The 2023 World Junior Championship — essentially the most high-profile NHL prospect match of the season — is across the nook. A typical argument I hear from followers and hockey individuals alike is that folks overreact to this occasion. That could also be true, however the place’s the enjoyable in doing the alternative?

I believe a match that includes the perfect of the perfect in an age group the place you possibly can measure gamers in a uncommon surroundings in opposition to one another, be it in going through off in opposition to one other staff or evaluating gamers inside their very own groups, supplies extremely useful info, even when it’s imperfect.

With that mentioned, what are the large prospect debates that could possibly be settled or shares that could possibly be impacted essentially the most by this match? I spotlight 12 right now.

1. How shut is the hole between Connor Bedard and Adam Fantilli within the 2023 NHL Draft?

As the 2023 NHL Draft season has progressed, Connor Bedard has been tearing up the WHL as anticipated, however Adam Fantilli is at the moment second in NCAA scoring, too. He’s generated a ton of curiosity as an elite professional prospect, and several other NHL sources are at the least entertaining the thought he could possibly be the perfect participant within the draft class resulting from his distinctive mixture of ability, skating and physicality.

When Bedard and Fantilli had been on the identical membership within the spring on the U18 Worlds, Bedard was clearly higher. Bedard has extra offense in his recreation, and is sort of a full yr youthful than Fantilli as nicely. As a returning member to the U20 staff, it’s anticipated he’ll get an even bigger function and albeit play higher Fantilli. If that occurs, I believe any conversations about who’s No. 1 may fizzle post-tournament. But, if the play of the 2 gamers is shut by the point we get to the top, it may jumpstart a debate. In the pre-tournament, Bedard outplayed Fantilli notably within the first recreation, however Fantilli was higher within the second match.

2. Is Leo Carlsson in the identical dialog as Bedard and Fantilli?

One semi-common query that comes up with NHL scouts when discussing Bedard and Fantilli is “well, what about Leo Carlsson?” Carlsson has seemed unimaginable within the SHL this season, at occasions trying like an influence participant versus males resulting from his high-end ability and energy mixture. I believe there’s a niche between him and the Canadian duo resulting from his lack of footspeed, however some scouts disagree and assume he may push for No. 2 at a minimal.

3. Is Team USA too younger or too small to win this match?

The U.S. goes to be probably the greatest groups as common on this match. However, in a match that lends itself to 19-year-olds being the perfect gamers, Team USA goes to have quite a lot of 18-year-olds in vital roles. The 2003 age group didn’t give them a ton for this match. Luke Hughes (New Jersey) can be a go-to man for them, and Chaz Lucius (Winnipeg) needs to be good too, however that they lower one in every of their greatest gamers from the U18 Worlds for this age group in Sasha Pastujov tells you the way a lot they’ll depend on youthful gamers. Their 2004s are superior; that age group had a variety of excessive picks, particularly at ahead. Logan Cooley (Arizona), Cutter Gauthier (Philadelphia), Jimmy Snuggerud (St. Louis) and Rutger McGroarty (Winnipeg) are all anticipated to be vital gamers for the USA. Can such a younger group beat a Team Canada that may have 19-year-old Dylan Guenther, Brandt Clarke, Olen Zellweger, Logan Stankoven and others, although?

The U.S. can even have one in every of their smallest blue strains ever, with 6-foot Ryan Chesley because the second tallest defenseman they’ve. They introduced a variety of ability and puck-moving sense to the match, and I don’t have a lot of a quibble with the gamers they chose (you possibly can have had an argument about Shai Buium, however he struggled with the tempo at USA’s camp.) How this group will fare defensively is a giant query going into the occasion versus ahead teams like Canada and Sweden. To their credit score, they beat each Finland and Sweden in convincing vogue within the pre-tournament.

4. Who will make a save?

This world juniors has a variety of questions in purpose in terms of the foremost nations. Sharks third-round decide Ben Gaudreau could possibly be Canada’s starter. He’s an athletic and gifted goalie who was nice at his U18 Worlds, however has struggled mightily within the OHL the final two seasons. Or it could possibly be the undrafted Thomas Milic who’s splitting begins in Seattle. Team USA could possibly be going again to Kaidan Mbereko who, like Milic, is an undersized, undrafted goalie however was the starter ultimately summer season’s world juniors and likewise for his U.S. NTDP staff. He’s truly been excellent in school this season as nicely. Finland could possibly be turning to Aku Koskenvuo (Vancouver), who has all of two begins this season in school. Sweden’s starter could possibly be Carl Lindbom, the undersized seventh-round decide by Vegas who has been glorious within the Allsvenskan this season, or the undrafted Ian Blomquist.

This units up a match with as a lot uncertainty in web as I can bear in mind and a extremely tough job of predicting the place, if in any respect, the influence from a goalie could come from. I hope you want objectives.

5. Will Shane Wright dominate?

The as soon as presumptive No. 1 decide from the 2022 draft, Wright would be the first-line middle for Canada. He was probably the greatest gamers two years in the past with an analogous pool of gamers on the U18 World Championship. He’s had an up-and-down season, with extra ups of late. I’m certain Seattle is hoping this match offers him a variety of puck touches and confidence. As a returning member and a participant with a wealthy junior historical past, the query is which Wright will present up. The one who was excellent, however didn’t fairly bounce off the web page throughout the earlier OHL season, or the one who scored at main clips over the earlier years whereas displaying vital two-way play?

6. Can Fabian Lysell (Boston) and Isak Rosen (Buffalo) step up for Sweden?

Sweden may have a robust ahead group with 2004-born gamers Leo Carlsson, Filip Bystedt, Noah Ostlund, Liam Ohgren and Jonathan Lekkerimaki taking part in vital roles. But for them to achieve success, their 2003 first-round picks Lysell and Rosen will should be massive. Both traditionally have been praised for his or her offensive abilities however dinged for his or her inconsistencies and each have performed very nicely within the AHL this season, particularly Lysell who has been a driving participant for a high AHL membership in Providence. Sweden will want the perfect of Lysell and Rosen to win a gold medal. In the pre-tournament recreation versus USA, Lysell performed nicely, however Rosen wasn’t noticeable.

7. Can Team Slovakia upset somebody?

IIHF tournaments, particularly on the junior stage, lack a sure diploma of intrigue with out Russia, particularly within the medal rounds. We bought a dose of it when Czechia upset USA on the world juniors this summer season, however with out 5 legit contending nations the semifinal groups are largely anticipated to be Canada, USA, Finland and Sweden. The staff with the perfect likelihood to interrupt that prediction seems like Slovakia. On the backs of a loaded 2004 age group, despite the fact that they’re lacking No. 1 decide Juraj Slafkovsky, they’ve a variety of expertise: No. 2 decide Simon Nemec (New Jersey) on protection, late first-rounder Filip Mesar (Montreal) up entrance, second-round decide Adam Sykora (New York Rangers), and projected first-round picks Samuel Honzek and Dalibor Dvorsky (who’s an ’05). There are a number of different high quality gamers on this Slovak staff as nicely, making them extremely intriguing from an NHL perspective. Can they beat a contender? They could also be too younger to do this, however I’m not ruling that out as a sensible risk. Losing to Germany 5-0 within the pre-tournament was not an inspiring begin, although.

8. Can David Reinbacher distinguish himself because the No. 1 defenseman within the 2023 NHL Draft?

The 2023 NHL Draft lacks a real premier blue-line prospect, or on the minimal one identify who has clearly separated himself from the pack. You can discuss to NHL scouts about their favourite defenseman and a few will point out Russians Mikhail Gulyayev or Dimitri Simashev, Lukas Dragicevic in Tri-City, or another person. But one participant with an opportunity to create some separation from the pack is David Reinbacher. The 6-foot-2 proper shot is taking part in actual minutes and contributing actual offense as a draft-eligible in Switzerland’s high league whereas additionally having NHL mobility as well. He can be in powerful to face out on Team Austria which gained’t have a lot of a supporting solid. Marco Kasper, for instance, who went high 10 in final yr’s draft, struggled on the world juniors for Austria regardless of his excellence versus males.

9. Does Samuel Honzek’s rise proceed?

A participant whose draft inventory has been considerably on the rise within the first half is Honzek, the Slovak taking part in in Vancouver. Honzek has a variety of instruments for the NHL. He’s 6-foot-4, skates nicely and is a hardworking two-way ahead who’s producing vital offense within the WHL this season. I don’t assume the comparable is precise, however I take a look at Cutter Gauthier, who went fifth final season, and I don’t assume his instruments are that far off (Honzek is perhaps higher off the puck, however Gauthier a extra pure scorer with a contact extra quickness). It wouldn’t shock me if Honzek has a giant match, scouts see this massive, cellular man who can carry out at numerous ranges and he begins establishing himself as a top-10 decide.

10. Which Brad Lambert exhibits up?

The Winnipeg Jets’ No. 30 decide is a frequent matter of dialogue within the prospect sphere. There’s no higher instance of what makes Lambert so divisive than his two world junior performances final season, each on the summer season match and the cancelled one. At the latter, he was superior and a pressure together with his high-end skating and ability, and on the former, he was despatched to the bench. His expertise stage is game-breaking stage, however his resolution making and energy stage at occasions can frustrate coaches. You noticed it within the pre-tournament recreation versus USA the place he seems to be distinctive arising the ice however then makes unhealthy turnovers on the offensive blue line and in the end doesn’t generate a lot offense. Lambert has a possibility to point out he’s a real high prospect and silence the critics at this match.

11. Is this Brandt Clarke’s redemption tour?

Brandt Clarke was the No. 8 decide within the 2021 NHL Draft by Los Angeles. The final time he suited up for Team Canada was in his draft season on the U18 World Championship. He was named one of many defensemen of the match by the media, however scouts thought his efficiency was a bit uneven, and after a primary half within the OHL that didn’t blow individuals away he wasn’t invited to Canada’s U20 camp within the winter of 2021. He has a ton of ability and playmaking capacity and competes nicely sufficient, however the issues had been his awkward skating and the way it impacted his all-around play. To his credit score, Clarke then had an incredible camp with the Kings, and seemed like he belonged in a number of NHL video games as a 19-year-old. He seems to be primed to have a significant function now with Team Canada. Is this the match the place Clarke silences a few of his doubters by making a big two-way influence for Canada? His first pre-tournament recreation versus Switzerland didn’t encourage confidence he was going to, however it’s a protracted method to the gold medal recreation and he was probably the greatest gamers within the second pre-tournament recreation.

12. Can Tyler Boucher silence the critics?

Boucher was the No. 10 decide by Ottawa in 2021, and since then, the decide has been the topic of a variety of criticism, together with from myself. Boucher didn’t ask to be the tenth decide, however a tumultuous 2021-22 season escalated the issues and discussions. Ottawa picked him attempting to get a bruising energy ahead who can present some offense, too. He’s seemed extra like that this season with the 67’s, drawing way more constructive evaluations from NHL scouts than the season prior. Boucher is primed to play a giant function for Team USA, and though his model of play isn’t ultimate for an IIHF-officiated match, he seems to be to be able to make an influence. I don’t assume we are going to go away Halifax pondering he’s a top-10 participant from his draft, however may we see Boucher appear to be a future high quality NHL ahead? I believe that’s reasonable.

(Photo of Connor Bedard: Andy Devlin/ Getty Images)

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