Slovakia is looking to take advantage of their best generation of players in decades to take home a medal for themselves in the IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship (WJC). Slovakia will face a happy problem they’ve rarely, if ever, had to deal with — requesting NHL clubs to release some of their most talented prospects to play for them on the international stage. That includes the 2022 first- and second-overall picks and a core that has won a silver medal at the 2021 Hlinka-Gretzky Cup tournament.
Simon Nemec – Defense
Defenceman Simon Nemec is the second half of the first-ever Slovakian nationals to be selected first and second overall in NHL history. If the New Jersey Devils prospect is permitted to participate in the 2023 tournament, he will play a key role in his nation’s medal hopes.
The 18-year-old would return for his third WJC. Nemec is having a strong season playing for the American Hockey League (AHL) Utica Comets with two goals and seven points in 19 games played. He has provided more than some offense as he has been gaining defensive awareness under head coach Kevin Dineen. Fans watching will see a smooth-skating, puck-moving defender who should demonstrate the skill and confidence of a future top-pairing NHL defenseman.
Juraj Slafkovsky – Left Wing
Speaking of the 2022 NHL Draft, the other half of the first-ever pair of Slovaks to be selected first and second overall in NHL history is Juraj Slafkovsky. The Montreal Canadiens’ first-overall pick has been learning the North American style of game with the NHL club, playing 19 games, scoring four goals and seven points. He has also played a physical style earning 23 minutes in penalties as well as a two-game suspension. Many pundits have weighed in on why the Canadiens should not allow their top rookie to leave the NHL to play in the WJC. As of Dec. 17, it is unlikely, but not confirmed, that they do loan him to Slovakia. His addition may still not be enough to make Slovakia a legitimate gold-medal hopeful.
Dalibor Dvorsky – Center
Dalibor Dvorsky continues the streak of Slovakian players seen as a 2023 top prospect. Dvorsky leaped onto scouting service radars with the eight-goal and 12-point performance at the 2022 Hlinka Gretzky Cup, leading to a silver medal. Dvorsky is a returnee to the WJC as he was the top center on a Slovakian team for the 2022 tournament held in August without some of the nation’s top players. That, and his underwhelming two points in four games, saw Slovakia fail to qualify for the playoffs. Expectations for his performance this tournament are much higher.
Related: Guide to 2023 World Junior Championships
Playing for AIK in HockeyAllsvenskan, he has a respectable four goals and eight points in 18 games, playing limited minutes. A good showing will serve an important purpose for Dvorsky, as he can solidify himself as a top-five prospect for the highly anticipated 2021 Entry Draft.
Samuel Honzek – Center
Another player to keep an eye on is Samuel Honzek. At 6-foot-3 and 181 pounds, the 17-year-old has the size NHL scouts covet at the center. Not only does he have size, but skill as well, as the Western Hockey League (WHL) rookie not only leads his team in goals (17) and points with 43 points in 31 games played, and is on pace for a 93-point season. Despite being used heavily on the left wing of the top line, he has been turning heads with his play, earning WHL Rookie of the month honors in November.
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The Vancouver Giants are a team in transition; their leading scorer the season prior had 62 points. His performances so far have earned him an “A” rating from NHL Central scouting, one of only 16 Canadian Hockey League (CHL) prospects to earn that ranking. If he can add a good performance on Junior Hockey’s largest stage, he can get his name mentioned in conversations as a top-15 pick for 2023.
Filip Mesar – Center/Left Wing
Another of the Montreal Canadiens’ first-round picks in 2022, Filip Mesar is expected to return to the WJC tournament and play a leading role with the Slovakian team. He made a seamless adjustment from professional hockey in Slovakia to the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) Kitchener Rangers scoring 10 goals and 22 points in his first 17 games. It may seem like a step back, but it is allowing him to adjust to the smaller North American rinks at his own pace.
His arrival with a weaker Rangers team in a rebuild has made a difference in their ability to compete nightly. His return for a third WJC to a Slovakian squad brings some experience and leadership, which would be a welcome addition to a team that will be in need of those intangibles. His two-way play and playmaking abilities are tangible additions that can make this a dangerous offensive squad.
The Slovaks have a lot of exciting talent making their way; this may be the best generation of players in their nation’s history. Despite that, this is still an underdog nation that needs everything to go right for them to capture a gold medal. Slovakia will open the tournament up on Dec. 27 against Finland.