7 NHL Prospects to Watch at the 2022 IIHF World Junior Championships

Lyle Fitzsimmons@@fitzbitzFeatured Columnist IIIAugust 9, 2022

7 NHL Prospects to Watch at the 2022 IIHF World Junior Championships

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    It's world-class hockey in a certifiably hockey-mad city.

    So who cares that it's August?

    The IIHF World Junior Championships is normally an event with a more wintertime feel, but just because the outdoor temps in the host city of Edmonton will be above their December norms doesn't mean Rogers Place won't be worthy of full attention.

    The tournament begins Tuesday and will feature the best prospects in the world who've not yet celebrated a 20th birthday. Recent alumni include the likes of Connor McDavid, who won a championship with Canada in 2015, and Alexis Lafrenière, who enjoyed the same feeling with Team Canada in 2020.

    Teams from Canada, Czechia, Finland, Latvia and Slovakia make up half of the 10-team draw, while the other half is represented by Austria, Germany, Sweden, Switzerland and the United States. They'll engage in pool play through August 15 before whittling the field down to a champion with quarterfinals, semifinals and ultimately a title game on August 20.

    The B/R hockey team looked at the rosters and put together a list of the best prospects in the tournament. Each of the players included has already been drafted by an NHL team, with one notable exception that we'll point out.

    Scroll through to see what we came up with, and feel free to drop a thought or two of your own in the comments section.

Honorable Mention: Connor Bedard

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    OK, here's the exception. Connor Bedard has not been drafted by an NHL team.

    It's not because he's unworthy of the attention, though.

    Instead, it's because he just turned 17 last month and won't be eligible for selection until 2023. But when he is, you can be sure every GM in the league will covet the 5'9" center.

    He had a lofty "future of hockey" label hung on him by no less an authority than The Hockey News in 2018 and has done nothing since to cool the hype engines.

    He produced 172 points against teenage foes in the Canadian Sport School Hockey League across just 66 games in the 2018-19 and 2019-20 seasons and followed it up with 100 points in 62 games with the Regina Pats of the Western Hockey League at age 16.

    He had four goals in a game against Austria earlier this year before the tournament was scuttled, and he's sure to be the center of attention this time around.

Logan Cooley, United States

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    Logan Cooley was selected third overall at the 2022 draft by the Arizona Coyotes.

    The 5'10" center from western Pennsylvania had 36 points in 24 games in his second go-round with the U.S. National Development Team this year and is a steady two-way talent who'll get more attention in Edmonton thanks to the absence of Matty Beniers.

    He skates well and is effective all over the ice and will actually be making his second world juniors appearance after playing in the canceled event last December and posting an assist in the U.S. team's 3-2 defeat of Slovakia.

    He'll play in the 2022 event, then head off to his freshman season at the University of Minnesota and subsequently begin his trek to the NHL.

    "I want to play in the NHL the fastest way possible," he told Nicholas J. Cotsonika of NHL.com. "I had the chance to talk to [Arizona GM] Bill Armstrong a little bit, but it's also going to come down to what type of season I have and how I do out there. The rest will take care of itself."

Luke Hughes, United States

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    Like brother, like brother.

    Luke Hughes was the fourth pick of the New Jersey Devils in the 2021 draft, and he's already shown some of the family chops after producing 39 points in 41 games at the University of Michigan from his spot on defense. He was the only freshman among the top-10 vote-getters for the Hobey Baker Award.

    Older brothers Jack (first overall, 2019) and Quinn (seventh overall, 2018) were high draft picks and now play for New Jersey and the Vancouver Canucks, respectively.

    The youngest Hughes brother may make a strong case for a roster spot with the Devils this fall or return to Ann Arbor and take over the top slot on the blue line now that ex-Wolverine teammate Owen Power has graduated to the Buffalo Sabres.

    In the meantime, it's the promise of big minutes for Team USA in Edmonton.

    He drew in for more than 16 minutes in the single game at the scrapped event last December against Slovakia.

    "I don't really want to focus too far away or anything like that," Hughes told Cotsonika. "I just go game by game and event by event, starting with world juniors. I'm super happy about that."

Kent Johnson, Canada

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    The undrafted Bedard notwithstanding, Kent Johnson is probably closer to a full-time NHL role than any player on the list so far.

    The 6'1", 168-pound center finished his collegiate career at Michigan with 37 points in 32 games and jumped to the Columbus Blue Jackets at the end of the 2021-22 season, drawing in for nine games and racking up three points alongside two penalty minutes.

    The fifth overall pick of the Blue Jackets at the 2021 draft has seen time on the Canadian Olympic team and was also included on the world championship roster.

    His playmaking ability is what sets him apart, and he's likely penciled in for a top-six forward role and time on the power play, in addition to his assistant captaincy.

    But make no mistake, now that he's gotten an NHL taste, he wants more.

    "I think it's a dream come true," he told Jeff Svoboda of the Blue Jackets official site. "I think to get nine games under my belt, I think I felt pretty good, especially later on in those games, so it was huge coming into next year. I think maybe 2-3 games in, I definitely felt like it was just hockey. It's obviously a better level, but a lot of the plays I can make at the different levels can translate."

Mason McTavish, Canada

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    Sometimes, it's as much about who's not there and who is.

    That's the case with center Mason McTavish, whose role with Team Canada at the upcoming tournament will be magnified thanks to the absence of Shane Wright and Cole Perfetti.

    McTavish went third overall to the Anaheim Ducks in 2021 and already has dipped his toe in the NHL, along with the AHL, the world juniors, the Olympics and the Memorial Cup.

    The 6'1", 207-pounder had 14 goals and 26 assists in 24 games with the Ontario Hockey League's Hamilton Bulldogs and spent nine games with the Ducks, scoring twice and registering an assist.

    He'll captain Team Canada in Edmonton.

    "In simple terms, he's a hockey player," coach Dave Cameron told Adam Kimelman of NHL.com.

    "Everything about him shows that. Very attentive in meetings, asks the right questions, works as hard as anybody off ice, has no ego, and his on-ice performance speaks for itself. He's played in the NHL, and he's got a long NHL career ahead of him."

Brennan Othmann, Canada

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    Brennan Othmann is a guy whose timing might be paying off.

    Now 19, the 6'0", 181-pound left winger began the 2019-20 season with the Flint Firebirds of the OHL before the pandemic shut things down and prompted him to head overseas to play in Switzerland.

    He was drafted 16th overall by the New York Rangers in the 2021 draft and returned to Flint to torch the league to the tune of 50 goals and 97 points in 66 games. Othmann earned a spot on the world juniors roster this summer after he'd been left off the team for the event that began in December before it was halted.

    He's unapologetically aiming for a role with the Rangers out of training camp this fall.

    "Playing for the Rangers is a big step," Othmann told Dan Rosen of NHL.com.

    "They're a good, young team with veteran leadership. If I can come here, learn, get a few games in, stay as long as I possibly can, I think that would be great for my development, and I think it'd be great for everybody," he said. "If I don't end up making the team this coming September, then there's always next year. But there is a point where enough is enough, you want to work hard and try to make the team. Hopefully, it's this year, and I feel like I can do it."

Aatu Raty, Finland

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    Aatu Raty has already run the gamut of hockey emotions.

    The center went 52nd in the 2021 draft to the New York Islanders after initial inclusion in the discussion for potential first overall choices. Undaunted, he averaged nearly a point per game (40 points, 41 games) for Jukurit of the elite Finnish league in 2021-22, following a subpar 2020-21 season in which he'd produced just six points in 35 games.

    He came to the U.S. to get into two regular-season games with the Islanders' AHL farm team in Bridgeport, Connecticut, then had a goal and four points in six playoff games.

    He was in COVID-19 quarantine when the December tournament began and didn't take part, but he'll presumably be revved up to make a statement in Edmonton.

    "I've seen enough over the years to still believe in [Raty], but it's fair to say I approach him with a large degree of caution," Corey Pronman wrote in The Athletic last summer.

    "He has skill in his game. He has quick-twitch hands and is great at handling the puck in small areas. He's a fine, albeit awkward, skater who makes skilled plays on the move but needs to add more pace to his game."

Jesper Wallstedt, Sweden

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    This just in: Jesper Wallstedt is going to play in the NHL.

    Probably very well and for a significant period of time.

    He was the first Swedish-born goalie to be chosen in the first round of the NHL draft when the Minnesota Wild grabbed him at No. 20 in 2021.

    The selection came after Wallstedt debuted in the Swedish Hockey League in 2019-20 and followed it up with a 2.23 goals-against average and .908 save percentage. He was stellar at the 2021 world juniors as well, posting a 2.40 GAA and .923 save percentage.

    The Athletic's Scott Wheeler deemed him "the best goalie prospect on the planet," and he'll probably see most of the tournament time for the Swedes on the way to the NHL, where he may arrive just in time to take over when Marc-Andre Fleury's new two-year deal expires at the end of the 2023-24 season.

    Wallstedt will begin this season with Minnesota's AHL affiliate in Iowa.

    "It could be next year. It could be three or four years away. You never know," he said, per Sarah McLellan of the Star Tribune. "That's up to me, how long I want to make that time and just battle every practice and every game, show that I'm ready to take that step. But we'll see when that time comes."

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