2023 World Junior Championship: Top 10 NHL prospects to watch
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There are two types of World Youth Championship fans.
The most common are those that follow to encourage their country. But there are also those who care more about where their NHL talents are playing and just want to see them, regardless of country. And that makes this event more popular than, say, the U-18 World Cup: the majority of the top players are already members of an NHL team, and some have even skated with their respective clubs.
I leave three players aside in particular: Shane Wright, Dylan Guenther, and Brandt Clarke. All three were loaned directly from their NHL clubs and, at least in Guenther’s case, are expected to return after the tournament is over. The first year of Günther’s entry-level contract is already activated, so he is a full-fledged NHL player. The other two have been in the NHL all but five AHL conditioning games all year, so they’re still NHL players.
So here’s a look at 10 of the NHL’s best prospects to watch at the 2023 World Junior Championships in Halifax and Moncton December 26-January. 5:
Luke Hughes, D, New Jersey Devils (USA)
Hughes finished the August tournament with six points in five games and played injured in the quarterfinals after blocking an early shot. The 2021-22 season was a memorable season with a strong performance at the World Championships and one of the best NCAA seasons of all time, regardless of age. The New Jersey Devils prospect bet on it with a similar near-points-a-game season in Michigan to become one of the top defensemen in the NCAA. Whether it’s power play, late game situations or just ice time against the best players in the tournament, Hughes is expected to be one of the top players to watch. At 6-foot-2, he’s also the tallest player on the blue line.
Simon Nemec, D, New Jersey Devils (Slovakia)
The runner-up overall in 2022 is expected to stand on the blue line after earning 12 points in 24 games as a standout AHL rookie with the Utica Comets. Nemec is not your average contender: he stood out as a double unconscripted minor in 2021, has two World Cup appearances under his belt and not only helped Slovakia qualify for the 2022 Olympics but played a significant role in the nation’s run to first place. Olympic bronze in men’s ice hockey. Nemec has been one of Slovakia’s best defenders for quite some time. As the Devils continue to rise, he may not have many opportunities to represent them internationally in the future.
Logan Stankoven, C, Dallas Stars (Canada)
The 2021/22 season couldn’t have gone much better for Stankoven. The year after the Dallas Stars grabbed him in the second round — yes, I laughed at the other 31 teams that night too — Stankoven was the WHL and CHL Player of the Year, had 31 playoff points as a WHL Leader, had the best faceoff percentage in the WJC (72.84) and set up the game-winning goal for the gold. This year? He’s on a 120+ point pace with Kamloops, so that’s not a big deal. Stankoven is one of the best prospects in the game today and after ridiculing everyone in Edmonton he’s ready to up the ante in Halifax.
Olen Zellweger, D, Anaheim Ducks (Canada)
After leading all defenders with 11 points in August, Zellweger is back and ready for more. He also led all WHL defensemen with 78 points and won the league’s top defenseman trophy, further showing just how well the Anaheim Ducks flew in the second round in 2021. Obviously his lack of size hasn’t slowed him down and the Everett Silvertips defender should be the best pairing and first powerplay unit.
Logan Cooley, C, Arizona Coyotes (USA)
Cooley enters the tournament with one of the biggest radiators of them all. He had 17 points in his last 10 NCAA games with the University of Minnesota, giving him 25 in 19 games. His play with the U-18 and U-20 teams last season made him one of the red-white-blue’s most dangerous players, and the potential Arizona Coyotes player is clearly playing money from home at the moment.
Schneider Gauthier, C, Philadelphia Flyers (USA)
The Flyers are far from a competitive NHL club, but once they are, you can bet Gauthier will be one of them. Picked fifth overall in 2022, the Swedish-born American winger tore goalies apart with Boston College and was a dynamic threat at spring’s U-18 World Cup. All he does is create scoring chances and he’ll break into America’s Top 6 and make an impression right away.
Joakim Kemell, RW, Nashville Predators (Finland)
After picking up 12 points in last year’s tournament, can Kemell up the ante? He has been one of Finland’s best, if not THE best, almost every time he has played, and was Finland’s most outstanding forward during the November team exhibition. He is in his second season with JYP in Finland’s top flight and while he doesn’t puff offensively, his quick dismissal has come in very handy. Kemell currently has one of the best shots of any prospect and is ready to fight for the lead in Canada East.
ThereJiricek videoD, Columbus Blue Jackets (Czech Republic)
Jiricek has been one of the best defensemen in the AHL this season, regardless of age. The Columbus Blue Jackets had him simmering in Cleveland and he was excellent, so it’s only a matter of time before he vies for a role as first couple with the big club. There was no guarantee he would be available for the Czech Republic, especially given Columbus’ injury woes this year. But since it will be
Brennan Othmann, LW, New York Rangers (Canada)
With his good pal Shane Wright at his side, Othmann will be at home in Canada’s top line. Othmann made his mark in August, throwing big hits and hitting a run a game. He started to find his groove with the Peterborough Petes after being traded from Flint in November, but his influence on the action leading up to the tournament with Canada was undeniable. Othmann might not be the smartest player – especially compared to Wright and Connor Bedard on his own line – but he’s the glue that holds it all together and his teammates love him for it.
Fabian Lysell, LW, Boston Bruins (Sweden)
Lysell, one of the AHL’s top scorers for the Providence Bruins, has been electric this season. He scored twice in the summer tournament, but both were absolute sharpshooters. Lysell has a rocket from a shot, boasts Lewis Hamilton’s speed at his peak and can blow you away with his immense talent at the net. At times it feels like no one can match Lysell, which is a testament to her talent.
Other notables: Brad Lambert, RW, Winnipeg Jets (Finland), Chaz Lucius, C, Winnipeg Jets (USA), Jonathan Lekkerimaki, RW, Vancouver Canucks (Sweden), Liam Ohgren, LW, Minnesota Wild (Sweden), Jimmy Snuggerud, RW, St Louis Blues (USA)