9 NHL Prospects Who Raised Their Stocks at the 2023 World Junior Championship
The World Junior Championship is a great opportunity for scouting the world's top teenage hockey players. At the same time, it's ultimately a five-to-seven-game tournament in which players have minimal time to learn the team's tactics and develop chemistry with linemates. Nonetheless, the games absolutely are informative.
"I don't think you can let the stage influence your assessment too much, but there's still information you can gather there," one NHL scout told Bleacher Report. "You have to remember it's still a six- or seven-game run in the course of a season where most of these kids will be playing 80 or so games."
But yes, it is a major opportunity to see most of the world's top teenagers all on the ice at the same time. It's a different perspective in which scouts can see how players perform in a best-on-best tournament with a lot of internal and external pressures. There is a balance to be found, and some of the players at the event definitely caught the eyes of those watching.
Here are nine prospects who raised their stock at the 2023 World Junior Championship.
Connor Bedard, Canada (2023 NHL Draft)
Is it possible for the most hyped prospect since Connor McDavid to increase his stock in a short tournament? Apparently, the answer is yes. For the average fan, it's one thing to read about him and look at the stats. It's another to watch him dominate every shift he takes.
Bedard produced 23 points in seven games for Team Canada; the next-highest producer in the entire tournament was Logan Cooley, with 14. In fact, Bedard's point total is fourth all-time in the World Junior Championship, demolishing the production of notables such as Eric Lindros, Jaromir Jagr and some guy named Wayne Gretzky.
For a U18 player at the tournament, he ranks first by a mile; Bedard beat Jagr's record of 18 points at the same age.
Although Bedard has been the consensus first overall pick for multiple years, there has recently been a minority counter-movement among some scouts who questioned whether the University of Michigan's Adam Fantilli might challenge him.
Fantilli finished the tournament with five points, and while he remains a near lock to go top-three in July, Bedard removed all plausible deniability about his status at the top of the draft board. And he put himself in nearly unprecedented territory, to boot. A perennial battle with McDavid for the Art Ross Trophy looks close to inevitable.
Want to read more about Bedard? Read our scouting report from the 2021-22 season.
Logan Stankoven, Canada (Dallas Stars)
Bedard, of course, stole the spotlight, but Canada's Logan Stankoven also made some noise. The Dallas Stars draft pick fell all the way to 47th overall in 2021 for indescribable reasons beyond his 5'7" stature.
Following the draft, I wrote that he was the "steal of the draft." He validated that claim in Halifax.
Stankoven registered three goals and eight assists for Canada, finishing fifth in the tournament by points. He is electric with the puck on his stick and displays the vision of a high-end playmaker. Beyond that, he further proved that size doesn't have to be his downfall. Of course, he won't beat Tom Wilson in a wrestling match, but he showed his energy on the forecheck and used his stature well to dig for pucks.
Stankoven has 46 points in 22 Western Hockey League games this season, but that league is lower quality and is filled with players much younger and less physically developed. His performance in a tournament filled predominantly with the world's best 19-year-olds is one step toward proving his size won't hold him back.
He turns 20 in late February, and the likelihood that he spends most of the 2023-24 season in the NHL is quite high.
Stanislav Svozil, Czechia (Columbus Blue Jackets)
Stanislav Svozil was a player who fell further in the 2021 draft than he should have. Some had him ranked as a borderline first-round talent, yet he fell all the way to Columbus at 69th overall.
The Regina Pats defenseman showed strong defensive abilities from the get-go. He reads the game well and is a fluid skater, which lends well to closing gaps to prevent zone entries, winning puck races on dump-ins and escorting the puck to safety from the defensive zone.
A lack of observable offensive upside was the knock on the Czech defenseman's game. While Svozil could transport the puck up the ice, he did not demonstrate any ability to beat players with skill or any high-end vision.
At the World Juniors, Svozil proved that he had added those components to his game. He carried the puck into the offensive zone, often beating defenders wide. From there, he scanned the offensive zone while in motion and fed a number of his teammates through the slot for high-quality chances, some of which became goals.
Svozil also put a number of pucks through traffic from the point, particularly on the power play. He's not going to become an intimidating presence at the point, but his calculated shots that utilize screens and make deflections possible will serve him well.
Svozil's bread and butter will still be his defensive and puck-moving game, but some offense mixed in would take him to a new level and lend more credibility to potential upside on an NHL second pairing.
Jimmy Snuggerud, USA (St. Louis Blues)
I pumped my own tires for the 2021 draft picks who make me look good in hindsight. Now, it's time to be humble. The St. Louis Blues drafted the right-winger 23rd overall last summer; I ranked him 31st on my list.
Among my concerns was that he would not be able to produce offense without linemates doing the bulk of the work for him. I found the 6'1" power forward's skating to be limiting as well.
Snuggerud moved into the NCAA this season and started making noise immediately. The University of Minnesota forward sits with 12 goals and 16 assists in 22 games. Certainly, he's continuing to thrive despite no longer having the immense physical and teammate advantage that he did at the U.S. National Development Program.
And Snuggerud was dynamite for Team USA. He scored five goals in seven games, which is a reflection of his capacity for slinging violent wrist shots on net. However, he also showed a better physical presence than he had in the past and some playmaking prowess that didn't show up much in juniors, when he would usually defer to linemate Logan Cooley.
At the time of the draft, I believed Snuggerud projected more as a bottom-six checker who provided supplemental offense. He's trending in the right direction, with this tournament highlighting his strong case for a future as a top-six NHL winger.
Chaz Lucius, USA (Winnipeg Jets)
Another player from the 2021 U.S. National Development Program increased his visibility. Chaz Lucius, a Winnipeg Jets first-round pick, tied Snuggerud and two others for fifth in goals scored.
Lucius has always been a gifted goal scorer. I gave Winnipeg's drafting of him an A- grade at 18th overall back in 2021. But unlike Snuggerud, who rips pucks past goaltenders, Lucius is more about quick hands and a knack for squeaking pucks past goaltenders in tight openings.
Holding him back were his skating and questions about whether he'd be able to repeat his offensive ability with less ice available at higher levels. Lucius had a good season at the University of Minnesota last season and is having a so-so first AHL season.
Although Lucius has always been a well-regarded prospect, he struggled to stand out at the USNTDP during his draft season. He suffered a significant knee injury that kept him out for months. Upon his return he was overlooked for other top forwards such as Snuggerud, Sasha Pastujov and Cutter Gauthier. Coming into December, Lucius had never established himself as a top player for the U.S. program.
At this tournament, Lucius successfully planted himself among the team's top players. He produced five goals in seven games, including an overtime winner against Sweden, which completed his hat trick to win USA the bronze medal.
Lucius perhaps didn't prove any major changes to his game, but he definitely improved his optics and emerged from the pack.
Ludvig Jansson, Sweden (Florida Panthers)
The World Junior Championship is the time for the top prospects to shine. For a handful, however, it's a chance to put one's name on the map.
Jansson is an unassuming 2022 fourth-round pick of the Florida Panthers. The defenseman has not done anything special in Swedish hockey over the past few years; his junior league statistics were mediocre, and his one goal and five assists in depth minutes for second-tier Södertälje don't indicate anything resembling a top prospect.
The Swede shone in his seven games in a way that matched a legitimate NHL prospect. A weak blue line for Sweden meant that Jansson had an opportunity he likely would not have in other seasons.
He played heavy minutes at even strength and on the top power-play unit. He was confident carrying the puck through all three zones and commanded the point on the power play. He beat goaltenders clean with his shot.
Jansson showed his willingness to compete in the defensive zone, particularly behind the goal line during scrums. The end result of his fabulous play was four goals and six assists in seven games. The media rewarded Jansson by naming him to the tournament's all-star team, an honor he received over top prospects such as Šimon Nemec, Brandt Clarke, and Luke Hughes.
Scouts, particularly those in Florida, will want to see him sustain this success over a longer period of time in Sweden before moving him up their prospect lists, but he definitely made a name for himself and gave everyone a reason to keep an eye on him the rest of the season.
Carl Lindbom, Sweden (Vegas Golden Knights)
Seventh-round picks rarely work out. Those that do are often goaltenders.
In 2021, Carl Lindbom, just like Henrik Lundqvist, was drafted out of Sweden in the seventh round. Of course, that's where the comparison ends, but the Vegas Golden Knights should have exited that tournament feeling absolutely thrilled with Lindbom's performance.
Sweden had an underwhelming tournament and allowed roughly 36 shots per game against opponents who weren't Germany or Austria. They barely prevailed over Czechia in the preliminary round, squeaked by a bad Finland team in the quarterfinals, and were outplayed by the Czechs in the semifinal.
Frankly, it could have been way worse. Lindbom bailed the team out at times in some games and the entire length of others. He showed athleticism, clean mechanics and, maybe most notably, strong mental fortitude. He held down the fort during shifts in which the opposition was peppering shots at him and made a number of high-difficulty saves to steal goals.
His .914 save performance doesn't do him justice, as it was tanked by an incredibly leaky bronze-medal game against the U.S. Lindbom is having a strong season in Sweden's second tier with a .936 save percentage in 21 games for Djurgårdens. His standout performance at the World Juniors is another feather in his cap.
Tomáš Suchánek, Czechia (Undrafted)
As good as Lindbom was, he was not the best goaltender of the tournament. That accolade goes to Czechia's Tomáš Suchánek. The undrafted 19-year-old has been fine, if unremarkable, for the Tri-City Americans of the Western Hockey League. His spot at the top of the depth chart said less about his particular upside and more about the general weakness of Czech goaltending.
Nonetheless, he stole the show. Although top prospects such as Jiri Kulich and David Jiricek were integral to Czechia's unexpected run to the gold-medal game, that does not happen without Suchánek's goaltending.
He was rock-solid in their opening 5-2 win against Canada, saving 36 of 38 shots. He was formidable in the semifinal matchup against Sweden, making timely saves under immense pressure in the third period and, subsequently, overtime. And he nearly stole a win for the gold medal against Canada, tallying 35 saves on 38 shots to give Czechia a chance for gold, an accomplishment they fell just short of in overtime.
Should Suchánek finish the season strong in Tri-City, NHL scouts will likely remember his performance in Halifax. It might be enough to nudge him over the hill and earn him an NHL contract.
Oliver Kapanen, Finland (Montréal Canadiens)
Finland showed up to the tournament with its weakest roster in recent memory, and they sure played like it.
Nashville Predators first-round pick Joakim Kemell had a decent tournament. Winnipeg Jets first-round pick Brad Lambert was invisible. The rest of the team was compromised of solid-to-fringe NHL prospects.
If one player from the team could leave the tournament with his head held high, it was probably Oliver Kapanen. The cousin of Kasperi Kapanen was drafted by the Montréal Canadiens in the second round last summer.
Although the 19-year-old is a credible prospect, he was put unfairly out of his depth by being asked to center the top line, a spot he would have lost to at least four different centers on Canada's roster.
In difficult circumstances, Kapanen played a tournament worthy of respect. His two goals and one assist in five games don't do him justice. He was thrown into a role of pivotal offensive catalyst, which doesn't really suit him. Yet he managed to play above his means and drive offense for Finland. His goal against Slovakia is indicative of the types of individual efforts that were required of him.
His defensive game, which he is more known for, was about as good as any forward's in the tournament.
Kapanen's display of individual offensive capabilities offers hope that he has enough skill that will translate to the NHL level. That, in combination with his staunch defensive efforts, makes Montréal's drafting him in the second round last summer more logical than it first appeared. He definitely gave credibility to his potential as a future bottom-six NHL center.