Most first year draft eligibles don’t even make the WJC team of their respective countries, and if they do, they typically play a minor role. Top 2018 draft prospect Rasmus Dahlin not only made his team, but he’s been one of the top players. Dahlin has 5 points through 4 games, tied for the lead for defensemen with 2016 Tampa Bay 2nd round pick Libor Hajek, who represents the Czech Republic. Before this tournament, Dahlin and #2 prospect Andrei Svechnikov were viewed as near equals, with Dahlin usually narrowly in front. That gap may be wider now.
World Junior Championship bias is very much a thing, and it can be quite prominent in some rankings. I try very hard not to let the fact that certain players made their WJC teams affect my rankings, and that is part of the reason why I don’t publish January draft rankings – I like to give myself extra time following the WJC to watch some other players in a normal setting before I formulate my rankings. A strong WJC can catapult a player up draft boards, even if that rise isn’t deserved. One tournament doesn’t show the future potential of a player. This could happen with Filip Zadina, who has had a great WJC, impressing a lot of people, including me. However, Zadina hasn’t been at that excellent level of play when playing for the Halifax Mooseheads of the QMJHL. Zadina is going to leapfrog Adam Boqvist on some draft rankings because of the WJC, as Boqvist was not at the WJC, and wasn’t able to put up a strong performance of his own to match Zadina’s.
However, the WJC can still be a great scouting tool when used properly. A scout shouldn’t use the World Juniors for getting a feel for a player’s skills or potential, that should be saved for regular season games. Instead, it should be used as an opportunity to compare players, provided that they are all at the tournament of course. So the WJC can be used to compare Dahlin to Svechnikov in the same setting. Of course, this shouldn’t be weighted too high in rankings, because players can have good or bad WJC.
That is exactly what I did at this year’s WJC; I compared Dahlin and Svechnikov, and so far, Dahlin has come out ahead by a wide extent. Dahlin has fantastic, he’s been playing a lot, and that playing time has been well deserved. A player that can chip in offensively from the blue line like Dahlin can be very valuable, and the Swedish coach realises that.
Andrei Svechnikov needs a strong tournament to match Dahlin’s if he wants to remain in contention for 1st overall, but so far he has not had that. Svechnikov has had a solid tournament, but it hasn’t been near Dahlin’s level, and it will be hard for him to stay close to Dahlin at this rate.
Rasmus Dahlin has shown that he can be dominant against the best U20 players in the world, which Svechnikov has not demonstrated. You have to think that that increased the probability of Dahlin going first overall. At this point, Svechnikov’s first overall hopes are becoming more and more unlikely. I just can’t see Svechnikov usurping Dahlin. For the first time this year, the race for first overall is no longer a two horse affair.