The wait is finally over. The ten best junior hockey nations are about to face off in one of the most appreciated tournaments of the year. With some of the biggest prospects and the top players for the upcoming entry draft, the World Juniors is a must-watch for hockey fans around the world! Especially with the current NHL season being on hold for the time being, the tournament brings a much-needed hockey fix to the fans. But who are the prospects to look out for from the Nordic nations?
On this list, I give a list of ten names that easily could have been twice as long with players like Roni Hirvonen missing out. That shows just how deep and skilled team Sweden and Finland are and they both can be a true contender for the gold medals in Edmonton with these prospects:
One of the top prospects for scouts and NHL teams in this tournament will be Joakim Kemell. The 17-year-old Finn has taken the scouting world by storm this season. In his rookie season in the best finish league, he has scored twelve goals and noted eighteen points in just 21 games. A sniper who has a ton of creativity and skill, Kemell has all the chances to follow in the footsteps of Patrick Laine this tournament, and he will no doubt look to solidify his top ten positions on the draft rankings of scouts around the world.
Sweden has one of the deepest teams of the tournament, but they also have one of, if not the best goalie in the tournament in Jesper Wallstedt. The Minnesota Wild prospect has been one of the top goalies in the SHL, with a calm, poised and mature style. In seventeen games his goals-against average is at 1.82 and he has a .923 save percentage. If Sweden is to go far, Wallstedt has to be strong between the pipes, be he has also shown that he is more than capable of that this season. Wild fans especially could be in for a treat and should watch team Sweden in order to catch their first glimpse of the goalie of the future in the state of hockey.
Goalies are notoriously important for a team’s success and it’s a major cliché to say that just like Sweden’s hopes relays on Wallstedt to play great in net, so does the hopes of Finland relay on Joel Blomqvist. The Pittsburgh Penguins prospect has had a fantastic season in Liiga so far, with a ridiculous record of 0.73 GAA and a .964 save percentage in eight games. That is just silly and should not be possible to pull off, but Blomqvist has played out of his mind this season. If that play from Blomqvist continues, there is no reason why Finland can’t play a major role in the tournament.
Simon Edvinsson was one of the top defenders of last year’s draft class, the massive Detroit Red Wings prospect has shown why that was the case with a great season for the Swedish juggernaut Frolunda. Edvinsson has been a regular this season in the SHL where he has played in all but four games this season and has been putting up points as well. He will be the leader of the Swedish defense, who along with Wallstedt in the net will be extremely tough to score against.
On the backend of team Finland, we have last year’s best defender, Topi Niemelä. Last year he was a superstar for the team that took bronze with his great skating and puck carrying. One of the smartest players in the entire tournament when it comes to decision making, the firm this season has been even better in Liiga, where he has taken massive steps forward in his development. He has been rewarded with a ton of ice time and he has thanked Kärpät with 24 points in 31 games. He will once again be called upon to deliver for the Finns and people this time surely will take great notes of his play from the very beginning of the tournament.
William Eklund took the NHL by storm in the first week of the season and showed why he was so highly rated at last year’s draft. He was showcasing exactly why some thought he was a steal at seventh overall by the San Jose Sharks, playing with a ton of flair in the first week, but after four assists in his first nine games, his first taste of NHL hockey was over, and he was sent back to Sweden. He is still finding his footing with a struggling Djurgården team that sits bottom of the SHL by Christmas. However, for Team Sweden he has a chance to really find his spark once again with players like Holtz in the lineup. If he can showcase his speed and skill, as he did in the NHL, Sweden could be in for the first gold medals since 2012.
Another potential top ten pick in the 2022 NHL entry draft from Finland? Why that can only be Brad Lambert who might be one of the most exciting players to watch in the world. His speed and skating are breathtaking and while he has struggled in Liiga this season, it is also important to remember that he only turned eighteen last week. He can drive an offense like no other and last juniors he was one of the players that turned a lot of heads and turned opponents mad with his speed and skill. While his season hasn’t been great, the Juniors is a chance for him to regain momentum in the draft rankings.
Sweden ordered yet another player taken seventh overall in his draft class who played for Djurgården with NHL experience? Why that is just Eklund’s former teammate and New Jersey Devils top-prospect Alexander Holtz, who is lighting the AHL up for fun. Ten points in eleven games with six goals coming from his elite shot, in his first North American season is really impressive. But in a season in which Holtz has played in six NHL games for the Devils and has two assists to show for it is the icing on the cake. If Holtz and Eklund find the chemistry from their time together in the SHL, the first line and powerplay of Sweden could cause serious harm for the rest of the teams in this tournament.
What is it with the Carolina Hurricanes and Finnish players? First, they grab Sebastian Aho in the second round and add a finish goaltender and winger for his line, and now they are trying to repeat the success of Aho with their 2021 second-round draft pick where they took Ville Koivunen. Once again one of the more talented offensive players at the tournament in terms of raw skill, Koivunen is able to drive the offense with speed and his silky smooth hands. With nineteen points in his first professional season in Liiga, he has shown that he has a ton of talent, which could be what brings Finland far this Juniors in terms of supplying depth scoring after Kemell and Lambert.
The last player this list will cover is Fabian Lysell, who was taken 21ths overall in last year’s draft by the Boston Bruins. With near-perfect skating and speed, Lysell can generate a ton of space for both himself and his teammate, who he finds with great vision. In his first season in North America, he has been good for the Vancouver Giants in the WHL with 28 points in 23 games so far this season. If he can find and create space for Holtz and Eklund there is a great chance of a Swedish medal after the tournament.
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