— Health

U18 tournament means more for NHL scouts because of pandemic

Two rinks in the outskirts of Dallas will be the center of the hockey universe for 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 are an essential annual tournament featuring some of the best players eligible for the draft. This year, it’s under the microscope even more because of how the coronavirus pandemic wreaked havoc on developmental leagues, some of which didn’t have a season. This year, the tournament is the last chance 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, especially this year, because if you don’t see a kid live, it’s 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 videos on players until sports stopped. Hockey never got going in the Ontario Hockey League, which abandoned plans to hold a season last week. It was limited to varying extents in the other Canadian junior leagues. The Canadian Hockey League canceled the Memorial Cup tournament, which usually serves as a national junior championship and another scouting opportunity.


Most top American prospects got on the ice with the U.S. National Team Development Program, which plays in the United States Hockey League or 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 that he wasn’t strong enough in the Swedish League, or is it 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, 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 we will have with our scouting staff.”time around. Many played without scouts in the stands all season – those lucky enough to play. “It’s hugely important for not just me but everybody, especially the Ontario guys. 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 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 ensure the under-18s aren’t too big and emphasize the draft prep process, over 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 focus on, given the importance of seeing players in person. “There are certain things you can and can’t do on video: seeing the way they skate and 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 and most competitive tournament in terms of their peer group.”

Follow AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno.

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/hub/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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Molly Aronson

I'm an award-winning blogger who enjoys all things creative but is especially passionate about lifestyle design. I blog over at mehlogy.com I love that I get to share my passion for healthy living, fashion, fitness, and travel with readers from all over the world.

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