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5 breakout players from World Junior Championship

Mittelstadt, Sellgren, Batherson among those who excelled at tournament

by Mike G. Morreale @mikemorrealeNHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

BUFFALO -- NHL scouts agree that no one international tournament should determine the fate of a top prospect within an organization or in a future NHL Draft.

However, the IIHF World Junior Championship might be the one exception to the rule.

"The process of evaluating players is not over one tournament but over a period of time," said Craig Button, TSN director of scouting and former NHL general manager. "When you're talking about the top players coming to a world class tournament like the World Juniors, that's something very significant for any player because this is their peer group, so when you perform well you've proven you can raise your level of play at increasingly higher levels in competition. I think the World Juniors does provide a little bit of a boost." 

Sweden defenseman Rasmus Dahlin, who entered the 2018 WJC as a strong candidate to be chosen No. 1 at the 2018 NHL Draft, lived up to the hype and was named the best defenseman at the tournament (six assists, plus-7 in seven games).

Here are five other players from the tournament who raised their stock either within an organization or for the 2018 NHL Draft:

 

Casey Mittelstadt, C, United States

The University of Minnesota freshman is the first NCAA Division I player to be named Most Valuable Player of the World Junior Championship since Zach Parise of the University of North Dakota in 2004.

Mittelstadt, a first-round pick (No. 8) in the 2017 NHL Draft by the Buffalo Sabres, tied for the tournament scoring lead (four goals, seven assists) with Czech Republic forward Martin Necas (Carolina Hurricanes). His three-assist performance in a 4-3 shootout win against Canada at New Era Field on Dec. 29 was impressive; despite the challenging ice conditions amid a heavy snowfall, he found a way to set up teammates with his creativity, skill and work ethic. 

"We all see the talent and that it's at a high level," United States coach Bob Motzko said. "He wants the puck, wants to be out there in critical moments, and he's not going to shy away from it. He's a big-time player, and Buffalo is going to have a good one there."

 

Jesper Sellgren, D, Sweden

The 5-foot-11, 169-pound prospect is an under-the-radar, undersized defenseman with a lot of upside who was passed over at the NHL Draft in June. He played a poised, patient game paired with Gustav Lindstrom (Detroit Red Wings) and confidently moved the puck when pressured. Sellgren, had one assist, five shots on goal and a plus-5 rating. He has seven points (two goals, five assists) in 24 games for MODO in Allsvenskan.

"He can skate, move the puck, play with grit but he is good defensively too," Sweden coach Tomas Monten said. "He's a Tobias Enstrom type of player." 

 

Drake Batherson, C, Canada

Selected in the fourth round (No. 121) of the 2017 draft by the Ottawa Senators, Batherson finished tied for second with Czech Republic center Filip Zadina for the tournament lead with seven goals. He led Canada with four power-play goals, and led the tournament with three game-winning goals.

"He came in and had to fight for his spot until the last moment," Canada coach Dominique Ducharme said. "But we could see from one day to the other, he was always getting better and adjusting. He was working hard. He's a smart kid. He's got great skills. He just kept going."

 

Brady Tkachuk, LW, United States

He plays a passionate, in-your-face, brand of hockey that conjures memories of his father, U.S. Hockey Hall of Famer Keith Tkachuk, and now his brother, Matthew Tkachuk, of the Calgary Flames. He's a candidate to be selected top-5 in the 2018 NHL Draft and does things which don't show on the scoresheet.

"He's got one gear and he shifts it down fast to play hard," Motzko said. "You also see there's going to be some talent in there with those hands and what he could bring with his size (6-3, 196). He's just clawing his way up to be what he's going to become."

Tkachuk had nine points (three goals, six assists) to perhaps increase his odds as a top-5 NHL Draft pick in Dallas on June 22.

 
Filip Zadina, RW, Czech Republic

The 6-0, 196-pound wing is as creative a goal-scorer as you will find in the 2018 draft, having scored 46 points (24 goals, 22 assists) in 32 games as a rookie for Halifax of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. 

The first of his two goals against Canada in a 7-2 semifinal-round loss when he pulled the puck around defenseman Kale Clague before scoring from the right faceoff circle demonstrated his abilities. He's the first Czech player to be named to the WJC All-Star Team since goalie Petr Mrazek (2012).

"He's extremely skillful in the offensive zone," Czech Republic coach Filip Pesan said. "He a shark, a sniper and he wants to score in every position."

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