2022 World Juniors Championships resume today
The 2022 IIHF World Junior Championships were highly anticipated with rosters loaded with more future NHL talent than usual.
Then COVID-19 reared its ugly head and an outbreak at the tournament last December forced the cancellation of the event. Many hockey players had their dreams ripped away, but some of those players get their chance to play in junior hockey’s most prestigious event.
Instead of its Dec. 26 start, the 2022 WJC will do a full restart today and wrap up on Aug. 20.
When the event was canceled there were immediate discussions of resuming play at a later date with the same age groups available to play again.
At the original event several teams boasted elite rosters with plenty of marquee names, but due to varying circumstances many players at the event in December will not be playing. That means no Owen Power of the Buffalo Sabres, no Juraj Slafkovsky of the Montreal Canadiens and no Shane Wright or Matty Beniers of the Seattle Kraken.
However, the departure of some of the premier talent has opened the door for other prospects, including some that will be drafted in the 2005 NHL Draft.
In December, Buffalo arguably had the best prospect at the event in Power and it was a great opportunity for him to showcase that he is one of the best players not yet a full-time NHLer. Even without him there will be plenty for Buffalo fans to root for.
The most notable Sabres’ prospect at the event will be 2021 first-round selection Isak Rosen of Sweden. With the watered down talent pool, Rosen will have a chance to try and show off his scoring prowess which was a big key to Buffalo selecting him at 14th overall in 2021.
His biggest competition will be on his own team for playing time. If he can’t secure powerplay time over Fabian Lysell, Oskar Olausson and Jonathan Lekkerimaki then his point totals could suffer.
While Rosen will attempt to fight for the spotlight on medal contender Sweden, fellow Sabres’ prospect Linus Sjodin should just be happy to be there. Sjodin was not originally selected for the squad in December, but due to opt outs and injuries the 2022 seventh-round pick finds himself on a Swedish team that could really give a go for the gold over Canada.
The biggest missing piece from the tournament is the Russian Federation, due to its ban from all IIHF events after the invasion of Ukraine and with that there will be no showcase for the Sabres’ Russian prospects.
With Russia out, the remaining Sabres’ prospect to keep an eye on is 2022 first-round pick Jiri Kulich out of Czechia. Kulich will start off all the action today at 2 p.m., when Czechia takes on its diminished rivals, Slovakia. With the absence of Slovakia’s Simon Nemec, Juraj Slafkovsky and Filip Mesar, Kulich should be the star of the show in game one. While the Czech squad brought most of its eligible players, the best player on the ice is for Slovakia should be Adam Sykora, a second-round selection by the New York Rangers in 2022. The other notable name in the game for Slovakia is Dalibor Dvorsky who will be a top 10 pick in the 2023 draft.
The two top teams to come out of Group A should still be Canada and Finland, followed by Czechia, Slovakia then Latvia.
Finland brings back most of its roster from December, but Canada still should have the edge led by its generational talent Connor Bedard. Bedard will be the first pick in the 2023 draft. He is the best prospect to ever come out of Western Canada and is the best Canadian prospect since Connor McDavid. All Bedard has done since December is gotten better and he will be a candidate for tournament MVP because of it.
Without Power in the way, Olen Zellweger will be a prime candidate to run the Canadians from the blue line and Sebastian Cossa in net makes the Canadians a front-runner for gold.
Almost every team got weaker from December by subtraction, but none were hurt worse than the United States. Instead of being a team on a collision course with Canada in the finals, the USA could find itself without a medal. Losing talent such as Jake Sanderson of the Ottawa Senators and Beniers of the Kraken significantly lowers the USA star power. Luke Hughes is the United States’ most talented player in the tournament, but it will be a tall order for him to carry this squad to glory.
I predict Sweden defeats Canada in the gold medal game and Finland tops Czechia for bronze.
My tournament MVP prediction is Swedish goalie Jesper Wallstedt, the top defender will be Simon Edvinsson of Sweden and the top forward will be Mason McTavish of Canada. My prediction for all-tournament team is Wallstedt for goalie, Edvinsson and Zellweger on defense, and McTavish, Bedard and Finland’s Brad Lambert at forward.