Most countries have wrapped up their summer U20 camps, so now is as good of a time as any to talk about players that could be headed to Edmonton for the World Juniors in December. These summer camps are essentially the first tryout for the top prospects in each country, with other U20 tournaments being held throughout the season to give each team’s coaching staff a better idea of the group they want to bring to the World Juniors. Things are bound to change, and it’s possible that we see a handful of players have breakout years and then go on to make their country’s World Juniors team after not being invited to summer camps. These things happen from time to time. Brett Leason is a recent example, flying under the radar and having a breakout season in his final year of eligibility for the tournament. He then made Canada’s roster for the 2020 World Juniors.
The Hurricanes had one prospect on each of the United States’ teams at the World Junior Summer Showcase. Scott Morrow represented team Blue while Aidan Hreschuk represented team White. Morrow’s minutes fluctuated over the course of the tournament, as he averaged over 16 minutes of ice time per game. He was one of USA Blue’s best offensive play drivers from the back end, however, and doing so in limited minutes is impressive. I highlighted two of Morrow’s plays from the Summer Showcase that stood out to me in my profile on Morrow, which you can read here.
Morrow should be the United States’ power play quarterback in December. This is a team that could have one hell of a blue line and Morrow would make the team better at both 5v5 and on special teams. I don’t consider him to be a lock for the roster, however. The United States is still stuck in 1980 and tries to build a reincarnation of the Miracle on Ice team any time there is an international tournament or Olympics. No goals, just grit and grind, baby. If Morrow does make the team this year, I expect him to play on the third pairing and see power-play time. It’s a deep group this year and there are plenty of good defensemen in contention for a roster spot, so it wouldn’t surprise me if Morrow narrowly misses the cut this year.
Aidan Hreschuk played on USA White, which was considered the “B” team, but I thought that he made some nice plays. He didn’t wow me in any particular area, however. I believe that Hreschuk is a fine defender right now with a good amount of upside, but there’s something that is becoming a roadblock in his game right now. I’m not sure what it is, but he seems to be struggling to take the next step. He’s only 18, however, and there’s plenty of time for him to grow as a player. Playing under a Hall of Fame coach like Jerry York will help Hreschuk overcome these obstacles. This year might not be his year for the World Juniors, but if everything goes well over the course of this season, I could easily see him carving out a depth role for himself on the USA’s roster for the following year.
The Hurricanes had two prospects on Sweden’s roster: Joel Nystrom and Zion Nybeck. I was impressed with Nystrom in this small sample size. He’s a solid two-way defenseman that skates well and can play top minutes for your team. He played over 20 minutes in all but one of the five games in the tournament and drew two penalties. Nystrom’s offensive upside is a bit of a question mark for me, but as long as he can move the puck, he should have NHL upside. I saw flashes of good plays in transition as well as some nice defensive plays to keep an underwhelming Swedish squad in games.
Zion Nybeck was the captain of Sweden’s team for at least one of the games in the tournament and was a pest to play against. His stride looks a little better than it did last season and he’s a little faster, meaning that he can start to beat more of his competition on the rush. Nybeck scored twice and added four assists for six points in six games during the tournament, which was an impressive showing. Nybeck is likely going to be one of the players returning from Sweden’s 2021 World Juniors team and will see top six minutes after playing on the fourth line in the last tournament. With Nybeck helping to lead the charge offensively, it’s entirely possible that Sweden bounces back after a poor showing at this past World Juniors.
Surprise, surprise. We have some Finns to talk about. Ville Koivunen was on Finland’s third line for the duration of the tournament and had just two points over the course of the tournament. One of those points was an empty net goal. His assist was impressive, though, and I’m fairly confident that he’ll be on Finland’s roster in December. Koivunen’s offensive upside and work ethic make him a strong candidate for the final team. Finland is going to need depth scoring in order to medal at this tournament, and you’d be hard pressed to find a player better than Koivunen in the offensive zone.
Aleksi Heimosalmi, however, likely won’t be on the final roster for Finland’s World Junior team. He was played in a depth role and while I think he could have some offensive value for Finland’s squad, I didn’t think he was fantastic defensively. It’s hard to prove yourself when you’re playing 14-15 minutes a game, but I had expected a little more from Heimosalmi. He has been in Assat’s top four for two preseason games, so it’s possible that he shows enough growth and maturity over the course of the season to earn a spot on the final roster. We might have to play the waiting game, though.
Canada held its own U20 camp this summer and split it into two teams. Seth Jarvis was excellent for Canada and seems poised for a top-six role on Canada’s roster after being one of the final cuts last year. It’s interesting to see how Jarvis developed as a player after being cut from Canada’s roster last season. It lit a fire in him and he took it out on the entire AHL, dominating for a handful of games before going back to being a top player in the WHL. I’d be shocked if Jarvis isn’t on Canada’s final roster. He has elite skill and could easily be a point per game player for Canada at the World Juniors. I’d love to see him paired up with Shane Wright again because those two could be magical whenever they step on the ice. Wright is a prolific goal scorer and Jarvis is an excellent playmaker, so seeing those two work together makes me very, very happy.
Ronan Seeley also attended Canada’s camp, and while it may be a long shot for him to make the final cut, I do believe that it helped his development. Seeley flew under the radar in the 2020 draft and the Hurricanes grabbed a defenseman with solid upside in the seventh round. His main assets are his skating and solid gap control and defensive play. Seeley is one of the quickest players on the ice at any given moment and can seal you off from a play quicker than most players at his level. He has taken some major strides in terms of his offensive development and hockey sense, too. Seeley has NHL upside and, although it might take a while for him to get there, could be a nice draft pick to look back on when he does make the NHL. Keep an eye on Seeley this season. He’ll have a full WHL season to work with this year and I believe that he’ll have a breakout year.
Nikita Guslistov played in a handful of games for Russia’s B team for the Sochi Hockey Open. Russia’s national team typically makes their B team their U20 team as a way of evaluating their U20 talent against some top men’s teams in Russia. It might be unorthodox, but it certainly is a way to see who is up for the task and who isn’t. I still don’t know enough about Guslistov to confidently say whether or not he’ll be on the final roster, but the fact that he was getting middle six minutes on this team is encouraging to say the least. One player that definitely will return to Russia’s lineup is Vasiliy Ponomaryov, who should be a top six forward for Russia after being one of the team’s most consistent players in last year’s tournament. Ponomaryov was injured and did not participate in the Sochi Hockey Open, but Russia’s coaching staff all but confirmed that he was a lock for the World Juniors team.
Patrik Hamrla was not on the Czech Republic’s U20 roster for an upcoming tournament.
While that may not guarantee that he won’t be on the World Juniors roster, it’s not a great sign. I wouldn’t worry too much, though. Hamrla is going to play in the QMJHL this upcoming season and could impress the Czech staff enough in the first two months of the season. That could earn him an invite.
Another player that I want to mention is Nikita Quapp, a player the Hurricanes selected in the sixth round of this past draft. Germany may not have any returning goalies from last year’s roster, meaning that we could see Quapp as either the team’s starter or backup. I’m not very familiar with German hockey or their U20 players, so I’ll try my best to keep an eye on this as the season progresses. As far as I can tell, they haven’t announced any sort of U20 roster for a tournament of any kind.
All in all, the Hurricanes could have a large amount of prospects at this year’s World Juniors. Ponomaryov and Nybeck are locks to make their teams, while players such as Jarvis, Morrow, Nystrom and Koivunen are solid bets to make their teams. I could also see players such as Nikita Quapp, Nikita Guslistov and Aleski Heimosalmi pushing for roster spots. It’ll be an exciting tournament nonetheless and a great opportunity for Hurricanes fans to watch the future of the team get an opportunity in the spotlight.