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Top 35 U-23 Players in Women's Hockey

There's a strong youth movement going on in women's hockey right now. Here's a look at 35 of the best players aged 23 and under.
Sarah Fillier

When you examine the boxscores from the 2022 women’s World Championship in Denmark, it’s clear a youth movement is underway in international women’s hockey.

Sprinkled among the leaders on scoring charts is a deep group of 23-and-under stars already preparing for a new Olympic cycle. The average age of many teams demonstrated this shift, with many teams featuring groups with an average age below 23.

With so many players to choose from, here's a look at the top 23-and-under talent at the 2022 women’s World Championship:

  1. Sarah Fillier, F, 22, Canada - This should be no surprise, but Sarah Fillier is a star. The 22-year-old won gold with Canada in Beijing scoring 11 points in seven games and was easily one of the best players in Denmark, too. Fillier is never far from a scoring chance and has one of the best releases in the game. She manipulates her body and stick positioning to find lanes, but it’s the quickness and power of her shot that freezes netminders. Only a Junior at Princeton, Fillier is still getting better.
  2. Taylor Heise, F, 22, USA - Heise's first senior tournament was as good as it gets, winning the MVP title after leading all players with 18 points. She’s creative, fast, and sees the ice better than almost anyone in the game. She opened the tournament with a five-point performance, and didn’t let up leading all scorers through the preliminary round. Her playmaking is elite, and as the tournament progressed and she took more chances to shoot herself, Heise displayed the goal scoring that helped her earn the Patty Kazmaier Award last year with Minnesota and is set to be a star at the international level.
  3. Caroline Harvey, D, 19, USA - At only 19, Harvey has already represented USA at the Olympics and just finished her second World Championship before entering her rookie NCAA season at Wisconsin this fall. She is poised, not afraid to jump into the play, and is counted upon in all situations. Her lateral mobility makes her a threat from the blueline, and allows her to close quickly on opponents. Only veteran Megan Keller played more minutes for USA than Harvey, which is a testament to the American coaching staff's faith in this defender.
  4. Hanna Bilka, F, 21, USA - Bilka found instant chemistry with American legend Hilary Knight, but as the tournament moved on, Knight was feeding off Bilka, not the other way around. You could see Bilka soaking in lessons from Knight and applying them to her own game as the torch slowly passes. Bilka has elite acceleration and creates space and speed through her crossover. Bilka has also shown herself as a shooting threat, particularly on the power play from the bumper position.
  5. Petra Nieminen, F, 23, Finland - Facing the world’s best in Group A, Nieminen was the face of the Finnish attack. Her speed and willingness to use her body to gain position created time, space, and scoring opportunities. She'll be a key piece of Finland's attack moving forward.
  6. Cayla Barnes, D, 23, USA - Barnes has a seeing-eye shot that has generated scoring chances repeatedly for USA. Barnes has served as a leader, a smaller defender, captaining her NCAA team at Boston College and USA’s U-18 team. At 23, she’s already a veteran on the American blueline, and her role will only grow.
  7. Nelli Laitinen, D, 20, Finland - An ice time leader for Finland on the blueline, Laitinen was one of few on the Finnish blueline who could physically handle the battles involving Canada and the United States. Laitinen, who makes a good first pass, can already be discussed as one of the best defenders in the world. Finland’s former U-18 captain and the back-to-back-to-back reigning Naisten Liiga top defender is headed to the University of Minnesota next year.
  8. Lacey Eden, F, 20, USA - A diversified scorer, Eden can be found patrolling the net front, playmaking from behind the goal line, or as we saw in her game-winning goal against Canada, blasting shots from the left circle. Eden stepping forward in Denmark gives USA yet another target.
  9. Emma Maltais, F, 22, Canada - At 22, Emma Maltais already has an Olympic and World Championship gold, and she’ll add to that medal count this year. The Ohio State star has played a depth role with Canada offensively but is a standout on the penalty kill and has proven disruptive on the forecheck.
  10. Adela Sapovalivova, F, 16, Czechia - There should be a lineup around the arena by NCAA teams looking for goal-scoring in the form of Adela Sapovalivova. A recent star from the U-18 World Championship, and the leading goal scorer in Czechia’s women’s league at a young age, Sapovalivova has translated her game to the senior national tournament without hiccups. In tight, she can pick corners and sees openings that others would not. The heads-up player is both creative and elusive on the rush. If Czechia hopes to move to Group A in the future, Sapovalivova will be a centerpiece in that quest.
  11. Mira Jungaker, D, 17, Sweden - At the U-18 World Championship this spring, Jungaker looked composed and at times was able to take over games for Sweden. She controlled the pace of play and joined the rush at will. Copy and paste those sentences to the 2022 World Championship where Jungaker is playing beyond her years and has managed to drive offense from Sweden’s blueline contributing more than a point per game. There are some bright spots up front for Sweden, but Jungaker is the puck-moving defender every team hopes to find.
  12. Grace Zumwinkle, F, 23, USA - Although Zumwinkle plays down USA’s lineup, she produces. A utility player who can score and check, Zumwinkle thrives in the scrum, particularly generating traffic out front and looking for tips. Every team needs a Grace Zumwinkle.
  13. Hanna Olsson, F, 23, Sweden - When Sweden needed a goal, Olsson was there. She scored a hat trick in Sweden’s opener, and contributed offensively in each game. Olsson could produce under pressure, however, that became the saving grace for the Swedes. In two tied games that ended in shootouts, Olsson scored in each showcasing her hands and vision outwaiting netminders and using her skating and puck skills to open holes. Olsson emerged as the most consistent scoring option for Sweden in Denmark.
  14. Jesse Compher, F, 23, USA - A fan favorite, Compher is a big game player. Against a weaker rival, Compher sometimes goes unnoticed, but when the pressure is on against a rival like Canada, it’s often Compher providing the energy and timely contributions, even if it’s not on the scoresheet.
  15. Maja Nylen Persson, D, 21, Sweden - Already an assistant captain, Nylen Persson averaged more than 21 minutes of ice time through the preliminary round. She loves to activate into the slot where she can blast pucks. Nylen Persson was the Swedish Player of the Year and won the Borje Salming Trophy as the top defender in the SDHL.
  16. Ashton Bell, D, 22, Canada - Often overlooked on Canada’s blueline, Bell had a spectacular Olympics, and has been an impressive convert having only moved to defense full time three seasons ago. She effectively steps into lanes or closes them with her stick and is not afraid to block shots. An NCAA captain, she's a built leader.
  17. Elisa Holopainen, F, 20, Finland - Domestically, no Finnish forward has produced like Holopainen over the past four seasons in Naisten Liiga. This year, Holopainen took a major step forward in translating that success to the international game. She is creative and generates motion leading to opportunities in the offensive zone. Holopainen is only getting better which is good news for the Finns.
  18. Sanni Vanhanen, F, 17, Finland - It seems odd to call Vanhanen a veteran, but she is just that playing in her second World Championship and having represented Finland at the Olympics. Against her own age group at the U-18 tournament, Vanhanen was dominant. Among the young Finnish squad at the World Championship, Vanhanen is still effective using her speed and physicality but hasn’t been able to produce at the level she’s used to. Finland will need to give her more time alongside veteran leaders to help coax her skillset into production.
  19. Rory Guilday, D, 19, USA - Despite being one of USA’s lesser-used blueliners, the sky is the limit for Guilday. She uses her long reach effectively and managed to record three points through four preliminary games. Guilday will be a mainstay moving forward in USA’s top four.
  20. Daniela Pejsova, D, 20, Czechia - Pejsova has a dangerous shot from the blueline and adjusts to facing pressure to find lanes to get the puck through to the net. The top-scoring blueliner in the preliminary round was also Czechia’s ice time leader. She has been playing in Sweden’s top league since she was 16, which is also when she made her debut for Czechia.
  21. Natalie Mlynkova, F, 21, Czechia - Still in the NCAA with Vermont, Mlynkova can dangle. She has soft hands and is a power-play threat for Czechia. If you give Mlynkova the puck in close with any time to spare, expect it to end up in the back of the net. As Czechia continues to improve, Mlynkova will be central to that movement.
  22. Viivi Vainikka, F, 20, Finland - Beyond Finland’s top line, Vainikka emerged as a viable secondary scoring option. Excellent in the faceoff circle, Vainikka is patient with the puck, and can handle herself in traffic. She is part of Finland’s bright future.
  23. Josefin Bouveng, F, 21, Sweden - She’s had an underwhelming tournament for Sweden, but that doesn’t mean Bouveng lacks the toolkit necessary to excel internationally. Sweden’s former U-18 captain and one of the leading scorers in the SDHL is headed for North American next season to play for the University of Minnesota. She is a talented playmaker who will certainly be a player to watch in the NCAA next season.
  24. Sanni Rantala, D, 20, Finland - In her first year with Finland’s national team, Rantala has contributed in various ways. At the U-18 level, Rantala was a high-scoring offensive defender. She’s shown signs of that on the senior team and was a Naisten Liiga first-team all-star this season.
  25. Akane Shiga, F, 21, Japan - If you brought Akane Shiga to North America or Europe to find more in-season competition, it would be interesting to see how good she could become. Shiga is quick enough to stay with better teams and has produced consistently for Japan in recent international competitions.
  26. Julia Liikala, F, 21, Finland - Luukala scored a big goal against Canada in the preliminary and is also a top scorer in Finland’s Naisten Liiga. She’s yet to have a breakout on the international stage, but is part of the young Finnish core.
  27. Emma Kreisz, F, 18, Hungary - It’s hard to judge Kreisz, who is still a teenager on a weak Hungarian team. Still, she is the future of Hungary’s attack internationally, which was evident when Kreisz had a point per game for Hungary at the Olympic qualifiers. With good edges and offensive instincts, Kreisz isn't afraid to take the puck solo to the net. The Stanstead College star will join the University of Minnesota in 2023-2024.
  28. Alina Marti, F, 18, Switzerland - A catalyst for the Swiss at the U-18 tournament with seven points in five games, Marti made history at the recent World Championship by scoring Switzerland’s first-ever goal against Canada. The Swiss have a big drop-off after Alina Muller and Lara Stalder up front, but Marti’s development could ease that.
  29. Lara Christen, D, 19, Switzerland - Christen was far and away the defender the Swiss counted on most, averaging more than 23 minutes on ice per game. The team trusted her in assignments against the top lines from Canada, USA, and Finland. Her partner Nicole Vallario (20) also deserves recognition on this list.
  30. Sini Karjalainen, D, 23, Finland - Captain of Vermont in the NCAA, and former Finnish U-18 captain, Karjalainen has been a steady presence with Finland. Never a producer on the international scale, developing an offensive component would push Karjalainen higher on this list.
  31. Linnea Johansson, F, 20, Sweden - Spent a lot of time on ice up front for Sweden in the preliminary round but was snake bitten in the goal department despite firing the second most shots of any Swedish player behind Hanna Olsson. The fact she’s getting pucks to the net, and her output in the SDHL show that Johansson can contribute.
  32. Klara Hymlarova, F, 23, Czechia - Among a strong group of European players who compete with St. Cloud State in the NCAA, Hymlarova emerged as a goal scorer for Czechia at the tournament. She’s most dangerous off the rush.
  33. Laura Zimmerman, F, 19, Switzerland - Headed to St. Cloud State next year, Zimmerman was a spark plug for Switzerland. When she was injured in their last preliminary round game, there was a noticeable drop in on-ice energy for the Swiss.
  34. Krista Parkkonen, 20, Finland - Playing in her first World Championship, Parkkonen was a physical presence. She’s a player on the rise for the Finns and will benefit from a move to the NCAA with Vermont next season.
  35. Ida Bowman, Aerin Frankel, Jenna Silvonen, Saskia Maurer - Most of the starting goalies in this tournament are older, but that doesn’t mean the talent isn’t there in backup and third-string positions. These goalies will be stepping forward when the 2026 Olympics roll around.

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