Since the 2022 World Junior Championship (WJC) was postponed following an unfortunate COVID outbreak in the makeshift bubble that the players were living in, fans have been waiting over seven months to see these teams gather once again. The World Juniors usually offers fans a great chance to familiarize themselves with the top prospects from their favourite NHL team, as well as some of the top prospects for the upcoming NHL Draft.
The timing of this year’s WJC is unique as many of the top players at the original tournament in January were drafted in the 2022 draft this July and have decided to opt-out of the rescheduled tournament in favour of preparing for the NHL season. Another oddity timing-wise is that typically the first-year draft-eligible prospects are competing roughly six months before they will be drafted, but in this August’s tourney, they will be competing nearly a full year before their draft day.
The 2023 draft class has drawn tons of attention for the incredible talent and depth present at the top of the draft, though few such players will be competing for their countries in this tournament. Though there will certainly be more 2023 draft-eligible prospects in the 2023 World Juniors, which will take place after Christmas as usual, there will still be some excellent young players on the ice when the tournament starts up next week.
We’ll start with an honourable mention before listing the most notable names to keep an eye on, followed by a full list of every 2023 draft-eligible player in the tournament at the end of the article.
Note: Only first-year eligible prospects are highlighted. Overagers and undrafted players won’t be found on this list.
Honourable Mention — Charlie Stramel, Team USA
The reason that Charlie Stramel is an honourable mention rather than a full-blown member of the list is that he is on the expanded 27-player roster for Team USA rather than their final 25-player roster. The team must submit its finalized roster by Aug. 7, the final day of pre-tournament games. There is a chance that Stramel makes the team following an impressive performance in some of these preliminary games, but there is no way to tell right now.
Stramel is considered by most to be one of the top prospects in the 2023 draft and is currently viewed as the second-best American prospect in the draft behind only Quentin Musty of the Ontario Hockey League’s (OHL) Sudbury Wolves. Despite his season being cut short by injury, Stramel excelled last year as a member of the U.S. National U18 Team.
He already possesses NHL-ready size, measuring in at 6-foot-3 and 216 pounds as a 17-year-old. Unlike many young prospects with similar physical traits, Stramel does play a power-forward game that uses his size and strength to his advantage. He is incredibly tough to knock off the puck, and he is strong enough to win a ton of physical puck battles. Despite his size, Stramel is a very smooth skater, which allows him to keep up with smaller opponents. His size and skating also make him a very real threat when he sets up in front of the net, where his strength and smart positioning often lead to some great scoring chances.
Whether Stramel makes the final cut for Team USA this year or not, he will almost certainly make the team next Winter before getting drafted quite high when the 2023 draft comes around next summer.
Dalibor Dvorsky, Team Slovakia
One name that a lot of fans may be hearing for the first time at this tournament is Dalibor Dvorsky, but it certainly won’t be the last time they hear about him. Dvorsky is a highly skilled centre who oozes confidence and incredible intelligence. He has a very complete offensive game, with excellent playmaking skills and instincts as well as a wicked shot.
Dvorsky played for AIK in the top Swedish junior league last season, where he scored 40 points in 33 games, more than any other U17 player in the league. There were only five U18 players who scored more than 40 points, and three of them were first-round picks in the 2022 Draft. He would have scored more points had he stayed in the junior league for the entire season, but he was so impressive that he received a call-up to AIK’s professional team in the Allsvenskan, the second tier of Swedish professional hockey. He showed well in 17 professional games despite playing minimal minutes.
He will be returning to AIK for his draft season in the fall, though I anticipate he will earn a greater role in the Allsvenskan, where he can demonstrate how advanced his skating and strength are for a player of his age. Dvorsky is currently very likely to be drafted in the top 10 of next year’s draft, but an impressive showing at this tournament could help him boost his draft stock even further.
Rainers Rullers, Team Latvia
The top Latvian prospect for the 2023 draft is Rainers Rullers, who has played quite well in the top two tiers of Latvian professional hockey. He spent eight games in the second league, where he scored seven points and showed that his strength and skating could keep up with a higher level of competition. Rullers then received a promotion to the top Latvian league, where he scored 17 points in 28 games as a 17-year-old.
Related: Baracchini’s 2023 NHL Draft Rankings
Aside from having what is almost certainly the coolest name in the 2023 draft class, Rullers has a massive frame for someone of his age, standing at 6-foot-3 and 181 pounds. He was the second highest scorer amongst U18 skaters in Latvia and was the fourth highest among all U20 skaters. His future isn’t set at this point, though I’d expect to see Rullers return to Latvia for at least another season.
An alternative career option for him that could be interesting would be making a move to Sweden, where he could play in the Swedish junior leagues. The move would be like Detroit Red Wings prospect Marco Kasper, who moved from Austria to Sweden to compete at a higher level. Regardless of where he plays next season, Rullers will certainly be one of the top players on a relatively weak Latvian team, so keep an eye on him.
Samuel Honzek, Team Slovakia
The next player to keep an eye on in this year’s tournament is another prospect who will be playing for Team Slovakia is Samuel Honzek. Few 16-year-old players are mature enough physically, mentally, and skill-wise to play in professional hockey leagues against grown men, but Honzek is one such player. After playing 15 games across the top two professional leagues in Slovakia during the 2020-21 season, Honzek played 49 games last year, all of which were in the top Slovak league, the Extraliga.
Honzek scored 14 points in those 49 games, 10 of which were goals. He began the season in the top Slovak junior league, but he was leaps and bounds above most of his competition, scoring seven points in five games before making the jump to the professional level. Honzek was selected in the first round of the 2022 Canadian Hockey League’s (CHL) Import Draft by the Vancouver Giants. After playing at every level imaginable in his home country, he agreed to join the Giants, signing a contract to play in the Western Hockey League (WHL) next season.
Honzek’s strength and great skating allowed him to succeed against grown men, so it will be exciting to see how he does next season against his own age group once again. He has a good shot, and his size makes him a serious threat in front of the net. He isn’t particularly active defensively, but his sheer size should make puck battles in the WHL quite easy for him. Honzek could very well be one of the top contributors for a Slovak team that is looking for offense in the absence of top prospects Juraj Slafkovsky and Simon Nemec, the top two selections in the 2022 draft. Both of them decided not to attend the tournament in favour of training for the upcoming NHL season.
David Reinbacher, Team Austria
Yet another relatively unknown prospect with a great name, David Reinbacher will likely be a big difference maker for Team Austria as one of their top defenders. After kicking off last season with 22 points in 23 games in the top Swiss junior league, Reinbacher made his way up to the Swiss League (SL), the second tier of Swiss Pro hockey. In 27 professional games, he scored 11 points at the age of 17. This is the same league that Anaheim Ducks prospect Mason McTavish played for during his draft year, where he scored 11 points in 13 games before getting drafted third overall in 2021.
Reinbacher scored at roughly half the rate that McTavish did despite being a defender who is a year younger. If he can take another step forward this year, he could begin to generate some real buzz in the 2023 draft as a big right-shot defenseman.
Related: Early Look at the 2024 NHL Draft
EHC Kloten, Reinbacher’s SL team, won their league championship last season, earning themselves a promotion to the National League (NL), the top professional league in Switzerland. Even if Reinbacher only maintains his offensive production while stepping into a more competitive league, that will be quite impressive.
Marco Kasper, Team Austria’s captain in the original version of this tournament, has decided not to play in the tournament this year to prepare for the upcoming SHL season, which means that someone will need to step up as a leader both on and off the ice for Austria. I’m hopeful that Reinbacher can be that guy.
Connor Bedard, Team Canada
Even though the 2023 draft is still 11 months away, there’s little to be said about Connor Bedard that hasn’t already been said. He is the player to watch in this tournament, especially for fans of an NHL team that doesn’t look particularly well set up for success next season. Bedard is a dynamic offensive player who is the most hyped prospect since Connor McDavid in 2015.
His greatest asset is his shot, which would stand out as excellent in the NHL even as a 17-year-old. His ability to get an excellent shot off from a wide variety of stances gives him the deception necessary to beat goaltenders cleanly. He scored 100 points last season for the Regina Pats of the Western Hockey League (WHL), the fourth most in the entire league. Fifty-one of Bedard’s points were goals, the second highest goal total in the league.
Some hockey fans were disappointed by the start to Bedard’s 2021-22 season, which saw him score 24 points in his first 24 games. Despite what the numbers said at the time, he was one of the best players in the WHL and had just been remarkably unlucky. Still just 16 years old, Bedard joined Team Canada for the original 2022 WJC, where he scored four goals and five points in just two games. Following the tournament’s cancellation, he took that momentum back to the WHL with him, scoring 76 points in his final 38 games.
Bedard will be a very important player for Team Canada despite being two years younger than most of the team’s leaders. He will surely provide a boost to the team’s already formidable offense. He is also expected to be a part of Team Canada at the 2023 WJC, which may be his final international tournament before he gets drafted into the NHL. He’s still the clear favourite to go first overall in the 2023 draft, so he will be worth keeping an eye on at this summer’s tournament.
- Maxim Strbak – Team Slovakia
- Martin Misiak – Team Slovakia
- Dalibor Dvorsky – Team Slovakia
- Samuel Honzek – Team Slovakia
- Charlie Stramel – Team USA (HM)
- Rainers Rullers – Team Latvia
- Peteris Bulans – Team Latvia
- Ian Scherzer – Team Austria
- David Reinbacher – Team Austria
- Connor Bedard – Team Canada
Logan is a sports writer for the Detroit Red Wings as a member of The Hockey Writers team. He loves reading about statistics and advanced analytics, and discovering how they can enrich his hockey analysis and writing. Logan also writes about more general hockey topics on his blog https://www.crashthecrease.blog.