Merry Christmas. The New Jersey Devils have been a disappointment in 2021-22. What is not a disappointment is the annual international tournament featuring most of the best hockey players under the age of 20 years old. Presented and organized by the International Ice Hockey Federation. It is time for the World Under-20 Championships, better known as the World Junior Championships (WJC). Even if you do not care much for international hockey, the action between the big nations are generally compelling enough to draw your interest. If you can, I highly suggest watching it.
The Basic Information for the 2022 WJC
The Dates: December 26, 2021 to January 5, 2022
The Broadcasts: TSN and RDS will be your go-to stations in Canada and the NHL Network will be your go-to station in America. Links go to the broadcast schedule and the game schedule. Times for the start of games range from 2 PM ET to 9:30 PM ET.
The Locations: Edmonton is hosting this year’s WJC again. Unlike last year, this is not in a bubble. Red Deer is the secondary host. The Albertan government has capped attendance to 50% capacity, which is a lot more than the 0% capacity of last year’s tourney.
The Ever-Present COVID Concern: One pre-tournament game was postponed due to a positive test among Czechia and Switzerland. The IIHF announced that they have cancelled their tournaments starting in January, which means the Women’s World U-18 Championships (championship, Divisions I A, I B, and III) and Men’s World U-20 Division II and III Championships are off. (Why don’t they postpone those? Short answer: money. Longer answer per Gord Miller on Twitter: money to support the tourneys isn’t there for those six.) The WJC players have been in Edmonton for a few weeks now and the tourney is backed by both Hockey Canada and the Edmonton Oilers, so it is still on. Yet, it is reasonable to be concerned if it is going to happen in full. This is a short tournament played within two weeks. There really is not a lot of leeway for postponing games.
The Format: This year’s WJC will have two groups of five teams: Group A and Group B. The top four teams in each group will move onto the Playoff.
The Playoff is a single-elimination tournament. The Quarterfinals are determined by matching up the final positions of each group. First in Group A will play fourth in Group B, second in Group A will play third in Group B, and so forth. The winners of that round will move on to the Semifinals. The winners of the Semifinals will play for the Gold medal. The losers of the Semifinals will play for the Bronze medal.
For the two teams that finish last in each group, they will face each other in a Relegation Playoff. It is a best-of-three series. The winner will return for the 2023 World Junior Championships. The loser will go to Division IA and replaced by this year’s Division IA winner: Belarus.
The Group Stage will have their games start on December 26, 2021 and end on December 31, 2021. The Quarterfinals of the Playoff will take place on January 2, 2022. The Semifinals will take place on January 4, 2022. The third-place and WJC Final will take place on January 5, 2022.
The Groups: Here is who is in each group. Take a guess as to which one will be more challenging:
Group A: Canada, Finland, Czechia, Germany, Austria
Group B: United States, Russia, Sweden, Slovakia, Switzerland
The Devils Involved: Four Devils prospects are set to play for their respective nations.
- Luke Hughes - Defenseman, United States
- Shakir Mukhamadullin - Defenseman, Russia
- Alexander Holtz - Winger, Sweden
- Jakub Málek - Goaltender, Czechia
The Reminder: This is a short tournament that will have, at most, seven games played. It is not going to be real representation of the prospect’s game or their future. So do not freak out if a Devils or 2022 draft eligible prospect/nation has a bad WJC and try to temper your hype if a Devils or 2022 draft eligible prospect/nation has a great WJC. Take the tourney as it is.
Let us take a closer look at each team and highlight any draft eligible prospects. Generally, draft prospects are featured at the World Under-18 Championships, which will be held in late April in Germany in 2022. However, this year’s WJC has plenty of 2022 draft prospects and two aces for 2023. And, unfortunately, the state of the 2021-22 Devils means we should want to see these players for a potential selection. First, Group A; then Group B.
The Roster: From Elite Prospects
At a Glance: Canada is always a favorite in these tourneys as they churn out junior players of all kinds year in, year out. Hockey Canada is not short on talent. They were able to tell Hendrix Lapierre, someone who played in the NHL this season, that he was not needed. They were able to tell Brandt Clarke, a top draft pick in 2021, that he was not needed. And the home team still remains as favorites.
Expected top goaltender Sebastian Cossa has been fantastic with Edmonton in the WHL. The blueline is a mix of players with all kinds of skillsets from the productive Lukas Cormier to the rugged Kaiden Guhle. Oh, and they have Owen Power this time around. The same can be said for the forwards. From Mason MacTavish to Kent Johnson to Cole Perfetti to Mavrik Bourque. If there is a “weakness,” then it is with a lack of experience as only a handful of players have returned from the 2021 team that won Silver. Still, on paper, they are the favorites. And the limited crowd will definitely be pro-Canada.
The 2022 Draft Eligible(s) to Look For: Shane Wright. He has been the expected #1 pick for 2022 ever since he joined up Kingston of the OHL as a 15-year old and led them in goal scoring as a rookie. While he lost a season in 2021, it did not deter him from being one of the top three players on a stacked Canadian roster at the World U-18s with nine goals and 14 points in five games. He may not be the next McDavid, but he could be the next Patrice Bergeron. Anyone who does not think that is not worthy of being #1 in a draft class clearly does not respect Bergeron. Oh, and he still has 30 points in 22 games despite a slowish start on the scoresheet. You know, that little thing.
The 2023 Name to Remember: Forward Connor Bedard made the Canadian team as a 16-year old. Here is a list of all of the Canadian players to make the WJC roster as a 16-year old: Wayne Gretzky, Eric Lindros, Jason Spezza, Jay Bouwmeester, Sidney Crosby, and Connor McDavid. Bedard is the first teenager with exceptional player status in the Western Hockey League and he has more than justified it on the ice. In a shortened 2020-21 season, he put up 12 goals and 28 points in 15 games for the Regina Pats. As a 15 year old in the WHL. While the WHL was unavailable, he earned a loan for some games with HV71’s youth teams. At the 2021 World U-18 Championships, he made the All Star Team for Canada’s Gold medal winning team with 7 goals and 7 assists in 7 games. So far this season with the Pats, he has 14 goals and 24 points in 24 games. This is utterly ridiculous for a guy who does not turn 17 until July 2022. He is the expected #1 pick for 2023 and arguably Canada’s best prospect since McDavid. Provided the coaches let him loose, he could be a contributor as a triple-underage player in this tourney. Ridiculous.
Expectation: Winning it all. At home, in front of fans (for now), and a game away from winning it all last year. The goal is Gold.
The Roster: From Elite Prospects
At a Glance: The Finns have opted for experience for their roster. Many from the team that won Bronze last year are back. Such as the productive and standout Finns from 2021’s tourney: Topi Niemelä, Kasper Simontaival, Roni Hirvonen, Joel Blomqvist, and Ruben Rafkin. With 11 players undrafted, this tourney could be a showcase event for them to be picked after being passed over in 2021 too. There is plenty of reason to expect the players to show up and compete for a medal. It would be even stronger if Aatu Raty was available, but he is out due to COVID-19.
If there is a concern for the Finns, it may be in the net. While Blomqvist is returning, he was just a third goalie for last year’s squad. His international appearances have some poor save percentages. Should he falter, that is not good in a short tournament. The Finns could turn to Leevi Meriläinen, whose had better numbers internationally but poorer ones with Kingston in the OHL.
The 2022 Draft Eligible(s) to Look For: Joakim Kemell and Brad Lambert. Lambert was a hot pick to challenge Wright ahead of the 2021-22 season for the top spot in this draft class. While Lambert will certainly be a high pick, Kemell appears to have jumped him early in terms of which Finnish prospect may go first. Kemell has an impressive 12 goals in 21 games with JYP in the Liiga (!!) to go with 18 points. That is great for any player, more so for a 17-year old. Lambert has not been nearly as productive with just the two goals and six points in 24 games on the same team. This tourney could be a refresher as to why Lambert was hyped up initially. Either way, if you’re watching the Finns with an eye on 2022, then these two are the ones to look at.
Expectation: Bronze. I do not think they will prevail over Canada in the group and the medal tournament can be nasty. But if they can fortunate with their matchups, then another Bronze may be in the cards.
The Roster: From Elite Prospects
At a Glance: They want to be known as Czechia. So be it. The Czechs (that adjective is still OK) are in a safe place in Group A. They are ahead of Germany and Austria. They are quite behind Canada and Finland. Unless they get upset by the two Central European teams, they will be in the medal tournament. How far they will go will be based on who, if anyone gets hot. The team is not loaded with recent draft picks, but Stanislav Szovil, Jan Mysak, and Pavel Novák are among returning players who could be expected to play in big roles. A good number of the roster did play for Czechia’s U-18 team at the Worlds in 2021, so at least there should be plenty of familiarity in the lineup.
NJ Devil Prospect Highlight: Jakub Málek was not a particularly well received pick. However, the Czech second league goaltender for VHK Vsetin has had himself a very, very fine season so far in their crease. Very, very fine may be underselling an overall save percentage of 93.2% in 23 games in the league. Unfortunately, his appearances for the U-20 team have not gone so well. He has an overall save percentage below 86% in four appearances. Ouch. The starting position may be a toss up between Jan Bednar (who plays for Acadie-Bathurst in the QMJHL and was drafted by Detroit) and Daniel Kral (who is 18 and is on loan in the Czech second league). It is a short tournament, so seeing all three goalies get involved is uncommon. At the least, he was named to the team and that is an achievement in of itself.
The 2022 Draft Eligible(s) to Look For: There are three names to know, and Ivan Ivan is not one of them (he’s an overager). The first is the potential first rounder, defenseman David Jiříček. He just turned 18 last month and has been playing for HC Plzen in the Czech first league since he last season. In other words, he technically started playing for their senior team at age 16 and he is a defenseman. He is very mobile, very active, and very involved (and can be very mean too). He did play for the Czech WJC team last year. He could blossom in his second tournament. The second is the potential second/third rounder, forward Jiří Kulich. The 17-year old received his first taste of senior hockey in Czechia last season and has played with HC Energie Karlovy Vary. He has seven goals and four assists in 30 appearances while standing out for the Czech U-18 team and getting minutes with the U-20 team. He could open up some eyes in this tourney. The third is an under-the-radar defenseman in Matej Pinkas. Like Jiříček, he just turned 18 last month. Unlike Jiříček, he started the season with HK Hradec Kralove’s U-20 team. He was loaned out to HC Stadio Litomerice in the Czech second league to get some pro experience and he has 22 appearances already. Pinkas has also received plenty of national team duty at the youth levels, with U-20 games this season and representing at the World U-18s earlier this year. His low point totals suggest he is not an offensive player, but you need all roles in a tourney like this. We shall see if he garners a few extra looks after these two weeks in Alberta.
Expectation: Quarterfinal loss. A trip to the Semifinals would be amazing. However, Czechia is likely to finish third in this group. Which means they will play whoever finishes second among the United States, Russia, and Sweden. Unless Czechia gets a huge upset in the knockout stage of the tourney, I think their run ends in the Quarterfinals.
The Roster: From Elite Prospects
At a Glance: The Germans had some exciting prospects in recent seasons. It does not appear they will have one for 2022. The problem with these age-gated tournaments is that countries that have a “golden generation” or a couple of strong years may get them to a level they cannot sustain. Everyone ages out, so if the next young men up are not good enough, then a team could go down.
Fortunately for Germany, they may not be the worst team in the group. That stated, it is still lacking in names. Tim Stützle, John-Jason Peterka, and Lukas Reichel were not made available. The only drafted players on this roster is defenseman Luca Münzenberger and goaltender Nikita Quapp. I do not think anyone is a first-time eligible draft pick for 2022 outside of defenseman Adrian Klein. The Germans effectively have one must-win game in this group. Their best bet is to focus on winning that than trying to have a miracle in upsetting Canada, Finland, or Czechia.
The 2022 Draft Eligible(s) to Look For: If you love over-age draft picks, then this team is for you. From Florian Elias - who put up an astounding four goals and nine points in five games in 2021’s WJCs - to Bennet Roßmy, this team has plenty of guys that could catch someone’s attention for a late pick in 2022. Most of this team plays in Germany first or second best league so trying to get a sense of how they would do in a higher level of pro hockey would be a challenge. You do not want to overrate four or five tournament games, but the WJCs offers a little more to that sense of what they could do in stiffer competition. I would not hold my breath for any of these players though.
Expectation: Fourth place finish in Group A, they get bodied in the Quarterfinals by the Group B winner, and they breath a sigh of relief that they avoid the relegation series. This means they beat the last team in Group A.
The Roster: From Elite Prospects
At a Glance: The Austrians finished last in 2021. They were not relegated only because there was no Division IA tournament that year. COVID-19 meant only the WJCs were played. Austria got wrecked with exactly one goal scored. The team is younger with a number of 2022 draft eligible players, and even a 2023 draft eligible player. But they lack on paper the talent needed to even not get rolled over by superior Canadian, Finnish, and Czech rosters. Austria’s saving grace is that they effectively have one game to actually play in this group. Their final game against Germany. I would expect the loser of this one to go to the relegation round. If Austria can just win that one game. If goaltender Sebastian Wraneschitz can be good for that one game. If someone other than Senna Peeters scores a goal (he scored it in 2021) for that one game. If someone on the blueline can make the game tougher for one game. That is it. Do I think they will do it? Well, no.
The 2022 Draft Eligible(s) to Look For: There are two names to be aware of despite my low expectation for Austria this year. Both are forwards: Marco Kasper and Vinzenz Rohrer. Rohrer plays for the Ottawa 67’s in the OHL. He has 22 points in 28 games and he is among OHL rookies in scoring. He is very young, but Brock Otten ranked him 11th on his November ranking of OHL prospects for the draft. He is not a nobody. If he grows, has a good tourney, and returns to the 67’s and produces, then he could be a riser. Kasper has higher expectations. The Rögle BK forward has primarily played in the SHL with 24 appearances, four goals, and two assists. He has been more productive in their Champions Hockey League games, with two goals and four assists in nine games. Playing in Sweden’s top league as a 17 year old is impressive. He could be a late first rounder and this tournament could help him either cement that, or see him go higher with further growth in Sweden. Given Austria is bereft of future NHL talent on this roster, the coaches would be wise to give Rohrer and Kasper at least the chance to show off.
The 2023 Name to Remember: Defenseman David Reinbacher. He will turn 18 in October 2022. The right-handed shooting defender is already 6’1” and 179 pounds and he has made his debut in Switzerland’s top league through EHC Kloten. He was very productive at the youth levels, where he does make some appearances with the U-20 Kloten team. In 17 games with the senior team this season, he has eight assists already. He could be one to remember for next year. He will make his international debut for Austria at this WJC.
Expectation: They are relegation fighters. Which is a nice way of saying that if they do not get relegated, then this tournament will be a success for them. I think they will get relegated. But if they do not, celebrate Austrians. It will be an achievement for your country and roster of at least interestingly named players (e.g. Kilian Rappold, Maximilian Hengelmüller, Finn van Ee, Reinbacher, Rohrer, Wraneschitz, etc.).
The Roster: From Elite Prospects
At a Glance: The United States shut out and stunned Canada in the Gold medal game last year to win the WJCs. The United States National Team Development Program continues to grow future American NHLers and rack up hardware in tourneys like this one. It will be a challenge to defend Gold, but they will make a dang good attempt at it. Defenseman Jake Sanderson and forward Matty Beniers will return to lead the way in their respective positions. And they could be glorious. The forward group may miss Thomas Bordeleau (COVID-19), but will have plenty of support from Sasha Pastujov, Chaz Lucius, Red Savage, Landon Slaggert, Mackie Samskovich, and Matt Coronato among others. The defense will be especially strong. Not only is Sanderson returning, but also Brock Faber and Tyler Kleven. Scott Morrow and Luke Hughes have both had great seasons so far in college and they can take this defense group to the proverbial next level.
The one big question: Goaltending. Is it going to be good enough? Last year, Spencer Knight ruled the crease. He is not here anymore due to age. Drew Commesso is likely the starter. A lot of weight will be on his shoulders. If not him, then the Americans will turn to Lincoln Stars and undrafted goaltender Kaiden Mbereko and American U-18 goaltender Dylan Silverstein. Knight was a top goalie prospect and it showed in these international games. These three are not Knight. Can they be good enough to get the Americans out of a tough group? At the least, they will be baptized by fire.
NJ Devil Prospect Highlight: Luke Hughes getting drafted by the Devils was greeted with ecstatic cheering from brother Jack Hughes and the People Who Matter all over the world. Hughes is likely following Quinn’s path at Michigan: two years of greatness in college and then turning pro. So far, Luke’s freshman year at Michigan has been great. He has seven goals and 18 points on that stacked college team, primarily on a second pairing behind Power. While Hughes will likely be behind Sanderson in the depth chart, I would expect significant minutes for the youngest Hughes brother at this tourney. Then he can go back and crush it for the Maize and Blue.
The 2022 Draft Eligible(s) to Look For: While Silverstein is likely going to get his time at the World U-18s in 2022, the main one to seek out is forward Logan Cooley. Cooley is part of an interesting U-18 USNTDP squad that could yield several high draft picks this year after a not-so-strong number last year beyond Luke Hughes. Cooley has ben very productive with the USNTDP both last season and this season (14 goals and 30 points in USNTDP non-USHL games). While he may not be large, he works hard in all three zones and his work yields results. Norte Dame hockey fans are likely looking forward to seeing him on campus next Fall. His rankings so far indicate he could be a top-ten pick. Should he get the chance to play quite a bit in Alberta, he could justify that. Even if he does not, I would expect him to be a leader at the World U-18s later next year regardless.
Expectation: At least a medal. The USNTDP was built in part to get medals at these tournaments. It will be tough but I think they will take one of the top two spots in Group B and set up a slightly easier quarterfinal matchup. This should mean a semifinal where win or lose, they will play for something. I do not think they go all the way to the Gold Medal finals this time. But I think they are aiming for at least a top three finish. Good luck.
The Roster: From Elite Prospects
At a Glance: Every year, it seems like the same story with Russia. “How come they do not pick their best players?” “How come they shut out guys their organization does not like and/or plays in North America?” How come they did not bring this draft eligible prospect but brought that one?” “How come it favors one team (this year, the team is SKA St. Petersburg)” And, new for this year, “How come there are no righty-shooters on this team?” And every year, it seems like the same result: Russia will be super competitive, they will look like they can go for it all, and may actually do it. You doubt Russia in the WJCs at your own peril.
Anyway, it is a legitimate question why they did not return Daniil Chayka or Yan Kuznetsov since they played last year on their blueline. It would beef it up on paper. That said, Russia may have the best (and one of the most experienced) goalies in Yaroslav Askarov. That is critical in a short tournament. Their offense can be downright frightening with Fyodor Svechkov, Nikita Chibrikov, Marat Khusnutdinov, Alexander Pashin, and Matvei Michkov leading the way. Russia lost in the Bronze medal game last year, won Silver in 2019, and won Bronze in 2018. Doubting that they could get hardware again, well, it is at your peril.
NJ Devil Prospect Highlight: Shakir Mukhamadullin has grown from questionable first round draft pick to regular defenseman for Salavat Yulaev Ufa and big-minute defender for Russia. He is one of the returning defenders for Russia as he represented at the WJCs last year. A lot is going to be asked of him as well as the other adds to this year’s roster. If he can do a good job and Askarov is not shelled, then Devils fans will have more reason to look forward to his future and Russian management will be justified in their roster choices. As if Russian management shows regret in their decision-making process, but hey.
The 2022 Draft Eligible(s) to Look For: Forward Ivan Miroshnichenko did not make this team. Forward Danila Yurov did. Those two are the early favorites for the top Russian prospect for 2022. Like many young players, Yurov’s 21 appearances in the KHL belie really low ice times. Whenever he got a chance to actually play, it was in the MHL where he just stood out like a stud. The VHL would logically be a stop-gap, but that does not seem to be an option. While his stats may not jump off the page, his skillset can - and he can do that at this year’s WJCs. He is a strong skater and can take space as good any prospective winger.
The 2023 Name to Remember: Matvei Michkov. It would be reductive to call him Russia’s Connor Bedard. But he’s basically Russia’s Connor Bedard. Like Bedard, he was an underage point machine at the World U-18s in 2021. No joke, he scored 12 goals and put up 16 points in seven games. I do not care who the opponent(s) were. That is ridiculous. He also put up 35 goals and 52 points in 50 games with SKA 1946, SKA’s MHL team. This season, he has made his KHL debut at the age of 16 (he just turned 17 a few weeks ago) and has two goals and five points in 13 games. Points by a 16/17 year old in a league and hockey culture that traditionally buries young talent! To say nothing about his 2+ point per game average in the MHL! The only reason why Michkov may not be #1 in 2023 is because he is signed SKA through 2025-26. And I do not think Russia’s richest team is going to let him go easily. Still, make the time to check him out. Like Bedard, Michkov is special.
Expectation: At least a medal. Askarov being as good as he can be can take Russia all the way to a final with Canada. After missing out on Bronze last year, I think they want a medal under any circumstances. And among all three teams in Group B, I think they may have the best chance to come out of a quarterfinal matchup against Finland should they finish third.
The Roster: From Elite Prospects
At a Glance: Poor Sweden. Bounced out of the Quarterfinals in two of the last three WJCs. Lucas Raymond is too busy scoring points with Detroit to score them for Sweden. It could be argued that this Swedish team may have a chip on its shoulder and want to leave Alberta having won something this time. I think this may be the case as when they announced their roster, they left a spot open intentionally after requesting the New Jersey Devils to loan Alexander Holtz for Utica. To Sweden’s delight, they did.
On paper, Sweden may have a killer line in Oskar Olausson, William Eklund, and Holtz. Eklund and Holtz are very familiar with each other from Djurgårdens. Their forward depth is bolstered by Fabian Lysell. Isak Rosén, Theodor Neiderbach, and Daniel Torgersson. The defense will be led by Simon Edvinsson, Emil Andrae, Anton Olsson, Helge Grans, and Leo Lööf. Their key this time may be goaltender Jesper Wallstedt. He could not take the job from Hugo Alfenelt last year. 2022 can be a redemption tournament for Wallstedt. He has been great with Luleå HF this season. His time may be now and as anyone can tell you, a goaltender playing well can make a huge difference between going home early and getting a medal draped around your neck.
NJ Devil Prospect Highlight: Forward Alexander Holtz. You may remember as the prospect who got cut late in this year’s training camp. Or the prospect that did not, in fact, salvage Mark Recchi’s power play in a few NHL games this season. Or as the Utica Comet with six goals, four assists, and 36 shots in just 11 games. Sweden thought highly enough to leave a spot for him. With a potential reunion with the very talented William Eklund, Holtz could be a top scorer for the Swedes.
The 2022 Draft Eligible(s) to Look For: If you like undersized overage draft prospects that primarily play in the SHL or HockeyAllsvenskan, Sweden has a few. There are defensemen Måns Forsfjäll and Victor Sjöholm. There are forwards Åke Stakkestad and Elias Stenman. Short of either of these four standing out (or even playing a lot), Sweden is not really the team to look for 2022 picks. Check back for the World U-18 Championships in April.
Expectation: At least a medal. Sweden has the goods to go all the way. The problem for them is that they are in Group B. Someone is finishing third in this group and has a potential date with a really good Finnish team in the Quarterfinals. I think Sweden may avoid it. But a potential semifinal that is either a rematch with the US or Russia or a potential Canadian semifinal? I do not know. If Wallstedt is on form and Olausson-Eklund-Holtz crushes it, then sure, why not? If not, um...sorry, Sweden?
The Roster: From Elite Prospects
At a Glance: Slovakian hockey 20-25 years ago had notable NHL players and a pipeline in developing more. Enough to wonder why they were not considered among the Czechias or Swedens or Finlands in terms of “power nations” in European hockey. Then the pipeline dried up. Those notable NHL players eventually ended their career. Slovakia became just one of the nations in the mix. But this year may be a year where a resurgence begins. Whether it will be a quick one like Germany just had or the start of something bigger remains to be seen. Unfortunately, Slovakia gets Russia, the United States, and Sweden in this group. So unless they can pull off a massive upset, they may have to be fine with just not finishing last in the group. And I am not sure they will have at least the goalies to do it.
They will command some attention if only for who is in their lineup. Samuel Knazko will lead the defense and Martin Chromiak will lead the forwards. The roster has a blend of players in their local leagues and those abroad in North American junior hockey or other European junior leagues. There are a number of underage players on the roster that you can pencil in for next year’s team (and two for the next two years). Again, Slovakia may not be in a rut prospect-wise in 2022. But it will take sustained growth to return to competing for more than just a Quarterfinal appearance.
The 2022 Draft Eligible(s) to Look For: There is plenty to look for here. On defense, there is Šimon Nemec. The 17-year old defender made his pro debut for HK Nitra last season and not only represented Slovakia at the U-18 level, but also at last year’s WJCs and the World Championships. With another year of experience under his belt, Nemec could make a case for a lottery pick this year in addition to being one of the leading defenders on this roster. At forward, the big name is Juraj Slafkovsky. He is huge, he plays a power forward type game that you really do not see very much of these days, and he can be quick and skilled on the puck. He made his pro debut with TPS in Liiga this season after crushing it with their U-20 team. Like Nemec, this is the 17-year old winger’s second WJC with Slovakia and also played for the nation at the World Championships. Both Slafkovsky and Nemec could be the highest drafted Slovaks in years.
But wait! There’s more! Forward Filip Mešár will turn 18 by the end of the tournament and is also returning to his second WJC. Mešár is in his second season in Slovakian pro hockey with HK Poprad and he is on his way to matching his total of 14 points as a 17 year old with 9 in 20 games so far this season. He has legitimate first round potential. Adam Sýkora made his pro debut with HK Nitra last season and continues to perform with them. He already surpassed his meager point total in 2020-21 (two assists in 15 games) with three goals and four assists in 22 games. He is not large, but he is a part of the Slovakian set up and if you’re already watching Nemec, you’ll likely see some of Sýkora. On defense, look out for Jozef Viliam Kmec in addition to Nemec. He plays for Prince George in the WHL and so he is acclimated to the North American rink. Kmec has averaged just over a half-point per game with the Cougars and he is big enough to get some attention. We shall see if his usage commands even more from this tournament.
The 2023 Names to Remember: Indeed that is names as in plural. As in more than one. There are two 16-year olds on this roster. It is unknown how much they will play, but that they are on this roster is notable in of itself. The first is defenseman Maxim Strbak. He’s already 6’2” and 183 pounds with a right-handed shot at just 16 years of age. Strbak has been growing through Jokerit’s youth system. He split time with the U-16 and U-18 teams last season, he has been graduated to the U-20 team (whom Salminen plays for, by the way). Which is impressive as he is just 16. I would expect him to stay there or go to a non-major junior team in the future (Sioux Falls has his USHL rights) as he has committed to the University of Vermont for the 2024-25 season. The second is much more enticing: forward Dalibor Dvorsky. The 16-year old plays for AIK in Sweden. AIK is in the HockeyAllsvenskan. AIK is a pro team. Dvorsky is a 16-year old playing with men in Sweden. OK, his production and usage there is limited (10 games, one assist), but he was crushing it with the U-20 AIK team with a staggering 13 goals and 14 assists in 20 games. He commanded a bigger challenge. Dvorsky has a chance to join Bedard and Michkov as reasons to get hyped for the 2023 draft. A good showing at this year’s WJC will spark that fire.
Expectation: Many of these players did take Silver at the last Hlinka-Gretzky Cup, a U-18 tournament prior to most seasons in the hockey world. They may be particularly hungry to go further. But I still think they do not have enough to get to a podium. Go finish fourth and if you can surprise along the way, great. If not, be competitive and set yourselves up for a step forward in 2023’s WJC.
The Roster: From Elite Prospects
At a Glance: Remember what I wrote about Germany? It applies to Switzerland too. While the Swiss have been more productive in terms of churning out prospects, this roster is lacking. No Swiss player was drafted in 2020. Only Simon Knak and Brian Zanetti were picked among this roster. They may not be doormats as the team has a load of 2002 and 2003 birthdates, but in this group, it is going to be an uphill battle in every game. Slovakia knows that beating them will ensure a trip to the Quarters. The U.S., Sweden, and Russia all know that beating them will keep their chances to lead the group going. Switzerland is in a real tough spot.
I am not sure what their strength is. Among the goalies, Loic Galley does not seem impressive, and while the stats for Noah Patenaude and Kevin Pasche are not bad, both are not the starting goalies on their respective teams in the QMJHL and USHL. The defense has a handful of major junior players joining a mostly-Swiss-league based blueline. It is unknown how well they will hand legitimately deep offenses from the likes of Russia, Sweden, and the United States. Switzerland did not score a lot last year with five goals total. One each from five different players. A couple of those guys are back (e.g. Knak), but it is tough to identify anyone who has impressed elsewhere. I guess Lorenzo Canonica is having a nice 19-year old season with Shawinigan in the QMJHL? It is going to take a lot of elevation to compete in this group and I just do not see it for 2022.
The 2022 Draft Eligible(s) to Look For: There is one player to look for on this roster with an eye on 2022: defenseman Lian Bischel. Bischel is massive at 6’5” and 218 pounds. The left-shooting defender switched to Leksands IF in Sweden for this season. Already he has split time between their junior team (11 games, 7 points) and the senior team (12 games, 1 point) in the SHL. The 17-year old will likely play a big role in Switzerland’s World U-18 roster later in 2022. We shall see if he ends up getting some significant action in the WJCs to prepare for 2023’s tourney.
Expectation: Relegation fighters. Short of a humongous big upset, Switzerland is likely going to finish last in this group. They are not better than Slovakia, who has a lot of potential to compete in 2023’s and 2024’s WJC. It is a question if they can really hang with Sweden, Russia, and the United States. I do think they are better than both Germany and Austria. It would be a shock if they get relegated to Division IA, but it should not be a shock if they are playing for their 2023 WJC lives.
The Be Strong, Be Wrong Prediction for the 2022 WJCs
Group A: Canada, Finland, Czechia, Germany, Austria
Group B: Sweden, United States, Russia, Slovakia, Switzerland
Quarterfinals: Canada over Slovakia, Sweden over Germany, Russia over Finland, United States over Czechia
Semifinals: Canada over Russia, United States over Sweden
Relegation: Switzerland over Austria, Belarus replaces Austria in 2023.
Medal Finals: Canada over United States for Gold, Sweden over Russia for Bronze
Basically, I am predicting revenge for the 2021 WJCs. Also, the semifinals and medal games will be very tight games. I would expect overtime for at least one of them.
Once Again...: Whether you want to see Hughes, Holtz, and Mukhamadullin play significant roles for their nation, check out some 2022 draft eligible players (and a handful of 2023 prospects), and/or want to see some competitive international ice hockey, the 2022 World Junior Championships should hold your interest. It is always an exciting tournament. It is a short one, no team will play more than 7 games. I would recommend not basing an opinion about a prospect’s NHL future career based on just 7 games. But I would recommend enjoying the games and hoping that the four Devils at the tourney do the best they can. And, as ever, no injuries please!
Thank you for reading. The WJC Open Post will be up tomorrow at 1 PM ET.