Hockey

World Junior Championships: An Intro And Preview

World Junior Championships
The United States celebrates World Junior gold at Rogers Place in Edmonton on Tuesday night after a 2-0 win over Canada (photo: USAHockey.com).

A Brief History

Why The World Juniors Matter

Team-By-Team Preview

Predictions

The holiday season is here, but that’s not the only reason it’s the most wonderful time of the year. The 2022 IIHF World Junior Championships, the premiere International tournament for junior-aged hockey players, is right around the corner. It is one of my favorite hockey events of the year, and I am very excited to write this article.

Though not huge or mainstream in the US, the World Juniors is one of the biggest sporting events of the year in Canada. The tournament is also hugely popular in other hockey powerhouse countries such Finland, Sweden, and Russia. 

In this article, we will take a look at the history of the tournament and explain why it’s important. Finally, we’ll preview the 2022 edition of the World Junior Championship. I will go country-by-country, highlighting players to watch as well as their outlook for the tournament. I will also include a day-by-day tournament schedule, as well as make predictions for medal finishes.

Without further ado, let’s get to the good stuff!

The World Junior Championships: A Brief History

For those new to the tournament, let’s get a brief rundown of what it is.

The World Junior Championships are held annually from late December through the first week of January (it usually starts December 26th). The top ten-ranked countries send their best under-20 players to compete for the gold medal and international glory. The event is organized by the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF), which is the official organizing body of international hockey. 

The Early Years

Though the first officially recognized World Juniors tournament was held in 1977, there were three unofficial iterations of the tournament held from 1974-1976. The initial 1974 tournament, held in Leningrad of the former USSR (today Saint Petersburg, Russia), was a wild affair documented in this fun article written by then-US goalie Mike Dibble.

The powerhouse Soviet Union dominated the tournament early, winning all three unofficial tournaments as well as the first four that were officially sanctioned by the IIHF. Though Canada would eventually take the lead in gold medals won (18), Russia has the most total medals won at the tournament with 37.

It’s worth noting that the early tournaments were played in a round-robin format, with each team playing each other. The gold, silver, and bronze medals were awarded to the teams with the three best records. This changed in 1996 when the number of participating countries increased from eight to ten. The preliminary round remained a round-robin tournament, but the teams were split into two groups and an elimination round was added to award the medals.

Notable Events

Apart from the hockey itself (which is incredible), there have been plenty of notable events that don’t necessarily relate to on-ice results. Let’s take a look at a few of the more prominent and more interesting events.

Punch-Up In Piestany

Take for instance the 1987 tournament held in Piestany, Czechoslovakia (now in the independent nation of Slovakia). During the final game of the tournament between Canada and the Soviet Union, a massive bench-clearing brawl erupted between the two teams. It would last for over 20 minutes. The officials would eventually leave the ice and shut off the arena lights in an attempt to stop the fight. Though it didn’t immediately work, the two teams eventually separated and left the ice.

The IIHF held an emergency meeting right there at the rink, and the decision was made to disqualify both teams for the tournament. This didn’t mean much for the Soviet Union, since they had already fallen out of medal contention.

It was a different story for the Canadians. They had been guaranteed a medal entering the game, and a five-goal victory would have won the gold. Because of the disqualification, Finland was awarded the gold medal, with Czechoslovakia and Sweden being awarded silver and bronze, respectively.

TSN released a nice video a few years ago narrated by Brendan Shannahan, who was on the Canadian team, reflecting on the incident. You can watch that here.

Changing Names

An interesting part about the World Juniors being an international tournament is that it is affected by international events. A good (and relatively harmless) example of this would be the 1992 World Junior Championship tournament, as well as the 1993 tournament.

The 1992 tournament was held in Fussen and Kaufbeuren, Germany from December 26, 1991, through January 4, 1992. As was common in international hockey those days, the Soviet Union entered as tournament favorites.

Now those who have even a base knowledge of world history know there is a small issue with that above statement: the Soviet Union officially collapsed on December 26, 1991.

Despite this, the team entered the tournament as the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), or the Soviet Union, and were allowed to go by that name until January 1, 1992. In the new year, the Soviets were re-named the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). The CIS would go on to claim the gold medal with a record of 6-1-0.

A Peaceful Split

That one loss came to the nation then known as Czechoslovakia, but the 1992 tournament would be the last time that nation went by that name. During the 1993 World Junior tournament, held in Gavle, Sweden from December 26, 1992, through January 4, 1993, the nation split. On January 1, 1993, the nation of Czechoslovakia split into the independent nations of Slovakia and the Czech Republic. Despite this split, the team continued as it was under the name “Czech and Slovak Republics”, and went on to win a bronze medal. This was also the first tournament that Russia appeared in the tournament under that name.

Upsets, Triumphs, and Heartbreak

Along with the above drama and intrigue not necessarily related to game action, the World Juniors has produced some incredible on-ice moments.

  • The 2000 tournament, won by the Czech Republic, remains the only tournament to have both the gold and bronze medal games decided by a shootout. The Czechs claimed a 1-0 shootout victory over Russia for gold, while Canada claimed bronze with a 4-3 shootout victory over the United States. 
  • 2004 saw the United States claim their first-ever gold medal, defeating a stacked Canadian roster that included Sidney Crosby,  Ryan Getzlaf, and Jeff Carter, as well as Marc-Andre Fleury in net. Patrick O’Sullivan scored the game-winner after Fleury famously miss-played a loose puck.
  • Canada has won five consecutive gold medals twice in tournament history, first from 1993 through 1997, and again from 2005 to 2009. The 2009 tournament featured arguably one of the most famous moments in Canadian World Junior history. Down 4-3 to Russia in the semi-finals, Jordan Eberle scored the tying goal with 5 seconds left to send the crowd in Ottawa into a frenzy. Canada would go on to win gold against Sweden to make it five in a row.

The 2010’s

  • The United States won its second gold medal in 2010, and in dramatic fashion. The US held a 5-3 lead late into the third, but 2009 hero Jordan Eberle would score two goals in three minutes to send the game to overtime. After some exciting back-and-forth chances, John Carlson beat Martin Jones to give the United States their second gold medal.
  • In 2011, Russia completed the biggest comeback in World Juniors history. Down 3-0 entering the third period of the gold medal game against Canada, Russia would score five times to claim gold and hand Canada a second consecutive crushing defeat. The Russians celebrated hard and were famously kicked off their flight home the next day for “unruly behavior”.
  • In 2018, the World Juniors followed a growing trend in hockey by hosting its first-ever outdoor game. Held at Buffalo’s New Era Field (now Highmark Stadium), the game saw the United States face off against Canada in a snowy affair on December 27, 2017. Despite the blizzard-like conditions, 44,592 fans watched as the United States earned a shootout win during preliminary action. The game set also set the record for the highest attendance at a World Juniors game.
Canadian captain Dillon Dube leads his team onto the ice for the third period of their world junior outdoor game against the U.S. in Buffalo on Dec. 29. PHOTO BY MARK BLINCH /The Canadian Press

Why The World Juniors Matter

Those folks unfamiliar with the tournament may be asking “why is a tournament featuring college-age kids such a big deal?”. And that is a very valid question, which requires a couple of answers. 

The first is from a scouting perspective. The World Juniors gives NHL teams, scouts, and fans a chance to see the next generation of NHL talent competing with and against each other in a tournament featuring the best players in the world at that age level. This is often the last tournament these prospects play before starting their professional careers. Also, it gives NHL teams a chance to evaluate their future stars in a high-stakes environment against other top talents. Though the argument has been made that too much stock gets placed in such a short tournament, it is undeniable that great performances at the World Juniors can launch careers.

From a fan perspective, it is once again a place to see the stars that will dominate the NHL in years to come all in one place. It is the top best-on-best international tournament that exists outside of when NHL players participate in the Olympics. Looking back at rosters past, one cannot help but marvel at the amount of talent assembled on one roster.

TSN’s Role

Though today the World Juniors is a huge event on the hockey calendar and one of the biggest sporting events in Canada, it started as a relatively small and unknown event. For the first 15 or so years of its existence, only NHL executives and local fans had any interest, and the tournament was generally only attended by scouts and the families of the players.

The Punch-Up in Piestany put the World Juniors more on the mainstream radar, with fans in Canada truly taking notice. Though the interest was starting to ramp up, live coverage of the tournament was essentially non-existent.

Enter TSN. Now a sports media powerhouse in Canada closely affiliated with ESPN, TSN (The Sports Network) in the late 1980’s/early 1990s was a small upstart network looking for content to fill its airwaves. The World Junior Championships presented a perfect opportunity to add a live sporting event for relatively cheap as well as capitalize on Canada’s passion for hockey.

Since acquiring the broadcasting rights before the 1991 tournament in Saskatchewan, TSN has increased its coverage from just five games that first year to every game from every team today. They throw their full efforts into the tournament. A huge broadcast crew is sent to wherever in the world the World Juniors happen to be taking place that year. They provide wall-to-wall coverage, as well as hyping the tournament up every year. This coverage, combined with the time of year the tournament takes place, has helped make the World Juniors a marquee event every year in Canada.

International Impact

TSN has also helped grow the tournament internationally. Since TSN produces full coverage of every game, they provide feeds to every broadcasting partner around the world. They make the final calls on the broadcasting schedule, camera placement, and all other production logistics.

Though the on-ice product speaks for itself, the impact TSN has played in the growth of the tournament cannot be understated. Here in the States, the games will be shown on the NHL Network. However, we will be seeing the TSN broadcast of every game.

The 2022 World Junior Championship Preview

Finally, we come to this year’s edition of the World Juniors. 

Despite the raging COVID-19 pandemic, the 2021 tournament was held in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, and won by the United States. The tournament was held in a “bubble environment”, with strict health precautions to curb the effects and spread of COVID-19 among the participants. This included playing all games in empty arenas without fans. It was an eerie experience, and TSN’s BarDown crew did a fantastic video series chronicling the oddities that went along with holding an international tournament during a global pandemic. 

2022 Details

The 2022 edition of the World Juniors will be held in a similar bubble-style setting. Though fans will be allowed to attend games this year. (As of December 21st, arenas will allow fifty percent capacity). The tournament will once again be held in Edmonton, with some games being held in nearby Red Deer. Teams began arriving on December 15th, and they will be tested for COVID-19 daily. In addition to daily testing, teams will be largely confined to the arenas and their hotel rooms.

Pre-tournament action is slated to kick off on December 23rd. The games were initially slated to begin earlier but were pushed back to ensure all teams could arrive safely into the bubble and produce the negative COVID tests needed to compete. The tournament itself, as always, will begin on December 26th and run through January 5th. The games will air, obviously, on TSN in Canada. In the US, the NHL Network will show the TSN broadcast of all World Junior games.

Team-By-Team Preview

Let’s now take a look, team-by-team, at this year’s tournament. 

Last year’s tournament did not feature a relegation aspect given the unique circumstances the World Juniors took place under, as well as the fact that most of the lower-tier national teams were not competing. However, whoever finishes in last place this year will be relegated to Division 1A and will be replaced by Belarus in next year’s World Juniors. Belarus recently won promotion by defeating Norway at the IIHF Division 1A Championships held in Horsholm, Denmark.

The teams are in no particular order. At the end of the article, I will make my group and medal round predictions.

Canada

Though Canada always enters as one of the tournament favorites, the 2022 edition of team Canada is a truly scary roster. They feature first-round NHL talent up and down the roster, and at every position. They will be led from the back end by 2021 first-overall pick Owen Power, who is having an unreal season at the University of Michigan. Power will be joined on the back end by fellow first-rounders Kaiden Guhle, Lukas Cormier, Carson Lambos, and Ryan O’Rourke.

Forwards

The forwards are a scary group themselves. Though Cole Perfetti is the only forward returning from last year’s team, Canada features two other players with NHL games under their belts in Mason McTavish (Anaheim) and Jake Neighbours (St. Louis). Along with these three players and a plethora of first-round picks, Canada will feature the next two prospective number one overall picks in Shane Wright (2022) and Connor Bedard (2023). Both players are young as far as World Juniors participation goes, but both players are uber-talented and earned their spots on the roster. It will be fun and intriguing to watch how both players perform against the world’s best U20 players.

Goaltending

The Canadians also boast top-notch depth in net. Last year’s backup Dylan Garand will join 2021 first-rounder Sebastian Cossa (Detroit) to give Canada arguably the tournament’s most talented goaltending tandem. The towering (6’6) Cossa is the favorite to be the starter once the medal round begins. Do not be surprised if Garand plays his way to the starter’s role.

It’s gold or bust for Canada, and they have the talent and depth to meet the expectation.

USA

The reigning champs lost a lot of talent to age and the NHL but still enter with a deep, solid roster. Up front, the US features 2021 second overall pick Matty Beniers (Seattle) will be relied upon for offense as well as playing his normally strong two-way game. Matt Coronato will likely join Beniers on the top line and will be a consistent scoring threat. He is constantly putting pucks on net and has the shot to make those pucks hit paydirt. An intriguing one to watch among the forward group is Logan Cooley, a top prospect for the 2022 draft. Cooley is a solid player that brings elite skating and hockey sense and may be slotted into the second-line center spot with Thomas Bordeleau unavailable due to COVID. 

Goaltending

The biggest drop-off for Team USA comes in net. Spencer Knight has aged out and moved on to NHL’s Florida, and his special blend of size and composure is hard to replace. Attempting to fill the void is 2020 Blackhawks draft pick Drew Commesso. Though not the otherworldly talent that Knight is, Commesso is still a solid, technically sound goaltender that will be perfectly solid for the US.

Defense

The biggest strength for the Americans comes on defense. They are led by 2020 fifth overall pick Jake Sanderson (Ottawa), a returning member of last year’s gold medal-winning team. Sanderson will provide size, leadership, and a solid two-way game, with the ability to generate offense from the back end while remaining defensively responsible. The true offensive catalyst on defense will be 2021 fourth overall pick Luke Hughes (New Jersey). He plays an up-tempo offensive style very reminiscent of his brother Quinn, with incredible skating and decision-making with the puck. Joining Hughes and Sanderson are a pair of d-men returning from 2021’s squad in Tyler Kleven and Brock Faber. Both are great skaters, and offer experience from being part of a gold medal-winning squad.

Though lacking the absolute firepower of 2021, Team USA still has the talent to vie for a back-to-back gold medal.

Sweden

Sweden always ices a solid, occasionally spectacular lineup at the World Juniors. In 2021, they finished a disappointing fifth place despite a ton of NHL talent. Though they have lost some of that talent to age and the NHL, Sweden will once again ice a team likely to be in the thick of medal competition.

Goaltending

It starts in goal for Sweden. 2021 first rounder Jesper Wallstedt (Minnesota) will be the man to carry the mail for Tre Kronor. He is a smart, poised goaltender having a solid season playing professionally in Sweden, and will be one of the best in the tournament.

Defense

The defense, which is generally strong for Sweden, will be no different this year. They’ll be led by 2021 sixth overall pick Simon Edvinsson (Detroit), the smooth-skating 6’6 prospect having a stellar season in Sweden’s pro league. Emil Andrae and Helge Grans will join Edvinsson in logging big minutes for Sweden. Andrae is a solid puck-moving defender and Grans possesses great size and an unflappable demeanor. 

Forwards

The highlight of this roster is at the forward position, particularly on the wings. Their top threats are 2021 seventh overall pick William Eklund (San Jose) and 2020 seventh overall pick Alexander Holtz (New Jersey). They both started the season in the NHL, and despite being sent back to Sweden in Eklund’s case and the AHL in Holtz’s, they have both been dynamite for their respective teams. They will both easily be top forwards in this year’s tournament. Sweden is bolstered at wing by other first-round picks such as Fabian Lysell (2021 Boston 21st overall), Oskar Olausson (2021 Colorado 28th overall), and Isak Rosen (2021, Buffalo 14th overall). Though Sweden has relatively unexciting options at center, the likes of Theodor Niederbach and Elliot Ekmark (both regulars in Sweden’s top pro league) will be solid players to produce with the superstar wings on this team.

Russia

The Russians underwhelmed at the 2021 World Juniors, finishing in fourth place after losing the bronze medal game to Finland. The Russian Hockey Federation responded by making some curious roster decisions. They elected to not bring any Russian prospect playing in North America. This leaves out top players such as Yan Kuznetsov and Daniil Chayka on defense, as well as Matvei Petrov at forward. The Russian Hockey Federation cited these players’ “lack of defensive responsibility” as the reason for their omission. Whether one wants to believe that point or not, at the end of the day Russia is a worse team for not having these players.

Goaltending

That being said, Russia still brings a solid roster to Edmonton in 2022. In goal for them will be Yaroslav Askarov, once nicknamed “the dream-killer”. This will be Askarov’s third World Junior tournament. And though he has had mixed results at the past two tournaments, Askarov will be one of if not the best goaltender at the World Juniors.

Defense

The defense lacks true depth with the omission of Kuznetsov and Chayka. But that does not mean there is no talent here. 2020 first-round pick Shakir Mukhamadullin (New Jersey, 20th overall) returns from last year’s squad to man the top pairing, He is a smart puck-mover who will be relied upon to log big minutes. Joining him on the top pair will likely be Kirill Kirsanov. He is another smart puck-mover who will look to spark the transition game by combining good passes and solid skating. Beyond those two, there isn’t much to be excited about on the blueline.

Forwards

Speaking of players to be excited for, all eyes will be on 2023 top prospect Matvei Michkov. Legends of his offensive prowess have been making the rounds through hockey circles, and it will be exciting to see what he can do against the older competition on a stage as big as the World Juniors. Joining Michkov up front will be 2022 prospect Danila Yurov. Though he has suited up for 21 KHL games, Yurov has barely received any ice time. He will be eager to use this opportunity to showcase his talent and raise his draft stock. Other forwards of note will be Marat Khusnutdinov, a Minnesota draft pick who has managed to become a regular on SKA St Petersburg, and Nikita Chibrikov. Chibrikov is a dynamic offensive threat that has been tearing up the lower-tier Russian hockey circuit. He will certainly provide offense and excitement.

Despite the omission of players plying their trades in North America, Russia will be a medal contender in Edmonton.

Finland

Finland took home bronze in 2021. Their only losses came to Canada in the prelims and the US in the semi-finals. The Finns will be returning a deeply talented roster with eyes on a gold medal in 2022. 

Goaltending

In net, the Finns have a couple of solid options. Joel Blomqvist (2020 2nd round, Pittsburgh) was the third goalie at the 2021 tournament. He has had a fantastic season so far playing in Liiga, Finland’s top pro league, and is most likely the favorite to start. Leevi Merilainen, a former teammate with Liiga’s Karpat, is the second goalie on the roster. Merilainen made the move to the OHL for the 2021-2022 season and has been solid as well. Look for the two to split starts in the prelims, and the better performer to be the guy through the medal round.

Defense

Though they’ve lost key talent to age and the NHL (like many teams at this tournament), the Finns will bring a solid defensive corps to the 2022 World Juniors. Anchoring the group will be Toronto Maple Leafs prospect Topi Niemela. Niemela was named top defenseman at last years tournament and has been nothing short of spectacular in Liiga play this season. He is smart and mobile and makes big plays at both ends of the ice. Likely joining Niemela on the top pair will be Detroit prospect Eemil Viro. Viro is also a great skater but tends to focus more on the defensive side of the puck. This top pair will log a ton of minutes for Finland.

Forwards

Up front, the Finns have already been dealt a huge blow even before the tournament starts. New York Islanders prospect and projected top center Aatu Raty tested positive for COVID-19  and will not be able to enter the World Junior bubble in Edmonton. Likely replacing him in the top slot will be Leafs prospect Roni Hirvonen. Hirvonen is a stand-out playmaker who remains defensively responsible, though not as impactful as Raty would be.

Two names to watch will be 2022 draft prospects Brad Lambert and Joakim Kemell. Lambert has all the offensive skills one could want in a top prospect. He has great skating, hands, and creativity, and the ability to make plays at top speed. However, Lambert has had a slow start to his season in Finland. Due to this slow start, Lambert’s spot at the World Juniors was in serious doubt. Kemell, on the other hand, has been on fire in Finland this season. Another fantastic skater who works just as hard without the puck as he does with it, Kemell has been close to a point per game against men in Finland. Look for Kemell to be relied upon for offensive numbers at the World Juniors.

Czechia

Formerly known as the Czech Republic, the nation’s top hockey officials distributed a memo to the IIHF and media members requesting that they be referred to as “Czechia” going forward. They will still be referred to as “Czechs” in the plural, and boy will the Czechs have some interesting players to watch. Though not exactly considered a medal threat, Czechia certainly has talent (if not depth) to give some of the bigger nations at this tournament headaches.

Goaltending 

In goal, the Czechs surprisingly left 2021 starter Nick Malik off the roster for a less proven tandem of Jan Bednar and Jakub Malek. Though both are having solid seasons for their respective teams, Bednar and Malek lack experience on an international stage as big as the World Junior Championships. 

Forwards

Though lacking true depth, the Czechs have some nice players to watch among the forwards. They will be led by Montreal Canadiens prospect Jan Mysak. This will be Mysak’s third World Juniors, and will likely be Czechia’s top scorer. He’s a smart center with a knack for putting himself in good positions to score and produce offensively. Pavel Novak will join Mysak on the top line and will be just as important to Czechia’s success. Novak is a dangerous shooter who also has some smart playmaking to his game.

The Czechs also boast two of the more fun names in the tournament with Michal Gut and Ivan Ivan (that is not a typo, his name is legitimately Ivan Ivan). All jokes aside, Gut will be an exciting player, likely on the third line, engaging physically and agitating opponents. Ivan will play on Gut’s line most likely and will play a similar role. Both are capable scorers as well.

Defense

Defense will be Czechia’s strength, and they boast one of the top names to watch in David Jiricek. A top prospect for the 2022 draft Jiricek boast an enviable toolkit of great skating, high hockey IQ, physical play, a booming shot, and size to back it all up (6’3). He is the complete package, and he very well may be the top defenseman at the 2022 tournament. He’s not the only one to watch on the blue line, either. Columbus Blue Jackets prospect Stanislav Svozil will partner with Jiricek to form Czechia’s top pair. Svozil plays a two-way game with a lot of physicality and is a capable puck-mover to boot.

Michael Krutil will likely be a top shutdown defender but must serve a two-game suspension for boarding Ryan Suzuki at last year’s tournament. Undrafted Jiri Tichacek will round out the top four. Tichacek plays with the legendary Jaromir Jagr in the Czech Extraliga and is another smooth skater with a physical aspect.

Switzerland

Though usually a solid team with the ability to surprise some of the big nations, Switzerland is in a bit of a downswing as far as producing talent goes. They finished second to last in 2021 and look to be in the same boat this year. The big difference is if they do finish at the bottom, they will have to fight to stave off relegation to Division 1A.

Goaltending

In goal, Switzerland’s best options are Kevin Pasche or Noah Patenaude. Both are smaller goalies (Pasche at 5’9 and Patenaude at 6’1) playing in North America. Also, both are having fairly solid seasons for their respective clubs. Pasche has a respectable .916  save percentage playing for the USHL’s Omaha Lancers, while Patenaude has a .914 playing with the QMJHL’s Saint John Sea Dogs. Look for both to get playing time throughout the prelims. The better performer will likely be between the pipes for games that matter.

Defense

The big name to watch on defense is the towering Lian Bichsel, a prospect for the 2022 draft. He has a big frame (6’5) and is a very physical defenseman playing pro in Sweden. Though he lacks a ton of flashy skills, he tends to make smart plays with the puck. He also uses his size to his advantage. Outside of Bichsel, there aren’t a ton of intriguing players to watch. Giancarlo Chanton and Noah Delemont are a couple of returnees from the 2021 squad looking to make an impact in their final year of eligibility. Philadelphia Flyers draft pick Brian Zanetti adds a little more size (6’2) and puck-moving ability.

Forwards

The pickings stay slim at forward as far as notable players to watch. One name to know is Lorenzo Canonica, the shifty center playing for the QMJHL’s Shawinigan Cataracts. Though he was passed over for the 2021 draft, he remains a good playmaker with quick hands. He also possesses a creative set of moves to beat defenders and set up goals. Canonica will likely be hoping a strong tournament will earn him a draft spot in the 2022 draft. Apart from Canonica the Swiss will have a tough time scoring goals. They will likely need otherworldly goaltending to steal a win or two.

Slovakia

Slovakia has not had a ton of success at the World Juniors. They have two bronze medals on their resume and that’s about it. Despite an eighth-place finish last year, the Slovaks enter the tournament with a ton of talent at the top of their roster and hopes of playing their way into the medal conversation.

Goaltending

In goal, it will be Simon Latkoczy’s crease. Latkoczy finished the 2021 tournament as the starter and showed strong against tough competition. Though a tad undersized (6’0), Latkoczy is a scrappy goalie who battles and moves quickly laterally to make some truly impressive saves. He is playing for the USHL’s Madison Capitols and leading them to one of their first winning seasons. Rastislav Elias will be the number two goalie, and likely the goalie of Slovakia’s World Junior future. Elias has a more pro-level frame (6’3) and has carried the mail for the Slovakian U18 team of late. He also plays for the USHL’s Green Bay Gamblers.

Defense

The Slovakian defense has some solid players on it. But the name everyone will be watching is Simon Nemec, a top prospect for the 2022 NHL draft. Nemec is an exceptionally smart defender who reads plays and thwarts opposing attacks before they can become dangerous. He is also poised with the puck, making smart, accurate passes under pressure. He also possesses a cannon of a shot. Nemec will likely anchor the second pairing, with Samuel Knazko and Simon Becar handling top-pairing duties. Knazko, a 2020 Columbus pick, is an offensive defenseman with great skating. The undrafted Becar, however, is more of a traditional stay-at-home defenseman.

Forwards

The forward corps has some exciting potential, with 2022 draft prospect Juraj Slafkovsky generating the most buzz. Slafkovsky is a big-framed winger (6’4) with silky hands and tremendous vision of the ice. He has a rocket of a shot and is not shy about using his size to make space for himself and his teammates or getting to the dirty areas to score goals. Joining Slafkovsky on the top line will be Martin Chromiak, an LA Kings prospect. Chromiak is a pure goal-scorer who has some nice playmaking in his game as well. Watching these two work together will be a treat, and will give opposing teams fits all tournament long.

Filip Mesar is another 2022 draft prospect that will factor in huge at the top of Slovakia’s lineup. Mesar brings elite skating and dynamic playmaking to the top six and will likely bolster the second line. Though they are in a tough group with the US, Russia, and Sweden, Slovakia will very likely make the medal round and could make some noise.

Austria

The Austrians return to the World Juniors after finishing in last place in 2021. While normally grounds for relegation, that aspect of the tournament was suspended for the 2021 World Juniors. However, for 2022 they are going to need some big performances in order to stave off relegation.

Goaltending

The herculean task of backstopping this Austrian squad falls to the diminutive (for a goalie anyway at 5’11) Sebastian Wraneschitz. He is guaranteed the starter position after facing an incredible 194 shots in three games, stopping 173 of them. That averages out to about 64 shots per game! I don’t even think beer-league goalies play behind that porous of a defense… Regardless, for Austria to even have a chance at avoiding relegation, Wraneschitz is going to have to be otherworldly.

Defense

Speaking of that porous defense, the Austrians will be icing a group that is low on experience, both on the international stage and play against elite talent. The top pair will likely be  19-year-old Martin Urbanek and the lone returnee from last year’s team, Lukas Necesany. Both play in the AlpsHL and will be tasked with trying to keep up with the top talent from other nations. The rest of the defense is rounded out by players who are 18 and under and also playing in the AlpsHL.

Forwards

The forwards feature some intriguing names worth keeping an eye on. The biggest name of the bunch is Marco Kasper, a projected first-round pick in the 2022 NHL Draft. Kasper will be noticeable right away with his high-energy physical play. Seriously, this kid relishes contact, seeking it out on every shift. Kasper also has good acceleration, which he uses to beat defenders with the puck. He also loves to play in front of the net, tipping in shots and banging in rebounds. Those are likely the only goals Austria will score in this tournament, so Kasper should have a productive tournament, relatively speaking.

Joining Kasper up front, likely on the top line, is fellow 2022 draft prospect Vinzenz Rohrer. The skilled Rohrer has been playing in the OHL for the Ottawa 67’s and has been very productive against the North American competition, tallying an impressive 22 points in 28 games. Rohrer is a smart and responsible winger who makes creative plays to set up teammates. If Rohrer and Kasper can get some kind of production at the World Juniors, look for their draft stock to rise.

Germany

Though not traditionally thought of as a hockey power, Germany has been on the rise of late. The Germans surprised last year and made the quarter-finals for the first time, giving Russia a tough game but eventually losing a hard-fought 2-1 game and finishing sixth. Much of last year’s best players won’t be joining the team in 2022, having either aged out or found regular time in the NHL or AHL. With much of this year’s roster playing domestically in Germany, this will be a great chance to see how far the Germans have come in developing talent.

Goaltending

In goal, the starting job will be solely for Florian Bugl. He had a strong tournament in 2021, joining the team late after having to quarantine and backstopping the Germans into the quarterfinals. He also played well against Russia in the aforementioned quarterfinals, earning the confidence of the German hockey brass. Though not particularly big (6’0), Bugl is poised and athletic and can handle the big workload. 

Defense

The top defensive pair will feature a couple of returnees in Maximilian Glotzl and Maksymilian Szuber. Glotzl possesses good size (6’2) and a big shot. He’s more of a traditional stay-at-home defenseman who prefers to play a physical game. Szuber is a more smooth-skating type of player with a tendency to play more offensively. Though he hasn’t produced a ton offensively against men, Szuber has put up good numbers at the junior level in the past. The defense has one player drafted to an NHL team: Edmonton Oilers prospect Luca Munzenberger. Not particularly offensively gifted, Munzenberger will activate from the point to help break down opposing D-zone coverage. He prefers to stay at home and be a physical defensive force.

Forwards

Though JJ Peterka and Tim Stutzle are not returning to Germany’s top line, the third member of that special line, Florian Elias, will make the journey to Edmonton. Though he hasn’t put up huge numbers in Germany’s top pro league, Elias has traditionally produced at a high rate against junior-aged competition. He will be joined on the top line by Justin Volek and Jakub Borzecki, a couple more returnees from last year’s team. Both are skilled players who should be able to generate offense for this German squad.

Predictions

The top four teams from each group make the medal round. The remaining two teams playing a three-game series to see who gets relegated to Division 1A. Here is how I see things breaking down:

Group A

  1. Canada
  2. Finland
  3. Czechia
  4. Germany
  5. Austria

Group B

  1. United States
  2. Sweden
  3. Russia
  4. Slovakia
  5. Switzerland

Quarterfinals

Finland defeats Russia

Sweden defeats Czechia

Canada defeats Slovakia

United States defeats Germany

Semifinals

Canada defeats Sweden

Finland defeats United States

Gold Medal– Canada

Silver Medal– Finland

Bronze Medal– Sweden

Fourth Place– United States

Relegation– Switzerland defeats Austria

I hope you enjoyed the article! Enjoy the games, and look for my continued coverage of the World Junior Championship during and after the tournament!

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  1. Pingback: Day One At The World Juniors

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