Boxing Day has been synonymous with the beginning of the World Junior Championships for many years now. This year is no exception, with the 2023 WJC opening today with a four-game slate.
Here is everything you need to know about the 2023 WJC.
The 2023 WJC was originally supposed to be hosted by Novosibirsk and Omsk, Russia. However, due to the ongoing war in Ukraine, Russia and Belarus were banned from participation in IIHF events and of their hosting rights.
As a result, several Canadian cities bid for the right to host the 2023 tournament, with Halifax, Nova Scotia and Moncton, New Brunswick winning the bid in May this year. It’s the first time in 20 years that the tournament will be hosted by Halifax since their last time hosting in 2003.
If you are taking in the tournament in person, the IIHF has compiled a list of 23 exciting things to do in Halifax and Moncton.
The tournament features two groups, A and B, each with five nations. Group A includes the defending champions Canada, Sweden, Czechia, Germany, and Austria. Group B includes the United States of America, Finland, Switzerland, Slovakia, and Latvia. These are the exact same 10 teams that competed in the 2022 WJC.
Here is a brief rundown of all 10 teams.
The Canadians are always a favourite to win the tournament, especially on home ice. This year, team Canada is captained by the 2022 fourth overall draft pick, Shane Wright. He hasn’t had the NHL start he probably wanted, but is, without a doubt, one of the absolute best U20 players on the planet. His experience on an NHL roster will be invaluable for the defending champs.
Joining him on a start studded forward corps is none other than consensus 2023 first overall pick, Connor Bedard. Wright and Bedard both had a whopping 14 points in the 2022 tournament, and are locks to lead the tournament in scoring, assuming Canada goes all the way. Joining them up front is a laundry list of junior stars: Logan Stakoven, Adam Fantilli, Dylan Guenther, Joshua Roy, Brennan Othmann.
And, if a high-powered offence wasn’t enough, the backend features Olen Zellweger, Ethan Del Mastro, and finally Brandt Clarke.
Of the 22 players on the Canada roster, 19 have been drafted into the NHL already, two are draft eligible, and just one is undrafted.
The biggest question mark is the goaltending. There isn’t a clear cut number one goalie on the roster, and it remains to be seen who will snag the starting gig. Thomas Milic and Benjamin Gaudreau will battle it out through the round robin.
The Swedes haven’t won the WJC since 2012. It’s been a long stretch for the talented hockey nation, and they’ll face stiff competition in this year’s tournament. The Swedish roster is strong, but not phenomenal, which will make it tough.
As usual, the Swedes will have one of the better goalies in the tournament in Carl Lindbom. He’s currently torching the HockeyAllsvenskan this season and will be a key part of the Swedish roster. Without Simon Edvinsson, the defence is good but not great, with several interesting but not must-see prospects manning the Swedish blueline.
The forward corps is the most impressive part of team Sweden. First rounders and returnees Fabian Lysell and Isak Rosen will lead the attack, both coming off strong starts to their AHL careers this season. Joining them are several other noteworthy forwards including Jonathan Lekkerimaki, Noash Ostlund, Liam Ohgren, and William Stromgren.
The must-watch player is 17-year-old Leo Carlsson, a top-five prospect in the 2023 NHL draft who has put up 14 points in 25 SHL games so far this season. As a 17-year-old, those are simply sensational numbers.
In the 2022 WJC, Czechia finished fourth, a solid performance from a team that didn’t have the horses to go toe to toe with the hockey greats, at least on paper. They’ll be eager to build on that finish, and will have a leg up on the competition due to bringing 16 players from the 2022 team back in 2023. You can’t teach chemistry, and the Czechs will have oodles of it locked and loaded.
Leading the charge up front is Jiri Kluich, and top-10 2023 draft prospect Eduard Sale. There will be enough firepower to score goals in this tournament.
The defence is something many nations are likely envious of, however. David Jiricek, who played NHL games with the Columbus Blue Jackets this season, will join the Czechs for the tournament. Joining him on a stacked blueline are Stanislav Svozil, Tomas Hamara, and David Spacek. It’s a defence as good as any in the 2023 WJC.
The Czech net will be tended once again by Tomas Suchanek, the goalie responsible for backstopping Czechia to their quarter-final win over the USA last year. They have all the pieces to make even more noise in 2023.
Another team with a long list of returning players, the Germans are never a team you can take lightly in this tournament. They may not have a Moritz Seider or a Tim Stuetzle this year, but they will be fun to watch nonetheless.
On forward, the Germans will look to Bennet Rossmy, Julian Lutz, and Thomas and Nikolaus Heigl. The Heigls are twins currently playing in Austria and have performed well thus far. There aren’t any stars up front this year, so it’ll be a team effort to put pucks past goalies.
The German defence boasts several big frames in Adrian Klein and Rayan Bettahar, but no elite skill like we’ve seen in years past. The goaltending is also just okay. Nikita Quapp will be starting for the German squad, but put up rough numbers in 2022.
Austria was outscored 20–4 in last year’s tournament, and is still in the bracket because there was no relegation this year. They will be one of the worst teams at the tournament, but for a small hockey nation, this is the stage and opportunity they need to continue to grow their program and show off their stars.
Unfortunately, top Austrian forward Marco Kasper was not permitted to attend the tournament by his team, Rogle BK. It’s a big loss for the Austrian squad as Kasper is worth the price of admission. Instead, fans will shift their focus to Vinzenz Rohrer, a Montreal Canadiens pick in 2022. Draft eligible forward Ian Scherzer is also playing.
On the back end, draft eligible David Reinbacher is the most interesting name to keep an eye on.
After a disappointing finish in 2022 where they didn’t even compete for a medal, the Americans are no doubt itching to rebound in 2023. They have eight returning players and are always a legitimate threat to win gold at this tournament. With the extra motivation this year, team USA is one to watch out for.
Their forward corps is as intriguing as Canada’s: Logan Cooley, Cutter Gauthier, Chaz Lucius, Rutger McGroarty, Jimmy Snuggerud, and Red Savage highlight a potent offensive attack.
On defence, the Americans likely have the best blueliner in the tournament in Luke Hughes. He’s joined by Lane Hutson, Jack Peart, and Sean Behrens. It’s a solid defence corps that can play in both ends at an extremely high level. This USA team will score tons of goals, but the biggest question for them is between the pipes.
The Americans are turning to a platoon of three draft eligible goalies in Kaidan Mbereko, Trey Augustine, and Andrew Oke. All three have incredible potential, but none are the clear cut number one just yet. Mbereko had a tough go in 2022, so the internal competition for the starting job is at all all time high.
Regardless, the Americans are a real threat to win gold this year.
The Finnish program has taken immense strides in the past few years. Their last win was in 2019, and they’ll be a contender for the top prize this year as well. Despite this team not being as star-studded as in years past, the Finns are a strong team that cannot be taken lightly.
Up front, the Finns are led by Joakim Kemell, Brad Lambert, Ville Koivunen, and Oliver Kapanen. Kemell is the most intriguing name after a surprising slip down to 17th in last year’s draft, finally taken by the Nashvill Predators. He has a ton of skill and this is the perfect stage to show it off.
On the blueline, the Finnish team will be led by Aleksi Heimosalmi who put up a point-per-game in last year’s tournament. He’ll be the top dog for Finland and will quarterback their power play in 2023. Joining him is Aron Kiviharju who is a 2024 draft eligible player. It’s rare for 16-year-olds to compete in the WJC, so his inclusion on the Finnish roster is interesting just on its own. All eyes will be on the youngster—can he be the next Finnish superstar?
In goal, the Finns always seem to have elite options, and this year is the same. While the starting job is still up for grabs, Aku Koshenvuo and Jani Lampinen will be jostling hard and both are solid picks. Regardless of who grabs the reins, the Finns will be strong between the pipes.
Team Switzerland does not look like one that will compete for a medal this year. However, the Swiss always punch above their weight class, so despite what they may present on paper, they always perform better on the ice.
There aren’t too many noteworthy players on the roster. On defence, Lian Bichsel will lead the charge, joined by Brian Zanetti. On forward, Attilio Biasca returns for the Swiss, joined by Jonas Taibel. No clear cut stars on this year’s team.
In goal, Kevin Pasche will return, and will look to build on a lackluster performance in 2022.
The Slovakian ice hockey program got a big boost from their Olympic bronze medal performance in Beijing in 2022. Add in Juraj Slafkovsky and Simon Nemec going first and second overall selection in the 2022 draft, and things are really starting to look good for Slovakia.
Nemec will join the team, but Slafkovsky will not as the Canadiens chose to keep him on their roster instead.
Up front, several key forwards will lead the attack for Slovakia: Filip Mesar, Adam Sykora, Servac Petrovsky, and potential top-10 2023 pick Dalibor Dvorsky.
The shakiest spot on their roster is in goal. If the Slovaks want to compete for a medal this year, they’ll need to upset someone in the quarters.
In 2022, the Latvians finished seventh in the tournament, their best finish ever. Unfortnately, their captain, Ralfs Bergmanis, is too old to return. However, this year’s team features a good number of CHL and US College players. Will their North American experience be enough to build on last year’s run?
Three Latvians were drafted in 2022, and all three will skate for their nation this year: Dans Locmelis, Klavs Veinbergs, and Sandis Vilmanis. On defence, Gustavs Ozolins and Bogdans Hodass return for Latvia.
Patriks Berzins will tend the net for Latvia and, as a result, will be the de facto most important player.
None are household names, but all can play. The Latvians will be in tough this year, but they’ll be playing with purpose, like always.
Opening games are today. Following the round robin, the top four teams in each group will advance to the playoff tournament, while the fifth place team will advance to the relegation round. Relegation is a best of three between the fifth place finishers in both Group A and Group B.
Canada enters the tournament as the odds on favourite to win. Currently at minus money, they are the consensus pick to defend their gold medal. Team USA is second, followed by Finland and Sweden.
There is a lot of value with team USA this year, but knocking out Canada is always a tough task.
Who are you cheering for in the WJC this year? Let us know in the comments or on social media @wincolumnCGY.