With the 2022 World Juniors right around the corner, players and teams are gearing up for another big tournament. There is a ton of talent spread throughout the teams and it’s going to be another event for scouts to judge upcoming draft eligible prospects for the NHL Entry Draft.
The Canadiens are sending three players to this year’s IIHF World Juniors Championships: forward Oliver Kapanen for Finland, forward Jan Mysak for the Czech Republic, and defenseman Kaiden Guhle for Canada.
Oliver Kapanen, Center – Finland
Kapanen has had a somewhat underwhelming season in his D+1 year. He’s performed well at the summer showcase, SM-Sarja and Four-Nations tournaments, but only flashes in his Liiga games. He’s also a little banged up as of late, but he’s expected to be in full form when Finland hits the ice.
Regarding his spot in the lineup, he’s penciled in lower down the lineup. Playing behind top names like Aatu Raty and Roni Hirvonen, he’s likely to be behind Samuel Helenius to start. What Kapanen does have is the ability to play up and down the lineup, and should he be on the fourth line, he can handle a more defensive playing style.
Does Finland have a legitimate shot of medaling at this year’s event?
Finland is entering this year with a strong group of forwards, so good in fact that Oliver Kapanen finds himself further down the depth chart from pre-tournament lineups. Names like Aatu Raty, Ville Koivunen, Roni Hirvonen, as well as 2022 NHL draft top prospects Joakim Kemell and Brad Lambert headline the Finnish team without forgetting defensemen Aleksi Heimosalmi and Topi Niemela. The skillset is there to make noise in the elimination rounds, but how deep can they go with this roster, and can they rely on everyone in tight games, or will they have to shorten the bench as it gets closer to sudden death scoring?
Jan Mysak, Center – Czech Republic
Mysak is heading to his third World Junior tournament for the Czech Republic and is expected to captain them once again. He’s heading to Red Deer-Edmonton with a ton of confidence, as he’s having a great season in the OHL, especially over the last month. Mysak is currently 18th in the OHL with 31 points, producing at a 1.24 ppg rate. He has scored 11 points in his last 10 games, and only a few more are left before he heads to Western Canada.
He will be the main man in charge once again. The Czech’s are not bringing a top tier roster to rival all the other major countries, which means everyone will have to double their efforts in order to stay in games, including Mysak. His play in all three zones will be critical and he’ll have to motivate his teammates every time they hit the ice. He’s a proven scorer at the international level and he’ll have to continue his play at this year’s event.
What are the expectations for the Czech junior team?
The Czech team is usually overlooked at these events, especially when there aren’t many draft related or D+1 year top talents on the team. Most of these players play over in Europe, only 10/28 in North America. Moreover, 15 of the players are 2002 born, while 12 are 2003 born and 1 is a 2004 born. This means the team is going with more 18 and 19-year-olds, making it an older roster. The biggest eye-grabber at this event will be 2022 draft eligible top prospect David Jiricek, who is regarded as one of the top defensive prospects at the upcoming draft. Can he impact the games enough to help out his forwards?
Kaiden Guhle, Defenseman – Canada
Kaiden Guhle has represented Team Canada since the U17’s and will continue his journey internationally at the U20 World Juniors. Guhle is rumoured to captain this year’s Canadian Junior team in his second participation. He’s been one of the top, if not, the top defenseman in the WHL, and was recently traded to the powerhouse Edmonton Oil Kings for a chance to strengthen a championship caliber group. On top of his on-paper pedigree, Guhle has refined a lot of rough edges in his game, and for a big player, six-foot-three to be exact, he’s cleaned up his skating technique and become a lot more efficient with it. His point production has also gone up, mostly from point shots that create goals off of rebounds, but it’s a confidence booster none the less.
He’s now anchoring a defence group with the help of 2021 first overall pick Owen Power, who along with Guhle, is expected to play in all situations and be relied upon when Dave Cameron needs them to play bigger minutes, possibly sending them on the ice every second shift through different parts of the game. The important thing to note with Guhle is none of this is new. He was the main guy in Prince Albert right up until the trade to Edmonton, where he completes a punishing defensive duo with Nashville Predators prospect Luke Prokop. With the spotlight on him at every second, Guhle will have major responsibilities every shift and will have to bring his most efficient level of play yet.
Gold or Bust?
Team Canada enters the 2022 World Juniors with a lot of confidence, but also a pair of question marks. The team is very well balanced from top to bottom, with some top 2022 and 2023 draft prospects on offence, with Shane Wright and Connor Bedard. The additions of Cole Perfetti and Mason McTavish will certainly disperse the weight of the scoring load offensively, and as mentioned before, Kaiden Guhle and Owen Power are some of the top defensemen in the tournament. But there are some things to wonder about. Who will carry the load on defence after Guhle and Power? Will there be a top line, or will the assignments be shared evenly throughout the four trios? Can Cossa handle the pressure as the main goalie? However these questions get answered, they’ll have to do it soon because there is no easy path to the medal round, so it could really go either way for them.
It’s expected to be another great showing this year in Edmonton and Red Deer, as the top U20 players in the world are set to compete for the title of world champions. There are a wide range of talents this year and some strong 2022 eligible prospects for the upcoming draft, which will be held in Montreal, Quebec this summer. The hope is that one of these Canadiens prospects is able to bring the gold home.
The tournament is scheduled from Sunday, December 26th until Wednesday, January 5th.