The holidays are upon us, which means ’tis the season to tune into the 2023 World Junior Championship. The COVID-19 pandemic impacted the last two tournaments, and last year’s tournament was cancelled just four days in after positive cases on multiple teams caused the forfeiture of three games. The tournament was rescheduled for August, but the summer edition lacked the excitement of the winter tournament. With this year’s Championship kicking off on Boxing Day, here’s a look at the New York Islanders‘ prospects participating in the event.
Team Finland: Aleksi Malinen
The Islanders drafted Aleksi Malinen in the sixth round, 189th overall, in the 2021 NHL Entry Draft. At 6 feet and 185 pounds, the left-handed defenceman plays for JYP in Liiga, the Finnish Elite League. He joined the league in the 2020-21 season as a 17-year-old playing against grown men, scoring two goals and one assist in 30 games.
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In 26 games this season, the Isles prospect has two assists. Although the offensive numbers haven’t been a significant part of his game, Malinen has the potential to increase his offensive output with continued progress and overall development. This will be his first time playing in the U-20 WJC, although he has played for Finland on their U16, U17, and U18 teams in the past. He scored one goal for the Finnish U-18 World Championship team, and his play on the back end helped guide the team to the semi-finals.
His pre-draft scouting report indicates his skating is a strength, but he needs to improve on his puck-moving and passing accuracy, as at times, he misses his mark, resulting in a turnover or icing. Before falling to the Islanders in the sixth round, the smooth-skating defender was considered a top 100 prospect ahead of his draft, and TSN’s Bob McKenzie once had him ranked at 65.
Team Finland takes on Team Switzerland to kick off the tournament with an 11 AM ET start time on Boxing Day. Recently Finland has found itself on the podium regularly, with medals in three of the last four tournaments. Most recently, they took home silver at the rescheduled August tournament, losing 3-2 to Team Canada in the gold medal game.
Team Sweden: Calle Odelius
Drafted by the Islanders in the second round, 65th overall, in the 2022 Draft, Calle Odelius is another elite skating defenceman. Odelius was projected as an early to mid-second-round pick and fell into the Islanders’ hands late in the second round. The left-handed defender has a high hockey IQ, and his skating allows him to escape tricky situations. He also has the skill set to quarterback the power play and, with continued development, could greatly benefit the Islanders in coming years. He shows great poise with the puck and has strong puck-moving and playmaking abilities.
The 6-foot, 185-pound d-man is playing his first professional season with Djurgardens IF of HockeyAllsvenskan. In 26 games, he has four assists and a plus-11 rating. He produced seven goals and 23 assists in 43 games last season on the Djurgardens’ J20 team. He has represented Sweden on the international level before, playing with the national U16 and U18 teams.
Sweden begins their tournament on Boxing Day against Austria with a 1:30 PM ET start time. The Swedes finished third at the 2022 tournament, winning the bronze-medal game against Czechia, 3-1.
Islanders’ Prospects Have Potential to Fill Void
Losing Nick Leddy on the left-side defense stings, and the Islanders have yet to fill the void. General manager Lou Lamiourello and the Islanders’ scouting staff have been trying to address the issue from within. Malinen and Odelius are both left-shooting defencemen with the potential to play in the top four at the NHL level. Be sure to tune in when the 2023 World Juniors begin to see two of the Islanders’ defensive prospects in action.