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 dashed, but some of those players have the opportunity to play in the most prestigious event in youth hockey.
Instead of starting on December 26, the 2022 WJC will restart completely today and end on August 20.
When the event was cancelled, there were immediate discussions to resume play at a later date with the same age groups available to play again.
In the original event, several teams boasted elite rosters with many brand names, but due to various circumstances, many players from the December event 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 top talent has opened the door for other prospects, including some who will be selected in the 2005 NHL Draft.
In December, Buffalo had the top prospect at the Power event and it was a great opportunity for him to prove that he is one of the best players not yet in the NHL full-time. Even without him, there will be plenty for Buffalo fans to enjoy.
The most notable Sabers prospect at the event will be 2021 first-round pick Isak Rosen of Sweden. With the talent pool diluted, Rosen will have a chance to try to showcase his scoring ability, which was a big key to Buffalo selecting him 14th overall in 2021. His biggest competition will be on his own team for game time If he can’t secure powerplay time over Fabian Lysell, Oskar Olausson and Jonathan Lekkerimaki, his points total could suffer.
While Rosen will try to fight for Sweden’s spotlight, fellow Sabers prospect Linus Sjodin should be happy to be there. Sjodin wasn’t originally selected for the team in December, but due to layoffs and injuries, the 2022 seventh-round pick is on a Swedish team that could really try for gold against Canada.
The biggest piece missing from the tournament is the Russian Federation, due to their ban from all IIHF events following the invasion of Ukraine and with that there will be no showcase for the Sabres’ Russian prospects.
With Russia out, the Sabres’ remaining prospect to keep an eye on is 2022 first-round pick Jiri Kulich out of the Czech Republic. Kulich will kick off all the action today at 2pm when the Czech Republic take on relegation rivals Slovakia. With the absence of Slovakians Simon Nemec, Juraj Slafkovsky and Filip Mesar, Kulich should be the star of the show in the first game.
Although the Czech national team brought most of its eligible players, the best player on the ice for Slovakia should be Adam Sykora, a second-round pick of the New York Rangers in 2022. The other big name in the game for Slovakia is Dalibor Dvorsky who will be a top 10 pick in the 2023 draft.
The top two teams coming out of Group A should still be Canada and Finland, followed by the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Latvia.
Finland returns most of its roster from December, but Canada should still have the edge led by their generational talent Connor Bedard. Bedard will be the first pick in the 2023 draft. He is the best prospect ever to come out of Western Canada and the best Canadian prospect since Connor McDavid. Everything Bedard has done since December has improved, and for that he will be a candidate for tournament MVP.
With no power on the road, Olen Zellweger will be the leading candidate to lead the Canadians from the blue line and Sebastian Cossa in net makes the Canadians a favorite for gold.
Almost every team weakened from December onward, 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. The loss of talent like Jake Sanderson from the Ottawa Senators and Beniers from the Kraken significantly reduces the USA’s star power. Luke Hughes is the USA’s most talented player in the tournament, but it will be very difficult to lead this team to glory.
I predict Sweden defeats Canada in the gold medal game and Finland leads the Czech Republic for bronze.
My tournament MVP prediction is Swedish goalkeeper Jesper Wallstedt, top defender Simon Edvinsson of Sweden and top forward Mason McTavish of Canada. My all-tournament team prediction is Wallstedt for goalkeeper, Edvinsson and Zellweger in defence, and McTavish, Bedard and Finland’s Brad Lambert in forward.
Buffalo Sabers prospect Linus Sjodin wasn’t on the original Swedish team, but he’s earned a spot for the summer makeup. PJ photo by Christian Storms
Buffalo Sabers prospect Isak Rosen will be a member of Team Sweden that will play in the 2022 IIHF World Junior Championship starting today. PJ stock photo by Christian Storms
Buffalo Sabers prospect Jiri Kulich will represent the Czech Republic at the 2022 IIHF World Junior Championships. Kulich and the Czech Republic begin action today at 2:00 PM against rival Slovakia. PJ file photo of Christian Storms
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