The 2023 World Junior Hockey Championship will get underway on Monday and while the Habs had a couple of players get cut, they will still be well-represented with players in prominent roles. Here’s a look at who will be participating.
F Vincenz Rohrer (Austria)
Austria is a team that, let’s face it, isn’t going to go far in this tournament. There is one set of games that matters for them, the best-of-three relegation series where the winner stays up and the loser goes down.
Rohrer is the only NHL-drafted player on the team. He’s also the only player playing in major junior and is one of just three playing in North America. This is not a deep squad and it’s not going to have a lot of success. That presents an important qualification for Rohrer – don’t assess things simply by the stats. They’re probably not going to be pretty.
However, it should be a great tournament from a development standpoint. Rohrer will be the focal point of the attack, the one that plays heavy minutes in all situations, the one that other teams will key in on. Having that role against a higher level of competition than the OHL is a great test for him. The numbers won’t be good but this will only help his development.
F Joshua Roy (Canada)
Roy had a decent showing in the summer in his first crack in this event. Most of his points came against weaker competition but that’s the case for a lot of players. When things mattered the most, he was moved up the lineup and was playing heavy minutes in the medal round. I expect things might play out similarly this time around.
On his club team in Sherbrooke, he’s the go-to guy, the one that gets leaned on. He won’t be that player for Canada. Instead, he’s more of a complementary piece on this roster. That’s not to say he won’t be an important player but he’s the secondary contributor on most potential line combinations for Canada.
Frankly, that’s not a bad thing. While Roy is a big point-getter in junior, I’m not convinced that he’s going to be a top producer in the pros. That type of secondary contributor might be what his niche winds up being, the guy that can play on a couple of different lines and move up and down the lineup. Anytime you can get exposure in meaningful games in that role, that’s a good thing. The stats probably won’t be much better than the summer (if they are at all) but Roy should be an integral part of Canada’s roster.
F Oliver Kapanen (Finland)
This will also be Kapanen’s second stint at the World Juniors in the last few months. In the first event, he never really found his footing; he played decent minutes in the middle six but didn’t make much of them.
However, he should be in for a considerably bigger role this time around as a lot of the players that were ahead of him in the summer aren’t there now. If you’re also a believer in momentum, Kapanen has had a good start to his season in Finland which should certainly give him some confidence.
Kapanen should be the top centre for the Finns in this event on a group that has some decent options at the top end of the roster but isn’t the deepest of groups compared to what they bring some years. That’s good news for the Habs as that means that Kapanen should be an all-situations player logging potentially more than 20 minutes per game compared to the near-17 he had in the summer.
F Filip Mesar (Slovakia)
This is a team that really would have been bolstered by Juraj Slafkovsky to the point where they might have been able to pull off an upset or two. It’s hard to see that happening with what the Slovaks have, however. They have a few good top-end guys before things really fall off.
Mesar is certainly one of those good top-end guys. The other first rounder from the summer, he has had a good start to his major junior career in Kitchener and is poised to be a top-liner throughout the event. They’re a team that will be trailing a lot so Mesar should have a lot of ice time with them in catch-up mode. I’m not sure that they’re going to score a whole lot in this tourney, however.
One thing that I’m curious to see is if he’ll be used at centre at all in this event. He has been on the wing in the exhibition games but Montreal really seems to think he could play down the middle. This would be a good chance to evaluate that idea against what will be some strong competition. I’m not expecting to see it but I hope it does just from an evaluation standpoint.
D Adam Engstrom (Sweden)
Sweden was dealt a big blow when Simon Edvinsson declined an invitation to play in this event. The main beneficiary of that just might be Engstrom as now, he should play inside their top four.
Of the six Montreal prospects in this event, Engstrom is the one I don’t really have a set of expectations for. He was dominant offensively early on this season in the Swedish junior level but that’s a couple of levels below what he’ll face in this tourney. On the other hand, looking at their roster, there isn’t a true offensive blueliner in the bunch. Defensively, he shouldn’t be a shutdown player for the Swedes but he should see some time on the penalty kill and play in important situations.
It feels like there’s an opportunity for the taking for Engstrom. On a back end that is truly lacking the type of top defender that contending teams typically have, the third rounder has a chance to establish himself and force his way into significant minutes. On the flip side, someone else could do that to him and push him down the depth chart as well. He’s a bit of a wild card.
D Lane Hutson (United States)
Hutson is the biggest wild card for Montreal’s prospects in this event, albeit not in stature. He’s having a very impressive first college season but now it’s a new coaching staff that he’s trying to impress. Will that coaching staff have the patience when he starts to veer away from the game plan and freelances or will they sit him in favour of some other capable offensive blueliners?
The US is the opposite of Sweden in that they have several strong threats from the back end to the point where Hutson isn’t their best option. Hutson has had second unit power play time during the pre-tournament games and that’s likely where he’ll at least start off in the tournament. Even with that, there’s a chance to put up the points as the Americans are one of the stronger squads in this event.
I fear expectations are being set a bit too high for Hutson. He’s not coming into this tournament as their go-to guy offensively and is going to be more of a secondary guy, at least to start. That’s more than fine as well for his first stint of what will likely be two tries at the WJCs. I’m excited to see how he fares against a pretty good level of competition but I’d keep expectations tempered somewhat.