Despite the surprising exclusion of 2021 eighth overall pick Brandt Clarke from Team Canada. The Los Angeles Kings still have plenty of prospects playing at the upcoming 2022 World Junior Championships. With Helge Grans, Kirill Kirsanov, Brock Faber, Martin Chromiak, Kasper Simontaival, and Samuel Helenius, the team will be well-represented at this year’s tournament. Most of these players will also play a big role on their team, holding a spot in the top-six or top-four.
Helge Grans (Ontario Reign)
After the disappointment of being a late cut from last year’s Sweden team, Grans will be looking to take on a big role for this team. Most pre-tournament projections have him on the top pairing alongside Detroit Red Wings prospect Simon Edvinsson. The tall, rangy defenseman is putting together a strong rookie season in the American Hockey League (AHL), where he has racked up 8 points in 16 games. This total leads U20 defensemen league-wide, granted he’s one of just four U20 defensemen playing in the AHL. Still, his 0.5 points per game (P/G) is impressive for a blueliner playing his first season in North America. Offensive impact was never the question surrounding Grans, though his defensive game has always been a question. While there’s still work to be done, he’s made huge strides defensively this season and has taken on an elevated role after the Kings called up Sean Durzi.
We’ll see a slightly different version of Grans at this tournament as well. When playing for the Reign, he’s unable to physically impose himself, being such a young player in the league. But that will change playing against his peers. At the Arizona Summer Showcase earlier this year, I was surprised by how physical he was against players around his age. He aggressively stepped up at the defensive blue line and engaged aggressively in the corners, and I’d expect more of the same at this tournament. He’s going to provide a true, two-way presence on the blue line for Sweden and has the potential to be one of the best defensemen at this tournament. He’s a defenseman who’s capable of logging big minutes, who can play in all situations, and should play a key role for Sweden, who’s looking for their first gold medal since 2011-12.
Martin Chromiak (Kingston Frontenacs)
Arguably Slovakia’s best player, any success this team finds will likely come off the back of Chromiak’s production. The former fifth-round pick is having a fantastic season in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) and will look to continue this form into the World Juniors. This will be his second World Junior appearance, playing last year for Slovakia as well. He struggled in that tournament, with just one point in five games, but as a 19-year-old at this year’s tournament, things should be different. A pure sniper, Chromiak will be looking to rack up the goals in this tournament. He has a well-rounded wrist shot that’s hard and accurate, and he gets it off quickly, making it very difficult for goalies to deal with. He also has a great one-timer on the power play and will likely be the focal point for Slovakia on the man-advantage.
Despite playing on a relatively weak team, I would expect Chromiak to score at a P/G pace in this tournament, grabbing plenty of goals. He’ll be an exciting player to watch and will continue to cement the idea that he was an absolute steal in the fifth round. After the tournament, he’ll return to the Kingston Frontenacs, where he should continue to tear apart the OHL.
Kirill Kirsanov (SKA St. Petersburg)
After the shocking exclusion of all North American players from Team Russia, Kirsanov will take on a massive role for his team. He will likely slot onto their top pairing and will be one of their main penalty killers. With him putting together a strong season in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL), he’ll be ready for this tournament. Like Grans, I’d expect Kirsanov to play a slightly different game at this tournament than the one we see in the KHL. He’ll take on a slightly more offensive role and will be physically imposing. While not a big point producer, he does move the puck up ice well and excels in transitioning defense to offense. It will be his defensive game that stands out in this tournament, though.
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Kirsanov had one of the most developed defensive games in the 2021 draft and dropped to the fourth round because of a lack of offensive drive and his contract status in the KHL. He won’t just physically impose himself in this tournament, but he’ll be a bully in most games. He’s going to punish forwards in the corners and in front of the net, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him throw a few highlight-reel hits either. While I don’t think he’ll have the impact Grans will, Kirsanov will be one of the best shutdown defensemen at this tournament.
Another Kings blueliner who will play a big role on their team, Faber is returning for his second World Juniors and will be hoping to take home another gold medal. Slotting in behind Luke Hughes on the right side of the defense, he’s going to play a big role as a shutdown defenseman on this team. He’ll also be a leader, a returning player who has been there and won a gold medal, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see him announced as a captain soon. A cerebral defenseman who does everything right without making flashy plays, he’ll likely match up against other teams’ top lines.
Faber can sometimes go under the radar in the Kings’ deep prospect pool. He’s following a similar trajectory to current defensemen Mikey Anderson, and could be an important defenseman on the Kings in the coming years. If he’s named captain of Team USA, their comparable only becomes stronger. Like Anderson, he’ll likely spend a max of one season in the AHL before making the jump into the NHL. I’d be surprised if we didn’t see him as a full-time King by the 2023-24 season, possibly sooner. The right side of this Kings’ defense could be Clarke, Faber, and Grans in the future, a solid group for any team.
Kasper Simontaival (KalPa)
After a fantastic tournament last year, where he posted seven points in seven games, Simontaival will be looking to lead Finland to the medal rounds once again. He’ll be without star center Anton Lundell this year but will be reunited with Roni Hirvonen, with who he developed great chemistry with last year. A well-rounded forward, he can play any role asked of him, be it a goal scorer or playmaker.
He has a full package offensively and plays bigger than his 5-foot-9 frame suggests. He’s still likely a few years away from threatening the NHL roster, but he has the tools to be a solid point producer in the NHL. He should put up some big numbers in this tournament on a strong Finland team.
Samuel Helenius (JYP)
Much like Kirsanov, I would expect Helenius to be an absolute bully at this tournament. At 6-foot-6, 200-plus pounds, and the son of former NHL enforcer Sami Helenius, he is an absolute menace on the ice. Already an imposing physical presence as a 19-year-old in the Liiga (Finland), playing against his peers will look like a man amongst boys. He should be a bottom-six center for Finland, taking on a more defensive role, but he has the potential to produce. He has a very hard and accurate wrist shot to go along with soft hands in front of the net that could see him grab a few goals. His usage will play a big role in how much he produces in this tournament.
It will be interesting to see who his linemates are, too, as there’s the potential that he’s paired with one of Finland’s young standout stars, Joakim Kemell or Brad Lambert. The team might want to put their most physical forward with the young players, and Helenius would have a chance to produce solid numbers cashing in on the offense they produce. A physically dominant, shut-down center with mild goal-scoring upside is the exact role he’s expected to play for the Kings long term, so it will be interesting to see how he performs in this tournament.
Kings Are Well-Represented
With six players heading to the tournament, the Kings are one of the most represented NHL teams there. Not only are they sending several players, but they’re also sending players who will play big roles on their team. The prospect pool has been the most exciting part about the Kings for a few years now, so the World Junior Championships are always fun for Kings fans.