The annual World U-17 Hockey Challenge begins tonight at 9 PM (EST). 8 teams from 6 countries have made their way to Medicine Hat and Swift Current to compete for gold. With their national development team participating, the United States projects as the team to beat.
Every year, this tournament is a lot of fun and gives the U17 players a chance to showcase themselves for the first time on the big stage. The World U-17 Hockey Challenge features almost all of the top 2003 born players on the planet. For the tournament, we (Max @TPEHockey and Ben @BBMHockey) have provided a brief preview of each team that includes some players to look out for.
One of three roughly equivalent talented Canadian teams, team black should benefit from having arguably the tournament’s best goalie on their roster in Benjamin Gaudreau.
The forward group is highlighted by the top 2 picks from April’s priority selection in Shane Wright and Brennan Othmann. These two likely end up on the same line together throughout the tournament since they dominated minor midget together for the Don Mills Flyers last season. Beyond them, Zach L’Hereux has posted exceptional numbers for Moncton this season as well as James Malatesta, who has been on fire for Quebec.
Overall, Canada Black has a well-rounded D corps led by Brandt Clarke. Corson Ceulemans is succeeding offensively for Brooks in the AJHL this season. Nolan Bentham and Ethan Del Mastro have played well in prior viewings. Cam Whynot has long been a top prospect for the QMJHL but ended up sliding to 9th overall in the draft. Canada Black’s defense will be a huge strength going forward.
Star 2004 born forward Matthew Savoie will be the focus of Canada White. Savoie is a brilliant skater who also has exceptional hockey IQ. He should be playing full time in the WHL this year, though he is too young and did not receive exceptional status. Savoie has MVP potential for this tournament. Dylan Guenther was the 1st overall pick in the 2018 WHL bantam draft. He has a wicked shot and excellent hands to go along with his quickly improving skating. Cole Sillinger and Mason McTavish have been scoring in bunches for their respective teams early on in their junior hockey careers. Justin Robidas and Chase Stillman are also notable forwards for Canada White.
On the back end, Carson Lambos is rivaled only by Brandt Clarke as the top 2003 d-man in Canada. The early season returns on Lambos have been excellent, becoming the Ice’s top defenseman almost immediately. Guillaume Richard is a poised defenseman who has a chance to be a difference maker in this tournament. Oscar Plandowski played really well at the summer camp and could be a key defender for Canada White.
The Americans are no doubt the deepest team in the tournament. There is no weak link. There is no weakness. They can roll all 4 lines and each one can take on any other line in the tournament. Every player is worth talking about, but we’ll touch on a few.
The two forwards we’ll have a look at are Sasha Pastujov and Chaz Lucius. Both are top 15 prospects for the 2021 draft. Lucius is a goal scorer who already has 15 goals in 15 games with the NTDP. Pastujov is more of a Swiss Army knife type player. He’s a versatile winger who excels in many ways. Another notable guy is Jack Hughes (2.0). The Northeastern commit leads the team in assists with 14 in 16 games.
On defense, Luke Hughes has led the way so far. He’s at a PPG from the blueline in his first 14 games. If he continues that pace, he would be the first defensemen to score at a PPG in his U17 year in the NTDP’s history. The defensive corps is as strong as the forwards, so the other guy we’ll mention is Aidan Hreschuk. He’s a nifty offensive defenseman with some crazy skill.
In net they have two good options in Gibson Homer and Kaiden Mbereko. Homer is a 6’5” 15 year old eligible for the 2022 draft, and Mbereko is just 5’11”. Both have been pretty much equally good for the team, but it seems coach Wroblewski likes Homer more, so he likely plays as the starter in this tournament.
The outlook for the Czechs this season doesn’t look too great. This team lacks high end talent, with one exception. Much of the team is still playing at the 16U level in the Czech Republic while the one player that could be the x-factor is Stanislav Svozil; he’s a 6 foot, 16 year old defenseman who is getting time in the Czech pro league. The other guy to watch out for is Martin Rysavy who scored 12 points in 4 games at the 16U level and performed fairly well at the 19U level last year. The Czechs enter the tournament as the weakest team on paper, and will need to have exceptional goal-tending if they want to compete.
Canada Red, at least on paper, appears to be more forward heavy than defense. Kamloops Blazers emerging star Logan Stankoven might be the best forward on this roster though Connor Lockhart, Joshua Roy, and Francesco Pinelli are all right there. After that group, the forwards on Canada Red are very deep. Peter Reynolds, Zach Bolduc, and Connor Roulette are all very good players who can score. Overall, this is the best forward group of the three Canadian teams by a distance. This group will score a lot of goals in the tournament, with all lines chipping in.
On defense, Nolan Allan projects as the teams’ top defenseman, both offensively and defensively. Allan is lesser known than some other top 2003 defenseman, but this tournament will give him a chance to showcase how good he is. Evan Nause and Kyle Masters will provide some solid two-way play for Canada Red. If there’s going to be a weakness for Canada Red, it will be the defense.
This Finnish team is sure to be a real powerhouse along with the Americans. They’re highlighted by superstar forward Brad Lambert. The 2022 top prospect was one of Finland’s best players at the U18 level and should shred this tournament. At 15, yes 15, he is a point per game in the Finnish U20 league. Lambert could very well be the best player in this tournament.
Besides Lambert, Finland is stacked at the forward position. Samu Tuomaala is a potential top-5 prospect for the 2021 draft. With a wicked shot, high-end top speed and amazing puck control, he’ll be scoring goals left and right. Samu Salminen is another top 2021 prospect who is over a point per game at the U20 level. Other forwards to note include Verner Miettinen, Niko Huuhtanem, and Jere Virolainen.
On defense, the main guy to have an eye on is Atte Lehikoinen. He’s a 6’2” defensemen playing for KalPa U20. Otherwise, the defensive corps isn’t too notable.
In net, Juuso Helomaa is poised to be the starting goaltender at this tournament. In his short 4 game stint with Ässät U20, he put up a jaw dropping .970 Sv%.
The Russians have a solid team of a lot of good mid-tier players. They’re missing their one lock 2021 first rounder in Artyom Grushnikov, who I believe is with the U18 team rather than the U17s. The team has some play depth, but I wouldn’t expect them to keep up with the powerhouses in the tournament. Although with Russia you never know, they could pull out a really good player nobody’s heard of cause he’s Russian.
At forward there are a few solid players. Prokofiev Poltapov, Fyodor Svechkov, Ilya Ivantsov, and Nikita Chibrikov should be the top guys. Poltapov will probably be their top player. He hasn’t gotten a ton of time in the MHL since he plays for the stacked CSKA team, but he’s very good nonetheless.
On defense, don’t expect to see any high-end talent. None of the d-men have seen significant ice time in the MHL at this point. The most interesting name is 2004 born Vladislav Sapunov, who is one of only three underage players in the tournament.
In net, Pavel Kanayev looks like the Russian starter for this tournament. In his first 4 MHL games he has a .934 Sv%, leading his Spartak team.
The Swedes, as always, are sending out a gold medal contender. With high 1st round talent at both the forward and defense positions, they’ll surely give the other powerhouse teams a run for their money.
The forward corps is highlighted by 1st round-ranked 2021 prospects Simon Robertsson, Fabian Lysell, and Isak Rosen. Rosen has had a very good start to the season and is already over a point per game in the U20 league at 16. Ludwig Persson is another high-end player who’s poised to be a top 15 guy for the 2022 draft. Persson is known already around Sweden for his electric play and stellar puck skills.
On defense they’ll look to an elite duo of Simon Forsmark and Anton Olsson. Forsmark is a towering two-way defender eligible for the 2022 draft. He isn’t a super flashy player, but Forsmark’s passing vision and generally smart play puts him a step ahead of the competition. Olsson is another hulking defenseman who bring a fear factor to the game with his dominant physical ability.
The starting goaltending job is up for grabs for Sweden. William Jupiter and Carl Lindbom both look like solid options in net.