It begins here
by Andrew Podnieks|25 APR 2022
USA’s Auston Matthews and Switzerland’s Nico Hischier played at the IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship before being drafted first overall.
photo: Matt Zambonin / HHOF-IIHF Images
It’s not a requirement, that’s for sure, but if you want to be selected 1st overall at the NHL Entry Draft, it’s a good idea if you have a U18 tournament on your resume. Indeed, six of the last 10 and 10 of the last 15 1st overall selections played at the U18, a testament to the tournament’s importance in player development and, from the scout’s point of view, player assessment. You have to measure yourself against the best from around the world. We’re not in Sudbury any more, Toto.

Shane Wright, who was a dominant player as a 17-year-old last spring in Texas when the Canadians overwhelmed all comers to win gold, could be the next one. Wright had 9 goals (second most) and 14 points (tied for second), including two goals in the gold-medal, 5-3 win over Russia. Barring some unforeseen circumstance, he will go number one this summer.

Here are first-overall picks from the U18 Worlds of the last years:

2020    Alexis Lafreniere/CAN-NYR
It already seems like ages ago that Lafreniere played at the U18, which he did in 2018. Canada finished 5th that year, and he had four goals in five games. He later played at the 2019 and 2020 World Junior Championship, leading Canada to gold in the latter with an MVP tournament.

2019    Jack Hughes/USA-NJ
Hughes was everywhere in the years before he made the NHL. He played the 2018 and 2019 U18, winning a silver and then bronze medal, and in a hectic 2019 he also played at the World Juniors (silver) and World Championship (7th). Hughes is the all-time leading scorer in U18 history, his 32 points in just two tournaments one better than Alex Ovechkin.

2017    Nico Hischier/SUI-NJ
One of only eight players to appear in three U18s, Hischier is one of the finest players to come out of Switzerland and the first Swiss player to be selected 1st overall. He never won a medal at the U18, but the experience he gained from those events helped him play in two World Juniors and two World Championships, and in 2021 he became the youngest captain in the NHL.

2016    Auston Matthews/USA-TOR
The top scorer in the NHL, Matthews played for the USNTDP, and along with that came two appearances at the U18s, 2014, and 2015, both resulting in gold medals. In the latter, he led the tournament with 8 goals and 15 points and was named MVP. 

2015    Connor McDavid/CAN-EDM
By the time he was 19 year old, McDavid had already won gold at the U18, U20, and WM, the youngest player ever to earn the IIHF’s golden hat trick. It all started with the 2013 U18 in Sochi, where he had 8 goals and 14 points in seven games and was named IIHF Directorate Best Forward. 

2012    Nail Yakupov/RUS-EDM
Yakupov was a force for Russia at the 2011 U18s, winning a bronze medal with a team that included goaltender Andrei Vasilevski and skaters Nikita Nesterov, Nikita Kucherov, and Mikhail Grigorenko. Yakupov had a hat trick and an assist in the team’s 6-4 win over Canada for third place.

2010    Taylor Hall/CAN-EDM
Hall’s road to glory began in Kazan, Russia, hosts for the 2008 U18, where Canada skated to a gold medal. Playing on a team loaded with talent (think Ryan Ellis, Tyler Myers, Jordan Eberle, Brayden Schenn), Hall had four goals and nine points as a 16-year-old. He later won a silver at the U20 and has two World Championship gold medals as well (2015, 2016). 

2009    John Tavares/CAN-NYI
Tavares was a mere 15 years old when he played at the 2006 WM18, but he still managed five points in seven games as Canada lost to the Czechs, 4-1, in the game for bronze. In 2008 and 2009, he was an even greater presence in helping Canada win consecutive gold medals at the World Juniors.

2008    Steven Stamkos/CAN-TB
One of the highest-scoring players of the 21st century, Stamkos got his U18 start back in 2007 with Canada’s 4th-place team in a lineup that included Drew Doughty and Brandon Sutter. The 17-year-old had only two goals but added eight assists, although he would go on to become more a scorer than set-up man.