Of the 250 players who have been here in Edmonton for the World Juniors, 21 are among the happiest young men in the world because they just heard their names called at the NHL Entry Draft last month. And of those 21, 14 are playing this weekend, looking for a U20 medal before they embark on a pro career. (Of note, there is nary a single goalie in this cohort.) From high choices to very low ones, here is a look at who they are and what they have been doing at the U20 and beyond.
David Jiricek (CZE), 6th, Columbus
Jiricek is one of six Czechs on this list, most of any nation. He played at both the U18 and U20 last year, played one game at the cancelled U20, and then skated for the senior Czechia team at the 2022 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship in Finland, winning a bronze medal. He has been playing nearly 22 minutes a game this tournament.
Jonathan Lekkerimaki (SWE), 15th, Vancouver
He has three assists so far and has not looked out of place among the world’s best juniors. This is his first tournament representing his country, but he has earned the high regard the Canucks hold him in through his play with Djurgarden Stockholm in Sweden. He also was the leading scorer on the U18 team that captured gold this past season.
Joakim Kemell (FIN), 17th, Nashville
One of four Finns from the ’22 draft playing in Edmonton, Kemell has improved right before our eyes in Edmonton. A skilled forward who knows where the net is, he has three goals and eleven points so far and is second in tournament scoring behind Mason McTavish. He has been playing with Jyvaskyla, and the only thing separating him from the NHL is a little more physical development.
Liam Ohgren (SWE), 19th, Minnesota
Another 1st-round choice out of Sweden, Ohgren has had a limited role with coach Tomas Monten. The 18-year-old is a teammate of Lekkerimaki in Djurgarden. He captained Sweden’s gold-medal run at the U18 Worlds just a few months ago, a performance that no doubt contributed to his high draft selection.
Nathan Gaucher (CAN), 22nd, Anaheim
The only Canadian from the 2022 draft class at the World Juniors, Gaucher has slotted in nicely as a bottom-6 forward in Dave Cameron’s lineup. Gaucher has three years of junior hockey in the Q under his belt and, just a couple of weeks before the tournament started, he signed an entry-level contract with the Ducks.
Jiri Kulich (CZE), 28th, Buffalo
What a sensational tournament Kulich is having in Edmonton. Two goals, five points, second on the team in scoring. He came up big when it mattered the most, recording three points in the team’s stunning upset of the U.S. in the quarter-finals.
Brad Lambert (FIN), 30th, Winnipeg
A teammate of Kemell’s in Jyvaskyla, Lambert is an experienced 18-year-old. He played at the U18 and U20 in 2021, winning a bronze in the latter tournament. He had five points in two games at the December edition that was cancelled. And, here he is again after being drafted in the 1st round by the Jets. He has only one goal so far, though, and hasn’t been playing the big minutes.
Matyas Sapovaliv (CZE), 48th, Vegas
He played at the 2021 WM18 and has two goals this year, most notably the game winner midway through the second period of the stunning quarter-finals win over the Americans. The 18-year-old moved to North America to play junior and is with Saginaw in the OHL.
Tomas Hamara (CZE), 87th, Ottawa
Averaging nearly 18 minutes a game, he has been one of the team’s top-6 blueliners and a steadying presence inside their blue line. Born in Prague, he’s playing in Finland as a means of developing his body and skills for the Senators.
Ludvig Jansson (SWE), 125th, Florida
Although he has been without a point in four games so far, Jansson is known for his offensive skills and ability to move the puck. Over the course of the past season, though, his draft stock dipped, but the 18-year-old out of Sodertalje still has plenty of time to grow.
Petr Hauser (CZE), 141st, New Jersey
He has a goal and assist in limited action this tournament and has been playing at home in Czechia so far in his career. He’ll likely take longer to make an impact, but the experience he gains here can only benefit his progress.
David Spacek (CZE), 153rd, Minnesota
The defender is leading his team in ice time, 21:45 a game, and he also played at the 2021 U18. Like many a Czech, he moved to Canada to play junior and get noticed, and it worked. In Spacek’s case, he is in the Q playing for Sherbrooke.
Petteri Nurmi (FIN), 194th, Montreal
Nurmi has played in only two games so far, and at 20 he is one of the players given a special exemption by the IIHF to play despite having turned 20 back on January 12. He played two games at the cancelled tournament in December and has been skating in the top league in Finland. These factors probably helped him get drafted this year after being passed over his first two years of eligibility.
Joel Maatta (FIN), 222nd, Edmonton
Despite the low selection at the draft, Maatta has three goals in five games at these World Juniors, and he went from the USHL to the University of Vermont last season. Big and strong, he scored the game winner against Germany on the opening day of the World Juniors last Boxing Day.