I asked a bunch of the scouts I know what they knew of Belarus forward Danila Klimovich before the U-18 World Championship began in Texas.
"Nothing." "Not a thing." "Truly have never heard of him." "Nope."
Ryan Kennedy said his own scouts he chats with have never mentioned his name, either.
Kind of hard to believe that'll be the case now. Klimovich started the tournament by making himself look a bit silly by putting the puck between his legs on a breakaway opportunity against Sweden in an effort to score his nation's first goal of the tournament. But ever since, he's been one of the best players in the tournament. Klimovich did eventually put Belarus on the board first, scoring the lone goal in a 5-1 loss to Sweden, but his Game 2 performance is one that really stood out.
Belarus needed a big win against Switzerland on Tuesday. If they pulled it off, then they'd just need to beat Latvia - a team that lost to the Swiss on Monday - to get a better shot at third place in Group A. And that's exactly what Belarus did, snagging a convincing 4-1 win - all through power-play goals - to take the team's first victory of the tournament.
But the big draw was the play of Klimovich. Klimovich had a hat-trick through 29 minutes of play, with all three goals coming while he was all alone undetected near the side of the net. With four goals in two games, the tournament found an unlikely leader at the top of the goal-scoring charts.
The scouting book on Klimovich was quite small. Klimovich only had one goal in six games in the top Belarus league and while his 52 points in 37 games in the Belarusian junior league is definitely a lot, but was only good for 16th in a league that can get a bit ridiculous at times.
Now, Klimovich's skillset is a bit clearer. While his skill is clearly raw, he's got a quick release and, in a similar vein as Alex Ovechkin, he has a knack for finding open ice – something Klimovich considers a strong point in his game. Klimovich has agile hands that allows him to control the puck effectively and while his skating isn't anything special, he can move the puck at a nice speed.
"I did my best, practiced a lot," Klimovich said through a translator. "Now, I'm seeing the results and the outcome of my hard work. I practiced shooting a lot."
Klimovich previously took part in Belarus' junior development program, playing with the U-17, U-18 and U-20 teams in various Belarusian leagues. The U-18 World Championship is the first official tournament for Klimovich outside of a three-game Four Nations event in 2019 – he had a goal and three points back then, too.
In such a strange draft year, a tournament like this – the first real showcase for 2021 draft talent this year – is a perfect opportunity for players from smaller nations to impress. For Klimovich, even if he struggles to put up points the rest of the way, he's made some noise for a nation that has had at least one player drafted since 2016, with eight getting selected in that span. Defenseman Dmitri Kuzmin, who scored a highlight-reel lacrosse goal on Tuesday himself, could also get selected.
If nobody has heard of you, you can't make a name for yourself. But Klimovich did exactly that, and now he's a player you need to keep an eye on ahead of the 2021 NHL draft.