D, 6’3, 183 lb, born 10.07.2006 (HS Riga 17)

Oskars played big in the corners like a true stay at home defenseman and did a magnificent job clogging the neutral zone being part of a defensive trap scheme. He did a tremendous job tying up his opponents sticks along the crease and played really sound, being able to skate well via the neutral zone to the offensive zone, and did a good job covering open lanes. He plays 15 to 16 minutes a game and could easily fit into a teams defensive structure easily and would do well playing in the AHL for a little bit before he takes on a bigger role in the NHL.

#15 Maksims Haritoncevs, F, 5’11, 161 lb, 27.07.2006 (Mora IK J18)

Maksims for a very young forward has had very good reads on the cycle via the power play. He knew how to isolate himself a bit and moved in from the blueline to the point with a wrist shot for a power play goal. He had 3 points (2 assists) in 4 games, and played well against Slovakia and the USA where he got his big points. He is a strong competitor going up against some of the strongest teams in the tournament that went off to medal games. So anyone looking for a strong competitive player on forward would be very fortunate to have him in their farm system.

#1 Mikus Vecvanags, GK, 6’3, 159, 17.01.2006 (HS RIGA 17)

There was some adversity Mikus had to deal with versus a soon to be silver medal USA roster stacked with studs who were precision like passers, and snipers. He bounced back immensely using his mechanics, and his really quick recovery, and his rebound control improved against Canada after a let down 2 games before against the Americans. If Mikus had some goal support versus Canada, Vecvanags had the ability to steal a game from the soon to be Canadian national team. The big game he had before in a win was against Slovakia in a 5-3 win and he was not given goal support in the first half of the game but in the last half because of his fast edges, positioning, and taking up as much net coverage gave his defense a lot of breathing room to follow suit. He is a big goalie, but he needs to add some more muscle to his lower and mid section so that way he can keep covering that lower third on the ice where he has done an amazing job poking pucks away, and keeping that five hole covered.

#25 Darels Uljanskis, D, 6’2, 192 lb, 25.08.2006 (AIK J20)

Darels logged an average time on ice of over 23:26 playing key defensive roles for Team Latvia at the U18 men’s tournament in Finland. He averaged 1 hit a game and over 2.6 blocked shots on average in a span of 5 games for Latvia for every 3 shots on net out of 5 attempts he took during that span. Uljanskis likes to keep the pace of play going for his team and is very responsible in his own zone. He is a good sized defenseman and is a very reliable defender with a really big reach and with that he does a really good job boxing out opponents. He is a very undervalued defenseman and he definitely could serve as a 2-way defenseman as he molds into a rock solid player for any team that acquires him.


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