December 24, 2021

The prospects you need to know at the 2022 World Juniors

The Christmas holidays are a time for family, friends and lots of food. 

And, of course, the World Juniors.

It is a time for hockey lovers from across the globe to cheer on their country’s top junior prospects at the premier under-20 hockey event of the year.

The 2022 IIHF World Junior Championship is a showcase of hockey talent, and this year is no different. 

Here is a list of top prospects to watch throughout the tournament:

Yaroslav Askarov, Russia

Team: SKA St. Petersburg (KHL)
Position: G
2021-22 stats: 1-1-2 | 2.01GAA | .904SV%
Drafted: Nashville Predators (1/11, 2020)

Yaroslav Askarov, the No. 11 pick in the 2020 NHL Draft to the Nashville Predators, was nominated as a Top-3 Player on Russia’s entry at the World Juniors last year and will look to shut down the opposing team’s offense if his country is to have any chance at a medal.

This is the third consecutive World Juniors for Askarov, and his final opportunity to backstop Russia to gold. His only medal, a silver, came two years ago. 

“In his third World Juniors appearance, I’m expecting this to be Askarov’s time to shine,” FCHockey head crossover scout Josh Bell said. “If Russia has any chance of medaling this year, it will likely be on the back of Askarov. Whether they medal or not, I can see the netminder putting forward a goalie-of-the-tournament type performance.”

Matthew Beniers, Team USA

Team: Michigan (NCAA)
Position: C
2021-22 stats: 20GP | 11G | 11A | 22PTS
Drafted: Seattle Kraken (1/2, 2021)

Matthew Beniers was impressive as a draft eligible player at last year’s World Junior tournament where Team USA won gold. The alternate captain will play an increasingly important leadership role at this year’s event and will be expected to also contribute offensively. 

Berniers is a complete player and is responsible in all three zones of the ice. The No. 2 overall pick of the Seattle Kraken at the 2021 NHL Draft has 22 points (11 goals, 11 assists) in 20 games for the University of Michigan this season. 

“Beniers is an excellent two-way center who managed to make an impact for Team USA at the World Juniors last year as a draft eligible,” FCHockey’s head US scout Austin Broad said. “He will be their No. 1 center this year and play in all situations. I expect him to dominate at both ends of the rink and be one of the team’s leading scorers.”

Simon Edvinsson, Sweden

Team: Frolunda HC (SHL)
Position: D
2021-22 stats: 24GP | 1G | 11A | 12PTS
Drafted: Detroit Red Wings (1/6, 2021)

Simon Edvinsson brings both a combination of athleticism and high compete level to this tournament. The 6-foot-5 defenseman has also improved his defensive play and should be an important contributor from Sweden’s back end. 

A product of the Detroit Red Wing system, Edvinsson has spent the entirety of this season with Frolunda in the SHL and has put up 12 points (one goal, 11 assists) in 24 games – good enough to be the top point producer amongst U20 defensemen. He can be the driving force that may help Sweden improve upon their fifth-place finish from last year.

“Edvinsson is a defenseman that I expect will be the next superstar from Sweden,” Sweden-based FCHockey scout Fredrik Haak said. “He has the size, the speed, but most importantly he has the hockey IQ and hockey sense to be a front player both offensively and defensively. Edvinsson will be one of the most important players in special teams for Team Sweden in the World Juniors with his hands and creativity.”

William Eklund, Sweden

Team: Djurgardens IF (SHL)
Position: LW
2021-22 stats: 9GP | 0G | 5A | 5PTS
Drafted: San Jose Sharks (1/7, 2021)

William Eklund has established himself as one of the top prospects in hockey. He was listed as the No. 1 pure offensive talent from last year’s group of draft eligible players by more than a handful of prognosticators.

Eklund began the season making the San Jose Sharks as an 18-year-old and played nine games, where he collected four points – all assists – before being returned to Djurgarden of the SHL for further development. He and teammate Alexander Holtz of the New Jersey Devils should have impressive chemistry and will look to carry the Swedes offensively throughout the tournament. Look for Eklund to stake his claim as the top forward of the tournament.

“Eklund is for sure one of the biggest stars in this tournament,” Haak said. “This guy’s motor does not have a bad day – ever.  His hard work ethic combined with offensive skills has already made an impact at NHL level. Eklund’s creativity is ínsane and he could score and assist every time he is on the ice and I think he will be in the top of the scoring league when this tournament is over.”

Roni Hirvonen, Finland

Team: HIFK (Liiga)
Position: C
2021-22 stats: 28GP | 6G | 10A | 16PTS
Drafted: Toronto Maple Leafs (2/59, 2020)

Roni Hirvonen is one of 10 returning Finnish players who won bronze at last year’s World Juniors, so experience will be on his side. With the loss of Aatu Raty to a positive COVID-19 test, Hirvonen will need to step into the top center spot and help contribute offensively, putting the emphasis on him to perform even more.

Hirvonen brings leadership and experience to the team, having played the past three seasons in the top Finnish men’s league for HIFK and Assat. He currently has 16 points (six goals, 10 assists) in 28 games. 

“Hirvonen figures to be one of their go-to players in all situations and a fixture on their top line,” FCHockey scout Joseph Aleong said. “He’s a creative puckhandler and passer with a quick shot who’s not afraid to mix it up physically. Look for Hirvonen to be one of the leading scorers on a Finnish team devoid of the star talent it’s had in recent years.”

Luke Hughes, Team USA

Team: Michigan (NCAA)
Position: D
2021-22 stats: 20GP | 7G | 11A | 18PTS
Drafted: New Jersey Devils (1/4, 2021)

Luke Hughes is yet another player from the powerhouse University of Michigan to participate at the 2022 World Juniors. He brings a pedigree of powerful skating and high offense to an already solid Team USA. The freshman has 18 points (seven goals, 11 assists) in 20 games of NCAA action this season.

Can the third Hughes outdo his older brothers Jack Hughes (Devils) and Quinn Hughes (Vancouver Canucks) in accomplishing what they couldn’t do at the WJC, and that’s bring home a gold for Team USA? 

“Hughes is an exciting player on the USA blue line,” Broad said. “His skating and puck skills make him an offensive threat every time he touches the ice. He should play a big role on their power play and be one of the more exciting players on this USA roster. He’s played well at Michigan this year and that momentum should carry over now that he’s playing younger competition at the World Juniors.”

Kent Johnson, Canada

Team: Michigan (NCAA)
Position: C
2021-22 stats: 17GP | 4G | 19A | 23PTS
Drafted: Columbus Blue Jackets (1/5, 2021)

Kent Johnson arrives to the tournament with a lot of hype, as few can handle the puck as well as the Michigan standout. This tournament will be a chance for him to showcase his high-end skill set and provide Canada with a big boost offensively. 

Johnson, a freshman, leads Michigan team with 23 points (four goals, 19 assists) in only 17 games. His presence in the lineup will surely improve team Canada’s power play, which ranked third in the tournament last year. 

“Johnson is electrifying every time he touches the puck, his puckhandling ability is amongst the best in anyone in U20 competition,” Broad said. “Whenever he touches the puck he has the potential to make something happen, whether it be for himself or his teammates. Johnson’s passing ability is in the upper echelon of players in the WJC. He is must-watch TV whenever he picks up the puck in stride.”

Jan Mysak, Czechia

Team: Hamilton (OHL)
Position: LW
2021-22 stats: 25GP | 17G | 14A | 31PTS
Drafted: Montreal Canadiens (2/48, 2020)

Named captain of this team for a second straight time, Jan Mysak will be relied upon for his leadership as well as his talent. He is a tenacious player who is always attacking the puck and will need to contribute more offensively if the Czechia team has any chance of advancing into the medal rounds.

Mysak was second in scoring on last year’s Czech team and was also named as a Top-3 Player on Team. He has 31 points (17 goals, 14 assists) in 25 games for the Hamilton Bulldogs in the OHL this season. 

“He’s an intelligent, hard-working forward,” Europe-based FCHockey scout Mirsoslav Simurka said. “He can put the puck in the net and should be offensive leader for the Czechs at the World Juniors. He has good offensive skills and his skating improved but none of the skills are excellent.”

Cole Perfetti, Canada

Team: Manitoba (AHL)
Position: LW
2021-22 stats: 17GP | 6G | 9A | 15PTS
Drafted: Winnipeg Jets (1/10, 2020)

Cole Perfetti enters his second World Juniors with a bigger role than he did at last year’s event, and should see top line minutes at even strength and on the power play. He was named an alternate captain for Canada and will look to provide even more offensive artillery to an already strong forward group.

Perfetti has been impressive in his second year as a pro for the Manitoba Moose in the American Hockey League, and has collected 15 points (six goals, nine assists) in 17 games. He competes hard and has very good offensive skills. Look for him to be one of the top forwards of the entire tournament.  

“He’s exceeded all expectations as a teenager in the AHL, immediately seizing a top-six role and stockpiling points at a near point-per-game pace,” Aleong said. “His processing speed is elite, allowing him to stay consistently ahead of the play and utilize his electric passing skills. He has an improving shot and looks to be a primary power play option for Canada on his off-wing. He should be one of Canada’s, if not the entire tournament’s, leading scorers at the 2022 World Juniors.”

Owen Power, Canada

Team: Michigan (NCAA)
Position: D
2021-22 stats: 18GP | 3G | 20A | 23PTS
Drafted: Buffalo Sabres (1/1, 2021)

Owen Power, the No. 1 pick in the 2021 NHL Draft, arrives at his first World Juniors with high expectations. The 6-foot-6 Power will be expected to log a lot of big minutes on the back end for the Canadian squad. He is having a Hobey Baker-type start in the NCAA, where he currently leads all defenseman with 23 points (three goals, 20 assists), in 18 games as a sophomore.

If Canada can secure gold, Power and Perfetti, will join Patrice Bergeron as the only other players in IIHF hockey history to win gold at the World Juniors after winning a gold at the Men’s World Championships. 

“Power has been one of the top defenseman in the entire NCAA, if not the best one,” Broad said. “His blend of size, skating ability and offensive instincts make him a unicorn on the ice. He should be locked in as top pairing guy for Canada and will be relied on in all situations. I expect him to be amongst the top performers at the tournament.”

Jake Sanderson, Team USA

Team: North Dakota (NCAA)
Position: D
2021-22 stats: 15GP | 6G | 13A | 19PTS
Drafted: Ottawa Senators (1/5, 2020)

Jake Sanderson will captain Team USA at this year’s tournament. The No. 5 pick in the 2021 draft to the Ottawa Senators will play a bigger role this year and will bring a level of experience and leadership that will help the Americans if they plan to advance deep into medal contention. 

Sanderson is second in scoring on his team in North Dakota with 19 points (six goals, 13 assists) in 15 games. He is an excellent skater and plays a complete game. 

“Sanderson is a beast on the back end,” Broad said. “He’s made a huge jump since last season and will be heavily relied on by the American squad at this year’s tournament. Like Power for Canada, Sanderson will be one of the top defensemen at this year’s tournament. I expect him to be a great two-way presence, chipping in offensively and shutting down opposing team’s top players.”

Fyodor Svechkov, Russia

Team: SKA-Neva St. Petersburg (VHL)
Position: C
2021-22 stats: 15GP | 2G | 9A | 11PTS
Drafted: Nashville Predators (1/19, 2021)

Fyodor Svechkov is a proficient two-way forward who commands all areas of the ice. He will see plenty of ice time in all situations and will be an important contributor offensively as well. 

Russia will be lacking offensively from their defense, thus the forward group will be called upon to provide more scoring. Svechkov will need to carry some of the offensive responsibility and has already been producing in the VHL, Russia’s second-tier pro league, where he has 11 points (two points, nine assists) in 15 games. 

“Touted as a two-way forward throughout his draft year, Svechkov showed off his offensive prowess at the Under-18s and has shown it at the VHL and MHL levels this season,” Bell said. “In his first World Juniors appearance, look for Svechkov to be his usual self – reliable and effective in his own end and surprisingly efficient in the offensive end.”

Jesper Wallstedt, Sweden

Team: Lulea HF (SHL)
Position: G
2021-22 stats: 9-8-0 | 1.82GAA | .923SV%
Drafted: Minnesota Wild (1/20, 2021)

Sweden will be led by arguably the tournament’s best goaltender in Jesper Wallstedt. He played two games at last year’s tournament, and will most definitely have an increased role as arguably Sweden’s most important player.

Wallstedt is a large and agile goaltender that has spent the past two seasons refining his skills for Lulea in the top Swedish men’s league. He currently sits second in the SHL for GAA with a 1.82 average. 

“He is big and reads the action really well,” Haak said. “That combined with good flexibility makes him a goalkeeper that always finds a position in the net that makes it hard for opponents to score against. He is really calm in the net no matter what happens and always seems to be mentally ready for a challenge. If he reaches his potential these two weeks he will be one of the key players for Sweden in this tournament.”

Other key prospects to watch: Joel Blomqvist (Finland), Matthew Coronato (Team USA), Dylan Guenther (Candaa), Kaiden Guhle (Canada), Alexander Holtz (Sweden), Roby Jarventie (Finland), Samuel Knazko (Slovakia), Chaz Lucius (Team USA), Mason McTavish (Canada), Luca Munzenberger (Germany), Isak Rosen (Sweden), Stanislav Svozil (Czechia).

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