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Top 20 Players to Watch at the 2022 World Junior Championship

The revived 2022 World Junior Championship is set to get underway this week. Here's a look at 20 players to watch in Edmonton.

Part of the magic surrounding the World Junior Championship is gathering around the television with your friends and family during the holidays and watching the game's brightest young stars battle for glory.

It doesn't have that same allure playing in the middle of August.

It's so untraditional, even in the host country of Canada that doesn't typically host much meaningful hockey during the summer. But after COVID-19 shut down the original tournament just a few days into it, the IIHF and Hockey Canada elected to start fresh and redo it in Edmonton, Alberta from Aug. 9-20.

A lot has changed since then. For starters, Russia was banned, and Latvia -- who finished second to Belarus at the Division IA tournament (they're also banned) -- was promoted up to fill the 10-team grid. Then, with everything going on with Hockey Canada, some questioned whether the event should continue.

But here we are, closing in on the opening day of play in Edmonton. Unlike most years, the entire tournament will take part in one building in one city, so local fans won't need to miss half the action.

And, hey, it's summer hockey. If you love the sport, this is a blessing.

Much of the tournament's top eligible talent -- including Owen Power, Shane Wright, Juraj Slafkovsky, Simon Nemec and Matty Beniers -- won't participate, instead focusing on the upcoming NHL training camps. So this isn't best-on-best in the way we hoped, but there's still so much talent to look out for.

Here are 20 players you need to keep an eye on:

Connor Bedard, F (CAN)
The most obvious answer here thanks to his status as the favorite to go No. 1 in the NHL draft. The top pick is always hyped, but what Bedard has accomplished in his career in the WHL and international tournaments is truly special. Bedard has the makings of a future NHL star, and after scoring four goals in a game as a double-underager back in December, expect him to get elevated ice time in Edmonton.

Mason McTavish, F (CAN)
This is an obvious one here. After a season that saw him play in the NHL, AHL, World Junior Championship, Olympics, OHL and Memorial Cup, McTavish is ready to kick his final year of junior hockey off with a bang. Canada's captain was a standout in the shortened WJC a few months back, and is considered to be one of the best prospects in the game. With no Shane Wright or Cole Perfetti up front, expect McTavish to do a lot of the damage here for Canada.

Kent Johnson, F (CAN)
Johnson is on the verge of becoming a full-time NHL forward after spending the end of the season with the Blue Jackets. Like McTavish, he also was a member of Canada's Olympic team and was one of the top scorers on his nation's World Championship roster. He's a relaxed forward with great playmaking abilities, and this is just the start of what should be a big season for him.

Simon Edvinsson, D (SWE)
With Moritz Seider already making his mark, Edvinsson isn't far away from becoming the next impact Detroit Red Wings defender. A smart defender with tremendous size and reach, Edvinsson moves well for a 6-foot-6 beast and he isn't afraid to carry the puck down the ice, either. Edvinsson has true top-pairing potential in the NHL, and this will be a good test for the 19-year-old, especially with a Red Wings roster spot a true possibility.

Jesper Wallstedt, G (SWE)
Perhaps the best goaltender at the tournament, the Minnesota Wild prospect was especially excellent in a 48-save shutout over Slovakia right before the tournament was cancelled. Wallstedt had a fantastic second season in the Swedish men's league, posting an identical 12-10-0 record in 22 games from his rookie season, but boasted a much-improved 1.98 GAA and .918 save percentage. As long as Wallstedt is on his game, Sweden should be fine.

David Jiricek, D (CZE)
One of the top defenders from the 2022 draft, Jiricek was injured at the start of the original WJC, but played some impressive hockey once he eventually returned. He'll easily be one of the standout defenders this year as he looks to potentially make the Columbus Blue Jackets. Czechia has a solid lineup this year, and Jiricek will be one of the team's most essential pieces.

Luke Hughes, D (USA)
With no Jake Sanderson, this is Hughes' time to shine. Fresh off a busy season that saw him play valuable minutes with the University of Michigan and USA's World Championship team, Hughes is set for another big season with Owen Power now out of the picture with the Wolverines, but it's all about the WJC now. Expect big things from the New Jersey Devils prospect.

Aatu Raty, F (FIN)
Raty went from being the projected first overall pick in 2021 to taken 52nd overall instead. His revenge tour went smoothly, recording 13 goals and 40 points in 41 games with Jukurit in the top Finnish league before recording another four points in six playoff games with the Bridgeport Islanders. Raty led Finland's U-20 team in scoring last year with 20 points in 11 games, so he'll be one of the most important players this time around. Of note, Raty made the 2020 team, but wasn't selected for 2021 and was in COVID-19 insolation prior to the first attempt of the 2022 games. He'll be on a mission in Edmonton.

Thomas Bordeleau, F (USA)
If you need a player to cheer for, Bordeleau is a great candidate. Bordeleau was cut from the 2021 and original 2022 teams for COVID-19 reasons, so if any player appreciates this tournament taking place in the summer, it's him. Bordeleau did represent USA at the recent World Championship and signed his NHL entry-level contract late in the season, recording five assists in an eight-game stint. He's ready to go full-time with the Sharks this season; this tournament is a great springboard for that.

Fabian Lysell, F (SWE)
When the Bruins landed Lysell with the 21st pick in 2021, it looked like they potentially had a true gem on their hands right away. He had a quiet U-20 season last year, but had 22 goals and 62 points in 53 WHL regular season games with Vancouver and had another 21 points in 12 playoff games. He's a high-speed attacker with a good release and has the work ethic every team wants. He'll be an offensive leader for the Swedes.

Topi Niemela, D (FIN) 
The Toronto Maple Leafs prospect has built quite the portfolio since getting selected 64th overall in 2020. An incredible Liiga campaign will do that for you, registering 10 goals and 32 points in 48 games from the blueline. Niemela was the top defenseman from the 2021 tournament and was well on his way to challenge for it again before the shutdown in December. Expect more greatness from Niemela. 

Brad Lambert, F (FIN) 
Like Raty, Lambert went from being a potential top-three pick to falling deep in the first round in 2022. But when you catch Lambert on a good night, he can be an unstoppable force. He had five points in two games for Finland, albeit in lopsided affairs, but he was generally one of Finland's best players. Lambert, a Winnipeg Jets pick, has the skill to dominate, but he just needs to put that together consistently. In a short tournament like this, he's capable of that.

Matt Knies, F (USA)
Knies had a point-per-game in 33 outings as a freshman with the University of Minnesota and scored in USA's lone game back in December. He followed that up with a pair of points at the Olympics, so he already has big-game experience at a high level. After the huge year he had, Knies is making the Toronto Maple Leafs look like geniuses for taking him late in the second round in 2021.

Jan Mysak, F (CZE)
Mysak, a Montreal Canadiens prospect, was a key reason why the OHL's Hamilton Bulldogs made the Memorial Cup last year. Now, set for his first full season in the AHL with Laval, Mysak will kick it off with a key role with Czechia's junior team. He had 11 points in nine U-20 national team games last year and served as captain of the 2021 lineup. This is Mysak's fourth attempt at the World Junior Championship, but it's his most important one.

Leevi Merilainen, G (FIN)
Merilainen won his first game at the first go-around and has generally played well for Finland in limited action. Merilainen, an Ottawa Senators prospect, will need to be a difference-maker for the Finns, but he has true game-stealing potential. Merilainen typically does well when he's busier -- he had a 10-4-2 record when facing 35 shots or more in the OHL last year.

Logan Cooley, F (USA) 
Cooley was banged up a bit at camp but looks ready to go. The only player taken in the top five taking part in Edmonton, Cooley, a Coyotes prospect, is a versatile two-way center that plays a safe, yet effective game. He doesn't have many flaws in his overall play makeup and has an incredible stride to get him into scoring position. He had a point at the cancelled tournament and was named top forward at the U-18 World Championship earlier this year. With Matty Beniers not participating, look for Cooley's responsibilities to increase.

Helge Grans, D (SWE)
A second-round pick by LA in 2020, Helge has good size and is a tough defender to beat in a 1-on-1 situation. Grans had three assists in two games before December's tournament was cancelled. After a solid first year in the AHL with Ontario, Grans should lineup with Edvinsson on the top pairing, hopefully showing off the mature game he honed over the past season.

Jonathan Lekkerimaki, F (SWE)
A Vancouver Canucks pick in 2022, Lekkerimaki had an incredible international season with Sweden, highlighted by five goals at the Hlinka and a tournament-leading 15 points at the U-18 World Championship en route to gold. Lekkerimaki has one of the best shots on the Swedish roster and plays a sound, reliable game. Expect Lekkerimaki to be one of Sweden's top scorers.

Oskar Olausson, F (SWE)
Olausson had a busy season last year, recording two points at the cancelled WJC and splitting time in the OHL between Barrie and Oshawa. He finished with four AHL playoff games with the Colorado Eagles, where he'll return for 2022-23. Olausson should get first-line duty with Sweden, where he'll look to have the best international outing of his career to close out his junior hockey chapter.

Logan Stankoven, F (CAN)
The 2021 Dallas Stars second-rounder wouldn't have fallen that far if he wasn't 5-foot-8. That was especially apparent after scoring 45 goals and 104 points in 59 regular season games, and another 17 goals and 31 points in 17 playoff outings to win the CHL Player of the Year award. There's almost nothing more for him to prove at the junior level, but he'll be dangerous for Canada in Edmonton, that's for sure. 

Other notables: Samuel Helenius (F, FIN), Dalibor Dvorsky (F, SVK), Lukas Cormier (D, CAN), Olen Zellweger (D, CAN), Joakim Kemell (F, FIN), Matt Coronato (F, FIN), Theodor Niederbach (F, SWE), Brock Faber, D (USA), William Wallinder (D, SWE), Jiri Kulich (F, CZE).



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