The 2022 IIHF World Junior Championship is just three days away from kicking off in Edmonton and Red Deer, Alta.
Often regarded as a tournament meant for 19-year-olds, drafted prospects often command a lot of the attention from scouts and fans.
However, several players who are eligible for this summer’s draft will be worth watching over the next two weeks.
For fans of the NHL’s bottom feeders in particular, there is a plethora of young forwards playing at the World Juniors who will be available in the 2022 draft along with a couple of defencemen also looking to make noise.
Here are seven 2022 draft-eligible players to watch.
F Shane Wright – Canada
Ranked as the consensus No. 1 prospect for the 2022 NHL Draft, do not be surprised if the 17-year-old Wright is a key contributor for Canada on a veteran-heavy squad.
“He’s so precise,” said TSN Director of Scouting Craig Button. “I rarely see that in a young player. Such a precision of positioning, purpose, planning, execution.”
The Burlington, Ont., native has 11 goals and 30 points in 22 games so far this season with the Ontario Hockey League’s Kingston Frontenacs.
The sixth Canadian Hockey League player ever to be granted exceptional status, Wright looks to join fellow exceptional players John Tavares, Aaron Ekblad and Connor McDavid as players to go first overall in the OHL and NHL drafts.
“He’s a brainiac on the ice with high skill,” said Button.
F Logan Cooley – United States
Cooley cracks the United States roster as a 17-year-old where the Americans head into the World Junior tournament as the defending gold medallists.
The Pittsburgh, PA., native is playing with the United States National Team Development Program (USNTDP) this season and has solidified himself as a top prospect heading into July’s draft.
“He’s quick and he’s fast and he’s agile,” said Button. “He’s got dynamic qualities in his game. He can beat you so many different ways.
“He can beat you with his speed, his quickness, his agility, a pass or a shot. He can outthink you. I’m just blown away watching him play because I just keep thinking about how much better he is going to be just as he matures and gets older.”
Cooley, a Notre Dame commit, has 14 goals and 30 points in 20 games with the USNTDP this season.
F Joakim Kemell – Finland
Playing in his first full Liiga season, Kemell has made a strong impression as a 17-year-old with JYP.
With 12 goals and 18 points in 21 games, Kemell is one of several players who are draft-eligible on Team Finland, who won bronze last year. He has even overshadowed JYP and Finland teammate Brad Lambert, who was touted as a top prospect heading into the 2022 draft.
“Joakim is really, really balanced in his play,” said Button. “I wouldn’t say there is one area of his game that stands out magnificently. But he’s got all the qualities that are of a very high quality.
“From his skating, he’s quick when he needs to be quick, he’s fast when he needs to be fast. He shoots when he needs to shoot, he passes when he needs to pass. He gets open at the right times. He’s a player offensively, he can do it in so many different ways which makes him a really, really difficult player to mark.”
F Juraj Slafkovsky – Slovakia
Slafkovsky has spent his 2021-22 campaign split between Liiga’s TPS and their U20 squad but no matter where he is playing, he has become a player to watch.
The 17-year-old can play centre and left wing and at six-foot-four and 225 pounds, he makes his presence known.
“Big, strong, assertive what I would say,” said Button. “He’s got the blend of skill and size and competitiveness. He commands the game. He’ll hold the puck and he’ll absorb contact but he’s always looking to how he’s going to take advantage.”
Slafkovsky suited up at the tournament last year as a 16-year-old for Slovakia but is expected to be a much more important piece this time around, as the Slovaks ice what is projected to be one of their most skilled rosters in years.
“Last year at the World Junior tournament, he was so fascinating because he was a young player but the way he played was indicative of somebody that when he matured, he’s going to have a greater and more profound impact,” said Button.
D Simon Nemec - Slovakia
The first defenceman to hit this list is Nemec, who will join Slafkovsky as a key piece for the Slovaks.
Nemec, who is playing with HK Nitra in the Tipos Extraliga, has 13 assists in 22 games this season. Over the summer, he captained Slovakia to silver at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup, and took home tournament MVP.
As a 16-year-old, he had four assists in five games at last year’s World Junior tournament and was named one of Slovakia’s top three players.
“He is a really terrific player,” said Button. “He combines this unbelievable calm and poise. He’s like a rattlesnake. Slithering along, they’re doing their thing, they’re aware of everything and they’re calm but time to strike, boom. He strikes. And he strikes with his skating. He strikes with his shot. He strikes with understanding that puck has to get here really quick.”
F Danila Yurov - Russia
A late 2003 birthday, Yurov is a forward with Metallurg Magnitogorsk in the KHL and has played with their MHL squad this season.
Yurov, who will be making his World Juniors debut this year, has had previous success with Russia internationally, winning gold at the U17s in 2019 and silver at the U18s this year in Texas.
When watching the 18-year-old play, Button sees a player who can be a shooter or a playmaker and compares him to a recent inductee into the Hockey Hall of Fame.
“He’s a power player,” said Button. “Marian Hossa, that’s what I see. That type of player.
“Penalty kill, power play, low-scoring game, high skill game, fast game, pivotal game, he can do it all.”
D David Jiricek – Czechia
Now in his second full season playing in the Czech Extraliga with HC Plzen, Jiricek has five goals and 11 points in 29 games this season.
A returning player for Czechia at the World Juniors, the 18-year-old had two points in five games for the Czechs last year as they lost 3-0 to Canada in the quarterfinals.
“I think David is such a strong dependable defenceman,” said Button. “I don’t think he’s got a lot of offensive flair to his game. But he’s got this great ability to play lots of minutes.
“He’s heavy, he’s hard. He reminds me a lot of Erik Cernak of the Tampa Bay Lightning. In the sense, he’s physical, he’s assertive, he’s territorial. But he’ll come into the attack. He’s probably got more offensive ability than Erik. But he’ll come into the attack and he’ll shoot it. He makes plays.”