“I thought the U.S. for sure played well and played up to their potential. Because they were together all season they should have given Sweden, Canada and Russia good games and they played to that potential. Good for them. Love to see it.” – U.S. based NHL scout.
Although the World Under-18 Championship doesn’t get nearly as much exposure as the World Junior Championship in December or even the major junior playoffs and the subsequent Memorial Cup, its importance is equal to, or even greater than, these better-known entities.
For the first time, the United States hosted the tournament and did it in style by claiming the top prize with a convincing win over Russia in the gold medal game. Not only did the Americans have the hometown crowd on their side, but the fact they played together all year is another distinct advantage they held.
You still have to win the games, though, and scouts agreed the Americans weren’t the most skilled team in the tournament. That honor – or curse, depending how you look at it – fell on the Swedish squad, which fell short of expectations in the eyes of the talent evaluators.
“I was actually disappointed in the Swedes in general,” said an NHL Eastern Conference scout. “From what I saw, I figured they might put it together by the end because they were the most talented team, but they almost lost to Germany – they beat them by one – and they lost to Canada where they played an emotionless game.”
Sweden possessed some intriguing draft-eligible prospects, the most noteworthy being Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson, who is expected to go in the top-10 in June. There’s no doubt the scouts wanted to see some show-stopping performances from him, but in the end the shifty Swede left them wanting more.
“I thought both (Paajarvi-Svensson) and (Jacob) Josefson, were really good at points in the tournament, but at the same time they didn’t show up for long periods of time, which makes you wonder,” said another scout. “When you see a guy who can dangle, has speed and vision, and you know he’s got it in him and then you don’t see him do anything for two games you think, ‘Wait a minute, if you’re not going to use your assets then what’s going to happen?’ ”
Part of the reason for this shortfall might be a little fatigue or lack of familiarity taking a toll on the natural individual talents the Swedes had in their arsenal.
“The Swedish team may have suffered what the Canadian and U.S. teams have to deal with every year going over to Europe to play,” said an NHL Western Conference scout. “Coming over to a different environment and a different ice surface than they’re used to. Also, that Swedish team just didn’t seem to mesh, there’s a lot of talent on it; why they didn’t get it done, I don’t know. They had a tough game against Canada they didn’t respond very well to and their tournament turned south from there.”
The Tre Kronor’s Scandinavian nemesis, the Finns, came in with few expectations and an undersized roster. While they didn’t have a lot of top-end draft talents – in fact, most of their top line was made up of underagers eligible for the 2010 draft – Finland still put forth a scrappy effort and were the feel-good story of the tournament, beating Canada in a shootout for the Bronze.
“The Finns were very impressive,” one scout said. “The one thing about them is they had maybe two guys over six feet – I kept calling them the Smurf team, all dressed in blue and all like 5-foot-9 or -10 – but the thing they had going for them was that they could battle. You’d see these little guys trying to slam their opponent into the boards and you think it might not be the best thing for that player to be doing, but you appreciate they are playing the game correctly.”
As far as individual performances, a few players surprised and elevated their games to a level that impressed the scouts as they try to put their lists in final order before the late-June NHL entry draft. Here are a few guys who stood out:
Sami Vatanen: “The Finns had one really, really nice defenseman in Sami Vatanen, but he’s one of those guys who’s a first round draft pick if he’s 6-foot, except he’s 5-foot-9, 160 pounds, so he doesn’t go in the first round, that’s for sure.”
Jeremy Morin: “You look at Jeremy Morin – who had sort of an average year this year with the U.S. team – and the expectations were high on him coming out of his 17-year-old year because he joined the under-18 team a year before to go to Europe. He didn’t have a year we expected, but he really took his game to another level in the tournament and showed his forte, which is scoring goals. He was impressive in his work ethic and showed why the potential was always there.”
Dylan Olsen: “It was good to see Dylan Olsen play well. He obviously made a couple of mistakes, but he tried stuff others couldn’t or wouldn’t do and I think he was making a really big jump from the Tier-II (Alberta Junior League) ranks to this level and succeeded at it. He was at the Canadian under-18 tryout camp in Calgary in August and would have been on the team that went to the Ivan Hlinka tournament, but he got mono and wasn’t able to go. If he would have been on that team I think he would have been on everyone’s radar earlier. He’s got a solid two-way game with a solid slapshot. I think he’ll be a top-four guy. Somebody’s going to take a big swing if they want and they could get a really good player.”
With the major junior playoffs winding down, the USHL playoffs nearing their climax and the under-18 tournament in the books, the important games are coming to a close and NHL scouting staffs will soon be gathering for a year-end discussion and final list organization.
A Scout's Life is a look at the world of minor and pro scouting throughout North America. We'll talk to different scouts from all levels of the game, getting a first-hand perspective of the different aspects of talent evaluation. A Scout's Life will appear bi-monthly through the playoffs until the NHL draft.