A Way Too Early 2022 World Juniors Preview – Group A

Kyle Watson

2021-01-11

Here is an early look at next year’s WJC Group A potential rosters. Check back tomorrow for our Group B predictions.

From the beginning, the 2021 World Junior Championship was a battle between two of the greatest teams in tournament history: Team Canada, composed of 23 first-round picks, and Team USA, led by the best birth year the country has ever produced. 

The Gold Medal game was the one everyone envisioned. It wasn’t much of competition prior to that point, with Russia and Finland getting trampled in the semi-finals, but it culminated into an excellent tactical battle between two rivals. 

The 2022 edition of the tournament will be noticeably different and should be much more competitive. Whereas this year was a battle between superstar NHL-affiliated prospects, next year is shaping up to be a showcase of the top talent from the 2022 and 2023 classes.

For the second consecutive year, the United States, Sweden, and Russia will all face off in the preliminary round, joined by Slovakia and Switzerland. Let’s take a look at how the teams in Group A could line up in a year’s time.

USA

Eligible Returnees

With the 2001’s aging out and moving onto terrorizing opponents at the men’s level, it’s time for a new group of Americans to announce themselves on the international stage.

Matthew Beniers has been shooting up draft boards all year, demonstrating his superb high-energy, two-way game at the University of Michigan. With teammate, Thomas Bordeleau, ineligible due to COVID, he impressed as the 2C this year. Those two could end up fighting for the 1C spot next year.

Jake Sanderson showed his shutdown ability in this tournament, and if he’s not in the NHL, he will be the number one guy on the backend. His North Dakota teammate, Tyler Kleven will likely join him. 

Brett Berard also turned heads at this year’s tournament, posting a goal and four assists. The Rangers 2020 fifth-round pick is already looking like a steal. Landon Slaggert centered the fourth line and it’s likely that he will once again play a checking role. Defenceman Brock Faber, who had five assists, will once again provide offense from the blueline.

Hopefuls

The 2003 age group isn’t regarded as a particularly strong one, but it will still produce some first-round picks at the upcoming draft. Jack and Quinn’s brother, Luke, plays with all the trademarks of a Hughes: dazzling edgework, agility, and vision. He is the crown jewel of the U18’s this year and should quarterback the top powerplay unit. His defensive partner, Aidan Hreschuk, will also have an opportunity to join him.

Sasha Pastujov is the U18 National Team’s leading scorer and a candidate to play on the first line. With slick hands and a great eye for a pass, any center would be glad to have him on the flank. Chaz Lucius was supposed to center his line, however, he has sat out the entire season due to injury. Between the rest of the 2020-21 season and his first couple of months at the University of Minnesota, he will have to demonstrate the elite goalscoring ability that he’s known for in order to make next year’s WJC team.

Goaltender, Drew Commesso, who graduated from the program to Boston University this year, is the frontrunner to start for the Americans. As of right now, the Blackhawks second-rounder doesn’t have much competition for the spot.

2022-eligible, Rutger McGroarty, has already spent time with the U18 team and has dominated for the U17’s. The Notre Dame commit is a deadly sniper and carries his 6-1′, 192-pound frame around the ice with ease, weaving his way through opponents and driving to the net. It’s more a case of whether or not he will play a top role than if he will make the time, at this point.

Wildcards

McGroarty leads an age group that could rival the 2001’s. Depending on what unfolds in the next year, he could be joined at the World Juniors by a few of his peers. 

Isaac Howard, Frank Nazar, Maddox Fleming, and Seamus Casey are all first round-candidates in 2022. Jack Hughes, Oliver Wahlstrom, and Joel Farabee all made the team as draft eligibles and we could see some of the 2004’s do the same.

Mackie Samoskevich and Matt Coronato have been tearing it up for Chicago in the USHL and are also in the running for a roster spot.

Potential Outlook

“After winning a gold medal in 2021, the Americans will arrive at the 2022 World Juniors with hopes of going back-to-back. Star forwards Trevor Zegras, Alex Turcotte, and Cole Caufield will all be too old to return. This leaves many holes in the American’s roster, but will also give a chance for younger players to step up their game and show scouts and fans their individual skills.

Berard will look to make a return, after having a strong impact on this year’s WJC team. He proved he can provide high-energy skill and grit to the lineup. Beniers will provide a scoring touch to go with the checking game he played this year.

Faber and Sanderson will give the Americans the ability to get the puck out of the zone and Sanderson will also supply a strong two-way game. Ryan Ufko, from the Chicago Steel, would be a great option for a seventh defenseman. He plays a solid two-way game and has produced a lot of points for the Steel this year.

Two of the most intriguing forwards that will look to make the Americans roster are U17’s, Rutger McGroarty and Issac Howard. The two of them have been the most impressive forwards on the USNTDP team. 

The biggest question surrounding the Americans roster at next year’s tournament is, who will be the starting goaltender? Both Spencer Knight and Dustin Wolf will be ineligible to return. Commesso, out of Boston University, will look to be the starter. Noah Grannan, from the Sioux Falls Stampede, could be a potential backup. As for the third-string goalie, Dylan Silverstein and Kaidan Mbereko from the US development program could look for that role.”

Clare McManus (@claremcmanuss)

Russia

Eligible Returnees

Russia will be blessed with seven players eligible to return next year, including Yaroslav Askarov and top scorer Rodion Amirov.

Minnesota Wild second-rounder, Marat Khusnutdinov, should return to center the first line again after a strong showing at this year’s tournament. Vasili Ponomaryov could join him on the top line. On the back end, 2021 eligibles Daniil Chayka and Kirill Kirsanov, as well as 2020 picks, Shakir Mukhamadullin and Yan Kuznetsov will also be locks to return.

Hopefuls

Daniil Gushchin has produced very well in three seasons with the USHL’s Muskegon Lumberjacks and was a late cut this year. He has represented Russia at every international level. Alexander Pashin, a seventh-round pick of the Carolina Hurricanes, has also been a mainstay for the Russian Ice Hockey Federation and will likely complete the circuit at the U20 level. Nikita Chibrikov and Artyom Grushnikov will both contend to be first-round selections in this summer’s draft and thus will have a spot at camp.

Wildcards

Matvei Michkov won’t be eligible for the NHL Draft until 2023 but is already designated as Russia’s next big thing and Connor Bedard’s biggest competitor for first overall. Although he only turned 16 in December, he is a point-per-game with SKA-1946 St. Petersburg of the MHL. The winger is able to score from any position on the ice, utilizing incredibly quick hands and an impressive release for a teenager.

Ivan Miroshnichenko, a top prospect eligible for the 2022 draft, has a shot that has already drawn the obligatory comparisons to Alex Ovechkin.

The two future superstars took center stage at the 2020 Youth Olympic Games in Lausanne, Switzerland as the Russians won gold. Michkov led the tournament in scoring and Miroshnichenko captained the team.

Potential Outlook

“Since the coaching switch to Larionov, we can expect another younger team. The extended roster I predict has 12 first-time draft eligibles for 2021, as well as Michkov and Ivan Miroshnichenko getting looks.

There is plenty of potential for talent upfront with the potential additions, but once again the team’s success will be very goaltender driven. Askarov seems to be cursed in the WJC, but he’ll be looking to right his wrongs in his third time around. 

This team is strong enough to finish with a medal, however, the coaching concerns that have arisen this year need to be ironed out to make a real push to the next level.”

Dylan Griffing (@GriffingDylan)

Sweden

Eligible Returnees

After stumbling out of the quarterfinals versus Finland, Lucas Raymond and Alexander Holtz will look to redeem themselves, if they return to Edmonton. That is a big “if” though. The Red Wings will have a lot of open forward spots next season and judging by how they’ve managed Filip Zadina, we could see Raymond in North America pretty soon. The Devils aren’t as scarce upfront, but if Nikita Gusev decides not to resign, there could be room for Holtz.

With starter Hugo Alnefelt gone, the other two goaltenders, Jesper Wallstedt and Calle Clang will both move up a spot. There is a valid argument to be made that Wallstedt, who has been talked about in the same breath as Askarov, played better than Alnefelt at this year’s tournament and should’ve taken over the net.

Zion Nybeck had a fairly lackluster tournament but will receive more ice time next year. The same can be said about Theodor Niederbach. Emil Andrae had a decent tournament and should anchor the powerplay next year, as he has at previous international tournaments.

Hopefuls

After missing out on this year’s tournament due to COVID-19, William Eklund will be a lock to make the team. The winger has started the season on fire on a line with Holtz for Djurgårdens IF and is steadily rising up draft boards. Defenceman William Wallinder, who was also unable to play this year, should also have a spot on the team.

Defenseman Simon Edvinsson is a monster of a man, standing at 6-4′, but moves around the ice gracefully. He is on the fringe of the discussion for first overall this year but is yet to make a big impact in the SHL.

Simon Robertsson and Isak Rosen are both first-round candidates in the same boat as Edvinsson – yet to make their mark in the SHL but dominating at the U20 level.

Fabian Lysell is a nifty winger with a lot of speed and skill in his game. He and Edvinsson were the lone shining points on a poor showing at the 2019 U17 Hockey Challenge.

LA Kings pick, Helge Grans, has impressed for the Malmö Redhawks this year, with seven assists and 10 points in 23 games. His teammate, 2021-eligible defenceman, Anton Olsson, will also be in the running for a spot on the depleted blueline.

Wildcards

Defenceman Elias Salmonsson is 15 days too young for the 2021 draft but has already made his SHL debut for Skellefteå AIK. As always, there will be a lot of competition on Sweden’s defense, but the 16-year-old is immensely talented and plays in the mold of his predecessors.

Potential Outlook

“The success of the Swedish team will rely, once again, on the availability of Raymond and Holtz. 

Sweden will have a great group of forwards. Olausson had a good tournament this year in a small role. Lysell is playing in the SHL as a 17-year-old for a top team and he might even be the best forward prospect of the 2021 draft. Robertsson and Rosén will have a shot to make the team. 

On the defensive end, there’s going to be a lot of changes. Björnfot, Philip Broberg, Johansson, Söderström, Brännstam, Berglund, and Hedlund are all too old to join and that means Sweden will only have Andrae left from this year’s tournament. Grans was inexplicably left off the roster for this year’s tournament and will want to redeem himself. 

Salmonsson, Simon Forsmark, and Ludvig Persson all intrigue me as wildcards.

Sweden will have a strong team once again and if the roster will be able to stay away from injuries or illness, they’re one of the favorites for the gold medal.”

Mikael Holm (@carlmikaelholm)

Slovakia

Eligible Returnees

The trio of Juraj Slafkovsky, Simon Nemec, and Filip Mesar have a tournament under their belt and will lead the way for Team Slovakia in their draft-eligible season, a la Tim Stüzle, JJ Peterka, and Lukas Reichel in 2020.

Slafkovsky, the 6-4′, 218-pound forward was well over a point-per-game as a 15-year-old in Finland’s U18 league last year. Nemec has been playing in the Slovak men’s league the last two seasons and Mesar joined him this year.

Martin Chromiak was expected to carry the team on his back this year but walked away with just one assist. He will surely crave redemption.

Simon Latkoczy, who made the save of this year’s tournament, will also be eligible to return, along with nine other players: forwards Roman Faith, Maros Jedlicka, Metej Kaslik, Jakub Kolenic, Oleksii Myklukha and defencemen Simon Becar, Rayen Petrovicky, and Marko Stacha.

Potential Outlook

“With the 14 returnees returning after another year of development, this team will know what it’s like to play in the World Juniors. The rest of the spots could very well be filled with more players from the 2004 and even 2005 age group. I expect Slovakia to be much better than this year, partly due to the amount of returning players.”

Samuel Tirpák (@SammyT_51)

Switzerland

Potential Outlook

“The Swiss can return 13 players next season including captain Simon Knak and fellow top-six forwards Dario Allenspach, Lorenzo Canonica, and Attilo Biasca.

Giancarlo Chanton, Noah Delémont, and Noah Meier will anchor their blueline where they are likely to be joined by Petes Import Selection and 2021 late cut Brian Zanetti. 2022 draft-eligible Lian Bichsel is also likely to play significant minutes.

Youth Olympic Games star Alessio Beglieri may challenge Zug U20 starter Lucas Rötheli for a roster spot in goal, whilst Andri Henauer and 2021 split starter Noah Patenaude are likely to return in net

Although players like Ray Fust, Stefano Bottini, Keanu Derungs, and Valentin Hofer will help to fill out their bottom-six, an emerging struggle to reproduce high-end talent continues to plague the Swiss.

Jeff Rea (@JeffReaScouting)

*****

Thank you for reading! You can find the rest of my work on Twitter @kyle_nw.

Kyle Watson

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