Today marks the beginning of the 2022 IIHF World Junior Championships in Edmonton and Red Deer, and the Tampa Bay Lightning will be one of two NHL teams – along with the New York Islanders – that do not have a prospect in the tournament.
For those unfamiliar, the World Junior Championship is as an annual junior hockey tournament showcasing the best U20 hockey players from the ten best hockey nations in the world. For 2022 those countries are: Austria, Canada, Czechia, Finland, Germany, Russia, Slovakia, Switzerland, Sweden, and the United States.
The United States will enter the tournament as defending champions after defeating Canada for the gold medal in the 2021 tournament. The United States’ stars from last year – Trevor Zegras (Anaheim Ducks) and Spencer Knight (Florida Panthers) – will not be back, but have already made an impact at the NHL level. Be sure to keep an eye on forward Matthew Beniers (Seattle Kraken), and defensemen Jake Sanderson (Ottawa Senators) and Luke Hughes (New Jersey Devils) as they play leading roles on this year’s team.
Canada’s roster will include 2021 #1 overall draft pick Owen Power (Buffalo Sabres), the current consensus #1 overall selection for the upcoming 2022 Draft, Shane Wright, and the current favorite for the first selection in 2023, Connor Bedard. Outside of Canada and the US it should be expected that Finland, Russia, and Sweden will be bringing rosters flush with future NHL players as well.
While the NHL struggles with COVID postponements, the World Juniors tournament looks to still be on track to fill our holidays with televised hockey. The Lightning will not play again until the 28th at the earliest. Considering the state of the league when games were postponed pre-Christmas, and that the game is against a Canadian team, the Montreal Canadiens, it is anyone’s guess as to if we’ll see all or any Lightning hockey games before the New Year. There is some flexibility now that the league has the Olympic break to reschedule postponed games to following the NHL’s withdraw from the Olympics.
All games in the United States will be broadcasted on the NHL Network. For a complete schedule of the upcoming games, you can find them here.
If you are interested in what happened to the Lightning prospects that had a chance at making their country’s rosters this year, and who might be on the radar for next year, then continue reading below.
Why are there no Lightning prospects at the 2022 World Juniors?
The Tampa Bay Lightning had the possibility of sending three two of their prospects to the tournament this year following the
three two they had last year: Hugo Alnefelt (Sweden) & Maxim Groshev (Russia); Maxim Cajkovic (Slovakia) was taken off Slovakia’s tournament roster for discipline issues prior to last year’s tournament.
Most of the players that will make the Canadian and US teams are first and second round draft selections, and the Lightning have traded many of those high valued draft picks away in recent seasons chasing Stanley Cups, and thus are in the position of not having many prospects with naturally high talent levels.
Additionally, the Lightning’s recent tendency to avoid drafting U20 players from European countries has eliminated an additional avenue for any would-be prospect to make a tournament roster.
While no Lightning prospects ultimately ended up on their country’s rosters, there were three that had been invited to the Canadian and US selection camps for the tournament.
C Jack Finley, Canada (2020 2nd Round)
Jack Finley was looking like the Lightning’s best chance to have representation at the tournament. As a a 6’6″ center he would have brought a strong net front presence to compliment the talented forwards that will make up most of the Canadian roster.
For the season, Finley has done well in the Western Hockey League (WHL) posting 9 goals, 10 assists, and 19 points in 25 games.
Finley is a 19 year-old in his final year of eligibility for the World Juniors tournament.
RD Jack Thompson, Canada (2020 3rd Round) – Unable to Attend
Jack Thompson was not able to attend Canada’s selection camp after a large COVID outbreak within his Ontario Hockey League (OHL) team, the Sudbury Wolves. Thompson was expected to be a strong contender to make the right side of Canada’s blueline after he was one of two right-handed defensemen invited to Canada’s selection camp.
This unfortunate news for Thompson came after an impressive start to his OHL season posting 6 goals, 13 assists, and 19 points in 22 games.
As a 19 year-old this was Thompson’s final year of eligibility for the U20 World Juniors tournament.
RW Declan McDonnell, USA (2020 7th Round)
Declan McDonnell, Mr. Irrelevant of the 2020 draft, attended the US’ selection camp with what was likely long odds of making the final cut. The sheer amount of talent teams like the US and Canada have to pull from makes it difficult for reliable two-way forwards, such as McDonnell, to make their rosters.
McDonnell has had a successful OHL season to this point with the Kitchener Rangers posting 10 goals, 11 assists, and 21 points in 25 games.
McDonnell is also a 19 year-old in his final year of eligibility for the World Juniors tournament.
Prospects to watch for leading up to the 2023 tournament
Hockey games are always more enjoyable when they involve the Tampa Bay Lightning, Lightning players, or Lightning prospects. While we will still be able to cheer on our respective countries this year without any Bolt representation there are some prospect names to keep an eye out for next year.
RW Niko Huuhtanen, Finland (2021 7th Round)
Niko Huuhtanen, the Lightning’s Mr. Irrelevant of the 2021 draft, did not make the cut for Finland’s roster this year. Finland announced their final 25 player roster without holding a tradition selection camp. Huuhtanen was not a favorite to make the cut, but he would have been considered with an outside chance as he did represent Finland at the U18 World Juniors tournament last year.
Huuhtanen is currently in his first season of North American hockey, after previously playing in Finland, with the Everett Silvertips of the WHL. He started the season in a scoring slump but has come on strong lately to put his season total at 13 goals, 14 assists, and 27 points in 29 games.
Huuhtanen is 18 years-old and will still be eligible as a 19 year-old for next year’s tournament. Perhaps Finland will even come to wish they had included this shot on their roster this year.
Steven Stamkos vibes anyone?
LW Dylan Duke, USA (2021 4th Round)
Dylan Duke is your traditional Lightning forward prospect that is a hard-working two-way undersized player that probably was drafted much later than he should have ever been.
Duke has mostly found himself in a depth role on a loaded University of Michigan NCAA team this season as a freshman. Even in a limited role he has posted 2 goals, 7 assists, and 9 points in 19 games. Expect Duke to face similar odds to those that Declan McDonnell had at making the US roster this year.
Next year will be Duke’s final year of World Juniors eligibility.
2022 1st Round Draft Selection
The Lightning do not often have their first-round draft pick at the time of the draft, but as of right now it is still theirs. If this stays the same up until the draft, then the player drafted by general manager Julien BriseBois & Co. will have a good chance at being on their country’s radar for the 2023 tournament.