THIS POST IS SPONSORED BY INSTAT HOCKEY
The World Juniors have begun and ten teams are gunning for glory. Within those ten teams, there’s numerous draft eligible players not only trying to help their nation’s win, but to make a mark on NHL scouts. This year features most of the top players available for 2022 in what should be an exciting tournament.
1. Shane Wright
C – CAN – 6’1″ – 187 lbs.
Shane Wright remains the best prospect for the 2022 NHL Draft heading into the World Juniors. The expectations of Wright should be tamed given his age and the fact he is playing on Team Canada; it’s very rare for a 17-year-old to exceed or even reach expectations on Team Canada. He just may exceed expectations, but if he doesn’t, there’s no need to panic. Wright brings an elite two-way game, brilliant hockey IQ, and the ability to play in tight areas. He also has an excellent wrister that frequently beats goalies clean. While he hasn’t had the best season for a projected first overall pick, Wright is the best prospect heading into the 2022 World Juniors. For Team Canada, I expect him to play a very responsible game in the defensive zone while mixing in some offense. He is currently slated to be the line two centre with Cole Perfetti and Connor Bedard on his wings.
2. Logan Cooley
C – USA – 5’10” – 174 lbs.
It is very close between him and Kemell, but Cooley is the second best draft eligible at this tournament. He has been the best player on the U18 USDP squad and earned the nod for the World Juniors. Cooley looks primed to centre a scoring line and with his elite skating, two-way game and playmaking attributes, I can see him being a difference-maker for the United States, provided he gets the opportunity. From what the USA has rolled out so far, it appears Cooley will centre the second line with Knies and Mazur. This will provide him with an opportunity to showcase his talent. I have a sneaky feeling he will turn heads at this tournament and generate more hype as a top three selection, exactly where he belongs.
3. Joakim Kemell
RW – FIN – 5’11” – 176 lbs.
Joakim Kemell has been fantastic in the Liiga this year despite slowing down significantly since returning from an injury. Kemell rose up draft boards quickly with a scorching hot start in professional hockey. He is now seen as the best Finnish draft eligible ahead of Brad Lambert. This tournament will be a test for Kemell to see how he performs against his peers. Even if he isn’t dominant here, I think it’s more important to look at his numbers against pros this season to judge Kemell. I do suspect him to be one of Finland’s go-to offensive weapons in this tournament, especially on the powerplay. Kemell doesn’t have elite physical attributes like size and skating to help him score but he has a smart mind, soft hands, and an elite shot.
4. Juraj Slafkovsky
LW – SVK – 6’4″ – 225 lbs.
Juraj Slafkovsky is the top draft eligible on Slovakia. Simon Nemec is certainly a fine player but I believe Slafkovsky brings an elite package that could turn him into a force in the NHL. He is a physically dominant player who knows how to play effectively. He understands how to play in tight areas and makes smart plays all over the ice. The production hasn’t come yet in the Liiga, but he is looking better and better there every passing week. Slafkovsky has a chance to show he can dominate against his peers. When a top draft prospect is struggling to score against professionals early on in their career, it is important to see how they’ve produced against junior-aged players. Over the long run, that will most likely determine how they’ll produce against pros; Slafkovsky has a blistering 18 points in 11 games in U20 competition so far this season.
5. Danila Yurov
RW – RUS – 6’1″ – 179 lbs.
Danila Yurov may not play much for Team Russia, just as he hasn’t all year in the KHL. However, that doesn’t discount him as a prospect. Yurov is an incredibly skilled offensive package who can create offense from both playmaking and finishing. Almost halfway through the season, it is getting pretty tiring not being able to watch Yurov in full because of his lack of ice time. When he has played in the MHL, he has dominated with 12 points in 6 games. That’s the type of player Yurov can be against junior-aged players. Should he get ample opportunity to showcase his talent at the World Juniors, Yurov could be a big-time player. In fact, I believe Yurov is a clear-cut top-six player on this Russian roster. Starting the tournament as the 13th forward is a shame.
6. Simon Nemec
RD – SVK – 6’1″ – 192 lbs.
Simon Nemec enters the tournament as the top defense prospect playing in it, and perhaps as the best defenseman available in the 2022 draft. In his second full season of pro hockey, Nemec has taken strides this season to become a top-pairing player in the Slovak league. An effortless puck-mover with strong instincts in every zone, Nemec fits into the mold of a modern NHL defenseman. He plays a very detailed game and can be very deceptive with the puck. His offensive abilities will allow him to quarterback the Slovak powerplay in this tournament. While Samuel Knazko brings a wealth of experience, Nemec is the top defenseman on the Slovak roster.
7. Brad Lambert
RW – FIN – 6’0″ – 179 lbs.
Brad Lambert has been sliding down draft lists all year with his struggles in the Liiga. Despite that, he will be leaned on as a key player for Team Finland, where he returns to the team as a top offensive weapon. Lambert has an elite transition game thanks to his blazing speed and quick hands. You’ll frequently catch him entering the zone at full speed in this tournament. The main concern I have with Lambert is his decision-making with the puck. With his level of speed and hands, he should be able to create more than he does. The World Juniors will provide Lambert with a great test to see if he can score against his peers.
8. Filip Mesar
C – SVK – 5’10” – 179 lbs.
Already the third Slovak on this list, Filip Mesar will be yet another key piece for their team. Mesar has put up 9 points in 20 professional games this season. Many scouts are divided on Mesar, but I firmly believe he is a top-15 player for this draft. If he were playing in the CHL, he would be getting more respect. Mesar is a highly skilled prospect who can control the puck effectively, and make very smart decisions in the offensive zone. Playing on Team Slovakia, he will have an excellent opportunity to showcase his talent here.
9. David Jiricek
RD – CZE – 6’3″ – 190 lbs.
David Jiricek has been hit or miss in the Czech league this year. A couple times I saw him, he was horrendous with his decision-making and was not making an impact in the offensive zone, defensive zone, or in transition. However, a couple other viewings saw him as a more consistent player with elite physical attributes, above average skating, and some offensive touch. Overall, I’ve found Jiricek to be a hard read this season. Perhaps playing in this World Juniors as Czechia’s #1 defenseman could help assess his true talent level.
10. Marco Kasper
C – AUT – 6’1″ – 183 lbs.
Marco Kasper will be leaned on as Austria’s first line centre in this tournament. The Austrians are expected to have a very poor team outside of a few decent offensive weapons. Because of this, it may be very hard to judge Kasper in this tournament. Any offensive production would be awesome to see, but do not be alarmed if it doesn’t come. Kasper is a high-energy centre who plays an honest game and never stands still on the ice. He may not have a plethora of natural talent but he is always looking for the best spot to position himself. It is not surprising that Kasper was one of the first draft eligibles playing in Sweden to earn himself a full-time role in the SHL.