The focus of draft preparation naturally rests on the current year and especially with the Colorado Avalanche holding at least five top 100 picks in the 2018 NHL entry draft thanks to the Matt Duchene trade. However, it’s always important to keep an eye on the upcoming classes as they will move from the rear view to the forefront sooner than later.
Enter the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge, which is the first major international event for the 16 year-old age group. This is truly where players first get on the radar in advance of their draft year. Eight teams from six nations (Canada, Czech Republic, Finland, Russia, Sweden and the USA) partake with Canada entering three teams designated Black, Red and White. The eventual victor was USA who defeated Canada Red 6-4 for the gold medal. The Czech Republic took home the bronze off of a string of upsets over Russia and then Canada White.
Many of the players showed enough to get noticed but there are a few standouts who should have their names written in pen after this week. First and foremost is American forward Jack Hughes, who plays for the US National Team Development Program U-17 team. Hughes lead the tournament in scoring with 15 points in six games and placed second in all-time scoring for the tournament. He at this early stage is one of the front runners to head into the 2019 draft year ranked in the first overall position. Hughes is the brother of 2018 draft eligible (and possible top 10 selection) defenseman Quinn Hughes and considered by many to be an even brighter talent. Stay tuned to see how high this brotherly duo will get drafted.
A pair of current Halifax Mooseheads (QMJHL) players had standout performances on team Canada Red, forward Xavier Parent and defenseman Justin Barron. While the focus this season is on the quartet of draft eligible talent in Halifax with Benoit-Olivier Groulx, Jared McIsaac, Alexis Gravel and Filip Zadina, these two 16 year olds are going to be the next wave of high end draft draft eligibles to select from the organization. While both were first round selections in the most recent QMJHL draft, Barron is not eligible for the NHL entry draft until 2020 due to his late birthday. Parent scored seven points in the tournament including a pair of goals in the quarter-finals and the game winning goal in the semi-finals as seen below. For his part, Barron contributed one point but was impressive displaying his smart two-way defense. Both will be names to remember when their draft years approach.
Canada Red was likely the favorite of the three Canadian teams heading into the tournament because of the collection of first overall forwards on the team. Alexis Lafrenière from the Rimouski Oceanic (QMJHL) scored six points including a goal in the finals. That goal as seen below, was set up by Ryan Suzuki of the Barrie Colts (OHL), who scored seven points for his part. The other portion of the trio, Peyton Krebs from the Kootenay Ice (WHL) added six points as well. Canada Red secured their medal through committee scoring (and perhaps excellent coaching from Rouyn-Noranda’s Gilles Bouchard) but all three had their skill on display throughout the tournament. Will be exciting following this talented trio through other events leading to their draft selection.
The draft focus will now shift back to the 2018 draft eligible group with the Canada Russia series conclusion and then selection camps for the World Junior Championship coming up in just a few weeks. The draft is always just around the corner.