U-18s continue to make and break in Minsk
A lot of NHL scouts are in for a much longer stay at the under-18 world championships in Belarus than they expected. A few were planning to get out of Minsk before the medal round begins today, but the airport shut down Friday due to the volcanic ash out of Iceland. Thus, they're extending their stays. Hopefully they'll be back before the NHL combine next month or the draft in June.
A few scouts I spoke to had dreaded the trip to begin with. As I wrote last week, they weren't too excited about the players they were going to see in the tournament. That's not a knock on the U.S. squad, the defending under-18 champions. Rather, the scouts figured they had seen an awful lot of this U.S. team already. There were a few other international players they expected to view, but again, almost all of them are known commodities. Still, there were a couple of surprises this week.
F Johan Larsson: Captain of the Swedish team -- over a bunch of more highly ranked draft prospects -- Larsson was his team's best skater in a preliminary-round win over the U.S., and in other contests too. NHL Central Scouting was down on Larsson. No. 22 among European skaters at the midterm, he fell to No. 34 in the final rankings. The knock on him has never been his work ethic, his defensive awareness or his hockey sense. And at 5-foot-10 and 200 pounds, he's not shy of contact, either. His skating, however, raised a few red flags, but Larsson has shown in this tournament that he has improved in that area, which in turn has given him more confidence on the ice.
In the past he's looked more like a creator than a finisher, but he's had seven goals through four opening-round games. That he's a late-July birthday -- he's one of the younger kids in the mix -- is a reason to think he's a late bloomer. He's played LW as well as C, and it's hard to say definitively where he projects down the line. Central has Larsson 14th among Swedish prospects. I wouldn't be surprised to see him in the top six among the Swedes when all is said and done.
One of the Swedes he probably won't pass is LW Ludvig Rensfeldt, Larsson's linemate. No. 5 on Central's final list of Euro skaters, Rensfeldt has lived up to his billing with very good size, reach, skating and skills to match.
Larsson: Stock rising sharply.
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