By Nic Osanic
#1: Team Canada
Although Canada may be lacking some of the top draft pick pedigree from last year, their production is right up there. In fact, this lineup is stacked. Seven forwards on the roster are the current captain of their junior team, three forwards played in the NHL this year, and five players won gold for Canada at the U-18 World Championships back in May.
While the media spotlight will be on 16-year-old sensation Connor Bedard (2023 projected 1st overall pick), he may not even have a regular spot in the lineup. After posting 6 points in 7 games at last year’s tournament, Cole Perfetti has registered 15 points in the AHL this year, along with a short stint with the Winnipeg Jets. Jake Neighbours (St. Louis Blues 2019 1st round pick) and Mason McTavish (2021 3rd overall pick – Anaheim Ducks) are both 1st round picks who played 9 games each in the NHL.
Ridley Greig is an Ottawa Senators 1st rounder who is having a terrific year with the Brandon Wheat Kings (28 points in 19 games). Mavrik Bourque (Dallas Stars 2020 1st round pick) and Xavier Bourgault (Edmonton Oilers 2021 1st round pick) are teammates with Shawinigan in the QMJHL and have been tearing it up together. Logan Stankoven (Dallas Stars 2nd round pick) and Dylan Guenther (Arizona Coyotes 1st round pick) are above a point-per-game pace in the WHL and won gold at the U-18 World Championships.
Captaining that winning team was 2022 projected 1st overall pick, Shane Wright. The hype surrounding Connor Bedard has somewhat overshadowed Wright at the international level, which is likely going to play in his favour. Despite not being named a tournament all-star, Wright tied Bedard for Canada’s lead in points and did so after playing two fewer games due to an injury (14 points in 5 games). Wright had 66 points in 58 games as a 15-year-old for Kingston in the OHL and has quietly put up 30 points in 22 games this year after getting off to a slow start.
Kent Johnson (2021 5th overall pick – Columbus) rounds out the forward core alongside Elliot Desnoyers (Philadelphia), Justin Sourdif (Florida), and Will Cuyle (New York Rangers). All in all, every forward that Canada is bringing is either drafted or a projected 1st overall pick.
On defence, Canada will be led by last year’s 1st overall pick Owen Power (Buffalo Sabres). Power won gold for Canada at the 2021 Men’s World Hockey Championships and has 23 points in 18 games with Michigan in the NCAA. Montreal Canadiens 1st round pick Kaiden Guhle should also have a large role with the team. Guhle is one of just three returning players and had 3 points in 7 games with a +8 rating. In 20 WHL games split between Prince Albert and Edmonton, Guhle has generated 18 points.
The Minnesota Wild will be watching closely as both Carson Lambos (2021 1st round pick), and Ryan O’Rourke (2020 2nd round pick) will represent them. Lambos played in Finland last year while O’Rourke spent the entire season in the AHL. Both defensemen are just under a point-per-game pace. Donovan Sebrango (Detroit Red Wings 3rd round pick) will bring 51 games of AHL experience with him after spending the past 2 seasons there. Lukas Cormier (Vegas 2nd rounder) and Olen Zellweger (Anaheim 1st rounder) will be two huge offensive threats as they each lead their respective leagues in points-per-game by defensemen (QMJHL for Cormier and WHL for Zellweger).
Finally, Ronan Seeley (Carolina 7th round pick) rounds out the defensive core. Seeley, a native of the Northwest Territories, is on track to become the first player from the territories to play in the World Juniors. Oddly, this comes just one year after Dylan Cozens became the first player to play in the tournament from the Yukon Territories. Seeley is currently captaining the Everett Silvertips of the WHL and has 22 points in 24 games with a +23 rating (plus/minus is usually not a true indicator of success, so take this for what it’s worth). There was a lot of public outcry when the team failed to select Brandt Clarke, but they still clearly have a deep and talented defensive core.
After Devon Levi’s incredible performance last year, Canada will once again have great goaltending options. Sebastian Cossa was taken by Detroit in the 1st round of the draft last year and owns a career .927 save percentage in 73 WHL games with the Edmonton Oil Kings. Cossa’s dominance at the junior level and top draft pick pedigree should earn him the first crack at the starting spot.
His main competition in the crease will be last year’s backup goalie, Dylan Garand (New York Rangers). Garand got into the opening game against Germany but only played the 3rd period as the game was essentially already over. Garand has a .932 save percentage this year in 19 games and owns a career .918 at the WHL level (109 games). If all else fails, Brett Brochu and his .920 career save percentage (64 games) with the OHL’s London Knights will be ready to take over. Brochu is the only member of Team Canada who is eligible to be drafted and hasn’t been selected.
Projected Ranking – 1st Place:
Although Canada’s offence doesn’t consist solely of 1st round picks this year, they are bringing a roster full of highly productive players. Perfetti, McTavish, and Neighbours bring NHL experience from earlier in the season, and the rest of this lineup is loaded with late 1st round picks. If the moment isn’t too big for the young guns like Connor Bedard and Shane Wright, Canada shouldn’t have any problem getting offence from all four lines. Canada is also bringing a lot of puck-moving defensemen, which should help them transition out of their own zone. With Cossa and Garland as safety valves, any defensive flaws in their game should be alleviated.
Overall, Canada should have the elite goaltending to rival Russia’s Yaroslav Askarov and Sweden’s Jesper Wallstedt. As we saw last year, a gold medal is never guaranteed, but Canada should be viewed as a strong contender once again.
#2: Team Finland
Finland has an extremely dangerous forward core. They have a strong mix of skilled veteran (as far as this tournament is concerned) forwards, productive underrated talents, and young, high-end prospects. Roni Hirvonen (Toronto Maple Leafs), Kasper Simontaival (Los Angeles Kings), and Samuel Helenius (also Los Angeles Kings) are returning for their final year of eligibility after combining for 8 goals at last year’s tournament. Roby Järventie (Ottawa Senators), who has spent this season in the AHL, will look for a bounce-back performance after failing to register a point in 6 games last year. Kalle Väisänen (New York Rangers), Oliver Kapanen (Montreal Canadiens), and 2021 2nd round Carolina Hurricanes steal Ville Koivunen (Carolina Hurricanes) will likely compete to round out the top 6. As an 18-year-old, Koivunen has 19 points in 30 Liiga (Finland’s top pro league) games.
Adding to Finland’s deep forward core will be projected 2022 NHL Draft top picks Joakim Kemell and Brad Lambert. Kemell is having one of the best seasons in Liiga history for a U-18 player and is a consensus top 10 pick. Lambert, on the other hand, is an incredibly talented player who is going through an adjustment period at the pro level and is being overshadowed by his JYP Jyväskylä teammate, Kemell. Lambert will be returning to the World Juniors after recording 4 points in 7 games as a 16-year-old.
Finland would also love to have New York Islander’s pick Aatu Räty, but he had to withdraw from the tournament after testing positive for COVID-19. In his place, Finland selected Roni Karvinen. Despite not being drafted, the 19-year-old with a late birthday has generated similar production in Finland’s U-20 system as most of the above players and has 6 points in 21 Liiga games this year. This will be Karvinen’s first time playing for Finland in a major international tournament, and it will be interesting to see if he can win regular a spot in the lineup.
As per usual, Finland is bringing a stout group of defenders. Five of their projected top 6 defensemen are drafted to the NHL, and everyone but Aleksi Heimosalmi (Carolina Hurricanes draft pick) is 19 years old. The most notable name of the bunch is Topi Niemelä. Although this is partly due to him being a Toronto Maple Leafs draft pick, he is worthy of the hype surrounding his name. Niemelä was named the best defenseman of the World Juniors last year after putting up 8 points in 7 games en route to Finland capturing the bronze medal. As if this weren’t enough, Niemelä doubled down on his sudden offensive burst and is the current Liiga points leader amongst defensemen (24 in 31 games).
Ville Ottavainen (Seattle), Eemil Viro (Detroit), and Kasper Puutio (Florida) round out the drafted defensemen. Former Windsor Spitfire (OHL), Ruben Rafkin, will likely battle it out with Petteri Nurmi for the 6th starting spot. Nurmi had not played internationally for Finland prior to this season but is exactly the type of shutdown defenseman that Finland looks for in their bottom pairing roles.
Finland has two goalies who, on paper, appear to be capable of starting. Joel Blomqvist is a Pittsburgh Penguins draft pick, and Leevi Meriläinen was taken by Ottawa. Blomqvist was named the team’s 3rd string goalie last year but entered camp as a strong contender to start. He currently owns a .964 save percentage and 0.73 goals against average in 8 games in the Liiga, but he hasn’t faced more than 26 shots in a game at that level (he hasn’t been starting against the top teams).
Additionally, he has an .889 save percentage for Finland’s U-20 international team this year and gave up 5 goals on 31 shots to Russia earlier this month. I could see him losing the crease if he struggles early on. On the other hand, Meriläinen has an .897 save percentage in his first North American season with the Kingston Frontenacs. In 4 international games, Meriläinen put up an outstanding .941 save percentage.
Projected Ranking – 2nd Place:
Overall, Finland should be a great team and have the depth to pick on the lower teams. Dethroning Canada is never an easy task, though, and should be made even more difficult with the loss of Aatu Räty. Finland will have plenty of firepower to compete for a medal, but there are still a few areas that they need to prove themselves in before ranking any higher.
#3: Team Czech Republic
The Czech Republic has some good forward options heading into this year’s World Juniors. Headlined by Montreal 2020 2nd round pick Jan Mysak, they will be bringing 6 drafted forwards to Edmonton. Mysak played 21 games for Laval of the AHL last year and has 31 points in 21 games for Hamilton of the OHL right now. Accompanying him will be Minnesota Wild draft pick Pavel Novák. After finishing his 1st year of draft eligibility at a slightly above point-per-game pace in the WHL, Novák went home during the pandemic and delivered 3 points at last year’s World Juniors tournament. Now back in Kelowna, Novák has 31 points in 24 games and led all Czech players with 11 points in 7 U-20 international games.
Jakub Klos (Florida), Martin Rysavy (Columbus), Jakub Brabenec (Vegas), and Jaroslav Chmelar (New York Rangers) are all 2023 eligible and round out the group of drafted players. With 32 points in 28 games for Charlottetown in the QMJHL, Brabenec will likely add the most scoring punch. Ivan Ivan (not a typo) is the leading scorer of the last place Cape Breton Eagles (QMJHL) with 30 points.
Michal Gut is also having a terrific year in the WHL with 32 points in 24 games. Despite going undrafted, he is a player who has produced at a high level with limited ice time over the past few seasons. Finally, Jiri Kulich is a 17-year-old projected mid-round pick in the 2022 NHL Draft who is playing in the top Czech men’s league. He has hit the scoresheet 11 times in 30 games and should become a mainstay on the Czech Republic World Juniors team over the next few years.
Roaming the blueline, the Czechs will have several high-end pieces. Stanislav Svozil was taken by Columbus in the 3rd round of the 2021 draft and registered an assist in 5 games as a 17-year-old at last year’s tournament. After spending the 2020-21 season in the Czech Republic’s top pro league, Svozil committed to the Regina Pats (WHL) after being selected in the 1st round of the CHL Import Draft. He has 18 points in 26 games in his first season on North American ice. Joined by him is Michael Krutil (Chicago Blackhawks). Krutil has played 28 games in the AHL over the past two seasons and is also a returning player.
David Spacek is another Czech import player playing in the CHL. After going undrafted last season, Spacek should be in consideration for a late-round pick as he has 25 points in 27 games for Sherbrooke of the QMJHL. Projected 2022 top-10 pick David Jiricek will drag out the scouts as he suits up for a second consecutive year. Juricek has 11 points in 29 games in the top Czech pro league and scored a goal during last year’s tournament. Jiri Tichacek, David Moravec, and Michal Hrádek will likely compete for the final two spots as they all have professional playing experience in the Czech Republic. If this tournament doesn’t go the Czech’s way, they can return 7 of their 9 rostered defensemen and hope for a stronger push next year.
The Czech Republic does not seem to have a bona fide number one starter heading into the 2022 World Juniors. Last year’s starter and 2022 eligible goalie, Nick Malik, has a .924 save percentage (18 games) in the Liiga right now, as well as a .923 save percentage (2 games) for the Czech Republic at various U-20 international tournaments. Despite this, he is not on the team. This means that the Czechs are going to need Jan Bednar (Detroit Red Wings), Jakub Málek (New Jersey Devils), or Daniel Kral to step up.
As of right now, Bednar looks like the best bet to start since he spent last year’s World Juniors as the Czech Republic’s 3rd string goalie and he currently has a .902 save percentage for the Acadie-Bathurst Titan of the QMJHL. Keep an eye out for Málek, though, as the 2021 4th round pick leads the Czech 2nd tier men’s league in save percentage (.936) and goals against average (1.86) among goalies with 10+ games played.
Projected Ranking – 3rd Place:
The Czechs have some very productive players playing in North America right now. Their top-6 is very formidable, and their defensive core has some high-end talent. With that being said, they are likely going to have to beat Finland and/or Canada to prevent playing Russia, Sweden, or the USA in the quarterfinals. Those teams all have great goaltenders and have the elite forward talent to take advantage of the Czech Republic’s question marks between the pipes. Unless one of their goalies emerges as a top option, the Czechs are likely staring at yet another early exit.
#4: Team Germany
Germany is going to have a lot of holes to fill on offence this year as Tim Stützle, John Peterka, and Samuel Dube combined to score 10 of their 14 goals from forwards. None of these players will be returning this year. Additionally, Chicago Blackhawks’ 2020 17th overall pick Lukas Reichel, who missed last year’s tournament for COVID-19 protocol, will be staying in the AHL.
This leaves captain Florian Elias as the only player on Germany’s roster who scored a goal at the World Juniors last year. Although Elias’ performance of 9 points in 5 games was impressive, his supporting cast is not nearly as talented. Alexander Blank, who missed last year’s tournament as well, has 10 points in 28 games in the DEL (Germany’s top pro league) this year.
Aside from Blank, Germany does not have another forward with double-digit points in a professional men’s league. Joshua Samanski is a 6’3” forward with 54 games of experience in the OHL for the Owen Sound Attack. He played 2 games last year for Germany and has 5 points in 23 games in the DEL this year. Samanski is likely a favourite to land the last spot on Germany’s top line. If not him, Justin Volek, Maciej Rutkowski, or Danjo Leonhardt could be options based on their respective numbers. Overall, this seems like a much weaker forward group than it was last year.
On the defensive side, Germany is also suffering some large losses. Mario Zimmermann, Lucas Flade, and assistant captain Simon Gnyp have all aged out from last year. Edmonton Oilers’ 2020 3rd round pick Luca Münzenberger returns to lead the German defensive core. He is a current freshman with the University of Vermont in the NCAA.
Münzenberger will be joined by Maximilian Glötzl, who played all 5 games last year and has spent 2021-22 in the DEL. Adrian Klein played 31 games in the DEL last year as a 17-year-old and was an assistant captain on Germany’s U-18 team. Three other German defensemen are playing in the DEL right now, and Klein is the only defenseman on their roster under the age of 19.
Unlike last year’s goaltending disaster created by Germany’s pre-tournament COVID-19 outbreak, Germany should have a reliable starter this time around. Nikita Quapp, Carolina’s 6th round pick in 2021, should have first dibs in the crease. Quapp has played in 8 games in the DEL as an 18-year-old (extremely impressive to even be playing) and has posted an .891 save percentage.
If he falters, the reigns will go to last year’s starter, Florian Bugl. Florian backstopped Germany to wins over Slovakia and Switzerland and dropped a near-upset 2-1 final to Russia in the quarterfinals. Bugl has a .908 save percentage (16 games) in the Alps league this season.
Projected Ranking – 4th Place:
Germany’s roster is nowhere near as talented as last year’s. However, their goaltending should be much better, and they are bringing in a group of big, veteran players. Germany should bring a strong defensive game and find enough scoring to squeak past Austria and stay in the top division. If that were to be the case, only 4 players on their current roster would be eligible to return in 2023. In the end, A quick quarterfinal exit against either Russia, Sweden, or the USA should be in the cards.
#5: Team Austria
Despite Minnesota Wild 2020 9th overall pick Marco Rossi ageing out of the tournament, Austria does have a few notable forwards on their roster this year. Marco Kasper played in last year’s tournament as a 16-year-old and recorded an assist on Austria’s only goal of the tournament. He has 6 points in 24 games in the SHL (Sweden’s top Men’s league) and is currently a projected late 1st round pick in the 2022 NHL Draft.
Alongside him, Senna Peeters will be returning for his last year of World Juniors eligibility. Peeters scored against Russia for Austria’s only goal last year and has 3 years of experience in the QMJHL, where he’s put up 64 points in 99 career games. Vinzenz Rohrer, another Austrian playing in North American, will make his debut with the national team. Rohrer was selected by the Ottawa 67’s in the 1st round of last year’s CHL Import Draft and has rewarded them with 22 points in 29 games. Rohrer, 17 years old, is draft-eligible this year and could be a late-round pick with a strong showing.
Finally, someone else to possibly keep an eye on is returning player Leon Wallner. Leon has 29 points in 24 games in Sweden’s top junior league and has followed that up with 4 assists in 8 games in the Allsvenskan (Sweden’s 2nd tier men’s league).
Austria appears to be particularly weak on defence. Lukas Necesany is their only returning player on defence, and only one of their rostered defensemen is above the age of 18. Matteo Mitrovic currently captains his team and leads all defensemen in Austria’s junior league (ICEYSL) in points with 32 in 18 games. However, the quality of this league is likely not comparable to most recognizable junior leagues.
David Reinbacher might also show flashes of potential. At just 17 years old, he has been promoted to Switzerland’s 2nd tier men’s league (SL). There, he has 8 points in 17 games with a +10 rating. In the Swiss U-20 league, he had 13 points in 12 games. Austria has an extremely young defensive core, and none of their players have experience in a top-tier European league. This is not an ideal situation, but there should be plenty of opportunities for someone to make a name for themselves.
Austria will be returning two of their goalies from last year’s World Juniors. Feel-good story, Sebastian Wraneschitz, faced 194 shots in 3 games last year and posted an .892 save percentage. He did his best to keep Austria in their games, including holding Sweden to 4 goals on 65 shots in a 4-0 defeat. However, Wraneschitz has only played 1 game since September after getting hurt during his 2nd start of the season with the WHL’s Victoria Royals. In that game, he gave up 5 goals on 52 shots in the Alps League, so he’s at least ready to face a large workload again if he is named the starter.
On the other hand, Leon Sommer returns to the tournament after watching last year as Austria’s 3rd string goalie. Sommer has had a nice year in the Alps league as he leads all U-20 goalies with a .912 save percentage in 12 games. It will be interesting to see if either goalie can step up and deliver a strong performance against a beatable German team in a game that should decide a birth to the quarterfinal.
Projected Ranking – 5th Place:
Austria likely isn’t going to be competitive against Canada, Finland, and the Czech Republic. However, they may have a chance to finish 4th in the division against a German team that will be without the likes of Tim Stützle and John Peterka. If Marco Kasper and co. can generate some offence for the Austrians to back up another strong goaltending performance, they might be able to avoid relegation for the 1st time in their history at the top level.
Featured Image via Codie McLachlan, Getty Images