Brno, Czech Republic — The future looks bright. Not only for Canada, Sweden and the United States, but also for other countries that participated in the 2012 U-18 World Championship. This time, we’ll take a look at Finnish, Russian, German and Danish prospects, who won’t be draft-eligible until 2013.
Team Finland did a terrific job at their own end and while I’ve already praised their goalie Joonas Korpisalo and some of their defencemen, there’s room for one more rearguard. Pardon the expression but Rasmus Ristolainen is the one who you’d like to guard your rear. By far the most physical of Finnish defencemen and possibly of all teams at the championship, Ristolainen takes advantage of everything he’s packed in his 6-foot-3 body – brains to stay cool and avoid losing it, muscles to throw opponents all over the ice, quick feet to carry the puck out of his own zone and ability to get under the skin of the other team’s stars. In addition, Ristolainen has already 41 SM-liiga games under his belt, so expect him anywhere near the top of the 2013 NHL Entry Draft prospect rankings.
The Finns also had a strong fourth line, which consisted of two big power forwards Aleksander Barkov, whose Russian ethnicity makes him one of the most passionate Finns there will ever be, and Saku Salminen. Skill of the line was provided by a smallish yet courageous Aleksi Mustonen, whose size is only to surprise his opponents one second before they get decked by a hit. Not a big hit, but unexpected.
The player who might turn out to be a gem is, however, Artturi Lehkonen. At sixteen years of age, he has enough size to bring some physicality to the rink, but he doesn’t use it yet. In comparison with Ristolainen, his play is immature, but when he grows up, he might become a new Koivu, doesn’t matter if Saku or Mikko, although I know which one you’d love to hear more. Lehkonen is just a pure package of skills and possesses killer instinct. The thing about him is that he reminds people of tigers or such animals, of which you just don’t know until very close to attack. Then, you just have no time to react.
Team Russia may have another master of big bodychecks waiting to mature in their youth system. After Darius Kasparaitis, Anton Volchenkov and Alexei Emelin, it’s time for Nikita Zadorov, the youngest and, after Bogdan Yakimov, the tallest member of the team. Maybe he won’t have such impact when it comes to hitting, but for his age, he plays the game the mature way, just like Ristolainen. Calling him poor man’s Ristolainen is not really accurate though as things will seemingly evolve in the future. I’m sure the main battlefield will be the 2013 U-20 Worlds in Ufa, Russia.
It is a shame that in both Team Germany games I saw, they were truly overplayed by their opponents: Finland and Russia. Some of their youngsters managed to find a way into my memory, including Leon Draisaitl, son of a Czech coach and former player. Draisaitl will be draft-eligible in 2014, which provides him a huge amount of time to find a way not only to my memory, but also to the NHL scouts. Great vision, slick hands and height of 6-foot-2 is all he needs to be really dangerous. Frederik Tiffels is also a skillful German whose name might be heard approaching the 2013 draft and Dominik Kahun is a Czech-born, hard-working guy, who would be a solid third-liner if ever making it into the big league.
Just like Kahun, Team Denmark forwards Mikkel Aagaard and Matthias Asperup are blue-collar forwards with tons of leadership, especially when it comes to Asperup. However, in Denmark, it’s all about the upcoming two.
Oliver Bjorkstrand, a son of former American hockey player and current Danish U-20 national team Todd Bjorkstrand, will clearly come back for the next year’s under-18 worlds and even lift his stats. Not only a big scoring leader for the U-18 team, but also a member of a Danish elite league team, Bjorkstrand is a medium-sized complete package, considered by many to be the next Danish hockey superstar.
After Lars Eller, whose brother Mads Eller also contributed, especially when the team needed it the most – in the relegation group. Eller isn’t much different from his brother, fires the puck often, passes the puck right on tape and throws his weight around when needed. Really smart and talented, his career might be threatened if he doesn’t take care. He’s suffered a concussion this year, which isn’t a mark of good things to come. However, with enough skill to make it to the NHL without getting into trouble, he might be playing against or alongside his brother in just a few years.