Current Canucks’ Top 7 World Junior Performances

The World Junior Hockey Championship is set to get started and should once again be a can’t-miss event. The 2023 edition will feature three Vancouver Canucks, as Elias Pettersson, Jonathan Lekkerimäki, and Aku Koskenvuo will be looking to etch their names into history. All three have a strong chance to medal too, as Finland and Sweden are amongst the tournament favourites once again.

Curtis Lazar Vancouver Canucks
Curtis Lazar, Vancouver Canucks (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

There have been plenty of great performances by Canucks at the World Juniors. From Pavel Bure’s magical 1991 tournament when he scored 12 goals to Markus Näslund in 1993, who still holds the tournament record for most goals in a single competition with 13 and is second in points behind linemate Peter Forsberg with 24. To celebrate the tournament’s rich history, here is a look at the top seven World Junior performances by players who have played a game for the Canucks this season.

7) Tanner Pearson – 2012

Tanner Pearson was a late bloomer, but after an impressive start with the Barrie Colts during the 2011-12 season, he earned a spot on Team Canada. Playing with future NHL stars like Jonathan Huberdeau, Dougie Hamilton, Mark Stone, and Mark Scheifele, he finished with six points on his way to capturing a bronze medal. Of his six points, five were assists, with his only goal serving as the game-winner in the Bronze Medal Game.

Related: Guide to the 2023 World Junior Championship

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What made Pearson’s inclusion on the 2012 team impressive was he hadn’t been drafted yet. In fact, the then 19-year-old who was passed over in the 2011 Draft hadn’t even been invited to Team Canada’s Summer Selection Camp or any NHL-run rookie camps. He earned his selection to the team and showed he belonged based on his performance during the tournament.

6) Thatcher Demko – 2015

During the 2015 World Juniors, Thatcher Demko was virtually unbeatable. In four games, he finished with a 1.74 goals-against average, a .934 save percentage and a shutout. He was a shining star on a United States team that featured Jack Eichel, Austin Matthews, Dylan Larkin, and Zach Werenski.

Thatcher Demko Vancouver Canucks
Thatcher Demko, Vancouver Canucks (Photo by Derek Cain/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Despite his strong play throughout the tournament, the U.S. were knocked out in the quarterfinals by the eventual silver medalist, Team Russia. During that game, Igor Shesterkin stood on his head, making 39 saves to help his team advance to the semis. Regardless, Demko’s performance was still noteworthy as he was one of the tournament’s best goaltenders allowing just seven goals in four games.

5) Vasily Podkolzin – 2021

Of his three performances at the World Juniors, it is the one where Vasily Podkolzin did not win a medal that sticks out the most. After capturing bronze in 2019 and silver in 2020, he was tasked with captaining Russia at the 2021 World Juniors. Not only did he have to be a leader for his team, but he also had to help keep morale high during a tournament with no spectators in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Related: Canucks’ Podkolzin & Costmar Had Strong Performances at 2021 WJC

Despite losing in the Bronze Medal game, Podkolzin had proven why he was the tenth overall pick in 2019. He only posted four points in seven games but was one of the best two-way forwards in the tournament and was named a top-three player for his team. Although he couldn’t add a third medal to his collection, he was dominant and one of the best overall players in the tournament.

4) J.T. Miller – 2013

Of J.T. Miller’s two World Juniors, his second in 2013 was by far his best. Wearing an “A” for Team USA, he recorded nine points in seven games and helped the U.S. capture their third gold medal at the tournament. In the end, he led the Americans with seven assists and his nine points were tied with Johnny Gaudreau and Jacob Trouba for most on the team.

Miller spent the first part of the 2012-13 season in the American Hockey League with the Connecticut Whale but was able to translate a strong tournament into an NHL opportunity. He would make his debut with the New York Rangers in early February, playing 26 games with them that season. After finishing the 2012 tournament with only four points and no medal, it is safe to say he was able to step up his game in 2013.

3) Elias Pettersson – 2018

The 2018 World Juniors were a memorable one for Team Sweden. While most remember it for Lias Andersson tossing his silver medal into the crowd after falling to Canada in the finals, Canucks fans may remember it for Elias Pettersson’s dominance. He scored five goals, recorded seven points in his second World Juniors appearance, and was a key part of Sweden’s offence at even strength and the power play.

Related: Canucks’ Pettersson Playing Like a Superstar This Season

Pettersson was playing at a high level before the tournament started but kicked his game into high gear afterward. In the months that followed, he was named Swedish Hockey League (SHL) MVP and playoff MVP at 19 years old. He also won the SHL Championship and a gold medal for Sweden at the World Championship. 2018 was a special year for Pettersson and one that has not and may never be replicated by a Swedish player again.

2) Nils Höglander – 2020

After being drafted by the Canucks in the second round of the 2019 NHL Draft, Nils Höglander put on a show at the 2020 World Juniors. He finished third in points across the tournament with 11 and helped Sweden capture a bronze medal. His play also attracted the eyes of the refs, as during Sweden’s semi-finals versus Russia; he received 25 minutes in penalties for a hit to the head to Grigori Denisenko.

While the end to Höglander’s tournament did not go the way he wanted, it still is one of the most impressive tournaments by a Canuck prospect in the last two decades. He recorded a point in all but the Russia game and started the tournament with three straight multi-point games. His performance also ranks tied for eight with Vladimir Krutov and Jordan Schroeder for most by a Canucks draft pick in World Juniors history.

1) Curtis Lazar – 2015

The number one slot is an easy one as that goes to Captain Canada himself, Curtis Lazar. The Salmon Arm, B.C. native, led Canada to their first gold in six years during the 2015 tournament, recording nine points in seven games. While they were stacked with talent that included Connor McDavid, Sam Reinhart, Max Domi, Brayden Point and Josh Morrissey, he played an intricate part in the Canadians capturing their 16th gold medal at the World Juniors.

Related: Canucks Addition of Lazar Fills Multiple Team Needs

While Lazar had a strong tournament in 2014 with seven points in seven games, his performance in 2015 was one to remember. As one of the few players who was loaned from an NHL team, he was able to lead by example and ensure the Canadians stayed focused throughout the tournament. In front of a packed Air Canada Centre in Toronto, he was able to become the first and, to this day, the only player from Salmon Arm to capture gold at the World Juniors.

Plenty of Standout Performances by Current Canucks

Outside of these seven, there are plenty of other examples of current Canucks having strong World Junior performances. Whether it was Luke Schenn in 2008 and Tyler Myers in 2009 winning gold for Team Canada or Quinn Hughes capturing a silver and bronze for Team USA, Vancouver is filled with players who had talented junior careers. The 2023 tournament gets started on Boxing Day, with the next generation of Canucks looking to make their mark on the historic event.