FILE - In this Dec. 27, 2020, file photo, Switzerland's Attilio Biasca (9) and Rocco Pezzullo (26) celebrate a goal during the first period IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship game against Finland in Edmonton, Alberta. The Under-18 men’s world championship that begins Monday is the final chance to see some of the top prospects eligible for the 2021 NHL draft, and the first chance for scouts and executives to see many in person. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press via AP, File)

U18 tournament means more for NHL scouts because of pandemic

Two rinks in the outskirts of Dallas will be the centre of the hockey universe the next week and a half for both NHL executives preparing for the draft and many of the top prospects they haven’t gotten a chance yet to see in person.

The International Ice Hockey Federation’s under-18 world championships is an important annual tournament featuring some of the best players eligible for the draft. It’s under the microscope even more this year because of how the coronavirus pandemic wreaked havoc on developmental leagues, some of which didn’t have a season.

The tournament is the last chance this year to see what Columbus Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen called “the cream of the crop” of draft prospects. Unlike most years, it’s also the only chance for GMs and scouts to see some of the best players in person before the draft this summer.

“The best players are all jammed into one place,” Los Angeles Kings scouting director Mark Yannetti said. “It’s a great thing to see the kids, and especially this year because if you don’t see a kid live, it’s really, really hard to get the full measure of a player.”

This tournament didn’t exist a year ago, throwing 2020 draft preparations into uncertainty. Teams had almost two full seasons’ worth of viewings and video on players until sports came to a halt.

Hockey never got going in the Ontario Hockey League, which last week abandoned plans to hold a season, and it was limited to varying extents in the other Canadian junior leagues. The Canadian Hockey League cancelled the Memorial Cup tournament that usually serves as a national junior championship and another scouting opportunity.

Most of the top American prospects got on the ice with the U.S. National Team Development Program, which plays in the United States Hockey League, or in the NCAA. The tournament in Plano and Frisco, Texas, is a chance to judge more apples to apples, especially when Canadian and European prospects faced a taller task playing against grown men this season.

“You see some of these guys get knocked off the puck as they’re trying to go to the net when they come out of the corner,” Yannetti said. “They’re playing against a 30-year-old ex-NHL pro. Now you want to see, OK, they’re getting to go against the U.S. 18-year-old D or a Canada 18-year-old D, is he going to get knocked off the puck now? Is it the fact that he wasn’t strong enough in the Swedish League or is it the fact that he’s not competitive enough?”

Kekalainen, whose Blue Jackets have three first-round draft picks, will be there watching and trying to evaluate the tournament like in any other year.

“You watch the games, you want to make sure that, since you know that this is your only chance to see some of the guys closely, that you’re going to focus as well as you can, and then you probably back it up by watching that same game again on video if you miss something,” he said. “That’s the message that we’re going to have with our scouting staff.”

Players in the tournament know the lights are brighter this time around. Many played without scouts in the stands all season — those who were lucky enough to play at all.

“It’s hugely important for not just me but everybody, but especially the guys in Ontario. They haven’t had a chance to play yet, so I’m sure they’re looking forward to it,” said projected first-round pick Corson Ceulemans, who played in only eight games in the Alberta Junior Hockey League this season. “It’s kind of the main studying point for this year, so it’s big.”

Yannetti wants to make sure the under-18s aren’t too big an emphasis into the draft prep process, more than a decade after overvaluing a rough tournament by Brayden McNabb, who slipped to the third round of the 2009 draft. The Kings regretted their mistake and traded for McNabb five years later.

Yannetti and his staff plan to go into the tournament with a checklist of what to look for and and focus on given the importance of seeing players in person.

“There’s certain things you can do and can’t do on video: seeing the way they skate, seeing the way they compete,” he said. “You’re looking at their ability to execute at a high rate of speed, at a high pace. This should arguably be the fastest-paced tournament and the most competitive tournament in terms of their peer group.”

Just Posted

Ella Stoner, five, is ready to cut off her hair and donate it to A Child’s Voice Foundation. (Photo by Lauren Stoner Photography)
Central Alberta girl to donate her ‘princess hair’ to A Child’s Voice Foundation

A five-year-old girl from Rimbey has never had a haircut before. Now,… Continue reading

Asymptomatic testing will now be available for "priority groups" who are most likely to spread the COVID-19 virus to vulnerable or at-risk populations. File photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS
Alberta adds 1,195 new COVID-19 cases Saturday

Red Deer has dropped to 760 active cases

Lacombe-Ponoka MLA Ron Orr
Central Alberta MLAs comment on UCP members kicked out of caucus

A pair of central Alberta MLAs have commented on the two United… Continue reading

Contributed photo
Johanna Hannaford: Central Alberta designer offers inclusive clothing

By Stephanie Rhodes Local designer Johanna Hannaford’s inclusive clothing creations are smashing… Continue reading

Red life-ring with splash
Started from the bottom: How a family business started and grew in central Alberta

By Carina Moran We started our business in the basement of our… Continue reading

Vancouver Canucks' Zack MacEwen (71), Travis Boyd (72) and Jimmy Vesey (24) celebrate a goal against the Edmonton Oilers during third period NHL action in Edmonton on Saturday, May 15, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Big third period lifts Vancouver Canucks to 4-1 victory over Edmonton Oilers

Canucks 4 Oilers 1 EDMONTON — Matthew Highmore scored twice in the… Continue reading

A vial of the Medicago vaccine sits on a surface. CARe Clinic, located in Red Deer, has been selected to participate in the third phase of vaccine study. (Photo courtesy
Canada’s vaccine rollout operation won’t miss a beat with new military leader: expert

DARTMOUTH — The sudden departure of the senior military officer in charge… Continue reading

Quebec Premier Francois Legault speaks during a news conference on the COVID-19 pandemic, Tuesday, September 29, 2020 at the legislature in Quebec City. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jacques Boissinot
Quebec premier argues province has power to amend constitution in letter to Trudeau

MONTREAL — Quebec Premier François Legault has written a letter to Prime… Continue reading

A demonstrator stands in front of riot police officers during a banned protest in support of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, in Paris, Saturday, May, 15, 2021. Marches in support of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip were being held Saturday in a dozen French cities, but the focus was on Paris where riot police countered organizers who said they would defy a ban on the protest, ordered on the grounds that it risked turning violent. (AP Photo/Rafael Yaghobzadeh)
Police fire tear gas on banned Palestinian march in Paris

PARIS (AP) — French riot police fired tear gas and used water… Continue reading

Photo by The Associated Press
NYC Pride parade bans police; Gay officers ‘disheartened’

NEW YORK (AP) — Organizers of New York City’s Pride events said… Continue reading

Welcoming cowboy boots at the historic and colourful Last Chance Saloon in the ghost town of Wayne near Drumheller, Alta., on Thursday, Sept. 19, 2019. The bar and hotel are up for sale. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
‘It was a going concern’: Remaining bar and hotel in Alberta coal ghost town for sale

WAYNE, Alta. — Built during the First World War, it survived the… Continue reading

A letter from a bottle that washed up in New Brunswick in 2017 is shown in an undated handout photo. A team of researchers from Université du Québec à Rimouski are trying to solve the mystery of whether a letter in a bottle that washed up in New Brunswick in 2017 was indeed from a young victim of Titanic shipwreck or simply a hoax. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, N. Beaudry, UQAR *MANDATORY CREDIT*
Real or hoax? Quebec scholars probe mystery letter allegedly from Titanic passenger

MONTREAL — Researchers from Université du Québec à Rimouski are trying to… Continue reading

Minister of Transport Marc Garneau takes part in a press conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, Nov. 26, 2019. Advocates, experts and opposition MPs say correspondence showing close communication between the federal Transport Department and the Canadian Transportation Agency regarding passenger refunds throws into question the independence of the CTA, an arm’s-length body. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Emails reveal close communication between government, transport regulator on refunds

OTTAWA — Advocates, experts and opposition MPs say correspondence showing close communication… Continue reading

Most Read