Well everyone, the holidays have come and gone, and it is officially that time of year again—the dog days of the hockey season. It is that special time of year where, even though the points all matter the same, the stakes feel lower and teams and fans at all levels can tend to fall into a bit of malaise. What better time, then, for our first look of the new year at the stars of tomorrow shining in the AHL today.
We will start by taking a look at the five full-time AHL players who recently suited up in the 2023 U20 World Junior Championships. Given the obvious age restrictions of the tournament, the number of AHL players participating in the tournament will vary year to year. This year, the league was represented by five full-time AHLers, to go with five additional players who have played at least one game in the AHL this season before being reassigned to juniors.
Of those five full-time players, it is unfortunately quite easy to point to a “most disappointing” player in the tournament: Fabian Lysell (BOS) of Team Sweden. It is all the more confusing due to the fact that Boston’s 2021 first rounder has been off to a fantastic start with Providence, posting (statline) alongside surprise undrafted standouts Georgii Merkulov and Bettendorf, Iowa’s own Luke Toporowski. After producing well for Sweden’s bronze medal winning team at this past summer’s restarted 2022 WJC, the results weren’t there for Lysell this time around, going scoreless with no points in seven games played. Cap that off with an ejection for a headshot against Team USA in this year’s bronze medal game, and you can chalk this tournament up as a learning experience for the promising young swede.
Also on the roster for Team Sweden was slick puck-mover Isak Rosen (BUF), one of two full time Rochester Amerks on display at this year’s tournament. As Sabres fans with dreams of future playoff successes will want to hear, Rosen came up big when it mattered, assisting on Filip Bystedt’s (SJ) tying goal in the bronze medal game to reach overtime. And while the 2021 first rounder did manage to compile 6 points in 7 games, the respectable total was largely overshadowed by the continued stellar performance of Czechia’s Juri Kulich (BUF). After posting 2 goals and 8 points in 7 games in the resumed 2022 tournament, Kulich exploded for 7 goals and 2 assists totalling 9 points in this year’s tournament (including a hat trick) and proved to be Czechia’s top threat on their way to a surprising silver medal finish. The 2022 first rounder managed to showcase some of the explosiveness that he possesses from the red line in, which has helped him to put up a fantastic rookie performance to this point with AHL Rochester, currently sitting at 16 points in 25 games at the time of this writing (as an 18 year old!).
Jiricek, Nemec & Svozil
Also among this year’s participants were two familiar names on the blueline, and the top two defensemen taken in last year’s draft, Simon Nemec (NJD) and David Jiricek (CBJ). Starting with Jiricek, the young defenseman has been stellar in the first half of his AHL rookie campaign, with a line of 5 goals and 15 assists to maintain a point per game rate from the the driver’s seat of Cleveland’s top defensive pair. Jiricek kept up the pace at the WJCs, where he along with fellow Jackets defense prospect Stanislav Svozil (CBJ) excelled to lead Czechia to overtime and a silver medal finish against the high powered Canadians. Simon Nemec, while not playing quite to the level of Jiricek in spite of constant draft related comparisons, has also enjoyed a strong start to his North American career. Currently sitting at 0.5 PPG as he develops with Utica, Nemec was easily Slovakia’s top player in a tournament where he also wore the ‘C’ for his country.
On top of the five full time AHL players who participated in this year’s tournament, additional players with AHL games thi season included Brandt Clarke (LA), Brad Lambert (WIN), Chaz Lucius (WIN), Filip Mesar (MON) and former fourth overall selection Shane Wright (SEA).
-For more on David Jiricek’s standout season with the Cleveland Monsters, as well as other future fantasy contributors making a name for themselves in the AHL, check this pre-WJC edition of ‘The Journey’ from Ben Gehrels
-Sarah Avampado recently stopped by ‘Fantasy Hockey Life’ for some AHL prospect talk, you can find that here.
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