The 2022 World Junior Championships are right around the corner. The yearly tournament gives fans and teams alike the chance to watch the best prospects in the world represent their countries and battle for gold on the biggest stage. A total of 31 games will be played between December 26, 2021 through to January 5, 2022, split between Rogers Place in Edmonton and The Peavey Mart Centrium in Red Deer.
With the tournament just over a month away, roster projections for the tournament’s top teams have begun to roll out. As for the Flames, the team shouldn’t expect to have many of their prospects in the tournament this year compared to last year. 2021 representatives Connor Zary, Jakob Pelletier and Dustin Wolf have all aged out of the tournament and are currently playing for the Stockton Heat.
After having four representatives at the tournament last season, the Calgary Flames contingent at the World Juniors looks set to be smaller this time around. That said, there are still some exciting names that could be donning their respective national sweaters come December. Let’s take a look at some Flames prospects who have a shot to make their countries World Juniors teams.
Matthew Coronato – USA
Without a doubt the must-watch Flames prospect at this year’s tournament and arguably the team’s best prospect, Matthew Coronato is a lock to play in the tournament and is set to play a massive role for the defending Gold medalists. After missing out on the team last season in his D-1 year, Coronato will be one of USA’s most important players this time around. With most of their Gold medal roster over-age now and no longer eligible, the team will be looking for the next crop of key players to step up.
Coronato has all the makings to be one of the must-watch players of the entire tournament. After lighting up the USHL last season to the tune of 48 goals and 85 points in just 51 games, Coronato made the jump to College hockey this season and hasn’t looked out of place one bit. After starting his season with four points in his first game, Coronato now sits at eight points in seven games to rank third on his team among forwards and first among rookies.
As it stands right now, Coronato is probably the best right winger available for team USA and should have a top-six spot and most likely a top line spot locked down come Game One of the tournament. If or when that top line spot is secured, expect Coronato to play alongside 2021 second overall pick Matthew Beniers for most of the tournament on the as well as on the power play—hopefully racking up points along the way. The Americans will once again be one of the tournament favourites, so we can expect to watch Coronato play in some major games right until the end of the tournament.
Yan Kuznetsov – Russia
Outside of Coronato, Yan Kuznetsov is the next closest lock to play in the tournament that the Flames have. Still just 19 years old, Kuznetsov has already shown impressive maturity to this point in his career and should be set for a major role on Russia’s blueline after playing bottom pairing minutes at the tournament last year. A 2020 second-round pick, Kuznetsov has already played in the USHL, NCAA, and AHL at this point in his young career.
Kuznetsov was somewhat of a surprise selection last season as Russia typically avoids players playing in North America; however, with a coaching change, the team selected Kuznetsov and he quietly had a solid tournament.
It’s quite rare for a player to be playing professional hockey in North America and then still play in the World Junior tournament, however Kuznetsov looks set to achieve that. It’s essentially a guarantee the Flames organization will release him from the Stockton Heat for a couple weeks and allow him to play in the tournament if he is selected to the team.
On top of that he was drafted by the St. John Sea Dogs of the QMJHL this past year and the Flames are still deciding if they want to send him down to junior for the remainder of the season. Either way, Kuznetsov should be available for the tournament.
This year, Russia looks set to see at least four returnees on defence from the 2021 tournament, with Kuznetsov being the only one playing pro hockey in North America. After playing mainly on the third pairing for the team last year, Kuznetsov will now be tasked with being a leader for Russia and to take on a much larger as a 19-year-old returnee.
The fact he is already playing professional hockey in the AHL ensures he will be a key piece for Russia as he brings a ton of maturity and experience. Expect him to see a ton of ice time this time around playing in Russia’s top-four.
William Stromgren – Sweden
After Coronato and Kuznetsov, the Flames really don’t have any other locks to play in the tournament. The next best bet is most likely 2021 second-round pick William Stromgren. Stromgren has been playing in the J20 Nationell league this year with the Rogle BK J20 team where he currently has 18 points in 20 games.
Stromgren has a long history of representing Sweden in the past which could play into his favour when it comes time for Sweden to select their roster. He has suited up for the Sweden U16 in 2019, for the Sweden U17 team in 2020, and then for the Sweden U18 team at the 2021 U18 World Championship. Now 18 years old, the next step for Stromgren would naturally be to represent Sweden at the World Juniors.
Sweden is set to have a stacked roster at forward this year after a disappointing tournament last season, meaning Stromgren’s best bet will be on the fourth line or as an extra forward. That said, a good chunk of Sweden’s bottom-six forward group from last year has aged out, leaving a plethora of open roster spots available.
Stromgren could be in tough to make Sweden’s team due to their stacked roster and the fact he is still quite young at just 18 years old. However, if he can continue producing solid numbers in the J20 league, he could find his way onto the roster in a depth role. The good news is he has a 2003 birthday, meaning he will eligible again for the 2023 tournament next year and will have a great shot at making the team if he misses this time around.
Rory Kerins – Canada
After having a rare two representatives for Canada last year in Zary and Pelletier, the Flames don’t have any prospects with a great shot at playing for Canada for the upcoming touurnament. The Flames prospect with the best odds to don the Canadian sweater come December looks to be 2020 sixth-round pick Rory Kerins.
Kerin’s quest to make the Canadian team began in the summer when he was a surprise addition to Canada’s Summer Showcase roster coming off a 59 point season in the OHL a year prior. He was the only Flames prospect invited to the camp, a great achievement for a sixth-round pick. Since then, Kerins has only been strengthening his case to earn a spot on the hardest team in the tournament to make.
Kerins has started his 19-year-old OHL season on fire, posting 24 points in 16 games as he’s set to smash his previous career-best of 59 points from the 2019–20 season. He currently sits first on his team and fourth in the entire OHL for points, which has almost certainly drawn the eye of the Team Canada brass as the tournament draws closer.
As mentioned the Canadian roster is always the toughest one to make each year due to their ridiculous depth of choices, however the longer Kerins keeps tearing up the OHL the better the chances are he claims a spot on the roster. Down the middle the Canadians are still unsure if they will have elite prospects Quinton Byfield, Cole Sillinger, or Mason McTavish available to them come December.
If more than one of those centres is not released for the tournament, it could open the door for a 19-year-old experienced centre like Kerins to claim a spot in the team’s bottom-six.
Jack Beck – Canada
Kerins is definitely the clear favourite among Flames prospects to play for Canada, but both Jack Beck and Jeremie Poirier also have longshot chances of squeaking onto the roster depending how the next month goes.
Beck has come out of nowhere after being picked in the sixth round by the Flames in 2021, as he currently sits at 17 points in 12 games for the Ottawa 67’s of the OHL. Coming into the season Beck had just one season in the OHL under his belt—a 19 point rookie season in 2019–20—due to the 2020–21 season being cancelled. For that reason he was a relatively unknown prospect in the hockey world before breaking out this year.
Beck is just two points off his rookie season total in 34 fewer games. He sits third on the 67’s for points and second among 18-year-olds. The chances of Beck earning a spot on Team Canada are very slim considering the names he has to beat out, but a hot start to the year has certainly put him on the radar. Like Stromgren, the good news for Beck is he also has a 2003 birthday, which means he’ll be eligible for the tournament again next year and should have a much better chance of cracking the roster.
Jeremie Poirier – Canada
Like Beck, Jeremie Poirier has a slim chance to make Canada’s stacked team, however his hot start to the year means he will certainly be in the discussion to claim a spot even as an extra. Poirier, a 2020 third-round pick of the Flames, is currently in his fourth and likely final QMJHL season with the Saint John Sea Dogs.
Throughout his QMJHL career, Poirier has racked up the points from the blueline as a purely offensive defenceman. The story is the same this year as Poirier has started the year with 17 points in 17 games to lead the Sea Dogs blueline in scoring. His 17 points is also fifth league wide among defencemen.
Poirier has two major factors working against him though. The first is the fact that his game isn’t exactly built around solid defence. He’s been known to struggle a ton on the defensive side of the puck, even if he has improved in that area this season it is still certainly something Team Canada will not like. He was a somewhat surprising omission from their Summer Showcase earlier this year as 14 defencemen were picked over him.
The second factor playing against Poirier is just how stacked Canada’s blueline looks going into the tournament. The top-four is pretty much locked down already, with 2021 first overall pick Owen Power, 2021 eighth overall pick Brandt Clarke, 2020 16th overall pick Kaiden Guhle, and 2020 third rounder and current QMJHL defenceman scoring leader Lukas Cormier all cemented into the the roster. On top of that, 2021 26th overall pick Carson Lambos is also likely a lock for the team leaving just one spot open.
Poirier will pretty much be battling with a handful of other players for the final spot in the lineup, most of which were at the Summer Showcase. Due to the type of style he plays and his below-average defensive ability, it’s unlikely Canada will select a player like Poirier to play a depth role. That said if the team is looking for an offensive contributor or power play specialist, Poirier will definitely be on the list of potential suitors.
A smaller contingent of Flames
After having four players in the tournament last season including two on Team Canada, the Flames will most likely only see two prospects at the tournament this season in Coronato and Kuznetsov. The good news is both should be playing large roles for their Gold medal contending teams, so we will get to see a lot of them throughout the tournament.
The next best shot at representing the Flames in the tournament is Stromgren, who will be fighting for a depth role on Team Sweden right up until the teams are announced. A trio of Canadian contenders in Kerins, Beck, and Poirier have outside shots at representing Canada as well, with Kerins having the best shot at donning the maple leaf. It should be fun to track the progression of the four players over the next month as they fight to claim a spot on their countries team.