That means fans, functionaries, players, and scouts alike will have fewer games to see – but more time to analyze a number of players who we’re going to take a look at in the following. All of the tournament participants will be making the playoffs, so every team will be assured of having a shot at the championship, even if the preliminary round ends up being a disappointment in the win-loss column of the standings. Will some of the young men participating be able to turn things on when those playoffs roll around?
For now, we can guarantee that although you’re going to want to check out as many of the players as you can, the talents listed below should garner special attention.
FinlandTopias Leinonen - Goalkeeper
Finland is once again bringing several goalkeepers we could be writing about here, but at 195 cm and 98 kg, Leinonen is hard to miss. In addition to being one of the top U20 league goalkeepers whatsoever with a 2.28 GAA and 91.6 save percentage, he also got into five games of Liiga play and another two in the Mestis. In short, he’s played a good bit of hockey at various levels this season and was already considered one of the better goalies available for the draft coming into the season. This tournament could solidify just how high he goes, and he knows it.
Joachim Kemell - Right Wing
Hope you’re ready to see a barn-burner, because Kemell is coming off a huge season with 15 goals and 23 points in 39 Liiga games, having long been one of the league’s top five scorers right on up to Christmas time. He’s also a returnee from last spring’s tournament and all eyes will be on him here after excelling against pro men. The NHL scouts are still trying to determine if he’s a top-five or top-ten pick, but one way or another he’s got to be a mover and shaker for Finland to gain a medal, something the federation completely intends on doing.
Elmeri Laakso - Defenceman
One of several top-flight defencemen for this team, the 185-cm bruiser can play the game in all three zones and although his 18 points and +12 were real nice in the U20 league, his five points in 17 Liiga contests combined with three points in five Mestis games are what really turned heads this winter. The owner of a fantastic shot, Laakso will surely be motivated to show just how good he is at this tournament. His star is rising.
Jani Nyman - Left Wing
Another highly ranked draft prospect, Nyman had a monumental season in Finland’s second highest pro league. In short, he put up 18 goals and 35 points in 34 games. You just don’t see 17-year-olds doing this. Throw in the fact that he’s already 191 cm and 98 kg, and we've got a young man here who is going to be a real handful for the competition in this tournament. In test game action for the U18 this winter, he’s put up 12 points in nine games. He’s ready to make his mark.
LatviaDavis Borozinskis - Centre/Winger
Having spent the past three years in the USA, Borozinskis just had as busy a winter as humanly possible. Playing for three different teams in the same affiliation, he played in 76 games and racked up 103 points along the way. A smaller playmaker, his level of competition can be questioned, as the NAHL was his highest league of performance and that was only for five games. But he’s got a top line job here pinned down and Latvia will have to hope his strong numbers mean he’s full of confidence coming in.
Niks Fenenko - Defenceman
The 186-cm defender brings a whole boatload of experience into this tournament, having spent all season with Baie-Comeau of the QMJHL, where he chipped in an excellent 37 points in 56 games. He’s adept at playing in all three zones and will be entrusted with big minutes for a Latvian side that has the smallest pool of players to select from. Word is, he’ll be a serious draft topic this summer.
Dans Locmelis - Right Wing/Left Wing
Like Vilmanis listed below, Locmelis spent this winter with the Lulea program, beating out his Latvian teammate for second in scoring on the U20 team, for which he put up 36 points in 49 games. He also saw eight games of U18 action (12 points), while having a spot on the nation’s U20 team at the U20 World Championship Division IA. He’s got a whole lot of skill and Latvia will need him putting it on display all tournament long to surprise.
Sandis Vilmanis - Centre/Winger
Measuring in at 186 cm and 88 kg, Vilmanis is a man in a boy’s tournament and is coming off a highly productive and successful season playing for Lulea’s junior program in Sweden. Not charged to run the offense, his 32 points in 45 games was good for third in scoring on the team while his +20 topped the list. Internationally, he was already a good part of Latvia’s U20 team last December, putting up three points in five games at the U20 Worlds Division IA. He’ll be an absolute go-to guy in this tournament and does have draft ambitions.
SwedenLeo Carlsson - Centre/Winger
Having just turned 17 in December, Carlsson is first eligible for the 2023 NHL Entry Draft and is already looking like one of its top players. He spent just about the whole season with Orebro in the SHL, even putting up nine points along the way. Moreover, he showed no hesitancy in making moves and trying to create magic all over the ice. Oh, and did we mention that he already measures in at 190 cm and 84 kg? Other than Canada’s Connor Bedard (more on him later), he’s likely the tournament’s top underager and may already have a key role for team Sweden this year.
Jonathan Lekkerimaki - Centre/Right Wing
You just don’t often see a kid of average build jump into SHL play for a team on the skids and strut such confidence and creativity. Sure, his Djurgarden club ultimately went a veteran route to try and stave off elimination (unsuccessfully), but the righty shot was magic over 26 games, scoring some highlight reel goals and showing strong tendencies in every facet of the game. Already a tour de force at the Gretzky Hlinka Tournament last summer, he’s scheduled to do some real damage on Sweden’s first line.
Liam Ohgren - Left Wing/Right Wing
Another Djurgarden-raised player, Ohgren was an offensive juggernaut this season, even if he only had two points in 25 SHL games. What he did in juniors was fantastic. He blew away the U20 league with 35 goals and 64 points in 36 games, including a +44 rating. He also helped the U18 team to a national championship with nine points in four playoff games. He loves to score and will surely be looking to do a whole lot of that in Landshut. It’s something he excels at.
Elias Salomonsson - Defenceman
A solidly built 186 cm and 83 kg, Salomonsson is, like his teammates above, a hot topic for this summer’s NHL draft and likely the highest profile defenceman on a team featuring a prolific blueline for this tournament. He moves very well, plays an all-round game in all three zones, and is really smooth with the puck. He also loves to shoot! Having gotten into 10 games of SHL action this winter, he’s well on his way to being the next in a long line of topflight pro defencemen hailing from Sweden.
SwitzerlandAlessio Beglieri - Goalkeeper
Beglieri is coming off a fantastic season for Biel’s U20 team and is in the sights of NHL scouts. His numbers won’t blow you out of the water, but he tends to be in goal very often when his team wins. It’s looking like he may just have that je ne sais quoi that makes some goalkeepers more successful than others. Switzerland is going to need just that. The team has done pretty well in recent weeks while playing exhibition games against Germany but will need their goalkeeper to steal a few games if a medal is going to be in discussion.
Noah Grueter - Left Wing
Grueter is a strong-skating, mid-sized forward who got into eight games of pro action with Kloten of the Swiss SL, collecting three assists while there. He also put up 34 points in 38 games for the program’s U20 club, most of which came in the form of assists. He’s going to have to be a leader on this team, but it’s hard to tell just what he’ll be able to do against the Finlands and Swedens of the world. We’ll soon find out.
Matteo Reinhard - Centre
The top gun for Biel-Bienne, Reinhard is the guy to look at for points on this team, should his fabulous U20 season featuring 45 points in 43 games be any indication. Still, his club floundered a bit in the playoffs and opponents were able to keep him largely off the scoresheet. Switzerland will have to hope that isn’t the case next week in Kaufbeuren, where he’ll be centering one of the top two lines and getting prime power play time. Very nondescript, but he can arrive a bit in this tournament.
Eric Schneller - Defenceman
A player for the future, Schneller is an underager in this tournament and is coming off a season where he played some prime minutes for Rogle’s U18 team in Sweden. Focusing primarily on his defensive duties, he doesn’t need to hide in the shadows of his older teammates at this tournament. He can skate and handle the puck with the best of them. Decently sized at 182 cm, the 16-year-old can only gain from the experience here and give scouts reasons to start creating his profile for the coming year, which will be a big one for him if he has any ambitions of being drafted one day.
CanadaConnor Bedard - Centre
The star of the tournament. The number-one player we could mention here. A future star at the highest level. We’re not only talking about a returnee who had 14 points in seven games last spring while winning the gold medal, but a kid who just wrapped up a WHL season with more points than Connor McDavid at the exact same stage. Indeed, 51 goals and 100 points as a 16-year-old in the WHL is out of this world. And for the astute ones out there, yes, he has another two years of U18 eligibility. Bedard has all the makings of an absolute prodigy and we’re going to be seeing him among the best of the best as Canada looks to defend its gold medal. Could he actually break Nikita Kucherov’s record of 22 points in seven tournament games? He’s got two more shots at doing just that.
Lukas Dragicevic - Defenceman
A member of the Tri-City Americans of the WHL, Dragicevic is just like every other blueliner on this Canadian team in that he had a solid season (32 points in 62 games) but doesn’t have the gaudy numbers that would indicate that he’s in line for power play duties with the big guns up front. What separates him from the other blueliners on this team is that he’s 188 cm and enters this tournament as a 16-year-old. Another underager looking to be a hot topic for the 2023 NHL draft, Dragicevic can use this tournament to put his smooth natural tools on display. You won’t want to miss them.
Adam Fantilli - Centre
In a normal year, meaning one where a phenomenon like Bedard isn’t on your team, Fantilli would be the player everyone is fawning over. He’s 191 cm and 87 kg, and put up a monstrous 37 goals and 74 points in 54 games for the USHL powerhouse Chicago Steel. He too is first draft eligible for the 2023 NHL draft. Alas, he’ll be an absolute go-to player for Canada and given a prime role to help carry this team to gold once again. He may be placed on the wing to skate with Bedard, but if not, he’ll give Canada a 1-2 punch up the middle that perhaps only the USA can compete with. Maybe. Fantilli is a player’s player and skills galore.
David Goyette - Centre
A mid-sized centre, Goyette just completed his first ever OHL season and his 73 points in 66 games for a challenged Sudbury team were outstanding. He’s just a mid-sized kid, but his solid play and incredible offensive gifts make him one to watch. On many other teams in this tournament, he’d be the ne plus ultra, but for now he can just go out on the ice and do what his coach asks of him. There’s more talent here than you can shake a stick at.
CzechiaJakub Dvorak - Defenceman
Just 16, Dvorak already measures in at 193 cm and 85 kg. He’s a man in a boy’s body. After dominating in a handful of U17 games, he spent all season with the U20 team (10 points) and then got into five games of second league pro action. He’ll only really be a lower line defenceman at this tournament but viewing him will be quite the treat for those wondering who the next big thing (literally) on the blueline for Czechia is going to be moving forward.
Tomas Hamara - Defenceman
A mid-sized defenceman who has been learning his trade in Finland for years now, Hamara is a returnee from last spring and got into 24 games of Liiga action this winter. A dominating player at Finland’s U20 level, Hamara excels as a two-way defenceman and will be the general of Czechia’s blueline. Expect to see him on the ice quite a bit.
Eduard Sale - Left Wing/Right Wing
Imagine having just turned 17 six weeks ago, but already being the absolute dominant player of your nation’s U20 league. Welp, that’s how it is for Sale, who is first eligible for the 2023 NHL draft. His 99 points in 44 U20 games were so dominant that his club Brno called him up for 10 games of action in the top league, where he collected his first three pro points. Word is, Canadian junior teams have him high on their list for this summer’s import draft, but NHL scouts are going to have their eyes wide open in this tournament too as this will be the first time they’ll really get to see him at this level of play.
Matyas Sapovalis - Left Wing
With 52 points in 68 games for the Erie Otters of the OHL, Sapovalis is the highest profile player on the team and one to reckon with for all opponents. He’s also 192 cm and 88 kg, so he’s not a body players will be able to move easily. Strong coming down off the wing, he knows his way to the goal, but has been shining more as a playmaker in recent months. He’ll be the team’s leader and a guy who make a difference if the opposition doesn’t give him the proper attention.
GermanyRayan Bettahar - Defenceman
It was long unknown whether Bettahar, who has spent this season with the Swift Current Broncos of the WHL, would be available for this tournament. But considering he’s a returning member of this team and spent all season in North America, a team like Germany can hardly go without his experience, especially considering they’ll be playing both Canada and the USA in the preliminary round. A big, strong defensive defenceman by nature, he may be staring at 22-25 minutes of ice time per game.
Roman Kechter - Left Wing/Right Wing
Kechter wasn’t available to the U18 squad last spring, but had health allowed it, he’d have been on the team. This year he missed a good chunk of the season with a shoulder injury, but after playing 21 games in the DEL last season, he became a key figure for Rogle’s U20 and U18 junior teams this past winter. He brings as much, if not more, international experience than anyone Germany has to offer, and is clearly one of the most skilled and adept players on the team.
Julian Lutz - Centre/Left Wing
He entered the season as one of the most highly anticipated prospects this year with some thinking he would edge his way into consideration for a first round selection at this summer’s NHL draft. However, an injury right before the first game of the season prevented his debut with Munich of the DEL until late in the season and he ultimately only got into 14 games of action, with three points and a +2 to display for it. But he’s fresh and in groove now, and if Germany is going to make a push for a medal, he’ll have to be the team’s go-to player in all three zones, but particularly on the attack and first power play unit.
Simon Wolf - Goalkeeper
The well-built 180-cm large goalie is considered one of Germany’s top goaltending prospects to come along in quite some time. He’s been part of the Red Bull Academy and is a returning member of last season’s U18 team. Germany will need just such a goalkeeper who’ll hopefully stand on his head when it matters most. In Wolf’s case, that is a real possibility.
USALogan Cooley - Centre
The author of 99 points in 68 games this winter, the Jack Hughes-sized centre is as feisty as they get, as his 116 penalty minutes would indicate. He’s also in the discussion to be a top five draft pick this summer. Full of moves and the ability to make something out of nothing, he’s a veteran of last spring’s tournament and will be looked at to guide this team’s first line with gold medal ambitions. He surely hopes to slot right in with the Auston Matthews and Jack Eichels of the world, who once led the U.S. to U18 gold.
Cutter Gauthier - Centre/Left Wing
At 190 cm and 88 kg, Gauthier is another hulk of a young man playing for the USA. He can do it all as well, and although he’s the guy you’ll want on the ice for tight, low-scoring affairs, he also chipped in 50 goals and 81 points in 69 games. Sure, there are a whole handful of U.S. players we could list here, but Gauthier should be one of the loudest and most versatile of all the many top talents the U.S. will be taking to Germany.
Lane Hutson - Defenceman
Blink and you may miss him, as Hutson is only 173 cm tall, but after having already collected five assists in five games at last spring’s tournament, he had a monster winter with a total of 86 points and a +73 in 80 games. He’s warmed up and ready to make use of every centimetre of international ice, because his skating and puck movement is the name of his game. It should come as no surprise if Hutson is leaving opponents in his dust, uh, ice shavings all tournament long.
Charlie Stramel - Right Wing
Don’t expect the 191-cm and 98-kg forward to be a go-to guy for this team after already having been part of the fun last spring, putting up four points in five games as a double underager. He’s still a year removed from his draft year and others will be asked to make the music if the U.S. is going to fight for gold. This said, he’s literally one of the biggest names for the future and is already scheduled to attend the University of Wisconsin next fall. When he plays, the opponents will feel it.