Six Canadian NHL team prospects to watch at World Juniors
The World Juniors is an opportunity for National Hockey League fans to watch their team’s best prospects and get an early look at draft-qualified prospects.
Fans of the Canadian NHL teams will have several players to keep an eye on over the next two weeks. The Winnipeg Jets have three first-round picks at Dec. 26-Jan. 5 tournament while the Montreal Canadiens, Ottawa Senators and Vancouver Canucks also have top prospects who will play important roles for their countries.
Here are six players from the United States, Sweden and Finland.
Jonathan Lekkerimaki – Sweden
Lekkerimaki was drafted 15th overall by the Canucks in July after a strong 2021-22 campaign.
With Djurgarden in the Swedish Hockey League, he scored seven goals and nine points in 26 games and had three assists in seven games at last year’s World Juniors while winning bronze.
However, it was in the Under-18s that Lekkerimaki upped his game and led the tournament with five goals and 15 points in six games while Sweden took home gold.
He is running with Djurgarden this season alongside Swedish teammates Liam Ohgren and Noah Ostlund and has one goal and five points in 20 games.
“Lekkerimaki is a very gifted, natural attacking player who makes it look almost embarrassingly easy,” said Craig Button, TSN’s director of scouting.
While Button doesn’t have Sweden as a gold medal contender this year, he does see potentially big things for this current team.
“As such, this tournament can be an important stepping stone for Sweden, who will be hosting the World Juniors in Gothenburg next year,” said Button. “Because those 2004s won the U18s. It might be a little too young to be in contention for gold this year but they are promising.”
Lane Hutson – United States
Hutson, one of the shorter players in the 2022 NHL draft at 5’6″, lasted through the second round where he was selected 62nd overall.
Hutson impressed as a member of the United States National Team Development Program with his 90 career points for a defenseman who is only second all-time to Cam York (103). He was named the tournament’s best defender at U18 and one of the top three players by the United States with eight assists in six games, earning him a silver medal.
“You’re watching a player fully understand everything that’s thrown at them and solve everything that’s thrown at them,” Button said. It’s beyond impressive. He’s a hockey genius.
“I would argue that if Lane Hutson was 5’11 he would have been the first overall pick in the NHL draft last year.
“I’ve been watching Lane for a long time and he’s a really good defensive player too. He plays defense on his terms. His ability to read the game, finish the game, quickly use his racquet and remove the puck, use his feet to escape is tremendous.
A freshman at Boston University this season, he has seven goals and 18 points in 16 games.
Rutger McGroarty – United States
McGroarty was one of six USNTDP players drafted in the first round of the 2022 NHL Draft and finished 14th overall to the Jets.
At the U18s, he scored eight goals and one assist in six games as he captained the United States to a silver medal and was named one of the team’s top three players.
With the University of Michigan, he has eight goals and 19 points in 20 games this season.
“McGroarty is the player who is going to drag every single one of his teammates into a fight,” Button said. “His focus is on one thing: winning. As a leader through his game and actions, it’s always about winning.
“When you’re on his team, he has your back 100 percent. If you’re not on his team, he’s a bear.”
Brad Lambert – Finland
Lambert was Winnipeg’s second first-round pick in 2022, finishing 30th overall.
After spending the last two seasons playing pro in Finland, Lambert is running this season with Manitoba Moose of the American Hockey League and has two goals and one assist in 14 games.
The native Finn from Lahti is now facing his third World Juniors tournament. He had one goal in five games in the summer edition and was a healthy scratch in the semifinals and gold medal game.
“Where Brad is now, this tournament can be a real confidence booster for him,” said Button. “You know the competition, you know the level and when you play in the pro league in Finland and this year in the American Hockey League. It’s hard to find your offensive game. It’s hard to find that trust. It’s really tough when you can go a couple of years without a really productive offensive game.
“I think for him, who’s such a great skater, his best game is when he’s playing give-and-go. Don’t try to hit everyone, just give up the puck and get the puck back. Make sure he plays with players who can get the puck moving for him.
Tyler Boucher – United States
Boucher was surprisingly picked 10th overall by the Ottawa Senators in the 2021 NHL Draft and has had a detour since then.
Boucher, another USNTDP graduate, started the 2021-22 campaign in the NCAA with Boston University. After just three points in 17 games, the Scottsdale, Arizona product left the Ontario Hockey League to qualify for the Ottawa 67’s.
He has nine goals and 15 points in 17 games with the 67s this season.
“I think Tyler has brought a level of comfort with the kind of player that will help him succeed,” Button said. “This is a really strong skater, a strong winger who can impact you and make life uncomfortable.
“He runs so well and comes at you so well that defenders are forced to play faster than they want. It creates opportunities to get pucks, create turnovers and be a catalyst for offensive play.”
Chaz Lucius – United States
Lucius, like former USNTDP teammate Boucher, has bounced around since he was picked 18th overall by the Jets in 2021.
Last season, he played at the University of Minnesota, scoring nine goals and 19 points in 24 games. This season, Lucius has been promoted to the AHL, signed his entry-level contract, and is playing with the Manitoba Moose, where he has two goals and five points in 12 games.
“Chaz Lucius is a very smooth, experienced player,” said Button. “He doesn’t need a lot of space to score. He has terrific scoring hands. He plays with a few injuries but is an attacking talent.
“He could be more like Tyler Toffoli or Jonathan Marchessault, that kind of player. But make no mistake; He is someone who gives offense to your group.”