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2022 WORLD JUNIOR CHAMPIONSHIP: Prediction Palooza – The McKeen’s Team Make Their Calls

PLANO, TX USA - MAY 1: Belarus's Ivan Zhigalov #30 guards his net against as Canada's Connor Bedard #17 falls into the crease in preliminary round action at the 2021 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship at Children's Health StarCenter on May 1, 2021 in Plano, TX USA. (Photo by Ryan McCullough/HHOF-IIHF Images)

It’s World Juniors season and we at McKeen’s Hockey could not be more excited. The 2022 version, split between Edmonton and Red Deer, Alberta, kicks off on Boxing Day with Team U.S.A. looking to defend their gold medals from last year’s bubble rendition of the tournament. We thought it would be a fun exercise to poll the McKeen’s scouting team to get their predictions for the tournament this year. Each scout was sent a survey and the results make up this article. We hope you enjoy and we hope you get a chance to enjoy the tournament.

1) What are your medal predictions?

Team # of Votes
Canada 8
Sweden 3
Russia 1
Team # of Votes
Sweden 4
Canada 3
Team # of Votes
Finland 6
Russia 4
Sweden 1

2) Tournament All Star Team Prediction

Player Team # of Votes
Cole Perfetti Canada 7
Alexander Holtz Sweden 5
William Eklund Sweden 5
Matty Beniers USA 4
Joakim Kemell Finland 3
Mason McTavish Canada 2

Others Receiving a single vote: Matt Coronato (USA), Oskar Olausson (Sweden), Fabian Lysell (Sweden), Matvei Michkov (Russia), Xavier Bourgault (Canada), Mavrik Bourque (Canada), Jake Neighbours (Canada), Kent Johnson (Canada), & Marat Khusnutdinov (Russia)

Player Team # of Votes
Simon Edvinsson Sweden 7
Owen Power Canada 5
Jake Sanderson USA 5
Topi Niemela Finland 4

Others Receiving a single vote: Kaiden Guhle (Canada), Luke Hughes (USA), & Simon Nemec (Slovakia)

Player Team # of Votes
Jesper Wallstedt Sweden 6
Yaroslav Askarov Russia 5
Sebastian Cossa Canada 1

3) Who will be the breakout player of the tournament and why?

Topi Niemela

This year it’s all about the high level D. Simply the best crop of D probably ever and it’s not even close. This tournament has a ton of talented defenders: Nemec, Hughes, Sanderson, Power, Zellweger, Andrae, Edvinsson, Jiricek, Svozil, and Mukhamadullin to name just a few. The one I think is the breakout star is Topi Niemela. Smart, mobile, and decisive. He technically led the last WJC defensemen in points and was named top defender because of it, but really wasn’t even the best D on his team last year (Heinola). This year the Leafs 3rd rounder becomes a dominant force all over the ice. - Greg Revak

Jesper Wallstedt

I think Wallstedt puts his stamp on the crease for this tournament and comes out looking the most complete goalie of any of the recent high picks. - Vince Gibbons

FRISCO, TX USA - APRIL 29: Russia's Matvei Michkov #17 scores a lacrosse style goal against Germany's Nikita Quapp #1 during preliminary round action at the 2021 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship at Comerica Center on April 29, 2021 in Frisco, TX USA. (Photo by Chris Tanouye/HHOF-IIHF Images)

Matvei Michkov

Can Michkov really be a breakout player? Even the average fan will be aware of his talents by now, but he will be a breakout star because people will see him for more than the flashy goals. - Patrik Bexell

FRISCO, TX USA - MAY 5: Canada's Olen Zellweger #3 passes the puck during semifinal round action against Sweden at the 2021 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship at Comerica Center on May 5, 2021 in Frisco, TX USA. (Photo by Chris Tanouye/HHOF-IIHF Images)

Olen Zellweger

There was a lot of chatter when Canada left Brandt Clarke at home, especially given the perceived weakness on the right side. But the main reason they did was their comfort level with Olen Zellweger being the team’s top right side defender, paired with Owen Power. He was sensational at the most recent U18’s and I expect him to really cement himself as one of the best defensive prospects on the planet at this tournament. - Brock Otten

Zellweger could quickly earn a significant role on a not-particularly-deep Canadian blueline, after which it won’t be long before observers are wondering why he was not selected until the second round in the 2021 NHL Draft. The defenceman broke out in the 2021-22 season, but played only 11 games in the short WHL bubble. He has since picked up where he left off, with 27 points in his first 22 games as a WHL junior. A non-shortened draft season likely would have had Zellweger rocket up draft boards well into the first round; now he has a golden opportunity to take a major role for Canada and prove that. - Sam Happi

David Jiricek

The breakout player in this tournament in my opinion will be defenseman, David Jiricek. He had a disappointing U-18 tournament at the end of the year and will be looking to make amends during that tournament. I see him being used on the power-play and getting important responsibilities for Czechia as the tournament goes on. It will be a chance for him to display all of his offensive arsenal in front of all the NHL scouts. - Charles Lassonde

Michal Gut

Between having Austria and Germany in the preliminary round and playing for a Czech team that is solid enough at all positions to perhaps finish second in Group A, Gut is having the best season of his young career in the WHL and has a good shot at being his upstart nation's offensive and all-rounder leader. There's potential here for a surprising amount of output and he's certainly not one of the youngest contestants. - Chapin Landvogt

Mavrik Bourque

Not entirely sure if he’s considered a “breakout” player, but I think this tournament is a big opportunity for people to realize how brilliant Mavrik Bourque is. He is a sensational playmaker, highly manipulative with the ability to thread passes through miniscule lanes. Canada has no shortage of skilled finishers and all it takes is Bourque finding chemistry with the right player (think McTavish, Guenther, Stankoven) and he could be a nightmare for any defensive unit in this tournament to deal with. If not Bourque, then Scott Morrow. Last year he was pretty much the Michael Jordan of prep hockey, and he’s been improving rapidly as this year goes on. He’s such a dynamic attacker for a rearguard with the confidence to try anything. At the very least, I don’t think it will take long for fans to witness the audacity he has with the puck. - Sam McGilligan

Mavrik Bourque. I feel as though he’s been begging for a big stage to show off the creativity, skill, pressure management and playmaking that he has in spades. Joining linemate Xavier Bourgault could create strong innate chemistry, but Bourque makes his linemates better, and the more ice time he gets, the more dangerous Canada’s offense should become. - Will Scouch

Filip Mešár

I think this tournament might be the one where Filip Mešár significantly improves his draft stock. The Slovak forward has moved to the first round conversation in many rankings, but the #20 on our board is still flying under the radar a bit. Mešár has the experience from last year’s World Juniors and is now expected to be a leader in the young Slovak squad. - Matej Deraj

Jake Neighbours

Expect Jake Neighbors to grab ahold of the spotlight and run with it in this World Junior Championship taking place in his Edmonton Oil Kings’ home rink Rogers Place. He’s a player who isn’t afraid of attention, thrives under pressure, and is known for providing clutch offense when it is needed most (which tends to bode well in this tournament). I’ve never witnessed a junior player better at attacking the offensive blueline than Neighbors coming down through the neutral zone on the rush; he has a pure talent for analyzing the space provided to him by defencemen and using his explosive speed to exploit those gaps and enter the offensive zone with full possession. This essentially makes him a one-man zone entry machine, which will be an asset for Team Canada. Neighbors is a swiss-army knife who can adapt his game to be a difference-maker with whatever role he is given, so be ready to feel his presence no matter where he slots in the lineup. He is also one of the few players with NHL games under his belt after enduring a nine-game stint with the St.Louis Blues earlier this year, don’t underestimate how vital that experience could come into play during the latter stretch of the tournament. It’s also important to note the chemistry already built between Neighbors and his Oil Kings linemate Dylan Guenther. The duo has terrorized the WHL for the last three seasons and I expect them to bring that same dynamic work of offense right over to the international stage for the world to see. - Adam Girard

Connor Bedard

Bedard is not the fastest or heaviest given his age, but he has a special understanding of what will happen next. He can register/read the game like a young 99. - Tommi Nekkula

4) Who will be the tournament's most disappointing team?


Politics and hockey rarely mix well. I think that Russia left some of their best offensive players at home. And “at home” really means they didn’t bring any of the great talent that is playing in North America. The ace up their sleeve is Askarov. He’s a fantastic goalie, but he has been playing poorly in the KHL this year relative to his sky high standards. Being in the group of death won’t help their confidence either. - Greg Revak

Russia feels like the obvious answer. Their decision to cut all roster candidates that were playing in North America drastically limited their talent pool and their final roster reflects it. There are some good forwards on this team and I’m not sure offense will be too much of an issue, but the blueline does not measure up to those of Canada, America, Sweden, or Finland and they could be exposed for it. - Sam Happi

Russia. They left some very talented names at home that left their team about 1.5 lines deep. If Askarov has another questionable tournament on the big stage, they could be in trouble. Vladimir Grudinin is a nice add who I think is underrated out there, but who knows how much ice he’ll see. - Will Scouch


I feel like Canada will be the most disappointing team. The imbalance between the two pools will leave Canada coasting through the round robin and unable to match the intensity once the medal round gets started.  Without Byfield, there is a hole at 1C that 16 and 17 year olds won’t be ready to handle, especially in the big moments. A little adversity will be too much for them to overcome. - Vince Gibbons


Sweden, who seems to always underachieve. There you have it, Sweden will do well in the group stage and fall flat in the knockout stage. Have you heard it before? Probably. Will it happen again, almost certainly. - Patrik Bexell

Sweden had a couple of questionable choices for their roster. The strangest omission is D William Wallinder, who is having a solid season in the Swedish highest league. They still have a really good team led by Alexander Holtz and can medal, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Sweden sees a quarterfinals exit. - Matej Deraj

Sweden only wins the games that everybody thinks. Then when it comes down to pressure situations, they cannot win against any ”big” hockey countries. - Tommi Nekkula

United States

I just don’t see this team being able to replicate the kind of magic they had last year. I don’t see enough difference makers in this lineup and their pool is so damn strong. When you compare their high end depth to some of the other teams in Pool B, it just doesn’t hold up. As such, I would be shocked to see this team get out of the quarterfinals this year. - Brock Otten

Coming into the tournament as the defending champions, the United States will have a ton of pressure to keep the title for a second year in row (something they have never done historically). Playing against powerhouses like Russia and Sweden won’t be an easy task, but you also have to consider Slovakia in that pool B, who will bring its best roster in ages with the likes of Simon Nemec and Juraj Slafkovsky. The offense will count on Beniers and Coronato to fill the net, but the loss of many notable players to the professional leagues (Zegras, Caufield, Boldy, Kaliyev, etc) will be hard to replace. However, the Americans might just have the best defensive group with Canada in this tournament, but in net, Drew Commesso ain’t Spencer Knight by any means. For these reasons, I don’t see USA retaining their title and I’ll say that I’d be surprised to see them advance to the semi-finals. - Charles Lassonde

I think most people are going to say Canada, and I can see why, but I’m starting to think it might be the USA. Sometimes all it takes in a tournament like this is a hot goalie, and while Commesso is a solid prospect, he isn’t in the same tier as the top trio (Cossa for Canada, Wallstedt for Sweden, Askarov for Russia). The top six is lethal, but the scoring depth is a bit lackluster relative to the other top teams as well. - Sam McGilligan


Much is a expected of this team that is clearly on the rise on the prospect front, but it's been getting a ton of praise and attention since the Hlinka Gretzky Tournament and the pressure will end up being too much for a bunch of kids who haven't yet faced the special dynamics of a WJC. In addition, they're playing in a whopper of a group with Russia, Sweden, and the USA and even Switzerland is coming in with a ton of returnees with chips on their shoulders after last winter's disaster. This is the most exciting group of Slovak prospects in ages, but too much needs to fall into place in the right sequence to get into the playoffs, much less past the quarterfinals. - Chapin Landvogt


I think everyone is expecting Finland to be the worst of the “Big Five” hockey nations coming into this year’s U20 tournament, but I think it’s going to be even worse than what we expect. They have a solid group but are bare-bones when it comes to supplying any sort of firepower to carry them through the tournament. Not to mention the Fins have already been experiencing complications with the Covid-19 pandemic which will cause them to miss one of their top forwards Aatu Raty. Team Finland has surprised me before, so I wouldn’t be shocked if a few under-the-radar performers step up to have a monstrous showcase, but I’m leaning towards the reality that it could be a disappointing lack of a fight that the Fins put up against the other top teams at the 2022 World Juniors. - Adam Girard

5) Who will be the tournament's most surprising team?


I really like Finland, but can the 2022 draft eligibles take them far like Laine and company did? Probably not, which leads me to my true surprise: Slovakia. If you don’t know anything about the upcoming talent in Slovakia… pay attention starting now. There is a bumper crop of talent working its way through. This is a team with a two year window to be very special. Only missing piece is a goalie. Which is a big missing piece, but the rest of the squad is solid all the way through. There are some nice older veterans, but the true blue chip players are 16-18y/o in a tournament where 19y/o are the ones driving their teams to glory. At this point they are likely just too young and potentially physically underdeveloped compared to the big nations to take a swipe at the medals. No matter what, they will surprise people with how talented they are. Take note and jump on the bandwagon now! - Greg Revak

 I really do think that Slovakia has a chance to finish higher than the US in Group B. Their team is crazy young, which can be tough to project at this tournament. However, look at the success a young German team had last year. This Slovak team is very talented. The key will be goaltending. Can Elias or Latkoczy provide the stability that they need? I think it’s possible. - Brock Otten

Slovakia is bringing a fun to watch team with solid goaltending and quite unusual scoring depth. A total of four top prospects for the next two NHL drafts (Nemec, Slafkovský, Mešár and Dvorský) should make their games exciting. They are not one of the favorites for getting a medal, but can upset some of them and make it to the semifinals, if everything goes right for Team Slovakia. - Matej Deraj

The easy answer is Slovakia, and I don’t think I’ll go against the grain. They are the youngest team in the tournament by 4 months, and their young players will be pivotal. Names like Dvorsky, Mesar, and Slafkovsky of course will have eyes, but Servác Petrovský has had a nice start to his OHL career, and I’m personally a fan of Adam Sýkora who has caught my eye watching teammate Simon Nemec. Speaking of which, the Slovakian defense group is somewhat underrated led by Nemec, but Samuel Knazko and Marko Stacha, make a                        pretty strong top four, and a few performances from Simon Latkoczy could net a surprise performance. - Will Scouch


I have Sweden winning the entire tournament so that for me is a bit of a surprise from where I was at the start of the season. I like the top 4 defenders on Sweden as much as any team. I also think Wallstedt is a key performer throughout this tournament. I see them capable of hanging with anyone. Hot take is that Swedes run the table in the round robin despite being in the harder of the two pools. - Vince Gibbons


Austria and Slovakia will perform better than expected and with some really interesting players to look out for; Juraj Slafkovsky, Simon Nemec for Slovakia and Marco Kasper for Austria. The kids will be alright and while Austria most likely won't make the playoffs, the team will be good. The battle for relegation could be one of the most exciting match-ups in the whole tournament. - Patrik Bexell


After hearing that JJ Peterka and Lukas Reichel, both having fine first seasons in the AHL, would not be on the squad, many in the hockey community saw a German roster that has but two late round draftees and couldn't imagine it being able to make any noise in Edmonton. But there are primarily pro players in this group and it has a lot of chemistry. There's also physicality and an ability to keep things tight and shut down opponents. Look for the team to avoid blowouts and slip back into the quarterfinals, despite a lack of star power. - Chapin Landvogt

Germany because all it will take for them is one big win in a lesser pool. - Tommi Nekkula


It will probably require a few factors to come together, but if Jan Mysak and Pavel Novak can excel in major offensive roles while Jan Bednar compensates for defensive mistakes with his play in goal, I think Czechia (formerly Czech Republic) has the best shot of any of the smaller nations to potentially unseat a Canada, USA, Finland, or Sweden in the medal round. - Sam Happi

When the tournament starts, everybody knows that even if there are 10 teams that attend, only 5 nations have had success at this event consistently (CAN, RUS, FIN, SWE, USA). This year won’t be different from the others, but Czechia could benefit from the inferior Pool A to finish 2nd or 3rd in this pool and have an ‘’easier’’ matchup in the quarter-finals. The Czechs will have many offensive threats like Jan Mysak, Pavel Novak, Ivan Ivan and Jakub Brabenec, who all have shown great numbers in the CHL, to fill out the offensive duties of the team. The defensive group will be somewhat decent with draftees, Stanislav Svozil and Michael Krutil. Add the highly touted prospect, David Jiricek, and the productive David Spacek from the QMHJL to that and you have an interesting top-4. If Jan Bednar is able to make the saves, this team could do some real damage at this event. The past proved that Czechia could win some games against powerful nations and with a well-balanced team like that, anything is possible in the elimination round. - Charles Lassonde

I’d be surprised if the answer wasn’t nearly unanimous for Slovakia (understandably so), so I’ll say the Czech Republic instead. I think draft eligible players like Jiricek and Kulich can impact play more than people are anticipating, and the veterans like Mysak, Svozil, Novak, Rysavy and Tichacek provide a strong enough foundation that they could take a game from anyone in this tournament. - Sam McGilligan

United States

A bit of an off-choice for a surprise team given the past history of Team USA. However, I feel as though I’m well too comfortable with having them firmly in the fourth place position. This roster may not be as bolstered as in past tournaments but all it takes is an MVP-worthy performance from Matty Beniers and for Jake Sanderson to shut down other country’s top performers for Team USA to turn this World Championship on its head. Add that with a sneaky dominant effort from someone like Matt Coronato, a breakout showing from Luke Hughes, with some underdog goaltending and you have yourself a recipe for a World Junior Championship gold medal upset and repeat gold performance. - Adam Girard