December 24, 2021

Undrafted prospects to keep an eye on at the World Juniors

Florian Elias. Kristian Tanus. Kirill Slepets.

What do all of these names have in common?

All of the aforementioned players came into the World Juniors as undrafted prospects and, in spite of their status were able to seize significant roles for their nations and end up as one of the tournament’s top-10 scorers when all was said and done. 

The underdog feel of these prospects is what makes them so endearing as onlookers, and having one of these breakout players on your country’s roster could be the difference between you playing for a medal or even escaping relegation.

So, where may some of these types of players be coming from in 2022?

Here are some of the undrafted prospects to know at the 2022 IIHF World Junior Championship.

Semyon Demidov, Russia

Team: HK Ryazan (VHL)
Position: LW
2021-22 stats: 9GP | 1G | 3A | 4P
FCHockey Rank: NR (2020)

Semyon Demidov played his way on to this Russian roster throughout the course of this season while playing at all three levels over in Russia, splitting time between KHL, VHL, and MHL. In his past two seasons at the MHL level, he has become a formidable point producer with 57 points (25 goals, 32 assists) in his last 67 MHL games. While skating for the Russians at international exhibitions, Demidov put an exclamation point on his bid to make this roster in November with five points split between two games against Sweden and Finland, and in turn has earned himself a potentially significant role for Russia at the World Juniors.

Demidov may remind some of Zakhar Bardakov at this year’s World Junior Championships, who was able to play his way into a draft selection after a strong showing of his own a year ago – eventually being selected in the seventh round by the New Jersey Devils. Though not as big as Bardakov, Demidov shares a similar puck hound spirit that has made Bardakov a successful junior level player. Demidov is a very capable shooter who can score from medium range when given time to shoot, but will do most of his work for this Russian team in the dirty areas of the ice.

Michal Gut, Czechia

Team: Everett Silvertips (WHL)
Position: C
2021-22 stats: 24GP | 7G | 25A | 32P
FCHockey Rank: N/R (2020)

Recently named one of Czechia’s alternate captains for the World Juniors, Michal Gut is in line to play a major role for the Czechs at this year’s tournament. Gut was one of the youngest players available in the 2020 NHL Draft, and has since become a key contributor in WHL for the Everett Silvertips. In 24 games with Everett this season, Gut has tallied 32 points (seven goals, 25 assists) and currently sits in the league’s top-10 in points-per-game and fifth in the WHL in assists.

Gut likely projects as the No. 2 center for Czechia due in large part to his smarts and vision with the puck on his stick. He isn’t always the flashiest player when he’s on the ice, but he consistently is making things happen on the ice due to how well he sees the ice and his ability to create opportunities for his linemates in high-danger areas. Gut figures to be a fixture in Czechia’s top six and power play units and could be in line for a productive couple of weeks if he’s able to carry his strong play in the WHL this season into this year’s tournament.

Matej Kaslik, Slovakia

Team: Chicoutimi Sagueneens (QMJHL)
Position: C/LW
2021-22 stats: 28GP | 15G | 12A | 27P
FCHockey Rank: 248 (2020)

Another returning member from last year’s World Juniors, Matej Kaslik, has been a fixture at international events in recent years for Slovakia – also appearing at the 2019 Hlinka Gretzky Cup where he turned in a point-per-game performance. This season in Chicoutimi, Kaslik has looked comfortable and has been a steady contributor for the Sagueneens, producing just a hair below a point-per-game clip with 27 points (15 goals, 12 assists) in 28 games. Kaslik figures to play a top role for a talented Slovak squad that boasts high-end draft-eligible talent such as Simon Nemec, Juraj Slafkovsky, and Filip Mesar, and is currently projected to start the tournament on the team’s top forward line.

Kaslik is a crafty puckhandler who brings an elusive nature to his game while cradling the puck, able to shield the puck away from defenders and open up attacking lanes with skill and patience. He excels more as a goal scorer than a playmaker, but he’s certainly capable of being both and could be in line for a strong showing with the weapons he will have around him in Slovakia’s top-six.

Juuso Maenpaa, Finland

Team: KalPa (Liiga)
Position: LW/C
2021-22 stats: 31GP | 3G | 12A | 15P
FCHockey Rank: 140 (2020)

After losing Aatu Raty for the tournament due to a COVID-related issue, there is opportunity in the top-six for Finland and Juuso Maenpaa could fill that void in a significant way. Maenpaa, who is in his third year of draft eligibility, has seized a top-nine role for KalPa in Liiga as a 19-year-old and has had a productive season thus far. He has 15 points (three goals, nine assists), placing him fifth in league scoring among U20 skaters – only trailing a handful of his Finland teammates in Topi Niemela, Ville Koivunen, Joakim Kemell, and Roni Hirvonen.

Maenpaa is capable of playing both wing and center, which adds flexibility to Finland’s roster as they look to fill the void left by Raty. He is an elusive and creative playmaker who can generate high-danger scoring chances from the perimeter, and is could potentially find himself plying his trade on Finland’s top line and top power play unit.

Noah Meier, Switzerland

Team: GC Kusnacht Lions (SL)
Position: D
2021-22 stats: 24GP | 2G | 16A | 18P
FCHockey Rank: 187 (2021)

A returning member from last year’s squad, Noah Meier is an offensive defenseman who has produced well against men this season in Switzerland’s second-tier pro league with GC Kusnacht. Meier currently leads all U20 skaters in scoring in the Swiss League with 18 points (two goals, 16 assists) in 24 games. He is a potent weapon on the power play in the Swiss League, which stands to reason that for Switzerland at the World Juniors he may settle into a consistent top-four role with substantial man-advantage Minutes, which may lead to a sizable chunk of points for the second-year eligible defenseman.

Meier is able to make up for admittedly below average mobility with how well he passes the puck and sees the ice with the puck on his stick. His vision and hands are both very strong, able to connect with teammates on long breakout passes or send creative and difficult passes to teammates while attacking on the rush to generate odd-man rushes and scoring opportunities. There are obstacles for Meier to overcome in his light frame and below average mobility, but he’s a name to watch for clubs interested in future powerplay specialists.

David Spacek, Czechia

Team: Sherbrooke Phoenix (QMJHL)
Position: D
2021-22 stats: 27GP | 5G | 20A | 25P
FCHockey Rank: N/R (2021)

Another undrafted Czech skater looking to make his mark at this year’s tournament is defenseman David Spacek, who has played his way on to the Czech roster through strong play in the QMJHL with the Sherbrooke Phoenix. Spacek has been a fixture on the power play this season and has, in turn, racked up the points with 25 (five goals, 20 assists) in 27 games, placing him in a tie for eighth in scoring among defensemen in the QMJHL. Spacek also skated for the Czechs at the 2021 IIHF World Under-18 Championship, making him no stranger to competing on the international stage.

Spacek is a reliable offensive weapon and is particularly strong at quarterbacking the power play, which may be how we’ll see him deployed for Czechia throughout the tournament as a candidate on the team’s second power play unit. He is a reliable distributor and has a heavy point shot, both of which are strong power play assets. Spacek does a good job of getting his shots through from the point in the offensive zone, and in his own zone is also capable of playing the penalty kill. He will likely settle into one of the remaining two sides on the right side of the blue line for the Czechs behind David Jiricek, and is a name to watch as a potential point producer on Czechia’s power play.

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