As the World Junior Championship (WJC) gets underway this holiday season, Montreal Canadiens fans will no doubt renew the tradition of watching the tournament among family and friends. While they cheer on their home nations, be it Canada or any other nation, fans will no doubt want to watch the Canadiens’ prospects participating in the tournament and see how they measure up as this may be the only time they see these players.
The Canadiens will have Joshua Roy, Canada; Lane Hutson, USA; Filip Mesar, Slovakia; Vinzenz Rohrer, Austria; Oliver Kapanen, Finland; and, Adam Engstrom, Sweden. All these players will play a significant role for their nations, and provide exciting play for the fans in Halifax and Moncton and those following at home. However, with the Canadiens currently holding two first-round picks in 2023, both of which could end up becoming top-15 picks, fans may want to watch for these players who could be within their reach at the 2023 Draft.
Adam Fantilli – Center/Wing – Canada
While the obvious choice would be to watch top prospect Connor Bedard, the chances of having the first-overall pick again in 2023 are low for the Canadiens. That being said, it won’t be absurd to think there could be a chance of moving up into the top three of the draft via lottery. If that’s the case, Adam Fantilli could be a great consolation prize.
The 6-foot-2 center currently plays for the University of Michigan and the freshman has 11 goals and 26 points in 16 games. At this WJC he is playing on the wing on Canada’s second line, where he is in competition to remain. He will be asked to play to his strengths, playing with pace and using his vision to create offense, but he can also play a physical style along the boards and on the forecheck, which fits the Canadian plan perfectly.
“We are a strong team, and we are fast and physical. When teams want to ramp up the speed, we can play fast, and when teams want to play physical, we can match that.”– Brennan Othmann, post-game Canada vs. Finland, Dec. 23, 2022
For Fantilli, even though the gold medal is his focus, performing well in a scoring role and earning power-play time will be his biggest opportunity to show himself and scouts that he is worthy to compete to be selected first overall.
Samuel Honzek – Center – Slovakia
Slovakia is one team to watch at the tournament, especially if you are looking for draft-eligible prospects as they have the most of any of the participating teams. One player for Habs fans to keep an eye on is Samuel Honzek. At 6-foot-3 and 181 pounds, the 17-year-old already has an NHL sized frame to fill out. When he left his club team, the Vancouver Giants of the Western Hockey League (WHL), Honzek held the team lead in goals (17) and points (43) and is on pace for a 93-point season all as a rookie.
Related: 2023 Guide to the World Junior Championship
Honzek excels when playing a power-forward style of hockey, using his large frame to not only win 1-on-1 battles, but also for puck protection while generating the cycle game down low, or in transition with controlled zone entries. He also has the vision of a playmaker, finding teammates through traffic or using that frame of his to create lanes to exploit for a pass, or for one of his accurate and heavy shots. Based on the pre-tournament games, he is expected to play on the top line for Slovakia. As one of 16 Canadian Hockey League (CHL) prospects to get an “A” rating from NHL Central scouting, adding a break-out performance at this WJC would put him in the conversation to be a top-15 prospect.
David Reinbacher – Right Defenseman – Austria
David Reinbacher is not a well-known name yet, but he has all the tools to become one among fans after this tournament. The 6-foot-2, right-handed defender is already competing at the professional level in Europe and is one of a handful of Austrians returning. He has all of the tools necessary to become a complete two-way defender in the NHL. He has the size, he skates extremely well, he is very mobile, has good puck skills and a good shot. He has been relied upon as a power-play weapon with EHC Kloten, in the top professional league in Switzerland.
With Austria at the WJC, he will be relied upon to play heavy minutes in all situations, not just on the power play but also at 5-on-5 and the penalty kill. This December’s WJC could help boost his draft stock. The Canadiens do have a need in their system for right-handed defenders, especially ones that display Reinbacher’s skill sets.
Eduard Sale – Right Wing – Czechia
Eduard Sale is a highly skilled player who loves to play a high-risk style of offence. He is very adept at finding the weaknesses of team defenses to capitalize on. Sale is an adept playmaker who scans the ice constantly in search of the best offensive play. Also, he is a hard-working player that is improving on his play without the puck. Until recently he has been a pass-first player, but now, he has added a quick and accurate shot to his arsenal. Currently, he plays for HC Kometa Brno in the top professional league in Czechia where his three goals and six points in 26 games seems underwhelming, even with the limited ice time he has been given.
However, against prospects in his age group, he can be a dominant offensive player. Sale had four goals and six points in five games at the Hlinka-Gretzky Cup this summer where he helped lead Czechia to a fourth-place finish. At 6-foot-1, he is a player with NHL size, but at 165 pounds, he will need time to fill that frame. He is already playing on a top line for Czechia at this tournament, which means he will be an important offensive player, which provides him an excellent opportunity to showcase himself.
Charlie Stramel – Center/Right Wing – USA
Charlie Stramel is one of only two draft-eligible 18-year-old players on an experienced Team USA. The 6-foot-3, 216-pound forward was only shifted to center in the last two seasons to take advantage of his size but also of his playmaking skills. Stramel is able to play a power-forward style, finishing checks and physically dominating opponents, but he also plays with skill. He attacks the net using his large frame and uses a hard and accurate shot, and can use a quick and deceptive release when in close to keep goaltenders guessing.
The University of Wisconsin freshman has had a slow start to his NCAA season, scoring only four goals and seven points in 18 games. But Canadiens fans may remember the work Wisconsin head coach Tony Granato did with Canadiens forward Cole Caufield to improve his game, and it should be expected with Stramel as well. Stramel will play in a bottom-six role for the USA where he will be relied upon to use his size and strength, but also tap into his high-energy style and competitiveness to add some offense as well. Team USA will rely on a good performance by the big center to improve upon their disappointing loss in the Quarterfinals in the 2022 WJC.
Hockey fans are in the busiest time of year, with all the international tournaments being played as well as NHL games, there is no shortage of entertainment. For this WJC, and for Canadiens fans, there will be many players to keep an eye on and become familiar with. It is possible one or more could be called to the podium to pull on a Habs sweater.