With the preliminary round of the World Junior Championship finally complete, the real action is about to begin.
Austria and Latvia are set for the relegation round in hopes of heading to Sweden in 2024. That’s a three-game series, with every other matchup set to single-game elimination playoff battles.
As always, the biggest focus at the WJC is watching the top NHL-drafted prospects do battle. It’s the first time that many are being exposed on the national stage. There are also all the high-end quality 2023 prospects, like Connor Bedard, Adam Fantilli and Leo Carlsson.
But there are also those looking to get selected after getting passed over before. Some didn’t make it through the 2022 round, while others are looking for a final shot after going undrafted in 2021. These five players in particular stood out during the preliminary round and will be ones to watch going forward:
Tomas Suchanek, G (Czechia)
After stealing the show with a great second-half effort in August, Suchanek is once again showing why he’s one of the best goalies in the tournament. Suchanek was excellent against Canada in the opening game, shut out Austria and then kept his team in it against a powerful Swedish squad in his third start. Originally eligible for the 2021 draft, Suchanek participated in Buffalo’s prospect tournament in September and once again turned heads. Suchanek was on a bit of a heater before heading to Halifax and could turn this season into something tangible. Oh, and he has the tournament record for goalie assists in a single tournament with three. Fun stuff.
Adam Gajan, G (Slovakia)
Gajan had never played for Slovakia in international play, so his play in this tournament has been an excellent start. He won his first two starts and was especially excellent against the United States in his team’s shocking win on Dec. 28. He followed it up with a 28-save shutout effort against Latvia to avoid any potential relegation round concerns – and it wasn’t an easy 28 saves, either. He started the game against Switzerland, and while the Swiss came back, Hakan was excellent again. Originally eligible in 2022, Gajan’s name started to spark interest for the draft leading up to the WJC.
Jani Lampinen, G (Finland)
Keeping the goalie theme alive, Lampinen was the only undrafted goalie on the only team with two NHL netminding prospects. That hasn’t stopped him from taking control, with the 19-year-old stopping Slovakia and then shutting out Latvia with a 31-save shutout. Like Gajan, Latvia didn’t make it easy for Lampinen, but he had some big stops to keep things in control. Lampinen only served as the third goalie at the U-18 and U-20 levels, so this is an excellent showing. He didn’t start the Dec. 31 game against USA, which surprised many, so he hasn’t allowed an even-strength goal up to this point. He has earned some NHL Draft consideration with his play.
Sami Päivärinta, C (Finland)
The 5-foot-9 Päivärinta has struggled to produce against men this year, but he’s been making it work in Finland’s bottom-six. He had points in his first three games, including helpers on both of Finland’s goals against Switzerland in the opener. He was especially good against Slovakia, where he scored and looked engaged throughout. He’s a bit of a longshot to get taken as a third-year eligible prospect, but he’s making people take notice again.
Attilio Biasca, LW (Switzerland)
If the Swiss was going to have any chance at this tournament, it was going to be because of Biasca, a Halifax Mooseheads star. The 19-year-old scored the game-winner against Finland and then played 25 minutes against Latvia in the second game. He scored the lone goal against USA and was generally good in the loss. As the tournament continues, Biasca needs to be excellent, but scouts have at least taken notice of his play for a team in need of star power.
Other notables: Peter Repcik, C (Slovakia), Kalle Ervasti, D (Finland), Adam Mechura, LW (Czechia)