Which prospects to watch at the 2022 World Juniors
After COVID-19 put an early halt to the 2022 World Juniors in December, the IIHF went into full planning mode and rescheduled the tournament for a summer setting.
Fast forward to August and the prospects showcase, a full-on mulligan, is set to drop the puck once again Tuesday. The rosters, however, are looking a little different than December, with some players focused on NHL training camps and 2022 draftees earning their shot on the international stage.
With that, here is a look at three names to watch from each team:
Senna Peeters, C, Undrafted
Austria is missing their top players for this event, and will struggle to replace the likes of Marco Kasper and Vizenz Rohrer. But a skater like Senna Peeters may be up to the task. Peeters played in the December tournament and in the 2021 event as well. He was solid in his two QMJHL seasons with the Halifax Mooseheads, and with his playmaking ability he could come up big for Austria this time around.
Oskar Maier, LW, Undrafted
Oskar Maier was a member of the original 2022 WJC Austrian team and has a golden opportunity to carve out a big role this time around. The 19-year-old has only represented Austira once before, in the 2018-19 WJC-18 Division 1B event. With his limited international experience it may be a longshot, but with his age and brief WJC experience I think he’s going to be relied on by the Austrian coaching staff.
Sebastian Wraneschitz, G, Undrafted
Sebastian Wranceschitz had one outing at the December tournament, splitting the two games with fellow goalie Leon Sommer. Wraneschitz’s experience with North American hockey will give him the edge as the early starting goalie for the Austrians. With a depleted team, the goaltending performance will make a massive difference for Austria, and it will be interested to see how the Austrian goalies perform throughout the tournament.
Mason McTavish, C, Anaheim Ducks
Mason McTavish played just about everywhere in 2021-22. The Anaheim Ducks prospect made appearances in the NHL, AHL, OHL and the Olympics, on top of his brief stint with Canada at the World Juniors last season. He will captain the Canadian squad for the summer event, and will arguably be the best player to hit the ice at the World Juniors. He will be expected to drive Canada’s offensive attack as they start their quest for another gold medal. McTavish has all the tools to be an impact player for the Canadian team, and his offensive instincts and puck skills should have him poised for a massive tournament.
Connor Bedard, C, 2023 NHL Draft
With all due respect to McTavish who is one of the best players on this team, the hockey world will likely be fixated on Connor Bedard. The 2023 NHL Draft eligible prospect just turned 17 and is one of the most electrifying prospects in all of hockey — reflected in his consensus No. 1 slot for the 2023 draft. Before the World Juni0rs was shutdown, Bedard was having a great showing for Canada. Now he’s older and will likely have a more prominent role for the team. He scored 100 points (51 goals and 49 assists) in 62 WHL games for the Regina Pats last season, and will be expected to produce a ton of points for Canada.
Olen Zellweger, D, Anaheim Ducks
Anaheim has two of their top prospects on Canada, and both are must watch hockey. Olen Zellweger is a highly-gifted offensive defenseman who burst onto the international scene with a strong performance for Canada at the 2021 IIHF World Under-18 Championship. Zellweger should have ample ice time playing at both five-on-five and on the power play, and with his skillset he should be able to have a big impact every time he steps onto the ice. Ducks fans are going to be glued to the tv whenever Canada plays, and Zellweger deserves a lot of their attention.
Jan Mysak, C, Montreal Canadiens
Jan Mysak has played in the previous two World Juniors and has become a fixture on Czechia’s international junior teams. The talented two-way player was their captain in December before the tournament came to an abrupt halt. Mysak has the skating, tenacity and puck skills to help drive Czechia’s attack and if the have any success at this tournament, the Montreal Canadiens prospect will have to be a large part of their plans.
Jiri Kulich, C, Buffalo Sabres
Jiri Kulich was a force as the captain of Czechia’s Under-18 entry at the 2022 tournament this past spring. He will look to translate that performance to this World Junior event. Kulich, a Buffalo Sabres prospect, will likely have a big role on Czechia’s power play, using his off-puck movement and lethal shot to make team’s pay whenever gifted a man-advantage. He’s one of the 2022 draftees to make the Czechia roster, and will have a chance to carve out a big offensive role.
David Jiricek, D, Columbus Blue Jackets
The Columbus Blue Jackets have two defensive prospects on Czechia, and both are worthy of being on this list. David Jiricek gets the slight edge, however. Jiricek was injured in the December tournament, but was widely considered one of the best draft eligible prospects in the brief event. Now that he’s fully healthy, it will be very interesting to see how he stacks up in a best-on-best international event. Blue Jackets fans will have a vested interest in the Czechia group, and seeing how Jiricek looks against some of the best peer-on-peer competition in the world.
Brad Lambert, C, Winnipeg Jets
Brad Lambert may be the most interesting player in this tournament. He was a dominant force in the brief two-game stint in December, but struggled for much of the rest of the season. People will want to see if he can use his elite skating and strength to be as impactful this time around. The Winnipeg Jets took Lambert late in the first-round of the 2022 NHL Draft, and if he can start his season off right with a solid performance at the World Juniors he could set himself up for a big bounce back season this year.
Aatu Raty, C, New York Islanders
Aatu Raty and Lambert had similar narratives during their draft year, though Raty didn’t even make the World Junior team back in 2021. Since then, Raty has rebounded wonderfully and become of the most intriguing prospects in all of hockey. After scoring 40 points (13 goals, 27 assists) in 41 Liiga games last season, Raty came over to North American and played a sizeable role for Bridgeport — the New York Islanders‘ minor league affiliate — during their brief run in the American Hockey League playoffs. Raty has a chance to be an MVP candidate at this event if all goes well and it will a great storyline to follow as the event progresses.
Topi Niemela, D, Toronto Maple Leafs
The Toronto Maple Leafs have a highly talented defensive prospect in Topi Niemela, and he should be the workhorse on Finland’s blue line throughout the World Juniors. He has great skating and offensive instincts that will make him a nightmare to defend when he gets the puck in stride, but his defensive game should also standout as he is one of the older players in this event. The World Juniors provides a great opportunity for Maple Leafs fans to see Niemela’s progress as a prospect.
Hakon Hanelt, C, Washington Capitals
It will be Hakon Hanelt’s first time lacing up for a World Junior tournament. The Washington Capitals prospect is coming off a brief but successful stint with the Gatineau Olympiques, netting 10 points (two goals, eight assists) in 16 QMJHL games. The German team will rely on players like Hanelt because of their versatility and experience playing with Germany’s junior national teams in the past.
Florian Bugl, G, Undrafted
It’s impossible to talk about the German team and not mention Florian Bugl. In Germany’s strong showing at the 2021 World Juniors, Bugl backstopped the team to a 2-1-0 record and in his lone start in the December event he stopped 39 of 40 shots against Czechia for a 2-1 overtime win. He will be Germany’s starting goalie this time around, and has the opportunity to steal a game or two at this event.
Luca Munzenberger, D, Edmonton Oilers
Luca Muzenberger, who plays at the University of Vermont in the NCAA, was a part of the December roster for Germany’s U20 team. In his two games at the cancelled tournament, the Edmonton Oilers prospect produced two points and was vital member of Germany’s blue line. Going into his D+2 season, Muzenberger should be heavily leaned on to play big minutes at this event and with his ability he could be poised for a strong showing for the Germans.
Sandis Vilmanis, LW, Florida Panthers
Sandis Vilmanis, a Florida Panthers prospect, has had a wealth of experience with Latvia’s National junior program this season. The forward was an assistant captain for their entry at the Under-18s in the spring, and was a member of their U20 team during the WJC-20 D1A tournament. Vilmanis is a skilled forward with a great shot that has a chance to make some noise for the Latvian squad.
Dans Locmelis, C, Boston Bruins
Dans Locmelis, like Vilmanis, was a member of both the U18 roster and the U20 D1A team, and should be a vital member of Latvia’s team at this event. The Boston Bruins prospect is a talented facilitator and will likely be one of the players that Latvia leans on to carry the puck up the ice in transition.
Klavs Veinbergs, LW, Tampa Bay Lightning
Klavs Veinbergs is the third NHL draftee on the Latvian squad — and like the other two he was taken in 2022. The Tampa Bay Lightning prospect has a big frame that should allow him to get into prime position in the offensive zone. Veinbergs played on the Latvian men’s national team during the World Championship and, while he didn’t produce any points, that experience should provide him with some confidence heading into an under-20 event.
Roman Faith, LW, Undrafted
The Slovakian team will look a lot different than their December roster. With their big three — Juraj Slafkovsky, Simon Nemec, and Filip Mesar — focusing on NHL camp rather than this event they will have to look elsewhere for an offensive spark. Roman Faith is one of the players that they will be relying on. The 20-year-old will be playing in his second World Juniors, and will be leaned on as a veteran presence for the young Slovakian roster that doesn’t feature all their NHL prospects.
Adam Sykora, LW, New York Rangers
A member of that exciting squad that won silver at the 2021 Hlinka Gretzky Cup, Adam Sykora should be a vital part of this year’s Slovakian junior team. He played in the WJC-18 D1A and put forth a very strong showing for Slovakia’s mens national team at the World Championship. The New York Rangers prospect will be heavily relied on for Slovakia with their roster being at less than their full strength.
Dalibor Dvorsky, C, 2023 NHL Draft
Another highly-touted 2023 draft eligible, Dalibor Dvorsky has been awesome every time he’s pulled on a jersey for Slovakia. He has the full package — his size, skating ability, and puck skills should have him near the top of the 2023 NHL Draft board. With the big guns not present, Dvorsky has a shot at being Slovakia’s No. 1 center and the main focal point of their offensive game plan.
Jesper Wallstedt, G, Minnesota Wild
The Swedish team has a ton of talent and could be a strong contender for a gold medal. Their strength starts in goal with Jesper Wallstedt. He started each of their two games in December and won both with a glowing .962 save percentage. The Minnesota Wild prospect will be the backbone to a strong roster and could be the piece that puts Sweden over the top if they end up on the top of the podium this time around.
Simon Edvinsson, D, Detroit Red Wings
Sweden always has a strong defense group and this roster is no different, and the headliner has to be Simon Edvinsson. He’s a smooth-skating, two-way defender who can drive play from the backend. Edvinsson has all the skills and physical traits to be top tier NHL defender and after he was a force in Sweden’s two games during the December tournament. Detroit Red Wings fans can expect him to take another big step this time around.
Oskar Olausson, LW, Colorado Avalanche
An elite goalscoring threat from the wing, Oskar Olausson should be one of the focal points for Sweden’s offensive attack. He was a vital member of their top power play last winter and should be penciled onto the top unit again this time around. Olausson, a Colorado Avalanche prospect, will be given every opportunity to be a top line player for Sweden and it will be interesting to see if he seizes the opportunity or not.
Brian Zanetti, D, Philadelphia Flyers
Without Lian Bichsel, the Swiss blue line will have to work as a full six-man unit to have a positive impact. One of the players to look at is Brian Zanetti. The Philadelphia Flyers prospect has represented Switzerland’s Junior National Team at every level throughout his career. He has the physical traits and playing experience to make him a vital member of Switzerland’s blue line and he will be leaned on heavily without the presence of Bichsel.
Simon Knak, RW, Nashville Predators
Simon Knak is a veteran of two previous World Juniors, and brings a ton of international experience to Switzerland’s roster. Drafted by the Nashville Predators in 2021, Knak has strong goal scoring potential and forechecking ability that Switzerland will desperately need to compete with the stronger teams in the event. He has yet to produce big numbers at the professional level, but starting the season off with a strong showing at this tournament could be the kickstart his development needs.
Rodwin Dionicio, D, Undrafted
The offensive skillset that Rodwin Dionicio brings to the table makes him one of the more intriguing players on Switzerland’s roster. He struggled with his defensive game in the Ontario Hockey League as a rookie blueliner on a weak Niagara IceDogs team, but his offensive production helped negate some of his negative defensive impacts. He had 31 points (six goals, 25 asssits) in 57 games on one of the worst offensive attacks in the OHL. Without Bichsel, Dioncio could potentially grab the top power play role and have a big offensive impact on Switzerland’s roster.
Brock Faber, D, Minnesota Wild
Brock Faber, Team USA’s captain, has had an interesting hockey season. He represented the United States at the cancelled WJC, became an Olympian, and saw his rights get traded from the Los Angeles Kings to Minnesota in the Kevin Fiala trade. Now, Faber has the honor of leading Team USA’s quest for gold at the World Juniors. His all-around game is exceptional and he will be relied on to help run the Americans’ offense from the back end while simultaneously shutting down the oppositions attack with his defensive prowess.
Luke Hughes, D, New Jersey Devils
Luke Hughes is the most exciting blueliner the Team USA roster has to offer. The future New Jersey Devils defenseman was a beast for Michigan last year and that’ll likely translate that same success to the World Juniors. He is a magician with the puck on his stick in the offensive zone and will try to drive play from the back. He will likely play big minutes and be the focal point of their top power play unit. Hughes has an enormous ceiling and could be one of the best defensemen in the entire tournament.
Matthew Knies, LW, Toronto Maple Leafs
Matthew Knies had a solid 2021-22 season that was headlined by making Team USA’s roster for the Olympics. Knies has the size, strength, and offensive instincts to be a solid power forward at the NHL level and his skillset should make him a premier scoring option for the Americans at this tournament. Knies may not have the same ceiling as some of the other forwards on the United States roster, but the all-around game of the Maple Leafs prospect should make him one of the go-to options for the coaching staff.
This year is a little different and even though the World Juniors in August feels a little weird, it will provide scouts and NHL staff members a great opportunity to see how some of their prospects have progressed.
International tournaments are always a headlining event and despite the odd timeline, this World Juniors should provide the hockey world with plenty of great storylines to follow throughout the season.