The Montreal Canadiens could have as many as 13 prospects participating in the 2022 IIHF World Junior Championship (WJC) which runs August 9-20 in Alberta. The event was originally set to be held in December 2021, as it traditionally does. However, it was canceled a few days into the tournament when several positive COVID-19 results were found across several teams. One month later, it was rescheduled for August of 2022 and any player that was eligible to play at that time will still be able to play in August.
There is an issue for several players that can cause them to choose not to participate, and that is NHL training camps which begin while the tournament is in full swing. Several Canadiens draft picks are among those prospects who have a legitimate NHL opportunity this season and would have to decide to risk injury or miss time auditioning for the NHL club to join the festivities.
Even with the uncertainty of who will or will not play in the tournament, having that many eligible prospects being invited to camps or onto rosters demonstrates the depth of the Canadiens’ prospect pool right now.
The Canadiens have four prospects eligible to play for Team Canada in this summer’s tournament, Kaiden Guhle, who was named captain in December, Jonathan Roy, Riley Kidney, and Owen Beck.
Roy, Kidney, and Beck were all invited to Canada’s summer camp to battle for a roster spot on the national team. Both Roy and Kidney just completed a 100-point season playing in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) while Beck became the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) Mississauga Steelheads’ top two-way center capable of playing in any situation. Roy was also the last cut from the December 2021 edition of the team, meaning all three are legitimate challengers to fill key roles on this summer’s squad.
As for Guhle, he just completed a full season and playoffs with the Edmonton Oil Kings of the Western Hockey League (WHL), winning the championship and then participating in the Memorial Cup. This leaves him only one month to rest, recuperate and train prior to the start of Canada’s camp in late July. As one of the young players with a legitimate opportunity to crack the Canadiens’ NHL roster, he may be better served to avoid injuries and prepare for training camp. There is no doubt that he can be a difference maker for Canada at the tournament, which means he doesn’t have anything more to prove at that level. His participation would be to finish what he started in the winter, and bring a gold medal home to Canada.
Jan Mysak is now 20 and is eligible to play in the American Hockey League (AHL) next season. With NHL camps opening near the end of the tournament, it leaves him little time to rest and recuperate after a long season this year. Mysak was a key member of the Memorial Cup finalists, the Ontario Hockey League’s (OHL) Hamilton Bulldogs. However, as a player that isn’t expected to compete for an NHL role, he has less to lose if he were to forgo the Habs’ main camp and participate in the WJC, where he would likely resume the role of captain for Team Czechia. He could then rest until AHL camps open in September.
Oliver Kapanen played a two-way center role in Finland’s middle-six and it’s likely he’ll be expected to do the same in August, as he has been invited to their main camp. Joining him is 2022 seventh-round pick, defenceman Peteri Nurmi who also played for Finland in the canceled December event. Nurmi is a steady puck-moving defender who was passed over in two previous drafts, but the fact that he played in the Liiga and had more playing time over the course of the pandemic likely gave Montreal comfort in selecting him due to the added viewings. As a 20-year-old, he will likely be expected to play a top-four and leadership role for his nation this summer.
The Canadiens 2022 first-round picks, fellow Slovakians Juraj Slafkovsky and Filip Mesar were on their national team roster for the tournament in December. However, their names were not included in Team Slovakia’s lineup for the event in August 2022.
Both players are preparing for their first full seasons in North America and it seems the Habs don’t want them participating in this tournament. If they did play, it would leave precious little time prior to the start of Montreal’s training camp. The decision to play will be left up to the individual players, Mesar said.
“The Canadiens want me to prepare well for the next season and not risk an injury. They told me I could make the decision but they don’t want me to go. I’m still thinking about it, but I’ll accept what they say.”– Fillip Mesar
Mesar is more likely to participate as he is not expected to make the NHL lineup but instead is eligible to play for either Laval of the AHL or the Kitchener Rangers of the OHL.
As for Slafkovsky, being the first overall selection this past July, he is seen as having a legitimate role in the Habs’ top nine. After dominating at the Olympics and the World Championships last season versus men, he has little to prove or gain by participating in the WJC. It is far more likely he remains in Montreal and begins to acclimatize himself to the organization and his new teammates, especially if he is to be tested during training camp as the left-wing for the top line with Nick Suzuki and Cole Caufield.
Vincenz Rohrer was a 2022 third-round pick of the Canadiens. He led the OHL Ottawa 67’s in goals and points while leading them to the playoffs where they were swept by the North Bay Battalion. He played for Austria in the WJC in December and is expected to return this August. The Austrian club isn’t seen as a medal favorite, but it is the perfect stage for a coming-out party for Rohrer and his hard-nosed style.
This summer, Team USA originally invited 60 players to their evaluation camp which included Canadiens prospects Blake Biondi and Lane Hutson. Since then, Boston University’s (and Habs 2020 second-round pick) Luke Tuch has been added as well.
Biondi, a Habs fourth-round pick in 2020, completed his sophomore season at Minnesota-Duluth in the NCAA that saw him step into a top-six role and produce offensively. The 20-year-old forward led his team in goals with 17 and finished second in points with 28. He will be in tough to earn himself one of the top 12 forward positions, but he brings veteran experience, having already played internationally in 2019 at the Under-17 WJC.
Hutson is the supremely skilled defender who fell into the Habs’ lap at 62nd overall in the 2022 Draft. Despite his small frame, all of 5-foot-8 and 151 pounds, he dazzled at the Canadiens Development Camp this summer. He will join Boston University in the NCAA this season to continue his development, but if he can bring this level of play in camp, he should be a lock for USA’s top power play (PP) unit.
Tuch is coming off a season that saw him score only six goals and 10 points in 24 games due to injuries. This summer he is healthy and ready to bring his power forward style to the WJC. A style that will be beneficial to the Americans on the NHL-sized rinks.
When the 2022 World Juniors finally begin in August, it isn’t likely that all 13 will be participating. It’s more likely that Guhle, Slafkovsky, and Mesar will miss out due to a choice to compete for NHL jobs. However, Habs fans could look forward to break-out tournaments for Hutson, Biondi, Rohrer, Roy, and several more. For them, this tournament could be like Christmas in summer time watching their home countries and Habs prospects compete for gold while also looking to the future when all of them begin to flood the Canadiens roster.