Standout players in a short time
by Lucas Aykroyd|11 JAN 2022
Swedish goalie Jesper Wallstedt distinguished himself with a 48-save performance in a 3-0 shutout over Slovakia at the 2022 IIHF World Junior Championship.
photo: Matt Zambonin / HHOF-IIHF Images
We’re all feeling a sense of loss after the 2022 IIHF World Junior Championship was cut short for health and safety reasons due to rising positive COVID-19 test results.

Yet even though only nine games were played in Edmonton and Red Deer between 26 and 29 December, we can still treasure some great performances by the world’s top U20 hockey players. It heightens our anticipation for a revived World Juniors later in 2022.

For now, let’s take a quick look back in the spirit of quality over quantity.

Hats Off to Power

Owen Power knows how to keep his cool, and that manifests itself in many ways. For instance, the towering Canadian defenceman, chosen first overall in the 2021 NHL Draft by the Buffalo Sabres, had just four penalty minutes in 10 games when Canada rallied after losing its first three games to win the 2021 IIHF World Championship in Riga in June.

Come December, Power looked equally cool when he scored a hat trick in a 6-3 comeback win over Czechia to open the World Juniors in Edmonton.
That made the University of Michigan star the first Canadian blueliner ever to get three goals in one World Junior game. Capitalizing with a deceptive wrister from the side boards, a one-timer, and a power play rebound, Power showed his offensive versatility. He went between-the-legs in the third period and nearly added a fourth goal. That particular feat would be reserved for a certain 16-year-old Canadian wunderkind.

Bedard’s Four Goals Portend Greatness

Connor McDavid has four goals in 14 career World Junior games (2014, 2015). Connor Bedard, emerging as the next Canadian mega-superstar at age 16, has four goals in two career World Junior games. Take a moment and let that sink in.
And before you object, “Bedard’s four goals all came against a major underdog in Austria!”, consider that McDavid peaked in terms of single-game production in 2015 – as a 17-year-old with a 13 January birthday – with three points (not goals) in games against Germany, Denmark, and Slovakia. Bedard, meanwhile, won’t turn 17 till 17 July. The North Vancouver native who stars for the WHL’s Regina Pats made a real statement.

Austrian goalie Leon Sommer may not have enjoyed taking an 11-2 loss, but he’ll have a great story to tell his kids someday: “Yes, Bedard took 12 of the 64 shots Canada fired at my net that night at Rogers Place.”

Michkov Comes Out Flying

Even though Matvei Michkov has a five-year contract with SKA St.  Petersburg through 2025-26, the explosive 17-year-old Russian winger remains the biggest threat to upstage Connor Bedard as the #1 overall NHL pick in 2023. 

Under head coach Sergei Zubov, a strangely constructed Russian roster – lacking the likes of star OHL defenceman Daniil Chayka and budding VHL power forward Ivan Miroschnichenko – never fully hit its stride in a 6-3 loss to Sweden or a 4-2 win over Switzerland. However, Michkov invited comparisons to Pavel Bure and Alexander Ovechkin as he potted two third-period goals on Sweden’s Jesper Wallstedt and one on Switzerland’s Kevin Pasche to lead Russia in goals and points.
The kid who topped April’s U18 Worlds in Texas with 12 goals and 16 points in a silver-medal run has jacked up the excitement around him even further.

Wallstedt’s Wall Impersonation

Students of acting history may know that Anthony Hopkins originally served as an understudy to Sir Laurence Olivier. Similarly, Jesper Wallstedt seemed stuck in Hugo Alnefelt’s shadow during Sweden’s 2019 U18 Worlds run to gold and 2021 World Junior fifth-place outing. However, Wallstedt – the starting goalie for Lulea HF and the 2021 first-round pick of the Minnesota Wild (20th overall) – sure put on a virtuoso performance at these World Juniors.
The highlight was Wallstedt’s 48-save shutout in a 3-0 win over Slovakia. The 19-year-old Vasteras native looked close to NHL-ready while stoning top Slovak goal-scorer Martin Chromiak and others on golden opportunities. Slovak coach Ivan Fenes marvelled afterwards: “I have never seen a shutout of a goalie like this.”

Big Minutes for Nemec

Coming into this tournament, you wouldn’t necessarily have predicted that Slovakia’s Simon Nemec would lead all skaters in ice time. Yet through two games, the savvy 17-year-old HK Nitra blueliner did just that, averaging 25:43 per game and edging the Czech Republic’s Stanislav Svozil (25:00). Nemec peaked at 28:43 in the 3-0 loss to Sweden.
Sure, on a deeper team, this type of workload might not be necessary. Nonetheless, it could be a positive indicator long-term for the Slovak men’s national team.

Remember, Nemec has already suited up in 2021 for Slovakia’s eighth-place run at the Worlds in Riga and the successful 2022 Olympic qualification in Bratislava. And among current Slovak NHL defenders, the highest average per-game ice time belongs to Erik Cernak of the Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning (19:30).

Lambert Is Back

When journalists ask about a player’s outstanding offensive performance, coaches love to turn it around and talk about a) the entire team’s effort b) how this guy can be better in his own zone and away from the puck. And it’s not like Finnish coach Antti Pennanen is given to gushing. However, Pennanen was utterly complimentary about the work of Finnish scoring leader Brad Lambert (1+4=5) on Suomi’s most productive line with Samuel Helenius (3+1=4) and Ville Koivunen (2+2=4).
After the 3-1 opening win over Germany, Pennanen praised Lambert: “He has good confidence at the moment and he is kind of fearless, especially with the puck. We all know that he is gifted and talented and today he was so good. It was nice to watch.” The coach called Lambert “skillful and fast” – without any reservations – when Finland walloped Austria 7-1.

Long story short: Lambert, who’s struggled with just two goals and four assists in 24 games for Liiga’s JYP this season, may have boosted his odds of being a top-10 NHL draft pick in 2022.

Blank Keeps A Surprising Streak Alive

Incontestably, German hockey is on the rise. With a silver medal at the 2018 Olympics, a fourth-place finish at the 2021 Worlds, and a sixth-place result – despite an undermanned roster due to COVID-19 protocols – at the 2021 World Juniors, the Germans aren’t true underdogs anymore.

Still, it’s wild to realize that Germany now boasts a three-game winning streak against Czechia at the World Juniors: 3-0 (2014 WJC), 4-3 (2020 WJC), and 2-1 (2022 WJC). The latter victory came courtesy of unheralded 19-year-old forward Alexander Blank, who tallied both goals, including the bad-angle overtime winner on a solo rush, on 27 December.
The undrafted Blank has a modest three goals and seven assists in 28 games with the DEL’s Krefeld Pinguine this season. Yet if the 181-cm, 81-kg forward from Berlin can build on this performance, he’ll inspire more general managers to echo Taylor Swift’s words: “I’ve got a blank space, baby, and I’ll write your name.”