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World Junior Championship: Who Can Return in 2023 (Part 2)

With the 2022 World Junior Championships canceled, it's time to take an early look at what next year's tournament might provide. Tony Ferrari looks at who can return for USA, Sweden, Russia, Slovakia and Switzerland.
Chaz Lucius

With the 2022 World Junior Championships canceled, it's time to take an early look at what next year's tournament might provide.

While a number of players will age out of the event, every team has a few players that will likely get a second chance. Let’s take a look at who is returning for the teams in Group B,

USA (8)

G Dylan Silverstein, G Kaidan Mbereko, D Luke Hughes, D Jack Peart, F Logan Cooley, F Chaz Lucius, F Sasha Pastujov, F Redmond Savage

The American will have a unique quirk to their returnee list: two goaltenders. Neither Silverstein nor Mbereko saw action at this year’s tournament because of the cancelation but they have both represented the USA on the big stage below the U-20 level. USA Hockey regularly uses their NTDP alumni in these events so seeing both of these two back would make a lot of sense. Who leads the way in the crease is probably a bit more of a question but the edge goes to the older Mbereko for now.

The Americans won’t have the luxury of Jake Sanderson on the backend next year unfortunately but will have the opportunity to feature two very intriguing blueliners in Hughes and Peart. Hughes is an offensive-minded rearguard who acts as a fourth forward at times. His puck-moving ability from the blueline and his ability to push the puck up ice via the pass or his skating are going to be even more valuable with some key members of this year’s squad aging out. 

Lucius and Pastujov should be important forwards heading into the event next year. They will again have a forward group similar to this years with no one that will stand out as “The Guy” a la Jack Hughes or Trevor Zegras in the past. Lucius and Pastujov have proven to be highly productive scorers at various levels and should be able to translate that to the World Juniors in their 19-year-old seasons. Cooley will have the opportunity to really cement a role on this team after not getting the opportunity at this year’s event. He will likely be given a shot to play as a top-six center and his mature game should translate quite well.

Sweden (6)

D Simon Edvinsson, D Anton Olsson, D Victor Sjöholm, F Fabian Lysell, F Isak Rosén, F Albert Sjöberg

Sweden returns the fewest members of this year’s squad with just six players eligible to return. The wildcard will be defenseman Simon Edvinsson. The Red Wings prospect has been great in the SHL this year and was arguably the tournament’s best defenseman through two games at this year’s World Juniors. Could he be in Detroit next year at this time, preventing him from participating in the annual holiday U20 event? That’s certainly a possibility with the way the young Swede has tracked thus far.

The blueline will likely feature at least two others returning though with Olsson and Sjöholm keeping their eligibility. Olsson has long been a favorite of the Swedish national teams. He brings a defense-first game with the ability to make a solid breakout pass. He isn’t going to provide a ton of flash or flair but he is a steady presence on the back end. Sjöholm is an undersized defenseman who plays hard every shift. His offensive game has always felt like it could be better with the tools he boasts but it’s never really come around.

Up front, the Swedes bring back a duo that has shown to be quite good at various events in the past with Lysell and Rosén looking to headline their offensive attack. Lysell is a pace pusher who attacks with speed and skill on every play. He is one of the most effective forecheckers on the Swedish squad and rarely lacks for effort on the ice. His ability to put opposing defenders on their heels could provide some highlight-reel plays. Rosén is another player who attacks with speed, using a variety of false flags to manipulate opposing players and open up space for himself. He has some high-end hands and can embarrass opponents, often seeming as if Rosén has the puck on a string. Along with Sjöberg, this Swedish forward group returns speed and a high work rate which should bode well for them but losing top-end talent like William Eklund and Alexander Holtz will be a drag.

Russia (7)

D Vladimir Grudinin, D Arseni Koromyslov, D Nikita Novikov, F Nikita Chibrikov, F Matvei Michkov, F Fyodor Svechkov, F Danila Yurov,

The Russians brought a roster that was lacking a great deal of their eligible talent, most prominently leaving off all North American-based players. With that said, they could have had a few more returnees but the seven here are what they are left with. And quite frankly, they could return a few of their best players.

The Russian blueline is always a concern, and this year was no different. Grudinin, a 2022 draft-eligible defenseman, was arguably their best player on the backend and the only one that showed any sort of ability to process how and when to attack from the blueline. Grudinin showed the ability to transport the puck up ice, make good decisions under pressure - which has been a problem of his during domestic league play - and quite honestly, he was one of their only capable defensemen at the 2022 event. Novikov and Koromyslov will have another year to mature which should help both be more consistent contributors.

The real win for the Russians is the group they have returning upfront. The return of their best player in Matvei Michkov, the 2023 draft-eligible phenom. The conversation about whether he would be challenging Canada’s Connor Bedrad for first overall in their draft year would be much more prominent if Michkov didn’t have a KHL contract that runs for three years after his draft day. With that said, Michkov is an absolute beast every time he steps on the ice. Whether he’s scoring lacrosse goals with semi-regularly or beating opponents with his speed and pace, Michkov has everything you’d want in an offensive weapon. The Russian winger will be their best player again next year at the World Juniors, without a doubt.

The other returning forwards are all excellent players as well. Highlighted by two-way center Fyodor Svechkov, the group is going to give Russia a typically strong forward group. Svechkov has the ability the shut down the opponent’s best line while also playing an integral role offensively with his tactician-like movement and underrated shot, Svechkov could fit nicely with Michkov next year. Chibrikov is a highly-skilled forward who loves to attack space and dance his opponents using his high-speed hands. Chibrikov, the Winnipeg Jets’ 50th overall pick last summer, brings an unpredictability that makes him hard to defend. 

Slovakia (12)

G Rastislav Elias, D Simon Becar, D Viliam Kmec, D Šimon Nemec, D Maxim Strbak, F Jakub Demek, F Dalibor Dvorsky, F Servác Petrovský, F Filip Mešár, F Adam Sýkora, F Pavol Štetka, F Juraj Slafkovsky

Anytime you can return a dozen players, you’re in a very good position going into next year’s event. When half of those players played key roles at this year’s event, you’re gold. That’s the situation the Slovak contingent is in. With so much of this group being 2022 or 2023 NHL draft-eligible, the Slovaks will again be the team to watch next year.

Netminder Rastislav Elias didn’t get into any action and his USHL season hasn’t quite been what was expected but he is a 2004-born goalie so the expectation against U20 competition should be tempered. With an added year of experience, he could be a factor in net for the Slovaks. On the back end, a year of experience will also be a huge benefit for players like Becar, Kmek, and Strbak who all showed glimpses of what they could be at this abbreviated World Juniors. Kmec specifically showed some nice defensive qualities and a good first pass.

The big returnee on the blueline though will be Nemec. The highly skilled two-way defender is poised to be a high draft pick in the 2022 NHL draft because of his versatile skillset. He can play in all situations and has looked more than capable against men in the Slovak pro league as well as Olympic qualifying games for his home nation. It wouldn’t be a shock to see the young blueliner war the ‘C’ at next year’s event.

The forward group boasts a great deal of firepower. Mešár and Slafkovsky headline the group with both slated to join Nemec as high picks in the 2022 draft. Mešár has been a fast riser throughout the season, showing his unreal skill and a penchant for attacking space in the neutral zone to create rush chances. He brings a dynamism that should make him a productive player at the World Juniors next year. Slafkovsky brings an NHL frame at 6-foot-4 and 225 pounds while also being one of the most skilled passers on the team. Slafkovsky shows excellent functional physicality, not chasing hits for the sake of them. With his ability to protect the puck and then thread the puck through passing lanes, there’s a lot to like in his game.

Dalibor Dvorsky leads the next wave of Slovak forwards. The Dali-dope forward was an absolute beast at the Hlinka and looked good in his brief U20 experience. A true finisher with the rest of his game developing quite well while playing in the J20 Nationell and Allsvenskan in Sweden, Dvorsky could be an X-factor for this team next year. With emerging talents such as Petrovský and Sýkora also returning, the Slovak squad is going to not only be competitive next year, but should be your dark horse for a medal.

Switzerland (11)

G Kevin Pasche, D Lian Bischel, D Dario Sidler, D Maximillian Streule, D Brian Zanetti, F Nicolas Baechler, F Attilio Biasca, F Lorenzo Canonica, F Lilian Garessus, F Joel Henry, F Louis Robin

The Swiss squad only got one game in before claiming a win because of the American’s COVID situation forcing them to forfeit. They didn’t look particularly dangerous in their one game of action, but they did limit the Russian squad at times. Goaltender Kevin Pasche was their starter this year so he should have a leg up on the competition next year as well.

On the blueline, they return their captain in Dario Sidler as well as a promising prospect in Lian Bischel. Sidler is a creative and intelligent blueliner who has shown quite well against men. Ig he wasn’t 5’7”, he would likely already be drafted. Bischel is a big blueliner who has some really intriguing raw tools. There is work to do in rounding out his game but with the added year, he could be an even bigger presence on their blueline next holiday season.

Their forward group brings back a couple of important names in Biasca and Canonica. Both players have shown well at international events in the past and have shown the ability to be solid producers at the QMJHL level as well. While neither are world-beaters, they should headline the attack next year. Unfortuantely, there is still a very real chance that this Swiss group will be fighting to not be relegated next year. 

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