The holiday season dawns, which means it’s time again to watch the future of the NHL battle it out for hockey supremacy! Here’s a rundown of everything you wanted to know about what to expect from this year’s World Junior Championship.
The Need To Knows
What is the WJC?
The World Junior Championship is an annual U20 men’s tournament that is often the best place to see up and coming talent before they’re drafted, or prospects shine like they’ve never shone before.
When is it?
The group stage starts today, December 26th, at 8am PT with Finland and Switzerland facing off. This goes until the 31st, after which the knockout round begins on the 2nd of January.
Why should I care?
Two words: Shane Wright.
Plus, they’re inoffensive hockey games in the middle of the afternoon right on boxing day/Dec 26th, usually with some form of drama added because teenagers don’t always play perfect hockey but certain nations really care about that. It’s also the first year in a good long while to bring back the Relegation Round!
Where can I watch it?
TSN, NHL Network, FuboTV
Who’s the current champs?
- Of course, Kraken forward Shane Wright was a shoe-in for Team Canada, and is expected to be a first line juggernaut for the Red and Black as their captain. Congrats on getting the C, Shane!
- Finland will be rolling into this tournament with a pair of Kraken hopefuls; Winger Jani Nyman and Goalie Niklas Kokko will join the team; both of them 2022 2nd-round draftees!
- The WHL Washington State teams are well represented this year: Reid Shaefer, Nolan Alan, Kevin Korchinski and Thomas Milic of the T-Birds suits up for Canada, Olen Zellweger from our friends a few minutes north in Everett (if traffic allows) also gets the call for the Red and Black.
- Tomáš Suchánek from the Tri-City Americans will suit up for Team Czechia
Group A - Somebody stop those mad Canucks!
- As per usual, Canada is the favorite: They got everything they could possibly need: sensational talent in Bedard, Wright, and Fantilli up front, solid depth options, goaltending aplenty, it’s really all up to them to just execute and come up big when it comes to teams like Finland and the USA. They know what they’re up for; they just have to do it.
- Group A’s only real hope to upset Canada is Sweden, who historically have let goaltending and defense be their guide through most of these World Juniors heading to respectable 3rd and 2nd place finishes. Not this year. This year they loaded up on high impact forwards like Isak Rosen and Fabian Lysell, and the young guns from Djurgardens (Ohgren, Lekkerimaki) just to get you started, at the cost of going with more unproven options on defense that are good, just haven’t gotten their real best shots in the international game. They tried the “Defense wins championships” rout last year, and it didn’t pan out. This is where they’ll make their statement on Speed and Skill. We’ll see if they can make it happen.
- Czechia has a number of young guns on defense and in net that they seem to be wanting to build out from; with Stan Svozil and Dave Jiricek highlighting with some interesting supporting staff from aggressive defenders like Jiri Tachachek and David Spacek, backstopped by Jan Bednar and Suchanek, who look to be quite intriguing. As for forwards, they’re currently hoping for Jan Mysak and Jiri Kulich to run most of the skater offense, but they’re confident they can do it.
- Germany appears to be fresh out of that generational talent that carried them to previous shocks, but they still have guys to watch out for: like Julian Lutz and the globetrotting Phillip Sinn as skaters, and Nikita Quapp who managed a 45-save pre-tournament game. Germany will be struggling for more than a second win, but they’ll make it competitive and much of their roster showed up last year, so they know what’s possibly coming for them. Maybe they’ll get lucky!
- Hi, Austria! We hope you have a good time. You’re going to get wiped from the face of the earth every game, but have fun out there!
Group B - America vs. Europe
- Team USA’s roster is both filled with names you would swear are made up, and also kind of a flex for the college game: 90% of the roster is from college, and are using their winter break to hopefully go for IIHF Gold Medals. The States are going for high octane speed and skill as a major selling point, with a fairly small, mobile defense and a small mobile forward corps that they hope will cause nothing but problems for opposing teams. In net, the US is bringing a bunch of 2023 draft hopefuls to round out the speedy States. Their biggest foe, more than Canada or Russia however, has always been themselves in these tournaments; they really like doing comebacks when they don’t have to, and so the biggest X-factor they face is “Can you please keep your s#!t together for at least 58 minutes of hockey?”
- In Group, Finland will be competing hard for the chance to run it back against Canada. They’re not just a tough team in general, they’re very experienced; with most of them having played tough minutes in the top division Liiga or in the AHL, at least among their forward corps and goaltenders. Their defense has some unknown quantities; Aron Kiviharju is one of the youngest guys at this tournament and while he’s looked pretty good in Liiga, we have no idea what he could be like at this level of the game. They also happen to carry the most amount of Kraken prospects on average, so they’re worth rooting for if you’re looking for a team to sort of cheer for.
- Don’t count out Slovakia! It might be tempting, but even after putting a couple of extremely high draft picks into the prospect pools of a couple of NHL teams, the Slovaks are still not done putting out intriguing talent, sending Dalibor Dvorsky, Juraj Slafkovsky, Simon Nemec, and Filip Mesar just to name a few who will be looking to help bring his nation to the promised land of the knockout round. They’ll be without their longtime goaltender Simon Latkoczy, which is a shame as he’s aged out, so they’ll be going with a bunch of youngboys to potentially replace him: I’m thinking Matej Marinov being the favorite to get starts, at least based on past performance. A lot has to go right for them, but there’s a good chance this very talented roster manages to make something interesting happen!
- Switzerland is interesting in that they play very well organized, structured hockey...but have yet to have developed players high end enough to make a difference. They only bring two drafted prospects to this tournament, both on the back end in Lian Bichsel and Brian Zanetti, and a bunch of guys who were overseas (convenient!) to help out with the battle for gold. I like watching them play, I just don’t know if they have what it takes to get out from under the problem that the top three in this division are going to bring.
- Latvia is a Baltic underdog that has...honestly? Been pretty fun to watch over the last year or so. I’m not saying they’re gonna win much (if at all), but their margins for error are razor thin. They need to play as well as anyone can in order to even get to overtime with a bunch of these teams. They definitely have the talent for it: Dans Locmelis, Martins Lavins and Rodzers Bukarts will be playing out of their gourds no doubt, but will have to prove to be more than just fun and cute in order to get wins. I think their game against Switzerland will ultimately decide whether or not they go to the relegation round or not.
The tourney begins bright and early at 8am PT on Monday, December 26th when Switzerland and Finland lock horns.
Good luck to everyone, and GO FOR GOLD!