The 2023 World Junior Championship (WJC) was an outstanding success with many thrills and heartbreak. It had its fair share of upsets and highlights as well, but like in every tournament, some players pulled away from the pack and started playing on another level in hopes of helping propel their team to a gold medal. This year, entire lines and defensive groups excelled, and here is a look at the three best units at the WJC.
USA Line of Cooley, Snuggerud, Gauthier
USA’s top line was one of the best lines the team has seen in years, led by the Arizona Coyotes’ third-overall pick in the 2022 Draft, Logan Cooley. The Americans’ top line consisted of Cooley, Jimmy Snuggerud and Cutter Gauthier and was the leading force of Team USA’s offence. Snuggerud was drafted 23rd overall by the St. Louis Blues in 2022, while Gauthier was drafted 5th overall by the Philadelphia Flyers. All three currently play in the NCAA, with Cooley and Snuggerud playing for the University of Michigan and Gauthier with Boston College.
The Cooley line was the lifeblood of the USA team during this year’s WJC, amassing 37 points, including 16 goals, and helping Team USA win the bronze medal. Cooley led the way with six goals and 12 points, Snuggerud was close behind him at five goals and 12 points, and Gauthier rounded out the line with two goals and eight points and provided the defensive cover. The line was responsible for 41 percent of the team’s goals in the tournament, including three of the four game-winning goals (GWG). Without this line, the USA would have been left out of the medal round and wondered what went wrong.
Czechia was the tournament’s surprise team: they defeated Canada in their opening round-robin game and finished first in their group. A huge reason they were so successful in this year’s tournament was mainly dependent on their defensive corps, especially their top two pairings featuring David Spacek, David Jiricek, Stanislav Svozil, and Jiri Tichacek. The Czechia defence scored more goals than any other team’s defensive corps but was also steady in their own end, allowing only eight goals.
The way the Czechia defence played offensively was why they won their group and played in the gold medal game. The team worked as five-person groups in both ends, and it worked very effectively in sustaining control of the puck and possession during their games. Most offensive defence groups usually don’t play very well or are out of position. The Czechia defence, however, was very efficient and solid, playing defence and offence, leading to this defensive corps being the best in the tournament.
Canada Line of Stankoven, Bedard, Roy
You can’t write an article about the top lines at the WJC tournament without having the line with all three in the top five of scoring. Canada’s top line featured three top-five scorers in the tournament and had the player who scored the most points for Team Canada in a single WJC. Connor Bedard came as advertised this year and dominated this tournament for Canada, leading all players with 23 points, nine more than Cooley of the USA. Along with Bedard, Joshua Roy and Logan Stankoven piled up the points as well, with Stankoven and Roy tied for fourth with 11 points.
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Canada relied heavily on their top line throughout the round-robin and again in the medal rounds. Bedard led the charge with Roy and Stankoven setting him up for success. The chemistry between the trio was to the point that they knew exactly what the other player would do before he does. It’s no wonder that Canada was the highest-scoring team in the tournament and these three players were heavily involved.
Bedard has proven beyond a reasonable doubt that he will be drafted first overall, and whatever team is lucky enough to snag him will have a generational talent. As for Cooley, Roy, Snuggerud, Jirieck and the rest of the players, the teams that have already drafted them have picked up players with bright futures. Once again, the WJC has showcased some of the best young talents in the world.
Trege Wilson has been a freelance content writer for the past four years and with the THW for the past year. He is the co-host of the popular Montreal Canadiens podcast Habs Unfiltered on IHeartRadio.com. Trege is very passionate about all things Canadiens and loves to provide his readers with great quality news, rumours and opinions on the Montreal Canadiens. Trege has also been featured on CTV news and ESPN Radio; for interviews and guest appearances, you can contact him at any of his social media accounts listed under his photo in such articles as this one.