Be Careful When Putting Stock Into Draft-Eligible Prospects’ Performances at World Championship

By Coby Maeir on May 19, 2023 at 10:15 am
From left Kaapo Kakko (New York Rangers) , Jack Hughes (New Jersey Devils) and Kirby Dach (Chicago Blackhawks) pose with their new team jerseys after being drafted as the top three overall picks in the first round of the 2019 NHL Draft at Rogers Arena.
Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports
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On Thursday, my colleague Dan Dukart wrote about top prospects Adam Fantilli and Leo Carlsson's performances at the IIHF World Championship so far. 

While their performances may be used to help or hurt their respective draft stocks, it's important to be careful when using only this tournament to argue one prospect over the other. For example, in the 2016 World Championship, Patrik Laine finished fourth in scoring with 7-5--12 while Auston Matthews posted 6-3--9. Laine was the tournament's MVP, but that didn't stop the Maple Leafs from taking Matthews No. 1 overall that summer. At the 2019 tournament, Kaapo Kakko scored 6-1--7 while Jack Hughes posted just 0-3--3, and there was a real debate about who was going to go first in the draft before the Devils eventually selected Hughes with the top pick. In both situations, the team stuck with the top prospect before the World Championship, and in both situations, it worked out, because Matthews and Hughes are far better players than Laine and Kakko, respectively. 

Now, to the 2023 Draft, Carlsson, Fantilli, and Will Smith, the top three centers that will be on the board after the Blackhawks select Connor Bedard first overall on June 28 in Nashville. Smith is not playing at the tournament, so let's focus on Fantilli and Carlsson.

In four games, Fantilli has posted 0-2--2 in 48:31 and Carlsson has recorded 1-1--2 in 59:05, so there's already a disparity in ice time. Another disparity is where the two players are in their respective lineups, as Carlsson has been Sweden's top-line center for the tournament while Fantilli has been Canada's 13th forward. 

These are important pieces of context to consider when evaluating prospects. Maybe Carlsson will have a more productive tournament than Fantilli, but is it because he's a better player, or is it because he's playing on the top line while Fantilli is an extra skater? 

It also doesn't, or at least shouldn't matter that Smith isn't playing in the tournament, especially since he just dominated the World U18 Championship, leading it in scoring with 9-11--20 in seven games and winning gold. 

Ultimately, the only opinions that matter on this topic are Jarmo Kekalainen's and his scouting staff, as they will be the ones making the pick at No. 3 overall.

So, if a certain prospect doesn't produce at the World Championship, it shouldn't and likely will not affect their draft stock.

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