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Sunday, April 24, 2011

2011 World Under-18 Championship: Sleepers

We're back with a look at a few sleepers who weren't big names for the 2011 NHL Draft, but may have done enough to raise their stock as solid selections worth spending picks on.


Nick Cousins, F Canada- One of the most impressive forwards for Team Canada at the tournament, scoring four goals and eight points and far outshining higher-profile Soo teammate Daniel Catenacci (to put it charitably). Fast, agile and bright- Cousins has quick hands and made money by going to the net throughout and paying the price to make the play. We can't say enough about how good this kid looked- didn't get a lot of attention because of where he plays in the OHL, but scouts are certainly tracking him now.

Gustav Björklund, F Sweden- Small, but speedy winger shared the team lead in points with Mika Zibanejad with eight. Darting, opportunistic little guy who displayed nice hockey sense and a nose for the net. Accurate shot with a quick release. We didn't even know who this kid was before the tourney, but we do now. His second period goal was nearly the game-winner for the Swedes.

Albin Blomkvist, D Sweden- Another revelation for B2011DW. Big kid at 6-3, 196, skated well and scored a nice goal against the Americans by jumping in from the point and wiring a hard wrister through a screen to beat John Gibson cleanly to the glove side. From what we saw, played with a bit of an edge. Makes some big hits and plays with some meanness to his game. Solid breakout passer and looked like some solid long-term developmental potential with this kid.

Markus Granlund, F Finland- Small playmaker showed intelligence, patience and soft hands for setting up the play. Obviously nowhere near the talent of his older brother Mikael, but blood lines could come into play with this guy. Not very strong- gets knocked off the puck and tends to play out on the perimeter as many smaller dudes do, but he was consistent and worked hard for the overmatched Finns who were playing from behind too much of the time because of the lack of good goaltending. Strong competitor who has some of his brother's positive characteristics and could make himself into a similar if lower-end player eventually.

Steffen Soberg, G Norway- Sub 6-footer is extremely agile, quick and real competitor despite playing for cellar-dweller Norway. Posted a 1-5 record, yet kept his team in every game we saw, posting a .930 save percentage even though he gave up an average of 3.90 goals. Wow. 317 shots against in just six games means he was saw 50 or more shots in every single game (including a tourney-high 63 unloaded on him by Canada), stopping 295 of them. His size works against him, as does the fact that he comes from Norway (ED. note: We don't mean this as a swipe at Norway- sure it is a delightful country with terrific people, but from an NHL standpoint, it is not seen as a prime producer of hockey talent and the lack of talent was reflected in the team's record at the WJC and U18), but could he be a late-round flyer? Possibly. All European players must be drafted, so fans need not wonder if an NHL team can invite Soberg to camp and sign him as a free agent if he gets passed over. It's draft or bust when it comes to Euros, so keep an eye on this guy. He did have a tremendous tourney, finishing second to only Andrei Vasilevski (.936) in save percentage

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