Team Canada defeated Team Finland 3-2 in overtime on Saturday, Aug. 20 to win the rescheduled World Junior Championship (WJC).
The atmosphere inside Rogers Place in Edmonton finally reached a level organizers had wished for as more than 13,000 (mostly Canadian) fans witnessed an exciting gold-medal game that ended the event on a high note.
Here are some observations from the tournament:
Mason McTavish was a force the entire tournament. The captain for Team Canada led the event in scoring (eight goals and nine assists in seven games played), was used in all situations, brought a combination of power and finesses to the dance, showed off a back door one-timer on the power play and … showed off his hand/eye coordination when he knocked down a chipped puck by Finland that was destined for the open net in overtime. The ”save” is arguably one of the most remarkable highlights in the history of this event. McTavish is destined for full-time duty in Anaheim this fall. He’s National Hockey League (NHL) ready.
The Buffalo Sabres have to be pleased with the play of their first-round pick, Jiri Kulich. Kulich was the most valuable player (MVP) at the U18 World Championship in Germany in the spring and carried his momentum into this event. He contributed two goals and six assists in Edmonton, with his three-point effort in eliminating Team USA standing out. Kulich is showing he is more than just a shooter. He pursued the play with more tenacity and worked much more consistently in all three zones. He’s definitely trending up for the Sabres.
Future number one for the Wild
The Minnesota Wild have an outstanding goalie prospect in their pipeline. Their first-round pick in 2021 (20th overall) Jesper Wallstedt, from Sweden, has the potential to be an elite number one NHL goalie. He was the most valuable goalie (MVG) in the tournament. He posted a goals-against average of 1.62 and save percentage of .940. Wallstedt is 6-foot-3, 214 pounds. He takes up a ton of net but he’s also plenty athletic. He tracks laterally very well and rarely gets outside his posts. Team Sweden lacked offensive punch at this event. Otherwise they might have had a chance to play for gold. Their bronze medal was won on the back of Wallstedt.
Ridly Greig, Canada (Ottawa Senators, 28th overall, 2020)
WJC Stats: five games played: three goals, three assists - six points
There is always risk in loaning top prospects to events like the World Juniors. In the case of Ridly Greig, the Ottawa Senators must be excited about his tournament. He played with his usual grease and determination and contributed offence. However, Greig suffered what appears to be a should injury and missed the back end of the tournament. Let’s hope it’s nothing serious. He looks like a prospect who is on the verge of opening eyes at NHL camp.
Logan Stankoven, Canada (Dallas Stars, 47th overall, 2021)
WJC Stats: seven games played: four goals, six assists - 10 points
I couldn’t help but notice Stankoven every time he hit the ice. He’s an electric, highly skilled, uber competitive forward who is very difficult to defend. Logan has the ability and ice awareness to exploit seams and get pucks to the net quickly in traffic. I’m not the least bit concerned about his size (5-foo-8, 170 pounds). In my opinion, he has the potential to bring a bit of Johnny Gaudreau and Brayden Point to the Dallas Stars organization.
Olen Zellweger, Canada (Anaheim Ducks, 34th overall, 2021)
WJC Stats: seven games played: two goals, nine assists - 11 points
Time will tell, but Zellweger looks like a player who should have been selected higher than he was in 2021. I had undervalued him in the past. His element is clearly his mobility and vision in the offensive zone. Zellweger sees the ice. He makes plays. I was more concerned about his play off the puck and in the defensive zone. He’s not big (five-foot-nine,175 pounds) but he’s quick to take away space and out-think opponents in the defensive zone. He’s a transitional defender that has the potential to run an NHL power play in the future as more of a distributor than a shooter.
Joshua Roy, Canada (Montreal Canadiens, 150th overall, 2021)
WJC Stats: seven games played: three goals, five assists - eight points
Every player has his own development path. It takes some longer than others to reach their pro potential. Roy scored 51 goals and had 68 assists for 119 points for Sherbrooke in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey (QMJHL) League last season. His offence has gone to another level. What impressed me most at this event was his “hard area” game. As the first forward on the scene he did a nice job of bumping opponents off the puck along the boards. He also showed more willingness to get to the crease and look for tips and second chances. He will never be described as a power forward but the Canadiens have to be excited about the potential Roy displayed.
Jan Mysak, Czechia (Montreal Canadiens, 48th overall, 2020)
WJC Stats: seven games played: five goals, four assists - nine points
Mysak was voted an all-star at this event and certainly earned the recognition. When he first arrived in North America, I saw a player that was more of an opportunist than a play driver. His stats at the Ontario Hockey League level playing for Hamilton last season (61 GP – 34G-30A-64PTS) are those of a goal-scorer more than a playmaker. He showed more willingness to get his nose dirty in Edmonton and seemed to be involved from shift to shift. If his detail and drive continue to trend positively he has a chance, in time, to provide the Habs with some secondary NHL scoring.
Emil Andrae, Sweden (Philadelphia Flyers, 54th overall, 2020)
WJC Stats: seven games played: four goals, four assists - eight points
Andrae was the Captain for Sweden. He displayed the highest level of compete and overall involvement that I have witnessed from him over several years of viewings. In the past he took risks offensively but didn’t play with enough detail in all three zones. He’s a transitional defender that has matured. Andrae still contributes offensively. He’s mostly a distributor on the power play but he did get more pucks to the net at this tournament and actually scored from range through traffic. His tenacity down low in his zone didn’t go unnoticed. If he ends up being an average NHL defender for the Flyers, the rest of his game brings more value.
Simon Edvinsson, Sweden (Detroit Red Wings, sixth overall, 2021)
WJC Stats: six games played: one goal, one assist - two points
Edvinsson is a hulking six-foot-six, 207-pound defender. He projects to be a two-way “D” at the NHL level. He skates very well for his stature and can lead the rush on occasion. He sees his options and makes sound puck plays. I thought he could have been used more at this tournament. This kid is going to have a long career in Detroit. He compliments a partner who is more of a risk taker. There’s also some growl to his game. He takes away space effectively and gaps up physical
Matthew Knies, USA (Toronto Maple Leafs, 57th overall, 2021)
WJC Stats: five games played: no goals, three assists - three points
I’m on record describing Knies as exactly the kind of player the Maple Leafs need in their lineup. His power game is an important element. He has the ability to disrupt opponents along the wall in their zone and he’s a load to handle around the crease. Having said that, I felt his tournament was average plus by his standard. He did extend some plays and station himself around the crease on the power play, but overall he struggled to get quality looks and get enough pucks to the net.
Joel Maata, Finland (Edmonton Oilers, 222nd overall, 2022)
WJC Stats: seven games played: three goals, one assist - four points
Sometimes at these events a player catches my eye and elevates his play compared to past viewings. Maata was one of those players. He’s a big-body forward who plays a power style game, but doesn’t have a history of producing much offensively. He plays for National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Vermont in Hockey East and had only three goals and three assists last season. In this tournament he was consistently involved and played a power game. His skating and agility are not NHL standard at this stage, but he has time. At best he is likely a depth pro who might wear down opponents but gets credit for the way he played in Edmonton.
Jonathan Lekkerimaki, Sweden (Vancouver Canucks, 15th overall, 2022)
WJC Stats: seven games played: no goals, three assists - three points
The journey to the NHL will be interesting to watch for Lekkerimaki. At the U18 Worlds in the spring he scored five goals in five games. He was a bit of an opportunist on the power play but there was no denying he has an elite release and nose for the net. At this tournament, Sweden needed more from him — and he didn’t produce. The team looked like they lost trust in his game. His three-zone effort and detail needs to improve significantly. He’s a goal-scorer with some cheat in his game. This wasn’t his best tournament. I expect he will be much improved when we see him next in Halifax and Moncton in December.
Brad Lambert, Finland (Winnipeg Jets, 30th overall, 2022)
WJC Stats: five games played: one goal, no assists - one point
Lambert’s goal vs Latvia early in the tournament came on the power play. Not only did he not score again, he ended up in the press box for the last two games Finland played. The player needs a reset. He needs to regain his confidence. This event did nothing to help with his process. It sounds like Lambert is heading to Seattle of the Western Hockey League (WHL). The Thunderbirds have a solid team returning in 2022-2023. The opportunity to play an important role in Seattle provides a chance for Lambert to re-establish his game and find his element, offensively.
Topi Niemela, Finland (Toronto Maple Leafs, 64th overall, 2020)
WJC Stats: seven games played: no goals, six assists - six points
Niemela was nothing short of a work horse for the Finns. He was used in all situations. On the power play he distributed very well. His ability to see the ice and make seam plays speaks to his hockey IQ and vision. Defensively he battled and came up with some key shot-blocks along the way. In the Finns’ 1-0 win versus Sweden in the semi-finals, Niemela blocked a shot in the dying seconds to preserve the victory. It should be noted that it has taken time for his offence to arrive. Several years back he looked like an undersized defender who was satisfied with getting to pucks first and moving them up ice without taking any risk. Fast forward to today and Niemela looks capable of taking up a spot on one of the power- play units for the Leafs, given time.
Roby Jarventie, Finland (Ottawa Senators, 33rd overall, 2020)
WJC Stats: seven games played: four goals, five assists - nine points
The Senators pipeline is flush with several talented players who are tracking positively and Jarventie is definitely one of those prospects. There was a time he relied only on his skill and ability to create off the rush. His overall game has improved without taking away from his offence. Jarventie will never been described as a “match up” or “shut down” forward but he is showing he is willing to make the effort required in all three zones. At six-foot-two, 185 pounds, he also brings size with his skill.
Joakim Kemell, Finland (Nashville Predators, 17th overall, 2022)
WJC Stats: seven games played: four goals, eight assists - 12 points
Kemell was voted to the tournament all-star team. Like Jiri Kulich from Czechia, he carried over his play from the U18 Worlds in May. Kemell played with his usual enthusiasm and showed off his lethal one-timer from his weak side on the power play. I especially appreciated his willingness to work in the trenches and track back more responsibly. The Preds have a solid prospect on there hands in Kemell.
Connor Bedard, Canada (Regina Pats WHL – 2023 Draft Eligible)
WJC Stats: seven games played: four goals, four assists - eight points
Bedard’s journey towards being the potential number one pick in Nashville next June began nicely at this tournament. The World Juniors is not an easy event for young players like Bedard to play to their identity. There were times he tried to do too much and exposed some pucks in the middle of the ice. He also lost his man in coverage on occasion in the defensive zone. Overall, however, there is no denying his impact offensively. He wasn’t the most dynamic player on Team Canada but he did see time on the power play and showed off his deceptive release. Averaging over a point per game (PPG) at this event is a nice way to start the year.