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2024 IIHF U18 WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS: Biggest Risers for the 2024 NHL Draft

ESPOO, FINLAND - MAY 5: Canada's Carter George #30 and USAÕs Kamil Bednarik #11 look on during Gold Medal Game action at the 2024 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship at Metro Arena on May 5, 2024 in Espoo, Finland. (Photo by AndrŽ Ringuette/IIHF)

The 2024 IIHF World Under 18 Championships have concluded. What a wild ride it was! Canada/USA did not disappoint as a gold medal final, with Canada using a five-minute major to Trevor Connelly to springboard them to victory. Meanwhile, the Swedes recovered from a slow start to the tournament to capture Bronze, their sixth straight medal at the U18’s. Perhaps the biggest story of this event was how future NHL draft prospects and underage players took over the event. James Hagens broke the tournament scoring record. Porter Martone and Gavin McKenna starred for Canada. The pesky, young Slovaks surprised by making the bronze medal game. This was supposed to be a springboard for 2024 draft eligibles but ended up being one for 2025 and 2026 eligibles.

While it is important to not be hyper reactive to a single tournament as a scouting team, there were certainly some individual players whose performances helped to increase their draft stock as we commence the discussion of our final rankings and as the 2024 Draft in Vegas draws near. This is only one small piece of the puzzle; what players have done previous to this tournament is still important, however you cannot overlook the positive performances of some players against many of the best players in the age group. This article aims to highlight several players who elevated their draft stock with strong performances. It excludes players who entered the tournament already extremely highly regarded (such as Tij Iginla or Konsta Helenius), instead focusing on those who had room to “move up.”

Teddy Stiga - USA

Stiga’s rise this year has been fairly steady. He’s been improving month after month, and as such, so has his draft ranking. One of the U.S.’ most integral complementary scorers around James Hagens and Cole Eiserman, Stiga has been a model of consistency at the last few major tournaments. A lot of his success this year has come from improvements made to his skating ability. A high-end processor and playmaker, Stiga looks the part of a future NHL player. Even without some of those high-end physical tools, he has likely put himself in first round consideration after yet another strong performance.

Cole Hutson - USA

Evaluating Hutson in the second half of the year has been tough due to injury, so he really needed to come into this tournament and have a strong performance. He did just that, capturing the tournament’s top defender award. He oozed confidence with the puck in the offensive, consistently keeping plays alive with his feet and ability to escape pressure. Best of all, Hutson was more than adequate defensively too. I’m not sure that he’s a first-round pick given the strength of this defensive crop, but Hutson’s rebound from injury has to have cemented his status as a top 50 selection.

Brodie Ziemer - USA

We’ve been pretty lukewarm on Ziemer this year as a scouting agency. The captain of the US’s U18 team, Ziemer is unquestionably a solid player, but we struggled to see significant upside as an NHL player. However, Ziemer was absolutely fantastic at the U18’s, showing even more offensively than he had previously, playing with Hagens and Stiga. The attention to detail away from the puck and effort remained consistent, but he was much more of a factor on the puck, creating through the cycle and with speed through the neutral zone. This is a player NHL scouts are going to like earlier than the amateur scouting community.

Max Plante - USA

Max has been another team USA member that we’ve been a bit hesitant with so far this year. Similar to his brother Zam, we’ve struggled with the kind of role that he’d play at the NHL level. However, much like Ziemer, Plante impressed playing a scoring line role alongside Cole Eiserman at this event. He showed well because of an attacking mentality; consistently around the puck, working hard to earn touches. At this point, Max has to be a lock to be drafted ahead of his brother Zam (150th in 2022).

EJ Emery - USA

Emery has been a borderline first round prospect for us all year, but his play at this event may have cemented that status. I really liked Emery’s play with the puck at the U18’s; it was unquestionably the most confident that he has looked this season as an offensive player. Point production will never be his bread and butter; he’s a future defensive stalwart. However, it was great to see progress in areas of his game that were previously very inconsistent. Emerging as a two-way stud, and given his impressive athleticism, Emery should be a first-round selection in Vegas.

Heikki Ruohonen - Finland

Committed to Harvard for next year, Ruohonen is an athletic, power center who had a very impressive tournament for the hosts. With good size and skating ability, in combination with physicality and strong three zone awareness, Ruohonen has a solid projection as an NHL player in some capacity. As he showed in this tournament, his offensive skill set has improved a lot over the course of the year. He could be flying under the radar right now because he hasn’t played above the U20 level in order to keep his NCAA commitment.

Tuomas Suoniemi - Finland

After failing to appear on NHL Central Scouting’s final ranking for 2024, Suoniemi had a very strong tournament for Finland, oftentimes outperforming star Konsta Helenius as a play driver. Suoniemi’s league play this year has left a lot to be desired, but you cannot argue with his performances internationally. At the very least, he’s likely put himself on a similar level to a guy like Alex Zetterberg. They have parallels as undersized players without high end physical tools, however, they also have great offensive upside as they mature.

Mitja Jokinen - Finland

This was supposed to be the breakout tournament for Aron Kiviharju, after he returned from a lengthy injury. However, it was Jokinen who ended up being Finland’s most impressive defender. He showed a ton of poise with the puck and was confident jumping up in the rush to help create offense for the hosts. He’s not huge, but he was essentially what Kiviharju was supposed to be here.

Mathias Dehli - Norway

Dehli was outstanding for Norway in helping them remain competitive in the round robin, in addition to staving off relegation. He showed a really mature, complete game and drove pace from the middle of the ice. Coming into the U18’s, he was probably a long shot to be selected. After? He’s improved his odds considerably.

Jett Luchanko - Canada

How could you not be impressed by the Guelph Storm center? We’ve been telling you how good Luchanko is all season long, and his performance at this event should have cemented his status as a first-round pick. There’s so much to like about his game, but Luchanko’s vision and defensive play really stuck out at the U18’s. Lately, the media have been using Nick Suzuki as a comparable and I believe that Suzuki is a good representation of Luchanko’s high end upside.

Harrison Brunicke - Canada

The U18’s started off pretty rough for Brunicke. He struggled in the opening games with his puck management. However, it was important to remember that he was coming off of an injury and hadn’t played in a while. By the end of the tournament, Brunicke was one of Canada’s best defenders. His work on the penalty kill was phenomenal and integral to Canada’s success. Similar to a player like EJ Emery, Brunicke’s size and athleticism give him a ton of runway to improve.

Frankie Marrelli - Canada

Coming into the tournament, I wasn’t confident Marrelli would be drafted. I’ve always liked his play, but I’ve also struggled with his future role at the NHL level. While I do still see some projection issues, you’d be hard pressed to argue that Marrelli wasn’t impressive at the U18’s. He was a rock defensively, bringing physicality and strong rush defense to the table. Scouts will wish he were bigger given that he projects as more of a defensive type, but he has improved his draft odds considerably.

Cole Beaudoin - Canada

Don’t look at the stat sheet. Beaudoin’s value to Canada was enormous, even if he wasn’t among the team’s leading scorers. In the medal round he was among Canada’s ice time leaders and his attention to detail in the defensive end needs to be highlighted. It seemed like Beaudoin was always around the puck, generating or preventing chances. Yeah, his skating isn’t the prettiest. But, he’s a physical freak with a chance at a long NHL career.

Carter George - Canada

What else can you say about George, the tournament’s top netminder…other than he was outstanding. He was a model of consistency all tournament long and then he stood on his head to keep Canada in the gold medal game at a time when all hope looked lost. George may not have the ideal size of today’s NHL netminder, but he’s got everything else. He’s been our top ranked netminder all season long and nothing is going to change that now.

Gian Meier - Switzerland

This tournament was supposed to highlight the play of Leon Muggli and Daniil Ustinkov, two highly regarded Swiss defenders. Muggli ended up getting hurt and Ustinkov was only average, opening up the door for Meier to be a defensive leader for the Swiss. His size and mobility combination is impressive from the right side. He had some beautiful rushes in the tournament and really improved his chances of being selected in Vegas.

Linus Eriksson - Sweden

The captain for Sweden, Eriksson was the team’s most consistent forward, stepping up in key situations for them. He excelled on both sides of the puck and really drove play below the goal line. His vision and playmaking stood out positively and he has definitely helped his odds of becoming an NHL first round selection in June.

Alfons Freij - Sweden

I thought that it was a disastrous start for Freij at the event. Quite frankly, he was quite bad the first few games. However, he seemed to get better every game and he saved his best performances for the medal round. We’ve had Freij locked into our first round all season long and that’s not quite to change. However, after this tournament, I would guess many NHL scouting teams have moved Freij up their lists thanks to his ability to create chances in the offensive end.

Lucas Pettersson - Sweden

Sweden’s best player in the Bronze Medal game, Pettersson got better as the tournament went on. Once Alex Zetterberg went down to injury, I felt Pettersson really stepped up his game. His speed made him a very dangerous player in transition and he showed a great knack for finding soft spots in the offensive zone in order to use his big shot. Could be a coin flip as to whether Eriksson or Pettersson gets drafted first.

Leo Sahlin Wallenius - Sweden

One of the tournament leaders in ice time, Sahlin Wallenius was a rock for Sweden. He wasn’t as flashy or productive as Freij, but he was way more consistent at both ends. Previously, I’ve found Sahlin Wallenius’ off puck play and on puck decision making to be very inconsistent, but that wasn’t the case at this event. He was as steady as can be. I still prefer Freij’s upside, but I’m coming around on Sahlin Wallenius as a potential two-way NHL defender.