World Junior Championship: Overview of Group B teams


Luke Hughes and Logan Cooley are two of seven NHL first-round picks hoping to gold the United States at the 2023 IIHF World Junior Championship.

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USA lost 4-2 to Czechia in the WJC 2022 quarter-finals last August and finished fifth after winning the 2021 edition.

« Obviously not making the quarter-finals in 2022 was a disappointment, » Cooley said. It hurt me to see Canada win. I can’t wait for us to get our revenge. We want to find the path of victory. »

Cooley, a freshman forward at the University of Minnesota, was selected third overall by the Arizona Coyotes in the last draft. He scored 25 points (10 goals, 15 assists) and maintained a plus-15 differential in 19 games. Hughes, a second-year defenseman at the University of Michigan, was drafted fourth overall by the New Jersey Devils in 2021. He has 18 points (three goals, 15 assists) in 20 NCAA games. He is the younger brother of the Devils striker Jack Hughes and Vancouver Canucks defenseman quinn hughes.

He will represent the United States internationally for the third time in eight months, after competing at the 2022 IIHF World Senior Championship in May and the 2022 WJC in August.

Other first-round picks invited to camp are forwards Tyler Boucher (10th overall, Ottawa Senators, 2021), Cutter Gauthier (5th, Philadelphia Flyers, 2022), Chaz Lucius (18th, Winnipeg Jets, 2021) , Rutger McGroarty (14th, Jets, 2022) and Jimmy Snuggerud (23rd, St. Louis Blues, 2022).

The United States will be part of Group B in the preliminary round with Finland, Switzerland, Slovakia and Latvia at the Avenir Center in Moncton. Group A will consist of defending champions Canada, plus Sweden, Czechia, Germany and Austria. They will play their preliminary round matches at the Scotiabank Center in Halifax.

The United States will kick off the WJC against Latvia on Monday (4 p.m. ET; RDS2, TSN, NHLN).

Here’s a look at the Group B teams, in the order NHL.com predicts they’ll finish:

UNITED STATES

Coach :Rand Pecknold
2023 Draft Eligible Players to Watch : Charlie Stramel, A, University of Wisconsin (NCAA); Gavin Brindley, A, University of Michigan (NCAA); Trey Augustine, G, USA Hockey National Team Development Program (NTDP) Under-18 Team
Scheduled matches : Dec. 26, Latvia (4 p.m. ET); Dec. 28, Slovakia (4 p.m. ET); Dec. 29, Switzerland (4 p.m. ET); Dec. 31, Finland (4 p.m. ET)

Pecknold wants to introduce a fast and aggressive forecheck style of play, and he could bring together center Cooley and wingers Snuggerud and Gauthier on the top line. McGroarty, Lucius, Boucher and Dylan Duke (Tampa Bay Lightning) will also create a spark on offense.

The strength of the team is its defense, with the return of Sean Behrens (Colorado Avalanche), Jack Peart (Minnesota Wild) and captain Hughes, in addition to Seamus Casey (Devils), Lane Hutson (Montreal Canadiens ) and Ryan Chesley (Washington Capitals).

Kaidan Mbereko (2023 draft eligible) went 3-1 with a 1.76 goals-against average and .920 save percentage in four games at the 2022 WJC.

Stramel, who received an « A » rating on NHL Central Scouting’s preliminary list of players to watch for the upcoming draft, and Brindley (a « B » rating) could both play an important role as as trio mates.

FINLAND

Coach : Tomi Lamsa
2023 Draft Eligible Player to Watch : Lenni Hameenaho, A, Assat (Liiga)
Scheduled matches : December 26, Switzerland (11 a.m. ET); Dec. 27, Slovakia (11 a.m. ET); Dec. 29, Latvia (11 a.m. ET); Dec. 31, US (4 p.m. ET)

Finland suffered a heartbreaking loss in the 2022 WJC Gold Medal Game, losing 3-2 in overtime to Canada.

The country can once again claim the title after winning a medal four times in the last seven editions of the tournament (gold: 2016 and 2019; silver: 2022; bronze: 2021).

The Finns are back with a strong squad, which includes 15 NHL draft picks. Among them are goaltender Niklas Kokko (58th, Seattle Kraken, 2022), defenseman Aleksi Heimosalmi (44th, Carolina Hurricanes, 2021) and forwards Brad Lambert (30th, Jets, 2022), Joakim Kemell ( 17th, Nashville Predators, 2021), Oliver Kapanen (64th, Canadiens, 2021) and Jani Nyman (49th, Kraken, 2022).

Kemell led Finland with 12 points (four goals, eight assists) and 27 shots in seven games at the 2022 WJC. Defenseman Aron Kiviharju (2024 draft-eligible) turns 17 on Jan. with TPS in the Liiga, the top professional league in Finland.

The country, which traditionally plays a structured and tough style of play, had the best power play at the tournament last August (14-for-27, 51 percent).

SLOVAKIA

Coach : Ivan Fenès
2023 Draft Eligible Players to Watch : Dalibor Dvorsky, A, AIK (Sweden); Samuel Honzek, F, Vancouver (WHL); Martin Misiak, A, Nové Zamky (Slovakia); Alex Ciernik, A, Sodertalje Jr. (Sweden)
Scheduled matches : December 27, Finland (11 a.m. ET); Dec. 28, US (4 p.m. ET); Dec. 30, Latvia (1:30 p.m. ET); December 31, Switzerland (11 a.m. ET)

Slovakia will count on five players drafted in the NHL: defenseman Simon Nemec (2nd, Devils, 2022) and forwards Filip Mesar (26th, Canadiens, 2022), Adam Sykora (63rd, New York Rangers, 2022), Servac Petrovsky (185th, Wild, 2022) and Adam Zlinka (204th, Arizona Coyotes, 2022).

Petrovsky had three points (two goals, one assist) and 14 shots in four games with Slovakia, who finished ninth at the 2022 WJC. Mesar is playing at the World Juniors for the first time and could be an offensive catalyst. He has 22 points (10 goals, 12 assists) in 17 games with the Kitchener Rangers of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) this season.

The country will also field seven players who appear on the preliminary list of players to watch for the 2023 draft, including Dvorsky and Honzek (an “A” rating each). Misiak (“B” rating) has seven assists in 23 games with Nové Zamky in the top professional league in Slovakia, while Ciernik (“C” rating) has 13 points (seven goals, six assists) in 10 games in the Swedish junior ranks.

SWISS

Coach : Marco Bayer
2023 Draft Eligible Player to Watch : Rodwin Dionicio, D, Niagara (OHL)
Scheduled matches : December 26, Finland (11 a.m. ET); Dec. 27, Latvia (4 p.m. ET); Dec. 29, US (4 p.m. ET); December 31, Slovakia (11 a.m. ET)

Defenseman Liam Bichsel, selected by the Dallas Stars 18th overall in the last draft, will be the team’s defensive general. The southpaw had two assists and 14 hits while averaging 10:07 per game in 25 games with Leksand in the Swedish Elite League (SHL), the country’s top professional league.

Defender Brian Zanetti (Flyers) will return to Switzerland after registering two assists in four games at WJC 2022, when Switzerland finished eighth.

The Swiss will need strong performances from 2023 draft-eligible goaltender Kevin Pasche, who posted a 3.86 GAA and .900 save percentage in three tournament games in August.

LATVIA

Coach : Artis Abols
2023 Draft Eligible Player to Watch : Rainers Rullers, A, Zemgale (Latvia)
Scheduled matches : Dec. 26, US (4 p.m. ET); Dec. 27, Switzerland (4 p.m. ET), Dec. 29, Finland (11 a.m. ET), Dec. 30, Slovakia (1:30 p.m. ET)

Latvia won a round-robin game at the World Juniors for the first time in 10 years in August, upsetting the Czech Republic 5-3. The country entered the medal round for the first time in seven appearances at the tournament.

The Latvians will try to stay competitive with forward Dans Locmelis (Boston Bruins) leading the offense. The 18-year-old, who signed with the University of Massachusetts for the 2023-24 season, had 33 points (12 goals, 21 assists) in 27 games with Lulea in Sweden’s junior ranks.

Forward Klavs Veinbergs (Lightning) had 14 points (six goals, eight assists) in 20 games with the Lincoln Stars of the United States Hockey League (USHL), while forward Sandis Vilmanis (Panthers Florida) has 24 points (11 goals, 13 assists) in 29 games with the Sarnia Sting (OHL).

Rullers (6-foot-4, 194 pounds), who received a « C » rating on the players to watch list for the 2023 draft, had 12 points (six goals, six assists) with Zemgale, in the top division in Latvia. The latter finished seventh at the 2022 tournament after a 2-1 loss to Sweden in the quarter-finals.

Photo : USA Hockey



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