10 players to watch at U18 Worlds
by Lucas Aykroyd|18 APR 2023
The IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship is must-see viewing for hockey fans worldwide. Whether you’re wondering who could crack your country’s next World Junior squad or tracking the top prospects for the NHL Draft, there’s a true banquet of young talent to feast your eyes on.
To give you a little taste of what’s in store at the 2023 U18 Worlds, here are 10 players to watch in Group A (Basel) and Group B (Porrentruy). They’re listed in alphabetical order by surname.

Colby Barlow (CAN)

Colby Barlow exploited his excellent shot to the tune of 46 goals as a second-year OHLer with the Owen Sound Attack. The strapping 18-year-old forward also boasts a gold medal from Canada’s 2022 Hlinka Gretzky Cup run.
With a strong two-way game, Barlow could see duty for Canadian coach Jeff Truitt both on the power play and the penalty kill.

Dalibor Dvorsky (SVK)

Few U18 Worlds skaters can claim to be veterans of two World Juniors. But Dalibor Dvorsky can, with two goals and three assists in nine career World Junior games.
The nifty 17-year-old forward is coming off a decent Allsvenskan sophomore season with AIK Stockholm (6+8=14 in 38 games). It’ll be intriguing to see if Dvorsky can maximize his talent here as Slovakia returns to the top division for the first time since 2019.

Kasper Halttunen (FIN)

Kasper Halttunen wasn’t able to light the red lamp as a Liiga rookie with HIFK this season (0+1=1 in 27 games). But the big Finnish right winger with the heavy shot put up a goal-per-game pace with the Helsinki club’s U20 squad (18+6=24 in 18 games).
As the Finnish captain and a returnee, Halttunen, 17, will be expected to lead on and off the ice. He scored the same number of goals in his U18 Worlds debut last year (three) as Joakim Kemell did in his 2021 debut, so that could be a good sign.

Ryan Leonard (USA)

A natural athlete with the strength of a power forward, Ryan Leonard made a statement in the U.S.’s 2022 U18 silver-medal run. He ranked third in team goals (five) behind captain Rutger McGroarty and Isaac Howard.
Expect this Boston College commit to create havoc against opposing D-men with his physicality and keep on filling the net.

Aron Kiviharju (FIN)

As a 16-year-old Liiga newcomer with TPS Turku this year, Aron Kiviharju was the youngest pro in Finland’s oldest city. The dynamic puck-moving blueliner now looks to improve on his 2022 U18 Worlds performance – he tied for fourth in tournament assists in Germany (0+6=6).
Kiviharju, who is a hot commodity for the 2024 NHL Draft, will be a key presence on coach Lauri Merikivi’s power play.

Eduard Sale (CZE)

Eduard Sale has something that David Pastrnak, Jakub Voracek, and Tomas Hertl lack: a World Junior silver medal. The highly skilled Kometa Brno attacker made his mark in the 2023 World Junior final in Halifax, ringing a shot off the post that Jiri Kulich converted to start Czechia’s late comeback in the 3-2 overtime loss to host Canada.
The 18-year-old Sale, a potential top-10 pick in June, has also strutted his stuff at two Hlinka Gretzky Cups, including a slick 4-3 shootout winner versus Finland at last year’s edition.

Axel Sandin-Pellikka (SWE)

Axel Sandin-Pellikka honed his skills in a winning environment this year, playing 22 games with current SHL finalists Skelleftea AIK. The offensive-minded blueliner dazzled with the northern Swedish city’s U20 squad as well (16+20=36 in 31 games).
He’s drawn comparisons to the likes of Erik Karlsson and John Klingberg with his ability to put the puck in the net as well as making great plays.

Will Smith (USA)

 Playing on the top U.S. line with Ryan Leonard and Gabe Perreault, Will Smith is the straw that stirs the drink with his vision, puckhandling, and uncanny ability to break coverage.
A projected top-10 pick in June’s draft, the 184-cm, 78-kg pivot – a classic product of the U.S. National Team Development Program (USNTDP) – has the potential to lead these U18 Worlds in scoring.

Otto Stenberg (SWE)

Otto Stenberg will look to build on the two goals he scored as a first-timer with Sweden’s golden U18 Worlds squad in 2022. The dynamic 17-year-old Frolunda prospect garnered more kudos at the last Hlinka Gretzky Cup after leading the Swedes in scoring as their captain (5+4=9).
Stenberg’s performance at these U18 Worlds could go a long way toward determining the kind of role he might play at the 2024 IIHF World Junior Championship in his hometown of Gothenburg.

Matthew Wood (CAN)

When you make your NCAA debut as the lone 17-year-old on the circuit, you’re bound to make some headlines. Matthew Wood backed up the hype by leading the University of Connecticut in scoring as a freshman (11+23=34 in 35 games).
Watch for this former Victoria Grizzlies sniper to use his deadly wrist shot to eclipse the two goals he scored for Canada at last year’s U18 Worlds.