The ice chips from the IIHF World Junior Championships have long settled, and several participants are now raring to take a crack at an NHL roster during training camp this weekend. Others will not be mentioned in many households again until the next NHL draft rolls around, but they have logged another key item on their transcript to build upon in the next five-plus months.
With a little more than a week left before the better part of the collective hockey enthusiasts’ minds turn to the NHL’s present, now is the time for another long look at the future.
The best performances of draft-eligible WJC participants should not the sole decider as to where they ought to land on the selection board in New Jersey this summer. With that said, those performances need not be overlooked while evaluating the prospects’ seasons with their respective full-time amateur clubs.
As part of the ongoing buildup to the next draft, here are the tournament’s top-10 undrafted, 18-and-under NHL prospects.
Like a handful of fellow Finnish forwards, Lehkonen had some of the better final numbers among undrafted participants—although they were somewhat inflated by a pair of relegation round routs.
Lehkonen pitched in a goal as part of an 11-4 lashing of Slovakia and another two points amidst an 8-0 throttling of Germany. Earlier in the tournament, when the games were a little more meaningful and competitive, he opened the scoring to start a 5-1 win over Latvia.
After repelling 25-of-26 shots-faced against the Czech Republic and 29-of-31 versus Switzerland, Lassinantti was pulled from the round robin finale against Finland. He had just blocked 11-of-14 bids and let a 3-0 lead evaporate at 3:55 of the second period.
He saw no more action for the rest of the tournament, but should still have something to build on going forward. All he needs to do is look at John Gibson of Team USA, who out-dueled Lassinantti’s successor, Niklas Lundstrom, in the championship to finish erasing the memories of a forgettable, one-game stint in the 2011-12 WJC.
Like Lehkonen, Hartman’s productivity came chiefly in one-sided contests—those being a goal in Team USA’s 8-0 victory over Germany and an ice-breaking assist in a 9-3 win over Slovakia in the preliminary round.
But the notion that "a point is a point is a point" applies with more adhesive when that point comes in a tone-setting phase and sets a team on a triumphant path. That was what Hartman produced in the quarterfinals on Jan. 2.
The Americans came onto a fresh sheet with a 1-0 edge over the Czech Republic to start the second period. A mere 40 seconds after Johnny Gaudreau gave the U.S. a two-goal cushion, Hartman ensured a back-breaking follow-up by burying his own goal to make it 3-0 at the 1:08 mark of a five-goal stanza en route to a 7-0 victory.
Barkov had the primary assist on each of the first two goals that whittled down rival Sweden’s initial 3-0 lead in the aforementioned New Year’s Eve epic.
Earlier in the round robin, he tallied the primary assist that tied a game against Switzerland after his team initially trailed, 2-0. The Finns fell behind by two once more, only to delete that deficit as well before claiming a 5-4 shootout triumph.
Barkov would finish the tournament with a 3-4-7 scoring transcript in six games-played.
Drouin’s first major highlight of the tournament was on Dec. 28, when his primary assist on Ryan Strome’s goal put his team on the board after they trailed Slovakia, 2-0, at the first intermission. The Canadians eventually perked up after the halfway mark to win, 6-3.
Later, in the round robin finale against the host Russians, Drouin restored a two-goal lead to 3-1 at 6:30 of the middle frame en route to a 4-1 final.
Playing with 11 fellow Russians who have already been drafted, Nichushkin had a 1-1-2 log in six tournament games. In addition, the forward tied defensemen Kirill Dyakov and Yaroslav Dyblenko for the team lead with a plus-five rating.
Unless he is chosen by one of the NHL’s seven teams based north of the border—giving the bitterness a chance to subside in that city—Canada will surely cast Nichuskin in a negative light for a while.
He took his physicality over the line in a preliminary round matchup with a hit from behind on Tyler Wotherspoon and received a one-game suspension, only to return in time to score in overtime to deliver the bronze medal to Russia. That deciding goal directly deprived the Canadians of any hardware.
Though he accumulated one goal and one point fewer than his teammate Barkov, Ristolainen made a greater quantity of key contributions.
In the WJC opener, he fed Miro Aaltonen to give Finland a permanent lead at 12:23 of the first period versus Latvia. That goal gave his team a 2-1 edge less than four minutes after the Latvians had drawn a knot. The lead would expand to 3-1 within another 3:04.
With the Finns trailing Switzerland two games later, 4-2, he was in on the play that set up Teuvo Teravainen to halve the deficit with 6:54 to spare in regulation. The rejuvenated Finns cultivated the equalizer less than five minutes later, and subsequently, claimed a 5-4 shootout win.
Although the next comeback was for naught against Sweden, Ristolainen did tune the mesh at 1:26 of the second period to pull his team within one at 3-2. That goal was sandwiched by two goals off the stick of Joel Armia to level a 3-0 pothole.
Three of Lindholm’s four WJC points played an integral role in boosting the Swedes to a repeat appearance in the championship game. In the preliminary round, his primary assist helped to open the scoring against Latvia, and he inserted the eventual game-winner against the Czech Republic.
Later, Lindholm opened the scoring for Sweden in the semifinals, a game they eventually clinched in a shootout to bump the host Russians, 3-2.
Though muted in the medal round, Arvidsson perked up in the clutch in a pair of preliminary round games, effectively helping to influence Sweden’s seeding en route to a silver medal.
Moments after Finland finished the deletion of a 3-0 deficit, Arvidsson’s goal and primary assist in a span of 44 seconds restored Sweden’s lead to 5-3 in the fourth-to-last minute of the second period. The Swedes did not look back after that and, in the final minute of the third period, Arvidsson buried a second strike to finalize a 7-4 victory on Dec. 31.
Two nights earlier, after Sweden let Latvia hang around for almost 50 minutes, Arvidsson struck the mesh at 9:24 and 11:52 of the third to single-handedly swell up a lead to 4-1, which then morphed into a 5-1 final.
His seven points in as many tournament games were the second-highest among all participating defensemen, only behind fellow countryman Jacob Trouba, a Winnipeg Jets draftee. More tellingly, his plus-eight rating was the second-best among his teammates behind captain and Buffalo Sabres prospect Jake McCabe.
While he had no points in the semifinal or final, Jones did underscore his all-around aptitude and efficiency in the clutch by logging a plus-two in the 5-1 upset of Canada and a plus-one in the title tilt.