It’s Boxing Day in August!
With the majority of free agency well behind us and training camps still more than a month away, we’ve officially hit the low point of the off-season. Good news, there is a little unexpected treat for hockey fans this week. The 2022 IIHF Under-20 World Junior Championships get underway today. The best (well most of the best) players aged 20 and younger are gathered in Edmonton to compete for the gold medal. For the first time in a while, Tampa Bay Lightning fans have a couple of players to keep an eye on over the next twelve days.
Isn’t this tournament usually in December/January?
Yes. However, the original version of the 2022 World Juniors was plagues with COVID issues so the organizers cancelled the tournament. Eventually, because it’s a wildly popular event and makes money, they rescheduled it for August. They will return to their regular schedule with the 2023 World Juniors kicking off the day after Christmas in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.
Which countries are represented in the tournament?
There are ten teams, split into two groups.
Slovakia, Canada, Finland, Czechia, Latvia
United States, Sweden, Switzerland, Germany, Austria
What, no Russia?
Correct. As fallout from Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine, the IIHF has suspended their team from competing in any IIHF-sanctioned tournaments. They also stripped Russia of hosting the 2023 IIHF World Juniors, hence the tournament being held in Canada for the third time in a row. Latvia replaced Russia, who will miss the World Juniors for the first time in the tournament’s history.
Wait, did you say “most of the best” players will be there? Why not all of the best?
Again, no Russia. Also, some of the more recognizable names have opted out of participating. If this tournament had been completed in December, all of the best players would likely be there. Now that it is being held in August, some have chosen not to play in order to continue their off-season training in preparation for the NHL. For Team Canada that means no Owen Power or Shane Wright. However, the team most affected might be Slovakia as Juraj Slafkovsky and Simon Nemec, the top two picks in the most recent NHL draft, will not be playing for them.
Okay, well then, who should I be keeping an eye on during the tournament?
Team Canada does have Connor Bedard, the Regina Pats forward and presumptive first overall pick for next year’s draft, leading them. Team USA will hope Arizona Coyotes top pick, Logan Cooley, has a strong tournament. Jesper Wallstedt, one of eight (!) Minnesota Wild prospects that will be competing in Edmonton, is the odds-on favorite to be the best goaltender in the tournament.
Other players that can boost their name recognition with a strong tournament are Mason McTavish (Canada), Luke Hughes (USA), and Aatu Raty (Finland). However, the beauty of this tournament is that it can be an unheralded player that prompts their country to glory.
Are there any Lightning prospects we can watch?
Yes, yes there are! For Team Canada, defenseman Jack Thompson, a third-round pick in 2020, will be suiting up and could have a big role on the team before he heads off to Syracuse for the season. Klavs Veinbergs, a seventh-round pick in 2022, will be manning the forward lines for Latvia in the tournament as well.
No Isaac Howard? That’s some bull sh*t!
First of all, this is a family friendly site, watch your language. However, your point stands. There is some thought that Team USA wanted to go with a more experienced roster for this summer’s tournament. He was part of the initial US National Junior Evaluation Camp (along with Roman Schmidt, Dylan Duke, and Connor Kurth) which evaluated players for both the 2022 and 2023 World Junior teams so there is a shot he could make the team that plays in December. He is still pretty young and there will be a chance for World Junior glory in his future.
Who is going to win this thing?
The oddsmakers have installed Team Canada as the early favorites as they enter the tournament at +125. A trio of teams (USA, Finland, and Sweden) are next at +400. Team USA is the defending champions, having won gold in “the bubble” in Edmonton last year. Finland is on an international hot streak having won gold at both the World Championships and Olympics. They last captured gold at the World Juniors in 2019. With fans back in the buildings this year, it will be tough to beat Canada, though.
How do I watch this tournament?
If you’re logging on from the United States, the NHL Network is going to be your best friend over the next two weeks. That’s where the games will be broadcast. If you’re a streamer, then fuboTV will be your best bet. Things kick off with Czechia and Slovakia this afternoon. Team USA will take on Germany this evening. The host team opens up their group play tomorrow against Latvia. The full schedule can be found on the IIHF website.