2021 WJC: 4 2022-eligible standouts
The World Junior Championship gives the top junior-aged players in the world a chance to show their skill against the best of the best, and this year’s edition was no different.
Returnees playing in their second tournaments shined, with Trevor Zegras and Dylan Cozens battling it out for the tournament scoring lead and just one underage player appearing in the gold-medal game.
Related: 2021 WJC: 5 overager standouts
However, some younger players stood out among their older peers, playing large roles for their teams and bursting into the public eye. Here are some names to remember for next year’s World Junior Tournament and the 2022 NHL Draft.
David Jiricek, D, Team Czech Republic
David Jiricek, one of the youngest players in the tournament, didn’t show much of a transition period to the pace and competition. He displayed poise under pressure, a rangy stride that allowed him to keep pace with some of the elite junior players from Canada and Russia, and quick decision-making in transition. He ended the week on a high note, being recognized as one of Czech’s top players of the tournament despite a disappointing Quarterfinal loss.
He still has to continue filling out his lanky frame, but he is a solid skater for his size and displayed the ability to move the puck at the high pace demanded from the elite competition throughout the tournament. Already taking a regular shift in a men’s league, Jiricek has many tools that should appeal to teams in the draft next year. Expect him to be a core player for the Czech Republic next year and he could be a candidate to go in the same first-round range as his impressive countryman, Stanislav Svozil.
Marco Kasper, C, Team Austria
Austria’s offense was understandably anemic in their first appearance in the top division of the World Juniors in over ten years. Captain Marco Rossi was the only player who consistently displayed the confidence and skating ability to make plays in the offensive end. Marco Kasper, the youngest player on the team, was one of the few who didn’t look out of place and were able to make plays and skate with the same power and intensity as the top players in the tournament.
Currently playing in Swedish junior leagues, Kasper has some promising tools at a young age in his development. He looks like a serious prospect for the draft next year, but developing his strength on the puck and ability to absorb contact is going to be a key for Kasper to generate offense at the professional level.
Brad Lambert, C, Team Finland
On a Finnish roster mostly made up almost exclusively of older players and NHL-owned prospects, Brad Lambert stood out in nearly every game Finland has played with his speed and ability to push the pace of play. The Finns have shown a willingness to use younger players in substantial roles in recent tournaments, and Lambert has earned a bigger role with his energy and vision with the puck.
Lambert was the Finns’ best player at times, particularly in a disappointing preliminary loss to Canada, and he was a terror carrying the puck in transition with his creativity and vision. He has some work to do away from the puck, an area of his game that wasn’t under as much emphasis with his move to the wing this tournament. However, Lambert’s high-octane style and ability to control the pace of play with the puck on his stick is exciting, and he looks to be one of the top challengers to Shane Wright for the top pick in 2022.
Simon Nemec, D, Team Slovakia
Simon Nemec was impressive on an undermanned Slovakia team without much firepower. Despite being the youngest defenseman on the team, Nemec established himself as the best puck-mover on the back end and played huge minutes in all situations. Nemec has good puck skills and showed some offensive flair, displaying confidence and poise with the puck that was inconsistent from other Slovakian defenders.
While he was guilty of occasionally straying in the defensive end to finish a check or chase the puck, Nemec is an advanced skater for his age and was able to keep pace with some stars on Team USA and Team Canada. He’s already playing professional hockey, but Nemec could be a high draft pick next year and should be back as a pillar of Team Slovakia’s defense in next year’s tournament.