2022 WJC Previews – Group B

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2021-12-24

Team Switzerland

Alexander’s Predicted Line Combinations

The Swiss are coming into a tough group at the World Juniors this year and face an uphill battle to avoid relegation. Sitting in Group B with Russia, USA, Sweden, and Slovakia, they will be put to the test in each game but will not be a walk in the park in any of their games. 2022 Draft Eligible, Lian Bischel, looks set to feature on defense and Noah Meier is also on the training camp roster and may be returning to bolster the back-line. As most European teams do, Switzerland features many players on their training camp roster who are currently playing at the professional level which could serve them well bringing a different level of pace and physicality to the tournament. The Swiss have proven to be an organized team in past tournaments and have been difficult to play against so they look to bring that same discipline this year. Their most important game figures to be against Slovakia which could be the difference between a relegation battle and a spot in the quarterfinals.

As I previously mentioned, Lian Bichsel looks like he could be a major part of the Swiss defense at this tournament and he has been performing well while playing for Leksands IF J20 in the J20 Nationell and Leksands IF in the Swedish Hockey League (SHL). He currently has three goals and eight points in 20 games. His imposing 6-foot-5 frame can be a huge asset throughout the tournament, but he also offers some very capable offensive ability that can make the opposition pay. Philadelphia Flyers draft pick Brian Zanetti will likely make the team as well and add some pedigree to the back end and as well as being a strong defensive presence in the corners and showing an ability to stand up opponents and play a physical game. Noah Meier could also be a returning player who should make the roster and should further strengthen their defense and bring his offensive touch to the back end and quarterback the powerplay and potentially be a difference-maker for the Swiss.

Switzerland’s forward group is likely going to struggle to make an impact in their group stage games, but Lorenzo Canonica is going to be one of the players to watch for them as they attempt to qualify for the knockout stages. Playing for the Shawinigan Cataractes in the QMJHL, he is averaging almost a point per game and will be relied upon to provide some offense for the Swiss if they are going to find success in the group stage. His passing ability is going to be key in opening up defenses and creating chances for his teammates to capitalize on. While he is a pass-first player, he does have a good shot with a swift release that can catch goaltenders off-guard, and if he gets himself into those scoring areas he should not hesitate to utilize it. Simon Knak is another forward who will be a key part of this group heading into the tournament. Another NHL draft pick, Knak is a member of the Nashville Predators organization and is known for his well-rounded game. Like Canonica, his shot is a real weapon of his but he is more willing to unleash it than his fellow countryman and that will be something he needs to do for them to find success.

In net, Switzerland isn’t quite set yet as all of their goalies at camp have a shot to become the team’s starter. Kevin Pasche seems like he could end up locking down the starting position as he has been playing for the Omaha Lancers in the USHL and has gone 9-4-1 with a .916 save percentage and 2.20 goals against, very formidable numbers. His play could well see him claim the starting role and playing against professionals in the USHL could be a swaying decision for the national team. Noah Patenaude could vie for the position as well as he has posted pretty solid numbers in the QMJHL as well this season with Saint John’s. The battle in camp could come down to these two and both of them will be tasked with keeping the puck out of the net against some high-end talent so it is possible they both see some time during the tournament.

Contributor: Alexander Annun, USA Regional Scout.

Team USA

Nick’s Predicted Line Combinations

Coming off of last year’s gold medal run, the US team will be looking to win back-to-back gold medals at the World Juniors for the first time in their nation’s history. This year’s roster will feature six returning players, headlined by 2021 second-overall pick Matty Beniers, as they look to defend their title.

With last year’s team being led by the likes of Trevor Zegras and Alex Turcotte, Beniers was used in more of a complementary role as a draft-eligible player but he will be looked to as a leader on this year’s squad and is a strong candidate to wear the captain’s “C”. He has had a productive season at Michigan, producing at over a point per game, and his advanced two-way game will make him an important, all-situations player for Team USA.

Thomas Bordeleau was expected to play a prominent role for the Americans this year as well after being forced to miss last year’s tournament, but he, unfortunately, tested positive for COVID ahead of selection camp and will once again be robbed of the opportunity to represent his country on the international stage. Team USA has plenty of offensive depth to help pick up the slack, however, led by 2021 first-round picks Matthew Coronato of the Calgary Flames, Chaz Lucius of the Winnipeg Jets, and Mackie Samoskevich of the Florida Panthers. Maple Leafs second-rounder Matthew Knies will also be relied upon heavily and his power game could make him a force to be reckoned with playing back at the junior level. Sasha Pastujov, selected in the third round of the 2021 draft by Anaheim, has been lethal in the OHL so far this season and he will add some scoring punch to the bottom half of their lineup while being a key figure on the powerplay.

Team USA’s roster also features a pair of draft-eligible forwards in Logan Cooley and Dominic James. James has mostly flown under the radar to this point but Cooley is expected to be a top-10 pick in the 2022 draft. Cooley shares a lot in common with Beniers, not only in terms of playing style but in the role he will be expected to play as a draft-eligible pivot on a medal contending team.

The Americans will be led on the back end by 2020 fifth-overall pick Jake Sanderson who has arguably been the best defenceman in the entire NCAA so far this season. He will log heavy minutes at even strength while playing a key role on both special teams units and should be in contention for Top Defenceman honors when this year’s tournament wraps up. 2021 fourth-overall selection Luke Hughes of the New Jersey Devils is expected to man the left side of the second defensive unit and quarterback the second powerplay unit.

The defensive core is rounded out by a couple of smooth skating puck movers in Brock Faber and Scott Morrow, along with physical blueliner Tyler Kleven of the Ottawa Senators and steadying defensive presence Ian Moore.

Drew Comesso is expected to take on the starter’s role for Team USA to begin the tournament. Selected by Chicago in the second round of the 2020 draft, he is currently in the midst of his sophomore season at Boston University. His numbers aren’t quite as impressive as they were last year but the American coaching staff will be relying on his experience to shine through in a short tournament.

Team USA will be in tough in a group that features Russia, Sweden, and one of the best Slovak rosters ever compiled for this tournament but they have the roster to contend for their second straight gold medal. The forward group is deep and well-rounded with a good mix of high-end offensive talent, responsible defensive players, and there is some physicality amongst the group as well. On the back end, they boast one of the most NHL-ready prospects slated to compete in this tournament and a strong supporting cast below him on the depth chart. Their biggest question will be in goal but that can be said about most teams at the World Juniors in a given year.

Contributor: Nick Richard, Director of North American Scouting.

Team Russia

Zack’s Predicted Line Combinations

Russia will have an uphill battle participating in group B in the tournament, which has been referred to as the group of death this year. Russia’s squad this year is a bit underwhelming after the omissions of North American prospects Daniil Chayka, Yan Kuznetsov, Daniil Gushchin, and Matvei Petrov. However, they still have firepower in their top six and a brick wall in net.

Taking a look at their forward group, Russia has a ton of skill up front but lacks scoring depth further down the lineup. Russia will be relying heavily on the 2023 draft-eligible, Matvei Michkov, as the 17-year-old phenom looks to have a prominent role on the squad. Michkov is currently the leader in points-per-game in the MHL with an astonishing 2.55 in 11 games. He is head above heels the best player in Russia’s junior league, even earning call-ups to the KHL as a 16-year-old. Russia’s projected first line will feature all SKA players with Michkov, Khusnutdinov, and Chibrikov. Marat Khusnutdinov, one of two returnee forwards, plays a strong 200-foot game and is the perfect player to get offensive wingers, like Chibrikov and Michkov, the puck in transition.

Taking a look down the middle, second-line center Fyodor Svechkov is one of the top defensive forward prospects in the NHL and will be relied heavily on for both special team units for Russia. The other returning forward for Russia is center Vasily Ponomaryov. Similar to the other centers on the Russian team, Ponomaryov plays a 200-foot game and will provide high pace play in the middle of the ice. A potential dark horse for the Russian team is Danila Yurov. Although he is a top prospect in the upcoming draft, Russia tends to shy away from giving 17-year-olds large roles in this tournament. However, given the lack of scoring depth in their line-up, I expect him to be a large factor in driving offensive play.

This is where it gets tricky. As I mentioned above, Russia decided not to bring any North American prospects to the World Juniors this year. That means that returning players like Daniil Chayka and Yan Kuznetsov won’t be on the team. Russia will now have to lean heavily on returnees Shakir Mukhamadullin and Kirill Kirsanov. Russia has also elected to add draft-eligible defencemen Arseni Koromyslov and Vladimir Grudinin. Koromyslov has had a bit of a disappointing year in the MHL, however, given the lack of defensive depth on the team, he may get a shot playing with fellow SKA player Kirill Kirsanov, as the two have played together in the MHL this year.

There is not a ton of offensive skill on the blueline for Russia this year, which is why they may depend on Vladimir Grudinin to run their powerplay. Grudinin is an extremely mobile defenceman who thrives in the offensive zone. He uses his mobility well to walk the blueline opening up different passing and shooting lanes, which he can exploit. Overall, Russia’s defensive core job is fairly weak and will make or break their chances to medal.

This is where Russia has a large advantage over most of the other teams in this tournament. The starting goaltender for Russia will be top goaltending prospect Yaroslav Askarov. Askarov looks to bounce back from a somewhat underwhelming performance in last year’s World Juniors. As mentioned above, Russia’s defense is probably their weakest part of the team, which makes it even more important for Askarov to be on top of his game. Many people believe that the play of Askarov will determine how far this Russian squad will go.

Contributor: Zack Szweras, Russian Regional Scout.

Team Sweden

Alexa’s Predicted Line Combinations

The Swedes are going into the 2022 World Junior Championships with a chip on their shoulder. With a handful of returning players from last year’s roster, the underwhelming performance in the 2021 WJC, including the end of their 54-game round-robin win streak, should be motivation for a strong performance this year. Sweden’s got two tough opponents on their plate in the round-robin, Russia and the US, who both beat Tre Kronor in 2021.

After splitting the tournament with Hugo Alnefelt last year, the net is all Jesper Wallstedt’s (MIN). He has a reliable backup in Calle Clang (PIT), but barring injury or uncharacteristically bad performances, Wallstedt is the go-to. Wallstedt has continued to put up stellar numbers for Luleå, exceeding his strong performance from last year. Having the reliable goaltender in Wallstedt is going to be an additional boost of confidence for Team Sweden. Jesper Vikman (VGK) will serve the third goaltender role but will most likely not get ice time in Alberta.

Having a sound netminder will be a solid deal of consistency, as their defense is almost entirely different from last year. Emil Andrae (PHI) is the only defenseman returning from the 2021 team and the overall pedigree of the defensive core is lesser this year. Last season, three of their four players wearing letters, including captain Philip Broberg, were defensemen, so this year’s group will likely be looking to Andrae for leadership. Andrae has tapped into his offensive potential with HV71 in HockeyAllsvenskan this season, so expect to see him featured on Sweden’s powerplay The standout newcomer will likely be Simon Edvinsson (DET), who has settled into a large role with Frölunda in his first full professional season. He will almost certainly be on the first pair and first power-play unit.

Outside of those two, Joel Nyström (CAR) could be a breakout candidate at the tournament. A bit undersized for a defenseman, he has still found ways to produce at the SHL level this season with Färjestad, earning consistent time on their first two pairs. In addition, Helge Grans (LAK) will likely round out the top four. Grans has done well in his first season in North America. His two-way talent may not be that of Edvinsson or Andrae, but he will continue to add to the strong offensive talent that this defensive core boasts.

The best of Sweden’s World Juniors squad is their offense. They feature five first-round picks and a couple of second-rounders to boot. Alexander Holtz (NJD) and William Eklund (SJS) are expected to continue the synergy and success they had with Djurgården. Oskar Olausson (COL) seems like a great fit to complete and the three of them will be a threat to the defense of any opponent. Those three have the potential to be one of the top producing lines at the tournament. After that, Fabian Lysell (BOS) and Theodor Niederbach (DET) should be featured on the second line. Their left winger could change, but for right now Zion Nybeck (CAR) could be a good match for the line. Although not quite as powerful as the top line, the trio of Nybeck, Neiderbach, and Lysell should be expected to find the back of the net quite often.

Sweden has a solid top-six, but their forward group lacks depth. The most notable name on the bottom two lines will be Isak Rosén (BUF), the 14th overall pick in 2021. Rosén has great speed and offensive skill but his small stature prevents him from being a physical addition to the roster. For that reason, he will probably not play a huge role, and the bottom six checking mindset that he will likely have to tap into may not be the right fit for him. He is someone that could bounce around the lineup or even find himself a healthy scratch during the tournament. Åke Stakkestad was one of the most interesting picks for this roster. One of the few undrafted members of the team, Stakkestad seems to be a favorite of the Tre Kronor staff. He has played eight games with the U20 team already this year, collecting a goal and two assists. Stakkestad will be getting middle-six minutes at best especially as he is just returning from a broken arm that has sidelined him for most of the season.

This isn’t the best lineup that Sweden has put together for World Juniors but it’s also not the worst. They will reach the quarterfinals easily but definitely are not the favorite for gold. Getting a medal is possible for this squad but will take a lot of work and maybe a bit of luck on their side.

Contributor: Alexa Potack, Swedish Regional Scout.

Team Slovakia

Samuel’s Predicted Line Combinations

The Slovak team had a rough go at the World Juniors in the last seven or eight years. Lots of promise on multiple different players and they were all disappointed. They haven’t advanced past quarterfinals since 2015, which was seven years ago. Would this group break this unfortunate streak? We in Slovakia certainly hope so. As for the construction of the team, there are a lot of young players, who are expected to be stars this year and in coming years. One of the biggest stars for this year’s group would be 17-year-old winger, Juraj Slafkovský (2022, ranked #14), who has consistency issues throughout the year but is absolutely phenomenal young player with a lot to watch for in terms of impact on the game from defensive proficiency to offensive flare.

On defense, the team is going to be relying on five returnees, namely Samuel Kňažko (CBJ) and Šimon Bečár as the first pair, Marko Stacha with super talented Šimon Nemec (2022, ranked #4) as the second pair and on third pair, Rayen Petrovický from Finland with newcomer Jozef Viliam Kmec (2022, NR), who is playing very well in WHL. There are other four defensemen on the roster currently; most notable is the 2023 Draft prospect, Maxim Štrbák, who is excelling in Finland as an offensively gifted blueliner. There are still two more cuts coming on the bottom pair. I expect Kňažko and Nemec to be heavily involved in the powerplay for team Slovakia as well as penalty kill, both being known for their smart two-way excellence. Slovakia often likes to spread the wealth defensively, so I don’t expect many shifts of those two defensemen together at even strength.

Offensively, there is a lot to be excited about, lots of talented forwards who play speedy and tenacious hockey. I already talked about Slafkovský, but other names include Martin Chromiak (LAK), Filip Mešár (2022, ranked #12) and Jakub Demek (VGK) who are all excellent options for the team and would provide a tremendous amount of offensive power. Matej Kašlík and Servác Petrovský (2022, NR), both have excellent under the radar seasons in Canadian junior leagues. Oleksii Myklukha is one of the main forward returnees who we expect to play a rather heavy defensive role this year. He led all players in faceoff percentage at last World Juniors. One of the most underrated players to watch would be Maroš Jedlička. An excellent two-way center that can play all styles of game, double coverage at this point but if his strong play continues, I would be vouching to get him drafted because I simply love his game. Slovakia would be surely employing a heavy forecheck type of game with lots of counterattacks and combination set-ups through the neutral zone. They lean heavily into it on an international level last few years.

In terms of goaltending, Šimon Latkóczy is expected to be a starting goaltender for the team after last year’s heroics. Rastislav Eliaš (2022, NR) is expected to get a game or two as the youngest of the trio. Both are USHL goaltenders. Eliaš started the season very badly, but he has the clutch gene, so it would be interesting to watch him possibly perform at this level.

Contributor: Samuel Tirpak, Czech/Slovak/Central European Regional Scout.

Follow all contributors for all WJC updates: Nick Richard (@_nickrichard), Samuel Tirpak (@sammyt_51), Alexander Annun (@annun_scouting), Alexa Potack (@alexa_potack), Zack Szweras (@zack_szweras)

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