By Adam Kimelman – NHL.com
Mason McTavish was chosen as captain for Canada at the 2022 IIHF World Junior Championship for a very simple reason.
“He’s the guy that sets the bar that everybody else is going to aspire to get to,” coach Dave Cameron said. “We think we have a lot of guys that were captain material but picking ‘Mac’ actually was pretty easy.”
McTavish will try to lead Canada to a WJC title after it lost to the United States in the 2021 championship game.
The 2022 WJC will be held Aug. 9-20 at Rogers Place in Edmonton. The tournament originally was scheduled for Dec. 26-Jan. 5 but was postponed Dec. 29 because of concerns surrounding the coronavirus.
Canada will play in Group A, along with Finland, Czechia, Slovakia and Latvia. The United States, Sweden, Switzerland, Germany and Austria will play in Group B.
Latvia was added to replace Russia, which has been banned from international play because of its invasion of Ukraine.
McTavish, selected by the Anaheim Ducks with the No. 3 pick of the 2021 NHL Draft, began last season with three points (two goals, one assist) in nine NHL games, and after a short stint with San Diego of the American Hockey League, the 19-year-old was returned to the Ontario Hockey League. He played five games with Peterborough before being traded to Hamilton on Jan. 9. McTavish helped Hamilton win the OHL championship with 16 goals in 19 playoff games, and his eight points (six goals, two assists) in five games tied for the lead at the Memorial Cup.
“In simple terms, he’s a hockey player,” Cameron said. “Everything about him shows that. Very attentive in meetings, asks the right questions, works as hard as anybody off ice, has no ego, and his on-ice performance speaks for itself. He’s played in the NHL, and he’s got a long NHL career ahead of him.”
The top four teams in each group will play in the quarterfinals Aug. 17. The semifinals are Aug. 19, and the championship and third-place games are Aug. 20. All games will be shown on NHL Network in the United States and on TSN in Canada.
There will be no relegation round, meaning the same 10 teams will play in the 2023 WJC, which will be held Dec. 26-Jan. 5, 2023, in Halifax, Nova Scotia and Moncton, New Brunswick.
Here’s a look at each Group A team, in predicted order of finish:
Coach: Dave Cameron
2023 NHL Draft Watch: Connor Bedard, F, Regina, WHL
Schedule: Aug. 10, Latvia (6 p.m. ET); Aug. 11, Slovakia (6 p.m. ET); Aug. 13, Czechia (6 p.m. ET); Aug. 15, Finland (6 p.m. ET)
Outlook: Canada’s strength is its depth, especially at center. McTavish, Logan Stankoven (Dallas Stars), Ridly Greig (Ottawa Senators) and Elliot Desnoyers (Philadelphia Flyers) likely will start the tournament in the middle, but another option could be Connor Bedard. The likely No. 1 pick of the 2023 NHL Draft displayed his dazzling skills in two games as a 16-year-old when the tournament initially was held in December, including a four-goal game against Austria. Now he’s older and more experienced after finishing fourth in the Western Hockey League with 100 points (51 goals, 49 assists) in 62 games with Regina, and could be ready for an even bigger breakout. Seven of the eight defensemen are left shots, but Olen Zellweger (Anaheim Ducks), the top defenseman in the WHL last season, is part of a versatile group of strong skaters who should be fine on their off side. With goalies Sebastian Cossa (Detroit Red Wings) and Dylan Garand (New York Rangers) likely sharing time, Canada again will be a favorite to reach the championship game.
Coach: Antti Pennanen
2023 NHL Draft Watch: Ruben Rafkin, D, TPS, FIN
Schedule: Aug. 9, Latvia (6 p.m. ET); Aug. 11, Czechia (2 p.m. ET); Aug. 14, Slovakia (2 p.m. ET); Aug. 15, Finland (6 p.m. ET)
Outlook: Finland will have five defensemen back from its third-place finish at the 2021 WJC, led by Topi Niemela (Toronto Maple Leafs), voted the best defensemen at the tournament after he had eight points (two goals, six assists) in seven games. They’ll have to be good with three inexperienced goalies behind them in Leevi Merilainen (Ottawa Senators) and Juha Jatkola (2023 draft eligible), each of whom played one game in December, and Jani Lampinen (2023 draft eligible). Forward Brad Lambert (Winnipeg Jets), who had five points (one goal, four assists) in two games before the tournament was canceled in December, will be counted on to play at a similar level now. Also expected to chip in on offense will be Aatu Raty (New York Islanders), who had 40 points (13 goals, 27 assists) in 41 games with Jukurit in Liiga last season, as well as Kasper Simontaival (Los Angeles Kings), who scored four goals in seven games at the 2021 WJC. If the goaltending holds up and the offense delivers, Finland could push Canada for the top spot in the group.
Coach: Radim Rulik
2023 NHL Draft Watch: Daniel Hercik, F, Pardubice, CZE; Adam Mechura, F, Tri-City, WHL
Schedule: Aug. 9, Slovakia (2 p.m. ET); Aug. 11, Finland (2 p.m. ET); Aug. 13, Canada (6 p.m. ET); Aug. 14, Latvia (6 p.m. ET)
Outlook: Jan Mysak (Montreal Canadiens), Matyas Sapovaliv (Vegas Golden Knights) and Jiri Kulich (Buffalo Sabres) likely will key the offense. Mysak had 64 points (34 goals, 30 assists) in 61 games for Hamilton of the OHL last season, and is one of five returning players from the 2021 WJC, where he had three points (two goals, one assist) in five games. Sapovaliv was fourth among OHL rookies with 52 points (18 goals, 34 assists) in 68 games for Saginaw. Kulich was named most valuable player of the 2022 IIHF Under-18 World Championship after he led all players with nine goals in six games. Two defensemen are among the returnees from the 2021 WJC, Columbus Blue Jackets prospects David Jiricek and Stanislav Svozil. Jiricek’s status for the start of the tournament is in question after testing positive for COVID-19, but the hope is he’ll arrive in time for the opener. Czechia will need him if it hopes to finish ahead of Slovakia and push Finland for second place in the group.
Coach: Ivan Fenes
2023 NHL Draft Watch: Dalibor Dvorsky, F, AIK Jr., SWE-JR; Samuel Honzek, F, Vancouver, WHL
Schedule: Aug. 9, Czechia (2 p.m. ET); Aug. 11, Canada (6 p.m. ET); Aug. 12, Latvia (6 p.m. ET); Aug. 14, Finland (2 p.m. ET)
Outlook: Dvorsky is a potential top-five pick in the 2023 draft after he had 40 points (20 goals, 20 assists) in 33 games with AIK’s team in Sweden’s junior league. In addition to Dvorsky, forward Servac Petrovsky (Minnesota Wild), who was third among OHL rookies last season with 54 points (28 goals, 26 assists) in 65 games with Owen Sound, also should have a big role in the offense. Goalie Simon Latkoczy returns after he had a .922 save percentage in three games at the 2021 WJC despite facing 34.0 shots on goal per game, and he’s played the past three seasons in the United States Hockey League, which means he’s experienced on the smaller North American ice. Slovakia won’t have forward Juraj Slafkovsky (Montreal Canadiens) and defenseman Simon Nemec (New Jersey Devils), the first two picks of the 2022 NHL Draft, but still has a talented group. If Latkoczy can steal them a game, they could challenge Czechia for third place in Group A.
Coach: Artis Abols
2023 NHL Draft Watch: Niks Fenenko, D, Baie-Comeau, QMJHL
Schedule: Aug. 9, Finland (6 p.m. ET); Aug. 10, Canada (6 p.m. ET); Aug. 12, Slovakia (6 p.m. ET); Aug. 14, Czechia (6 p.m. ET)
Outlook: It’s the first time Latvia has played in the top level of the World Juniors since 2017, and being placed in a group with the second-place (Canada) and third-place (Finland) finishers from 2021 won’t help their cause. Three players on the roster have been drafted by NHL teams, including forward Klavs Veinbergs (Tampa Bay Lightning). He had seven points (four goals, three assists) in nine playoff games to help Zemgale win the championship in Latvia’s top professional league. It will take a lot for Latvia to win a game, but with no relegation round to worry about, the experience the players gain could help them for the 2023 WJC.