It truly blows to be a hockey fan right now. With barely scraps of NHL hockey – including the depressing defeat of our Minnesota Wild to the Dallas Stars as one of the few matches actually played recently – and players backing out of the Olympics with their heads hung low, there is just nothing going on. All we can enjoy is shuffling our feet around and watching some holiday reruns, instead of watching our favorite team beat up on the Arizona Coyotes or something like that.
Well, thank God we have the World Juniors.
The winter tournament between 10 Nations of Teens to determine which NHL prospects are truly the best, has started with their preliminary games – the ones that have not been cancelled – in the past and the actual tournament starting on Dec. 26. And if curing your hockey boredom is not enough the Wild are well represented this year with six players among five different teams. Let’s take a look at some of the prospects.
Carson Lambos, Canada
It’s always good to have a prospective blueliner on Team Canada, as the entire hockey world up north will probably remember his name decades from now if he puts in a strong enough performance. They’re freaks for this shit up there and Lambos will most likely feature in Canada’s top-four defensemen on the right side, even as a left-handed defender.
Canada decided to take only lefties when it comes to defensemen, supporting my personal bias that handedness is way overblown. It matters, but opting to take the best group of blueliners rather than trying to force some proper left-right pairings, is something that is just nice to see.
Hopefully Lambos will excel on the big stage and that will propel him to making a strong impact when he visits Minnesota training camp later in the fall.
Ryan O’Rourke, Canada
The older of the two Canadian blueliners, O’Rourke will play more of a shutdown role and was on the bottom pairing against the Russian team in exhibition on Thursday. While certainly not the flashy defenseman that we’re used to seeing at this tournament – Calen Addison was a highlight recently – O’Rourke can stabilize the group and suppress some of the other talented forwards in the tournament.
Since he loves to hit, I just hope that he isn’t the perpetrator of the seemingly annual Defenseman Hits a Talented Forward in the Head and Everyone Hates Them Now.
Jesper Wallstedt, Sweden
Jesper is hands-down the best goaltender at the tournament. Sure, Sebastian Cossa – who was taken ahead of him in the 2021 NHL Draft – has a strong case and some other dudes can contend. But Wallstedt has already been playing amongst men at a historic rate and is on course to become Sweden’s next stabilizing force in between the pipes. While Marat Khusnutdinov might be the most talented skater amongst the Wild prospects at the tournament, Wallstedt certainly has the highest ceiling and is going to get his fair share of the spotlight.
He should be starting the majority of Sweden’s games that matter, and hopefully he can earn an individual award or two.
Jack Peart, United States
A late call-up, Jack Peart wasn’t supposed to be on the United States’ final roster, but with some players going into quarantine, his number was called and he rushed up to Alberta to join in on the fun. The 2021 second-rounder is a Minnesota boy and models his game after our very own Jared Spurgeon, so this will be fun.
He is a firecracker when it comes to entering the zone and can skate fairly well for a player that is just starting to get the college game under his feet. Also, it’s pronounced “PEE-ert” and I’ve been saying it wrong since he was drafted.
Marat Khusnutdinov, Russia
His name has already been mentioned, but Khusnutdinov is a complete stud. The undersized-but-dynamic center will be on Russia’s top line and against Canada in exhibition action, he had 2023 wonderkid Matvei Michkov on his wing. Khusnutdinov is already getting praises for how well-rounded he looks, and really that has been his entire game already, so it’s going to be wonderful watching him play.
We’re familiar enough with this notion, but the Russian teen just re-upped with his KHL team and will be playing there until 2024. Not the best scenario, but he will be a player worth waiting for and will probably suddenly become the Wild’s second-best center almost immediately, if nothing changes.
Our blog is going to have constant Khusnutdinov highlights ready for you all.
Pavel Novak, Czechia
And lastly, and probably most forgotten about, Pavel Novak will be playing on the wing for Czechia. Not one of the strong contenders for this tournament, but Novak has well-earned his spot while playing in the WHL this season and might be one of their handful of offensive sparks this tournament. He can certainly surprise, and it is a tournament made for 19-year-olds, so who knows, but we’ll check in on him every now and again.
Now that you’re familiar with all the Wild prospects that will be at the tournament, let’s check in on the games that they will be playing in. All games are available on NHL Network in the United States, or TSN in Canada. Times are CST.
Russia (Khusnutdinov) vs. Sweden (Wallstedt) - 3:30 PM
Czechia (Novak) vs. Canada (Lambos, O’Rourke) - 6:00 PM
United States (Peart) vs. Slovakia - 8:30 PM
Russia (Khusnutdinov) vs. Switzerland - 3:30 PM
Germany vs. Czechia (Novak) - 6:00 PM
Sweden (Wallstedt) vs. Slovakia - 8:30 PM
Switzerland vs. United States (Peart) - 3:30 PM
Austria vs. Canada (Lambos, O’Rourke) - 6:00 PM
Finland vs. Czechia (Novak) - 1:00 PM
Slovakia vs. Russia (Khusnutdinov) - 3:30 PM
Canada (Lambos, O’Rourke) vs. Germany - 6:00 PM
Sweden (Wallstedt) vs. United States (Peart) - 8:30 PM
Czechia (Novak) vs. Austria - 3:30 PM
Switzerland vs. Sweden (Wallstedt) - 3:30 PM
Canada (Lambos, O’Rourke) vs. Finland - 6:00 PM
United States (Peart) vs. Russia (Khusnutdinov) - 8:30 PM
Elimination & Medal Rounds