The World Junior Championship: Summer Edition kicked off with three games on opening day, and it definitely was nice to have some of the best junior players back in action.
If you need a full recap, check out Steven Ellis's report from Rogers Place. There were plenty of impressive performances throughout the day, but these three stood out among the rest:
First Star: C Aatu Räty, Finland
It was a good day for fans of NHL-drafted prospects from Finland. The top line was buzzing, but it was center Aatu Räty that made much of it happen. Räty was excellent in transition, using his skating to move the puck up ice efficiently and his ability to drive the middle lane and occupy attention while making plays with bodies surrounding him helped make life easier on everyone.
Räty finished the game with a goal and three assists, blending his speed, skill, and size well. The 52nd overall pick in the 2021 NHL draft had his vision and play-driving ability on display in this one. He manipulated the Latvian defenders, drawing them into him by pulling the puck into his body before feathering passes his linemates. Räty was able to pass off the backhand and forehand, stagnant and in motion. His ability to jump into pockets of space and pick the corners earned himself a goal. The young Finn started coming into his own since being drafted, showcasing why he was so highly touted going into his draft year.
Second Star: LW Jan Myšák, Czechia
Myšák tallied a goal and an assist against Slovakia, helping power his team to a 5-4 victory in a hard-fought game. His ability to attack up ice and make plays in traffic was admirable. The Montreal Canadiens prospect used his speed to create chances and draw attention to himself to set up teammates on a few occasions and found ways to generate chances for himself as well, notching a dozen shots on goal on his own. The fact that he didn’t have a more impressive stat line is a testament to Slovak goaltender Simon Latkoczy’s strong play, despite allowing five goals.
The Czech captain played with pace, never got down on the team after a slow start that saw the Slovaks go up on two weak goals, and helped power the squad offensively and defensively. Myšák understands where to be and when to be there in his end, using his play-reading ability to anticipate passes and skating lanes, cutting them off before they generated consistent offensive chances. Myšák was the best player on the ice in Czechia-Slovakia with only Latkoczy’s 47-save performance coming close.
Third Star: D Luke Hughes, USA
The youngest Hughes brother and the first to score a goal at the World Juniors, Luke was all over the ice in the American’s dismantling of Germany. With a goal and an assist, Hughes was strong offensively and seemed much more comfortable defensively. His mobility has always been upper tier, but he’s beginning to understand how to use his body to establish positioning and assert himself in his end. Hughes will likely never be the kind of defenseman who goes in and blows an opponent up - and with his skill level you don’t want him to be - but he showed a willingness to use his mobility to get in front of opponents and then utilize his 6-foot-2 frame to cut off the skating lane and take over puck control.
Hughes opened the scoring in the game on the American’s 14th shot of the contest. The University of Michigan defender fired a shot through traffic from just above the faceoff circle and beat German netminder Nikita Quapp on a puck he didn’t see until it found the back of the net. His assist came on a play where Hughes used his mobility to pinch down the wall and collect a loose puck before feathering it from his backhand to Landon Slaggert just below the goal line who emerged from behind the net to sneak it into the German net. Hughes was active, engaged, and using his full arsenal of tools in the game against German, a welcome sight for a U.S. team that will heavily rely on him throughout the world juniors.