The 2022 IIHF World Junior Championships will take place in Edmonton and Red Deer, Alberta, from Dec. 26 to Jan. 5. The United States will try to defend its title, while Russia, Canada, Sweden, and Finland will be loaded. The St. Louis Blues‘ prospect pool has a lot of solid players, and there are ones that stand out to possibly play in the World Juniors. Taking a page out of our Edmonton Oilers’ staff here, I’ll evaluate four players in the Blues system who could play in the World Juniors this year.
Jake Neighbours, Team Canada
The Blues saw what Jake Neighbours could be with the nine games he played for them this season. He’s only 19 years old and was their first-round pick in 2020 — he could be a terrific fourth-liner and leader for Canada.
Even with Canada’s impressive depth, they could still use a power forward type with a little experience in the NHL. This is the type of tournament where we could see Neighbours dominate, just like he will in his return to junior hockey. He has a lot of skill to offer and could be the grit that Canada needs to return to the winner’s circle this time around.
I look at Neighbours’ as a likely fourth-liner for Canada, but he could sneak onto the third line — remember that they have an incredible pool of talent for this event. Either way, it would be fun to see Neighbours on this stage, and he is cut out for this.
Simon Robertsson, Team Sweden
In what many categorized as a steal in the 2021 NHL Draft, the Blues selected Simon Robertsson in the third round with the 71st-overall pick. He is a silky smooth winger with one of the best shots in junior hockey.
Although he has struggled in the Swedish Hockey League (SHL) after a promotion from the junior level league, he boasts a ton of skill and potential. He projects as a possible top-six winger in the NHL, and Sweden is going to what a player with the shot that he has.
Even with the depth that Sweden will have in the right-wing slot, Robertsson is still one of their best and should make the team. In his last three seasons of junior hockey, he’s scored 57 points in 63 games, and remember the fact that he will be playing against junior-level competition in this tournament. I’d be surprised if Robertsson isn’t on the team for Sweden.
Outside Chance: Zachary Bolduc, Team Canada
I don’t think it’s likely, but Zachary Bolduc could bring a lot to this Team Canada. They likely have too much talent to fit him in, but you never know. Bolduc was the Blues’ first-round pick from the 2021 Draft. He’s off to a fast start in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) with the Rimouski Oceanic, tallying 18 points in 16 games.
The good news for a center like Bolduc is we may not see a lot of the elite players at that position for Canada play. There are injuries and centers already in the NHL who may not get permission to play for Canada — this was seen with Jack Hughes and the New Jersey Devils a couple of seasons ago.
One has to think that Bolduc is on a shortlist for Canada even with their tremendous depth. He’s another player that is mature and built for this tournament. He’s got 46 goals in his last three QMJHL seasons — none of those seasons were remotely completed, except for the 55 of 68 games they played in 2019-20.
Bolduc should be up for serious consideration with this roster and would be a good fit to play with any of Canada’s top wingers, including the first-round pick he followed from 2020 to 2021 with Neighbours.
Outside Chance: Tanner Dickinson, Team United States
This is as outside as outside gets, even with the terrific season that Tanner Dickinson is having in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) for the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds. I think with Team USA’s depth, there is a slim chance that Dickinson makes the cut; he was a fourth-round pick and may not be on their radar. However, a center with the elite speed that Dickinson has would be a huge asset for the U.S. team.
Dickinson is one of two American-born players in the top 10 for scoring in the OHL this season; the other is Anaheim Ducks‘ draft pick Sasha Pastujov. Pastujov was a third-round pick and is likely to be on the U.S. roster, whether they consider Dickinson remains to be seen.
Either way, Dickinson has 22 points in 16 games, which is currently ninth in the OHL. It isn’t an overly large sample size, but he did have a good season in 2019-20, with 40 points in 64 games for the Greyhounds. He should be considered, but the continually rising elite pool of U.S. junior players will make it tough.
With the steady improvements to the Blues’ pool of prospects, they have a good chance to get multiple players to play at this tournament. That isn’t always the case, but it’s certainly an exciting opportunity for all of them.