Back in December, the Carolina Hurricanes had an impressive 10 prospects attend the World Juniors, representing six different countries. The tournament was suspended after just a handful of games due to COVID issues, and now, the rescheduled tournament just ended nearly eight months later than it was supposed to. There wasn’t nearly as much hype surrounding the tournament as there normally is when the World Juniors are held in December, and the attendance reflected that.
With Hockey Canada under investigation for a whole mess of things, a lot of players opting out of the tournament and the fact that hockey doesn’t really draw in August, the tournament felt a little less important than normal. Still, it’s a great chance to see how some of the team’s top prospects match up against the best players in their age group.
In total, the Hurricanes had four prospects attending this iteration of the World Juniors: Ronan Seeley, Nikita Quapp, Aleksi Heimosalmi and Ville Koivunen. It’s not nearly as many prospects as there were in December, but keep in mind that three of those prospects played for Russia, which has been banned from the IIHF through the 2022-2023 season, possibly even further. Scott Morrow missed the USA’s camp due to injury and Joel Nystrom opted to not play for Sweden and, to be honest, I didn’t think that Zion Nybeck was getting an invite after playing in a depth role for the Swedes in December. Here’s a brief recap of each player’s tournament, as well as what I saw from each player throughout the tournament.
Ronan Seeley, LD, Canada
Seeley helped Canada capture gold and finished with four points in seven games. Canada always has a strong team that is expected to win a gold medal. They’re consistently one of the deepest teams, so the fact that Seeley, a seventh round pick, made the team is nothing short of impressive. Seeley’s offensive numbers didn’t pop, but he made a number of smart plays in all three zones and was able to limit the amount of scoring chances that other teams were able to generate.
Overall, I felt that Seeley had a strong tournament. He was able to showcase a lot of what I liked about him in junior hockey, such as his skating speed, effective breakout passes, defensive hockey sense and ability to join the rush. Seeley is a really good prospect that could play NHL games in the future due to his skating and two way play. I doubt he’ll ever be an All-Star, but his tournament showed a lot of promising signs for the future.
Aleksi Heimosalmi, RD, Finland
Speaking of defensemen that had strong tournaments, Heimosalmi was the best Hurricanes prospect out of the four that attended. He had seven points in seven games, including a goal in the gold medal game, and came home with a silver medal. Heimosalmi was one of Finland’s best defensemen and was a consistent catalyst of offense any time he was on the ice. There’s very little panic in the way that Heimosalmi plays, which is a major reason as to why he’s relied upon so heavily. He’s a smooth skater with good speed, high levels of hockey sense and a fair amount of skill.
All of that was on display in this tournament. He made a ton of great plays in transition and in the offensive zone, quarterbacking a Finnish power play that was dynamite in the preliminary games. Defensively, Heimosalmi was a mixed bag. He made some nice plays to keep the puck out of his own net, and obviously played well in Finland’s shutout victory over Sweden in the semifinals, but there were times when he made some questionable decisions with the puck that resulted in turnovers. A lot of Heimosalmi’s production was on the power play, so in the future, I’d like to see him make more of an impact at even strength. Still, he was a great puck carrier and created a lot of offense for Finland. He’ll be one of their top players when the tournament takes place in Halifax in December.
Ville Koivunen, W, Finland
Koivunen didn’t score at all during the World Juniors and was the thirteenth forward in the gold medal game. This tournament was a disappointment for Koivunen. He looked fantastic in December, playing like one of Finland’s top forwards even though he was on the third line. This time around, Koivunen wasn’t able to generate much offense and was invisible for the vast majority of his shifts. His skating is still below average and is going to need some serious improvement before he comes to North America. Now, some of his poor performance may be attributed to the fact that he hasn’t played since April 6. That’s obviously a long time to go without playing hockey, so it’s possible that there was a bit of rust that hadn’t been shaken off yet. I’m not too worried about Koivunen’s play in one tournament. Instead, I’m going to be looking at how he plays this upcoming season. He was one of the best U20 players in Finland last year, and this year, I expect the same.
Nikita Quapp, G, Germany
Quapp struggled in this tournament, but to be fair, his two starts were against the United States and Sweden. He had some really good moments, where he looked to be keeping Germany in the game against the United States. He made a bunch of saves that were impressive, showing strong hockey sense and puck tracking ability. He also allowed some really awful goals in each game, so the results were a mixed bag. Quapp has the size and hockey sense to be a professional goalie at some point, but before he comes to North America, there’s a lot to be worked on. Quapp’s biggest area in need of improvement is his rebound control. He gave up a lot of juicy rebounds in each game, and even if it didn’t result in a goal, players at higher levels will capitalize. Quapp also needs to get quicker. He isn’t the fastest while moving from post to post, which can result in him giving up some tough goals against. Since he was the only 2003-born goalie on Germany’s roster, there’s a good chance that he’ll be back at the World Juniors in December. With regular playing time before that tournament, Quapp should be a bit better.
All in all, it was a successful tournament for Carolina. Seeley was able to get a head start on playing hockey for this season, and it’s a big year for him. He’ll more than likely be battling for a job in Chicago this year, and a good World Juniors and prospect showcase can help boost his chances of sticking in Chicago. Heimosalmi showed what made him a top 50 pick in 2021, giving me hope that this upcoming season will be a better season for him. As for Koivunen and Quapp, it’s clear that they need some more development. Heimosalmi, Koivunen and Quapp are all eligible for the December World Juniors. I also expect Simon Forsmark to be on Sweden’s roster, although he may play in a depth role. Patrik Hamrla should be one of the top goalies for Czechia, who should be bringing a solid roster to the December tournament. Ultimately, I think that Jackson Blake and Justin Robidas will be left off of their countries’ rosters, so the Hurricanes will potentially have five prospects at the December World Juniors.