Czech forward Jiri Kulich leads the tournament in scoring before the semi-final round.
photo: Chris Tanouye / HHOF-IIHF Images
As the U18 rolls into the final weekend of play, only four teams are alive and in the medal hunt—Czechia, Finland, Sweden, and the United States. The fortunes of each team will rely on a number of factors, of course, but here are four players who have stood out so far and are likely to be the key to their team’s chances of wearing a medal come Sunday night.
Jiri Kulich (CZE)
Kulich turned 18 only a couple of weeks ago and has been making the most of what has turned out to be a leading role with Czechia as they advance to the final four. He has been playing in the Extraliga with Karlovy Vary this season and leads the U18 tournament with 8 goals and 10 points in just four games. Kulich likes the slot, the prime areas on the ice where goals are scored, and he’s not afraid to use his size to get there. He also has a long stick and reach and is able to keep opponents from checking him off the puck. He moves side to side as easily as up and down. And, of course, there’s the finish. He has a great shot and likes to use it. Kulich has scored in every game so far, including a hat trick against Canada and two goals versus Germany and Switzerland. The Americans beat Czechia, 6-2, in the preliminary round, and Kulich had one of the goals. He’s going to have to score if his team has any hope of surviving the U.S. in the semis.
Joakim Kemell (FIN)
The top-ranked skater among Europeans for the upcoming draft according to NHL Central Scouting, Kemell had a slow start in Germany but had a breakthrough game against Canada on Thursday, scoring a hat trick in a 6-5 win. Most impressive, each of those three goals was different. One, a quick shot from the left side. Two, a hard shot to the far side from the right dot. Three, a top-shelf deke-and-shot on a breakaway in overtime for the win. He also had an assist in that game and had several other scoring chances, a dominant force, to be sure. More than anything, Kemell plays with a maturity and confidence that makes him seem years older than everyone else on ice. He’ll go high in this summer’s draft, but for now he’ll need to repeat his performance against Canada for the semi-finals against geographic rivals Sweden.
Mattias Havelid (SWE)
The only defender on this list, Havelid is one half of Sweden’s new sensational twins, alongside teammate and goalie, Hugo. Mattias turned 18 on New Year’s Day and is draft eligible for this summer. He has everything you could ask for in a blueliner—except size. Havelid moves the puck well and is good at both ends of the ice. He has been in the Linkoping development system for many years now and is likely to stay there for the foreseeable future. Here in Germany, he has been involved in nine of the team’s 19 goals (four goals, five assists), tops on the team. His +5 in the +/- stats is also tops on his team. If Sweden will beat Finland in the semi-finals, they’ll need Havelid’s ability to control play. He scored two goals in the team’s round robin 4-3 win over the Finns, and he has also been a major factor on the team’s potent power play. The Swedes have scored 10 goals on 20 opportunities, and Havelid has four points (two goals, two assists) on those ten goals. The downside is that he’s only 5’10” (177 cm)/172 lbs. (78kg), but those numbers are for NHL scouts to worry about at a later date. Right here, right now, he is a leader on ice.
Logan Cooley (USA)
Only Shane Wright is considered a better prospect than Cooley for the 2022 NHL Entry Draft, and Cooley has been playing up to his ranking with the U.S. in Landshut. He is one of five Americans with seven points so far (three goals, four assists, in his case), playing on a team that has scored 37 goals and surrendered only ten. The Pittsburgh native will turn 18 next month and is the most complete player at the U18, not to mention the lacrosse-style goal he scored against Latvia. He can star on offence, but he has Selke-Trophy-like skills in his own end. He is great in the faceoff circle, can shine on the power play, and has both a great shot and breakaway speed. Although he has committed to the University of Minnesota for 2022-23, some scouts say he might be ready to play in the NHL this fall. But given his size (5’10”/177 cm, 174 lbs./79kg) an NHL team would be smart to let him grow and build some strength before putting him into the world’s top league. As for this weekend, the U.S. is such a deep team they might not need Cooley, but any success the team will have will almost certainly include an impressive contribution from him.