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DRAFTPRO – IIHF U18 WORLDS – USA U18 REVIEW

By DraftPro Staff

The U18 World Hockey Championships just wrapped up last week in Frisco, Texas, and was a scouting hotspot in a year that was anything but the norm for NHL staffs who are charged with evaluating the next wave of NHL talent.

It is a ‘must see’ event any season holding considerable weight as a last look event, but this year in particular, it might be the only hockey some of these guys would play under the watchful eyes of NHL teams. And it was an opportunity for the players to make an impression with plenty doing just that over the two-week event.

Draft Prospects Hockey was not able to be in attendance for the event due to pandemic/logistic issues but had scheduled multiple evaluators to view each minute of play and give us a breakdown of what transpired via their video viewing.

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.

The host American’s had a pretty underwhelming tournament as a whole. From the comeback loss to Russia to the Quarter Final defeat at the hands of Sweden. The early departure was shocking and surprising to say the least.

They missed some of their big offensive guns due to injury and the forward group they had did not deliver much outside of the top line. Most the offense had to come from the defense and that left them out of position in their own end. They gave up a lot of odd man rushes due to turnovers.

Mrebeko looked solid in net but got hurt. On the back-end Behrens was a bright spot creating offense with his legs. He can really fly and has some touch for a defender. Also not shy to throw his body around with several big hits in this event. Duke was consistent and brings it every game, going to the net front, and that type of offense just translates to the next level. Pastujov was really the heart of this team offensively and unfortunately when he went cold so did the team.

Here are some player reports from our crew on the U.S. U18 players that stood out.

30 G, KAIDAN MBEREKO, 5’11, 183, L, DOB 07.28.2003

Above average athleticism allows him to get to every shot and use his lightning fast reflexes to stop pucks. His movements while still fast were more controlled and he was not over playing his crease or playing that erratic as we’ve seen in previous viewings. The quickness in his pads/legs are impressive. Solid downlow coverage giving shooters nothing to shoot through. Great job limiting second chances swallowing up shots. Excellent tracking on the PK, not often did you see him having to make a desperation maneuver. Had some issues a couple times in this tournament with a leg injury but came back both games he left. He was excellent in the shootout and was absolutely dialed in. Not overreacting to the puck and following the shooters body extremely well staying square and aggressive on them. For Mbereko to come out with an injury and then return and play strong shows strong mental focus, a very positive sight. That mental fortitude can be huge in carving out an NHL career at this position. His numbers haven’t been great this year but his technique, athleticism, and hockey IQ all are valuable attributes that teams can build on top of and potentially develop into an NHL goalie.

20 D, LANE HUTSON, 5’6, 165, L, DOB 04.14.2004

Hutson was lights out good with the puck and playing against older competition looked a step ahead which counteracts his small frame. Looked more and more confident as the games went on. Outstanding skater that dictates the pace starting from him rushing pucks out of his zone regularly. Intelligently reads open space in all three zones and skates through them. His footwork is already elite. Agility already elite. Patience and shiftiness in carving up the ice and shaking around defenders. He’s as slippery as a snail out of its shell. Ability to change directions on a dime using cuts, turns, hard stops, essentially anything using the edges of the skate. Pushed the US attack. Excellent vision and ability to open space up. His skating, vision, and playmaking abilities make him a solid PP quarterback. Quick, slick hands scoring a shootout winner against Czechia. Has the instincts and acceleration to join the attack and act as a fourth forward. Great puck control in motion. Battles hard through contact but it goes without saying that his size will be an issue and will need to combat it by finding ways to move the puck quickly and staying elusive. His impressive play has warranted a first round prediction for 2022 but the size factor could see him drop. Regardless, has top four offensive defenseman upside.

24 D, TY GALLAGHER, 6’0, 190, RD, DOB 03.06.2003

Gallagher is a smooth skating right shot defender that has an absolute cannon from the point. He was on the second pairing in this event and played well. He is not afraid to shoot and looks for traffic with a lane to the net before firing. He was used on the second power play unit as a one timer option, taking this role from Schmidt earlier in the tournament. He calls for it and wants it in the wheelhouse and when it is, he can really rip it. He also has a heavy wrist shot and walks the line well to get it off. We love how he follows his own play up driving in from the point looking for rebounds. Most of his goals come from the initial point shot but to show diversity like that offensively proves he has the drive to get net front. He is a strong skater on his edges with quick footwork. He does have a pretty choppy stride that could use some work but he has pace to his game and speed isn’t a problem. Defensively he is strong. He does a good job of moving his feet to create passing lanes and just needs to remember to keep it simple some times. If he can add some muscle and become more of a physical presence his defensive game would be a lot better as he brings almost no grit to the game right now. Gallagher has the tools to become a right shot defender with a cannon of a shot and high offensive IQ at the pro level. He projects as a goal scoring defender but could end up a power play specialist like a Tyson Barrie. He is a few years away as he needs to work on his defensive game.

27 D, ROMAN SCHMIDT, 6’5, 206, R, DOB 02.27.2003

Schmidt is a big right shot defender with an edge. He plays in the top four where he anchors a unit while a more offensive inclined partner like Behrens runs loose offensively. He provides the new age style of shut down defense that involves being able to move the puck. He is a strong skater but still a bit sluggish on the first step. Once he gets going he carries his weight well and can get going mainly on edge work and power. He will need to work on his foot speed especially off the pivot for the next level. He is physical and will try to catch you with your head down if you aren’t careful. He had some strong physical moments and finished a couple big open ice hits. Completely punishing type of body checks from a hulking dman. He reads and times his hits perfect. Schmidt toes the line after whistles sometimes but always is the first one to stand up for a teammate. We love the motor he shows as he is competitive shift to shift and takes very few off. His IQ is decent, and he understands what his job is. He doesn’t force things too often and relies on making the smart play albeit the easy one. You won’t see him lead the rush too often but when he gets going he will try to take it all the way along the outside. More often than not he is making a short first pass and trailing the play as support. Most of his offense will come from his heavy shot from the point. Even his wrist shot is heavy. He needs to work on getting to the middle to take shots as he is quite stationary at the point and does not cycle well. NHL teams will likely step up earlier to nab a big right shot defender that plays a physical brand of hockey. Even though he has the size we do think he is a few years away from the NHL still as he will need to refine his play with the puck in transition and not getting too overzealous chasing defensively.

17 D, AIDAN HRESCHUK, 5’11, 182, LD, DOB 02.19.2003

Hreschuk is a smooth skating left shot defender that can play up and down the depth chart. We love his versatility and ability to play any role needed. He can play top line minutes as an offensive defender like he did to start the season or play down the line up like he did in Texas. Still in a top four role he was relied upon heavily to transfer pucks up ice and hold the blue line. Strong ability to read the pinch and hold the blue line at the right times. He does not pinch just for the sake of it if he goes into a battle, he expects to win it. He is a bit soft in battles. His feel for the game is excellent. Defensively he played well against top lines but had a quiet tournament overall. He reads his positioning well and just needs to build the strength and battle level/motor. He has a great first pass and is tape to tape with his head up right away. Where he runs into trouble is under pressure and giving the puck away. He is such a good skater edge work wise that he can evade traffic and needs to do so more he will buy himself a ton of time. He is a few years away as he will need some time to mature and learn to play without the puck defensively but has some useful tools at his disposal.

2 D, SEAN BEHRENS, 5’10, 176, L, DOB 03.31.2003

Behrens was team USA’s best defenseman and one of the best in this tournament. An impactful presence defending the transition and the cycle. Terrific game away from the puck. His feet never stopped moving showing an impressive motor and willingness to work and battle each shift. The high compete level was accompanied by his strong physical play, stepping up into big hits and doing a great job of separating the man from the puck. Made terrific defensive reads cutting off passes deep in his zone and engaging along the boards to force turnovers. He may be a smaller defenseman but he has some thickness to him that allows him to play like a little bulldozer. Really impressed with the way he was able to handle the bigger, stronger players at this event. Fluid puck moving blueliner using his feet to carry pucks out his zone and attacking straight on before crossing over his feet to get by the line of defense in the neutral zone. Very reminiscent to how Tory Krug plays. Feisty and will out battle everyone on the ice. We like his chances of going in the first round and becoming a top four two-way defenseman.

4 C, JACK HUGHES, 6’0, 165, L, DOB 11.02.2003

Hughes had an up and down tournament. He was clearly playing hurt at points and it drastically impacted his play. Unfortunately, for anyone hoping to see him showcase his offensive talent and generate chances would be disappointed by what they witnessed. His passes were missing his mark. Tried doing too much, whether it was force feeding a soft pass through players or taking ill-advised shots. Disguised a few of his shots shooting through defenders or dragging the puck closer to his body before releasing. Skilled creative passer but the choices were just poor in many instances. Smooth stick handles coming through the neutral zone using quick dekes to make his way into the zone. Excellent use of keeping the puck in his hip pocket. He should focus on bulking up in the summer. Easily getting knocked off the puck or pushed up along the boards that ends his route. Fluid heel-to-heel pivots and edgework. Smooth and agile. His leg strength is not all that great. Overall, despite the possibility he was playing hurt, we would’ve liked to see him make smarter choices with the puck. The talent level is there to become a top six forward and a first rounder in 2022, but first we want to see if he can be a play driver.

28 C, CHARLIE STRAMEL, 6’3, 209, R, DOB 10.15.2004

Stramel was a positive as a 2023 draft eligible. Not in the same way Bedard and Michkov were but he had his moments. Great stick to poke the puck free up high springing himself on a breakaway during a PK. The big young man is trusted to play on both the PP and PK. Parks himself in front of the net on the PP with his stick normally up showing ready for a tip, Smooth puck handler. Using his reach to carry pucks and protect it from stick checks well. Puck distribution skills are a strength. Soft passing ability on both his forehand and backhand. Great hockey IQ. Slowing the game down making smart passes like passing it back to his defensemen to restart the breakout. Likes to stay in motion and keep his feet moving at both ends of the rink which is a big win for such a big guy. Generates good speed through his lower body. For a big man, he was getting bounced off the puck a little too easily and really could have been stronger on the puck. Improving his balance and adding an extra gear will do him wonders in his ability to attack off the rush and in his puck protection. There is a ton of growth to be had in his game and has plenty of time to make those improvements.

25 LW, DYLAN DUKE, 5’10, 181, L, DOB 03.04.2003

Duke is a feisty winger that makes his living around the net. Top line left winger where he really brought the pace and energy his team needed. He has a nice combination of skill and grit that he puts together in a package that NHL teams will love. Offensively he is all around the net causing havoc for defenders. He isn’t the biggest but he battles his butt off in front of the net and gains position in front. He scores most of his goals from around the net as he finishes rebounds or tips in point shots. He has sick hand eye and can bat pucks in, inches from the goalies face. I love his battle level shift to shift and he gets in on the forecheck and plays a physical brand of hockey. Defensively he is great on the backcheck and always ties up a man on the way back. He can be trusted to chip it out under pressure and make passes with a defender pinching. Duke is used on the penalty kill where he uses his foot speed to jump lanes and redirect passes. He is an excellent skater mostly with quick footwork and strong edges down low. He has a really strong lower body and as his upper body catches up he will be a force on the puck. He protects it well at top speed and although he doesn’t carry it much in transition, he is capable if he gets a chance. He plays net front on the top power play unit where he is looking to provide a screen and a tip. His struggle will be creating offense for himself as it seems like he is more of a secondary or complimentary offensive point producer. Be that one that guys love to play with as he is willing to get in on the forecheck and dig pucks out. He projects as a top six winger that can also play down the line up if need be. We like him as a boarder first rounder to mid second rounder.

12 LW, SASHA PASTUJOV, 6’0, 175, R, DOB 07.15.2003

Pastujov is a skilled winger that plays the game with a unique combo of size, speed and skill. He uses his body extremely well to dominate the puck below the goal line. He wins most battles he goes into and has a bit of a Zach Hyman to his boards and half wall game. Where he really stands out is his passing ability and vision. The way he sees the game is elite and he is the type of player goal scorers want to play with. Yet, he is able to finish plays himself whether from in tight or at a distance. He sets up on the one timer side on the top power play unit where he is looking to connect with his slap shot. He was on the top line in Texas and really seemed like the offensive leader for this team with key injuries. The teams energy swung in sequence with his play, as he picked up his pace so did his team play. Sound defensively for a winger as he has a strong stick and lifts a lot of sticks through the zone. He makes the safe play and shows strong IQ to escape pressure, possessing the hands to carry the puck through pressure. His skating is his biggest knock as he doesn’t have the prettiest stride or fastest feet. Yet he creates so much power on his edges he seems to get around just fine. We like him in the second half of the first round due to his playmaking and offensive abilities.

Pastujov finished with eight points, including five goals, in five game to lead the American offensive attack.

Contributors to this report included Dan Stewart, Matt Morrison, Alex Taxman, Kai Farenholtz and Jared Brown.
Photo credit IIHF.com

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