NHL's future stars finally get their chance to shine at U18 men's worlds

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Here's ten players who will be the talk of the '23 and '24 NHL Drafts. (Getty)
Here's ten players who will be the talk of the '23 and '24 NHL Drafts. (Getty)

After two years of disrupted competition, the 2022 Men’s World U18 Championship in Germany has provided the world — and NHL scouts — with a glimpse of the next generation of hockey stars. While this year’s consensus first overall pick Shane Wright did not play as he was still competing in the Ontario Hockey League playoffs, the Men’s U18 tournament remained star-studded.

Among the top players in the tournament were top 2022 NHL Draft prospects Logan Cooley, Joakim Kemell, Jiří Kulich, Isaac Howard, Jonathan Lekkerimäki, and Frank Nazar. It was an opportunity for NHL scouts to get a final look at these coveted players. It was also a chance for the top prospects for future drafts to introduce themselves to the world.

Here are ten players who will become the talk of NHL Draft boards in 2023 (and 2024):

Connor Bedard - NHL Draft 2023 - Regina Pats, WHL

When the world first saw Connor McDavid, he wowed at every turn. Connor Bedard is the next generational star. Were he eligible for this year’s NHL Draft, Bedard would be the first overall pick. His puck skills are absurd, especially when they’re combined with his elite mobility and vision.

Bedard is the full package. He backs off defenders with his speed and can score from any angle. Next year, Bedard will be the wire to wire consensus first overall pick, and he’ll immediately make an impact at the NHL level.

Adam Fantilli - NHL Draft 2023 - Chicago Steel, USHL (Michigan, NCAA)

With so much focus on Bedard, Adam Fantilli might be one of the most gifted prospects to fly ‘under the radar’ in recent memory. He took an alternative route playing in the USHL with the Chicago Steel this season and will follow a slew of recent Top 10 NHL picks to the University of Michigan next year as a true freshman. He’ll almost certainly be a one-and-done player in the NCAA. The component of Fantilli’s game that makes him different from Bedard is his attention to detail on the defensive side of the puck.

Aron Kiviharju - NHL Draft 2024 - TPS U20, SM-Sarja

Looking at the rosters for the Men’s U18 tournament, then watching Kiviharju play, you’d be certain his birthdate is a misprint. He looks like a sure-fire first round pick for this year’s NHL Draft, except he isn’t eligible…nor is he eligible next season. That’s right, the elite defender, who set the record for most points by a U16 blueliner at the World Men’s U18 Championships, is a 2024 draft prospect. As a U16 player in Finland’s U20 league this season he scored the second most points ever by a player his age. The only player with more was a forward by the name of Patrick Laine.

His hype will continue to grow as he advances to play professionally in Finland’s Liiga, and can showcase his skills at the World Juniors and Hlinka Gretzky Cup. Pretty soon, Kiviharju will be a household name in the hockey world, so it’s best to get to know him now.

Leo Carlsson - NHL Draft 2023 - Örebro HK, SHL

A late 2004 birthdate pushes Carlsson to the 2023 NHL Draft. At 6’3” and with almost a full season of professional experience in the SHL, a campaign he started at 16-years-old, Carlsson will move his way up draft boards as he continues to grow offensively against older competition. Against his own age group, including at the U18 Men’s World Championships, Carlsson has been a physical force. A good skater, Carlsson possesses a powerful shot, and looks like a certain Top 10 pick in 2023.

Eduard Sale - NHL Draft 2023 - HC Kometa Brno, Czechia

Sale loves to shoot the puck as evidenced by his 42 goals and 89 points in 39 games in Czechia’s U20 loop this season. His forceful shot, which comes from anywhere on the ice sometimes catches netminders off guard, creating rebound opportunities for his teammates. He’ll need to learn better shot selection at the pro level, but Sale looks like the offensive threat every team covets. Despite his shoot-first mentality, Sale has shown exceptional playmaking ability at the Men’s World U18s, and his 2023 draft stock is rising.

Tanner Howe - NHL Draft 2024 - Regina Pats, WHL

Howe has the tools to be a successful pro by the time his NHL Draft year rolls around in 2024. At 5’8” some look at Howe as undersized, but wherever you turn on the ice, he seems to be there. Howe showed defensive acumen this season, blocking shots and killing penalties. He was also a power-play threat en route to scoring 69 points in 64 games as a 15/16-year-old in the WHL. One area he’ll need to improve is his overall quickness.

Charlie Stramel - NHL Draft 2023 - USNTDP

Best described as a traditional power forward, Stramel will join the University of Wisconsin next season, where his physicality will be tested against older players. Stramel shows off not only his 6’3” frame, but his skating and shot every time he drives to the net. If he doesn’t beat you with his speed, his strength in one-on-one puck battles is overwhelming. Past injuries dampered Stramel’s hype, but he’s starting to show the elite ceiling he possesses.

Theo Lindstein - NHL Draft 2023 - Brynas IF, SHL

Nothing is “exciting” about Lindstein’s game, but every NHL teams needs a reliable defender. He will need to develop offensively and learn to contribute on the other side of the red line to hold his current projection as a possible top-10 pick. What sets Lindstein apart from his peers is his agility in transition. Stepping out from behind his net, or turning the puck up ice, Lindstein can evade the forecheck and separate himself using a fluid stride.

Dominik Petr - NHL Draft 2023 - Lukko U20, SM-Sarja

The 6’2” Czechian forward played in Finland this season. At the U18 level, Petr put up good numbers, but wasn’t as dominant in U20. Still, his performance at the U18 Men’s tournament was impressive. His main leap forward will come through physical development to fill out a frame, which is currently best described as lanky. A talented passer who reads opportunities well, Petr will need time to fill out and fine tune, but has upside.

Other 2023 draft prospects to watch

While the 2022 Men’s World U18 Championships was filled with prospects, the ten players above aren’t the only players to watch moving into next season. The group of Otto Stenberg, Kasper Halttunen, Matthew Wood, Kenneth Augustine III, William Smith, Arttu Kärki, Hunter Brzustewicz, Brady Cleveland, Gavin Brindley, Ryan Leonard, Michael Chambre, Brady Cleveland, and Tuomas Uronen are all worthy of attention, and will garner first round consideration in the coming year.

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