The busiest time of the hockey season is here. The NHL playoffs are here, the CHL playoffs are well underway, the low divisions of the World Championships have begun and, of course, the top tournament of the World Under-18 Hockey Championships is ready to roll. The first of two major tournaments for players born in 1997 or later, many of the world’s top prospects are looking to help improve their rankings prior to this June’s NHL Draft. Let’s take a look at five of the top prospects that will participate at the tournament this year, which is set to begin on Thursday, April 16th.

Juniorský hokej SK/CZ

Juniorský hokej SK/CZ

5. Daniel Vladar, G (Czech Republic): One of the top goaltenders heading into the 2015 NHL Draft, Vladar will definitely be a big name puckstopper to watch at the U18’s. he kid is 6’5″, and while it’s natural to think that all he needs to do is just sit and cover the net, he has the rare ability to be flashy, yet safe with his play. For a guy of his size, he has above average quickness and is almost unbeatable across the goal line. His positional play could use a bit of work, but Vladar has cat like reflexes, similar to Hasek, but in a more contained fashion. His rebound control may be the very best in the draft class, absorbing pucks with ease from pretty much every angle. A silver medalist at both the U18 and Ivan Hlinka tournaments last year, the Czech’s have one of their best chances ever to compete for a medal, and if it’s going to happen, Vladar will likely be a big reason why.

Richard T Gagnon/Getty Images

Richard T Gagnon/Getty Images

4. Jordan Greenway. F (USA): He’s big, he’s powerful, he’s a goal scoring machine, he’s Jordan Greenway! A product of the Shattuck-St. Mary’s prep school in Minnesota, Greenway made the jump to the U.S. National Development Team this year, becoming an offensive threat on every shift. A first round pick by the OHL’s Plymouth Whalers back in 2013, Greenway had 20 points in 22 games with the USDP in the USHL this year, with 15 of those being assists. At 6-foot-5 and 222 pounds, the Boston University commit will make the jump to the NCAA next season following the NHL draft in June. Despite falling down in the NHL Central Scouting rankings in April, Greenway projects as a valuable power-forward that will likely spend as much time as possible at the college hockey level. If his five points in six games at the U17’s last year is any indication, Greenway will be a name you hear called every day at the U18’s, a good chance to prove that he’s a solid option for the first round this year.

Jakub Homoľa/SlovakProspects.com

Jakub Homoľa/SlovakProspects.com

3. Jakub Zboril, D (Czech Republic): There is almost no way you haven’t heard of Zboril if you follow junior hockey. The Saint John Sea Dogs star, Zboril has played at two Ivan Hlinka’s, the U18’s and the World Junior A Challenge over the past two seasons. A late cut from the World Junior team, Zboril is one of the better European-born two-way defensemen in the NHL Draft this year, and after posting 33 points in 44 games during his first year in North America, it’s clear he’s made a successful transition. At the past two U18 tournament’s hes participated in, the 2013 and 2014 Ivan Hlinka events, he’s combined for eight points in nine games, impressive stats for a blueliner. At 18, the big, quick-moving defenseman will look to shine in his final U18 World Championships and continue on with proving to scouts that he deserves deserve to be a top 20 pick this coming June.

Dominika Handzušová/Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament

Dominika Handzušová/Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament

2. Mathew Barzal, F (Canada): Barzal has been on the radar of many Canadian scouts for some time now. During his bantam season in 2011-2012, Barzal put up a whopping 153 points in 51 games, leading the Seattle Thunderbirds to select him first overall in the 2012 WHL Bantam Draft. Ranked 11th on the final NHL Central Scouting list, Barzal is a very good bet to make Team Canada at the 2016 World Juniors, so the team will likely rely on him to play some big minutes in Switzerland this year. If his 45 assists are any indication, the top draft prospect is a solid playmaker that makes his linemates better, and with many big name players having to miss the tournament due to the CHL playoffs, Barzal will be doing a lot of the lifting. Barzal did miss a good portion of the season to a fractured kneecap, so despite getting 57 points in 44 games this year, Barzal should still have a lot of good hockey left in him. His injury didn’t slow him down when he came back, so expect some high offensive numbers for the guy making his second U18 appearance.

Dennis Pajot/Getty Images

Dennis Pajot/Getty Images

1. Pavel Zacha, F (Czech Republic): Despite battling injuries this season, Zacha has maintained a solid ranking all season long and will surely be one of the top prospects to watch at the U18’s. Standing at 6’3, 205lbs Zacha already has pro-level size and he certainly uses it. His game is based around his big body presence as he’s a physical player and uses that size advantage to keep opponents from taking the puck away from him. He is already a solid two-way player and by going to the CHL, he has really started to round out his game. Offensively, he has a good shot and shows good creativity with the puck. A first overall pick by the Sarnia Sting at the 2014 import draft, Zacha finished his OHL rookie season with 34 points 37 games after missing time throughout the season. He’s no stranger to success at this tournament, recording eight points split over the past two U18 tournaments. Zacha only has a silver medal to his name, but with the powerful team the Czech’s are bringing this year, is the third time going to be the charm?

Follow me on twitter, @StevenEllisNHL.

About The Author

Steven took a different route towards his hockey interests. Starting out as a big Habs fan, he started to gravitate towards the more obscure levels of hockey, such as the low level tournaments in Asia, strange club matches between teams most people in North America can’t pronounce, and even some 3am contests between Bulgaria and New Zealand. Aside from his love for strange hockey events, Steven occasionally acts as a mediocre ball hockey goalie following a failed attempt at making it to the NHL as a fourth line house league grinder. Beyond hockey, Steven is an avid racing fan and loves to chat about NASCAR, F1, Indycar, you name it. Oh, and don’t get him started on music. That is, unless you want the whole history of metal and a guitar lesson. Currently, Steven is a credentialed media member with the Mississauga Steelheads of the OHL, as well as with the Oakville Blades of the OJHL. Steven has also hosted the television show "The Hockey House" on TVCogeco in Ontario, as well as a segment under the same with on LeafsTV in Toronto. Home page: http://www.thehockeyhouse.net

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