The 2023 World Junior Championship is set to take place on Dec. 26 and Winnipeg Jets fans have plenty of reasons to tune in this year. Rutger McGroarty and Chaz Lucius will play within Team USA’s top six, and Brad Lambert will fill the role of a top-six center for Team Finland. This article will go over a few things to look for from these prospects as they continue their development through the World Juniors tournament.
Not only are the Jets sending three of their best prospects, but all of them were former first-round picks of the 2021 and 2022 NHL Drafts. They will have a large say in whether or not their countries have a successful tournament, as their high draft status comes with big expectations.
Starting with McGroarty, who is primed for a huge tournament. This will be his first time playing in the World Juniors, and he is projected to play a big role in all situations for Team USA. He has begun the pre-tournament games on their top power-play unit and is playing the wing on their second line.
Related: Winnipeg Jets Bolster Prospect Pool With Rutger McGroarty
McGroarty is enjoying a successful season thus far for the University of Michigan’s hockey program. He has put up 19 points in 20 games and will look to build off of that on a national stage. The Jets selected him 14th overall in the 2022 NHL Draft as a power forward that flashes skill and has outstanding character.
McGroarty is likely the safest bet of these three prospects to have the best tournament, as his abilities have the highest odds to translate to success. For most Jets fans, this will be the first opportunity they get to view his playstyle, and he will get to do it for one of the top nations in the tournament. While his days in a Jets uniform are likely a few years away, look for him to potentially establish himself as a “grade-A” prospect come Boxing Day.
Lambert is by far the biggest wildcard of the three when it comes to projecting his 2023 tournament. He has already been to the World Juniors twice for Team Finland in 2021 and 2022. His first go-around was a success, scoring four points in seven games and showing off his skating ability to the scouts. He would likely want to forget this past tournament, as he finished with one point in five games, was benched throughout the tournament, and buried deep into the lineup.
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Lambert can treat this as a redemption story, as he will be given every opportunity to succeed for what should be a good Finland team. Based on pre-tournament lines, he will be centering a second line alongside Joakim Kemell, who was selected 17th overall in the 2022 NHL Draft by the Nashville Predators. These two former first-round picks have all the talent necessary to provide a boatload of offence for their nation, as Finland looks to redeem itself from their silver medal at the 2022 tournament.
Lambert has had an up-and-down season with the Manitoba Moose of the American Hockey League, as he has bounced in and out of the lineup due to injuries and illness. Because of that, he has yet to find a rhythm offensively having only three points in 14 games. However, his talent is on full display every time he touches the puck and with more time and space at the World Juniors, this is a good opportunity for him to find that rhythm and start filling the back of the net.
Lucius will be making his first appearance at the World Juniors, despite missing the last couple of games for the Moose due to a “lower-body” injury. He was a limited participant in their training camp but has begun to get back to game shape and is playing on Team USA’s second line. He has had an injury-ridden development path, but the 2023 tournament will allow him to dominate players in his age group.
With the transition to center for the Moose, he has amassed five points in 12 games, and has shown enough ability to resume that role in this tournament. Lucius is a prospect that will benefit greatly from having more time and space, and McGroarty being on the same line as him will help open up lanes for the 19-year-old. Those two have a chance to build some real chemistry, as their paths to the NHL will likely cross at one point or another.
All three of these players have plenty of skill, and the extra time and space will assist them in furthering those skills to an NHL level. As fans, the World Juniors are all about getting an extended look at the Jets of tomorrow, and all of these players are projected to have a big say in their teams’ success. Very few past tournaments have provided this much talent, both from a Jets perspective and a general overview.