It seems bizarre to think, but we are just a few weeks away from the World Junior Ice Hockey Championship this year taking place in Alberta. The summer iteration of the World Juniors is currently scheduled from August 9 to 20, being played out of Rogers Place.
And while the event and Hockey Canada have been marred by scandal this year, it is important to recognize the hard work of the numerous athletes who will be representing their respective countries in this year’s event.
The Calgary Flames will be hoping to be better represented at the tournament this time around. Prior to it being cancelled last winter, the Flames had just one prospect playing in the tournament in Matthew Coronato for Team USA. And while he was expected to play a huge role in the tournament, the team will be hoping for at least one or two more prospects to make their national sides this year. Here is who could make the cut:
Matthew Coronato – Team USA
Almost guaranteed to make it
While Team USA has not formally been announced, it seems a near certainty that it will include Matthew Coronato. He put up a point-per-game as a rookie in the NCAA last year, and looked exceptional in his time with the Harvard Crimson. Not only did his point totals look impressive, he also played both sides of special teams for the Crimson and showed off his impressive two-way game all season long.
Team USA will need a player like him on their team. They will have a good amount of scoring prowess on their team, but an elite sniper who can beat goalies clean from all over the ice is worth its weight in gold. On top of that, having a guy who can do that plus play a strong transition game and help out on the penalty kill will go a long way, particularly when playing against top teams like Canada, Sweden, and Russia. Expect Coronato to be a fixture on the team’s top-six when he invariably gets selected.
Jack Beck – Team Canada
On the cusp of being selected
For those who watched Jack Beck play, it was not a surprise to see him earn a spot at Team Canada’s Selection Camp this month. The forward for the Ottawa 67’s was incredibly impressive this season, finishing well above a point-per-game in the OHL. He was second on his team in points despite missing 32 games this season with an injury.
One of the Flames’ top prospects, and probably their best outside the AHL going into next season, Beck could be a dark horse to earn a spot on Team Canada. He is an elite forechecker, able to force turnovers in the offensive zone, and with the ability to capitalize on those looks.
On top of that, he plays a very good defensive game, and is unafraid to go into the corners and play a hard-nosed style of hockey. He showed all this off at the Flames’ Development Camp scrimmage in July.
He will not be a first choice player for Team Canada, but with a number of prospects electing to prepare for training camps, Beck may be able to sneak into the lineup. If he does, expect him to start in the 12the or 13th forward spot, but any experience he gets with this team will be invaluable for him and for the Flames.
Other Flames prospects
With just three picks in the draft this year, and many of the 2021 draft class having rough seasons this year, it is unlikely to expect anyone else to make the cut. The most probably players coming out of the unlikely-to-make-it camp are William Stromgren and Topi Ronni, both of whom could sneak on to team Sweden and Finland, respectively, in the tournament.
Stromgren did not do much outside of the J-20 this year although he is a good two-way player. Ronni is more of a grinder, but could make the cut with decent numbers. Both however are unlikely.
With the current global events, Russia won’t be in the tournament. It would have been nice to see Yan Kuznetsov suit up for the team. Kuznetsov is one of the best young Russian defensive prospects currently, and was one of the best defensive defencemen in the entire CHL this past season. He put up 13 points in 25 games in the QMJHL with the Saint John Sea Dogs, and was part of their Memorial Cup winning team where he was named an All-Star. On top of that, he played on Team Russia’s second pairing in the last World Junior Tournament.
Unfortunately, after selecting him and Vladislav Firstov as two of the first North American based skaters for the team in the last tournament, they went with a fully Russian lineup for the cancelled tournament, leaving Kuznetsov off the team entirely.
Were Russia in the tournament, one wonders if Arseni Sergeev would have gotten a look. The best goalie in the USHL this season for the Tri-City Storm, the 2021 seventh-round selection was exceptional in the league, and could be a handy third string netminder if Russia needed one. There are definitely much worse options.
Slim pickings and exciting times
The Flames will be lucky to have two of their prospects playing in the tournament this season, but any opportunity to see Coronato in action is well worth it. He is an exceptional prospect and dynamic at both ends of the ice.
Team Canada would be wise to select Beck as well, as his game is something that the team needs like what they got out of Connor Zary a couple years back. He is likely on the outside looking in, but this looks to be a weird year for selection and anything can happen.
Either way, with one or both prospects playing, it will still be an excellent tournament to watch!