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2022 World Juniors Group A Preview: Canada Is Bringing Three 1st Overall Draft Picks To Alberta This Year, Which Seems Highly Unfair

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Right now most people are getting ready for Christmas on the 25th. The trees are being decorated, the stockings are being stuffed, the eggs are being nogged. But for some of us out there, the true holiday season gets going that next morning once the dust has settled. The presents have been opened, the hangovers from too much wine have kicked in, and you've got a full slate of World Junior hockey games to watch. The most wonderful time of the year. 

I've been covering the WJC here for years now and I'd hope that most people are familiar with the tournament by now. But just in case some of you are new here, every year the top 10 U20 international hockey teams assemble to play in one of the best tournaments of the year. Not just in hockey, but in all of sports. Rosters that are filled with the NHL stars of tomorrow. Players trying to make a name for themselves on the world stage before their professional careers take off. For those of us at home, it's a chance to see a lot of these guys for the first time who will eventually become names we hear for the next decade plus. Lindros, Forsberg, Bure, Crosby, and most recently Trevor Zegras. The biggest names in the game have all left their stamp on the World Juniors, and the 2022 tournament gets going next Sunday. 

Now there's a ton to preview here and it never makes sense to try to cram it all into one single blog. So we'll stick to the annual game plan here of previewing the 2022 WJC in 3 segments. The first will be to preview Group A, then we'll preview Group B, and then we'll have a full tournament preview to bring it all together. Let's not waste any more time here since we have a ton to get into. 

2022 WJC Group A 

  • Canada (2021 silver medal)
  • Finland (2021 bronze medal)
  • Germany (2021 6th place)
  • Czech Republic (2021 7th place)
  • Austria (2021 10th place)

Typically the way this works is every year the team who finishes in last place gets relegated to the lower division, and whichever nation wins the Division 1 tournament gets bumped up to the top division. But since there was no Division 1 tournament last year, Austria gets to stay in the top division this year. 

Group A Games To Watch:

12/26: Canada vs Czech Republic @ 7pm ET

12/29: Finland vs Czech Republic @ 2pm ET

12/31: Canada vs Finland @ 7pm ET

Team Canada (2021 WJC Silver, 2021 U18 WJC Gold)

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As is always the case with Canada in this tournament, they'll be dealing with an embarrassment of riches as far as talent on their roster is concerned. The team will only be returning 3 players from last year's roster that won silver, but they'll be bringing an army of NHL 1st round draft picks with them to Edmonton and Red Deer. 12 of them to be exact. And when all is said and done, this team will end up having THREE 1st overall draft picks on their roster. First up is Owen Power who was drafted 1st overall by the Buffalo Sabres last summer. Then there's Shane Wright, who is the consensus top ranked prospect heading into the 2022 Draft this summer. And finally there is 16-year-old Connor Bedard (who I blogged about earlier this week) who will likely be the top pick in the 2023 Draft. So even though they only have 3 players coming back from last year and all 5 of their top point scorers from last year have moved on, this is still the most loaded squad in the tournament. 

Goalies:

Dylan Garand (NYR '20) is the only goalie who was on last year's team. But he only played 1 game in that tournament considering he was backing up Devon Levi who was the best goalie in the tournament. But right now, Garand and Sebastian Cossa (DET '21) are the top 2 goalies in the WHL. Garand has a .932sv% through 19 games with Kamloops so far this season and Cossa, who was a 1st round pick for Detroit, has a .924sv% through 21 games with Edmonton. My guess is those will be the 2 guys getting most of the action for Team Canada this tournament, but Brochu has also been the best goaltender in the OHL this year with London. 

Defense:

Kaiden Guhle (MTL '20) is the only returning defenseman from last year's team for Canada this year. But it's impossible to talk about this blueline without starting with Owen Power (BUF '21). He was the 1st overall pick in the 2021 Draft and thankfully made the right decision to stay in Ann Arbor this year instead of dealing with the dumpster fire in Buffalo. He's 6'6", skates like the wind, has 23 points in 18 games this year, won gold with Team Canada at the World Championships last year, and finally gets a chance to play in the World Juniors. It's not very often the 1st overall pick in the last summer's draft is available to play in the WJC, so expect Owen Power to take advantage of the opportunity. 

Also I'd expect Donovan Sebrango (DET '20) to have a decent tournament with Team Canada this year. It's always huge for a player who comes into this tournament after playing against men all year long. Sebrango was a 3rd round pick for Detroit in 2020 and has spent this whole season playing with Grand Rapids in the AHL. He's not as much of an offensive defenseman as a lot of these guys, but 20 games against some of the best in the world should should the game feel a little slower to him out there. 

Forwards:

And this right here is where Canada just obliterates any other team in this tournament. The amount of firepower they have on offense is disgusting. First up you have top 2022 prospect Shane Wright. He hasn't exactly been setting the world on fire this year in the OHL with Kingston (still 30 points in 22 games) but you have to imagine he's ready to become the next star who dominates the World Junior stage leading up to his draft year. He's a goal scorer, he's a play maker, he's everything that an NHL franchise would love to build around. Obviously there will be a ton of pressure on his shoulders, but if he gets himself going early in this tournament then it'll be damn near impossible to slow him down. 

I've already blogged about Bedard so I'm not going to mention any more on him here. The two guys in this forward group I really want to touch on, though, are Cole Perfetti (WPG '20) and Mason McTavish (ANA '21). Perfetti is the lone returning forward from last year's team. He had 2 goals and 4 assists in last year's tournament. Then he went on to win gold with Team Canada at the World Championships. This season he played a couple of games with Winnipeg and has since put up 6 goals and 9 assists in 17 games with Manitoba in the AHL. 

McTavish is another kid who has already made his NHL debut. And honestly I'm pretty shocked that Anaheim hasn't kept him in the lineup for the season. The 3rd overall pick in the 2021 Draft played his 9 games with the Ducks and had 2 goals and an assist. Already has his first career NHL goal under his belt and now he gets to play in the World Juniors. He's currently only played in 4 games for the Peterborough Petes in the OHL but has 5 goals. So clearly this level of hockey is too easy for him, but I guess the Ducks just didn't want to burn a year of his ELC. 

Oh and if you're interested in the most electrifying player in the tournament, that'll be Kent Johnson (CBJ '21). He's one of the approximately 30 Michigan Wolverines who will be playing in this tournament. He was the 5th overall pick in last year's draft and he's as silky as they come. 

Moral of the story, Canada isn't going to have any issues with putting up a silly amount of goals in this tournament. 

Team Finland (2021 WJC Bronze, 2021 U18 WJC 4th place)

Codie McLachlan. Getty Images.

Last year's tournament was a bizarre occurrence for the Finns. Typically this team either wins gold or they don't medal at all. They won gold in 2019, 2016 and 2014. But last year was the first time they've won anything besides gold since 2006. Which means maybe we're starting to see a little more consistency with the Finnish National Junior Team. And that would make sense considering this team has 10 players returning from last year's team which won the bronze medal. 

Now Finland may not have the same top tier talent as some other countries in the tournament. I don't think they have any 1st round picks on the roster aside from 2022 Draft prospects Brad Lambert and Joakim Kemell (both are projected to be top 10 picks). But this age group for Finland is constantly in the mix and considering the amount of experience they're bringing back this year, I'd expect another run at a medal for the Finns. 

Goalies:

Joel Blomqvist (PIT '20) is the only returning goalie for the Finns this year, but he didn't play at all in last year's tournament. He's only played in 8 games for Kärpät in the Liiga this year but has a 0.73 GAA and. a .964sv% in those games. So I'd imagine that's who they go with for most of this tournament. But Leevi Meriläinen (OTT '20) plays with Shane Wright on the Kingston Frontenacs in the OHL. So depending on who typically wins those battles in practice, I don't think it would be crazy to see him on New Years Eve. 

Defense:

This is definitely the bright spot on Finland's roster. Defensively this team is returning 4 players from last year's team, and most importantly they're returning the reigning 2021 WJC Best Defenseman Topi Niemelä (TOR '20). He had 8 points in 7 games at last year's tournament. And currently he has 24 points in 31 games playing for Kärpät in the Liiga. The more you can generate on the rush and on the powerplay in this tournament, the better. And Niemela is the guy to do that. 

They also have Aleksi Heimosalmi (CAR '21) who was the 2021 U18 WJC Best Defenseman. He had 8 points in 7 games in that tournament. He hasn't been producing much in the Liiga this year but he's just an 18-year-old. Either way, Finland is bringing the top defenseman from both junior tournaments last year. Decent foundation for the blueline. 

Forwards: 

Obviously no Anton Lundell this year is going to be a kick in the ass to Finland. He was the team's leading scorer in last year's tournament and has been having a big year in Florida so far this season. But other than that loss, Finland returns 5 out of their next top scorers from 2021. And the one I'm the most excited about is Brad Lambert (2022 Eligible)

He's been having a slow year in the Liiga this year (only 2 goals and 4 assists in 24 games with JYP). But he's playing at the World Juniors in his draft year in Canada as a dual-citizen Canadian. I just have a feeling he's going to have a huge tournament. And Lambert is one of 10 '22 draft eligible players on Finland's roster this year. So that's a huge chunk of their team all trying to impress NHL scouts at this tournament before heading into the summer. Joakim Kemell is one of them who is expected to be one of the first 10 names selected next summer. 

Kid has a laser shot. 12 goals and 6 assists through 21 games for JYP this year in the Liiga. Absolute snipe show. 

Also be on the lookout for Roby Jarventie (OTT '20). He's spent this season playing with the Belleville Senators and has 9 points through 21 games. 6'3" 205. Big boy who has been playing damn near the highest level all year. 

Team Czech Republic (2021 WJC 7th Place)

Chris Tanouye. Getty Images.

You have to imagine pretty much every year the top 5 is going to be some combination of USA, Canada, Russia, Finland and Sweden. Every once in a while the Czechs will throw their way in there. And aside from those 5 countries, they're the only other team who have ever won gold at the World Juniors (2000 and 2001). But for the most part, they're looking at that 6th place finish. Which made last year a down year for the Czechs. This year is gonna be pretty tough to get going since they drew Canada right off the hop on Boxing Day. But after that, I can see this team having their standard pesky performance this tournament. 

Goalies:

They'll have 2 perfectly decent options to choose from with Jan Bednar (DET '20) and Jakub Malek (NJD '21) between the pipes. Bednar was the 10th goalie taken in his draft, and Malek was the 7th goalie taken in his. I don't. know much about the 2nd tier Czech league so it's tough to compare their stats. But my guess is that they'll just switch off games. 

Defense:

Michael Krutil (CHI '20) has been playing with Rockford in the AHL this season. So that's a great place to start as far as the blueline goes. But the player you need to look out for the most on this Czech defense is David Jiricek (2022 Draft Eligible). He's projected to be a top 20 pick in the draft this summer and has 5 goals and 6 assists through 29 games in the top Czech league this year. 

Smooth as butter. 

Forwards:

I thought Jan Mysak (MTL '20) was going to be a 1st round pick. He didn't drop much further and ended up going in the 2nd round to Montreal. But this is a guy who can do pretty much everything. I don't know if he's particularly elite at any specific part of his game. But he does everything well. He has 17 goals and 14 assists through 25 games with the Hamilton Bulldogs this year in the OHL. He also played a quarter of a season last year in the AHL with the Laval Rocket. This will be his 3rd World Juniors so I'd expect him to carry most of the weight for the Czechs. 

Helping him with the scoring with be Pavel Novak (MIN '20) and Michal Gut. Both guys are top 20 in scoring in the WHL this season,  and Novak was one of the Czech's top scorers in last year's tournament. 

By the way, this team also has a player named Ivan Ivan on the roster. Which is fucking awesome. He also has 30 points in 29 games playing for Cape Breton in the QMJHL this year. Fuckin' Ivan Ivan. 

Team Germany (2021 WJC 6th Place)

picture alliance. Getty Images.

German hockey has been on a tear lately. You look at all the talent that has been coming out of the country recently with guys like Tim Stutzle and Leon Draisaitl. The only issue is that their prospect pool isn't quite deep enough yet to consistently put out a team that can give you fits in the knockout rounds. No more Tim Stutzle. No more JJ Peterka. No more Moritz Seider. So it's going to be tough for this German team to keep the momentum going in this year's tournament. Especially opening up against Finland, then playing the Czechs, then a date with Canada, and finally they get to close out the tournament with Austria. That's a tough gauntlet for anybody, but especially a team who lost that much firepower. 

Goalies: 

Nikita Quapp (CAR '21) was a 6th round pick by the Canes last summer. But Florian Bugl played in 3 games in last year's tournament and was between the pipes for the Germans' 2 wins. So I'd assume those will be the two who split most of the duty this year. 

Forwards/Defense:

Florian Elias was one of Germany's top point scorers in last year's tournament. He plays with Adler Mannheim in the top German league this year and has 2 goals and 2 assists in 21 games. 

Luca Münzenberger (EDM '21) is the lone drafted skater on the roster. He plays at UVM and has 2 assists through 15 games this year as a freshman. 

Team Austria (2021 WJC Last Place)

The Austrians finished in last place at last year's tournament. In any other year, they would no longer be in the top division. So I guess the thing they just really have to focus on this year is being better than the Swiss. I'm not going to go through their roster but the two names to watch on this team are Marco Kasper who is projected to be a 1st round pick in the 2022 Draft. 

He's been playing with Rögle BK in the Swedish league this year and has 4 goals and 2 assists through 24 games. Not bad for a 17-year-old playing in one of the better leagues on the planet. 

Then there's also Vinzenz Rohrer, who is another '22 Draft prospect. He's been playing with the Ottawa 67's this year in the OHL and has 22 points in 28 games. 

And there you have it. Group A for the 2022 IIHF World Junior Ice Hockey Championships. If you couldn't tell already, the order I wrote the previews is the order I expect these teams to finish after round robin play. 

I'll be back Friday for the Group B preview. Until then…

@JordieBarstool