The IIHF World Championship kicks off in Finland this weekend, putting a cap on a busy year of international hockey. And for some players, it’s one last chance to show what they can do before heading to the NHL draft.
This event is no stranger to strong performances from top prospects. In 2019, Moritz Seider had an impressive tournament for the Germans before being drafted by the Detroit Red Wings at sixth overall. Owen Power solidified his spot as the top prospect in last year’s draft with an impressive performance for the Canadians.
Here’s a look at some of the 2022 draft prospects to watch in Finland:
Marco Kasper, F (Austria)
Playing in Sweden the last couple of seasons, Kasper has found some success this year at the U-20 and SHL levels. The young Austrian has shown improved pace over the course of the season, showing that he can keep up with men.
Kasper has shown flashes of skill that have some scouts thinking he could be a top-six forward with proper development. Kasper should get an opportunity in the Austrian top-six as he has in some Austrian national team games in the leadup to this tournament which will give him the opportunity to show off his chops offensively and defensively. His skating and work ethic are the base of his game, with confidence growing in his puck skill and a willingness to bang in pucks from in tight allowing him to be dangerous.
Adam Sýkora, F (Slovakia)
Sýkora seemingly vibrates on the ice at times with the energy levels that he plays with regularly. The young Slovak forward is an active forechecker who doesn’t let his 5-foot-10 frame hold him back against the older and more physically mature competition in the Slovak men’s league.
Sýkora will have to compete with fellow draft-eligible prospects Juraj Slafkovský and Šimon Nemec for attention on the Slovak men’s squad but don’t expect him to be quiet at the World Championship. His playstyle and motor in combination with his skill and knack for finding a way to score give him the ability to play up and down the lineup. Expected to play a depth role, Sýkora is the kind of player who can provide secondary scoring and high-energy play that Slovakia will need in tight affairs.
Juraj Slafkovský, F (Slovakia)
The MVP and leading goal scorer of the Olympics, Slafkovský has done his work on the international stage to boost his draft stock. Could a repeat performance at the World Championship lock him into the top-three of the draft? It’s certainly possible. Slafkovský will almost certainly play a large role for Slovakia, being relied upon to be a difference-maker as a goal scorer and playmaker.
Slafkovský has all of the elements that scouts drool over. Standing 6-foot-4 and 218 pounds, he has an NHL frame and has a willingness to use it. He will drop his shoulder and drive to the net before beating a goaltender from in tight. He works off the boards as well as just about any prospect in the draft and does a good job of drawing attention along the wall before rolling out of traffic and finding the open man for a scoring chance. There will be plenty of eyes on Slafkovský at the worlds.
Šimon Nemec, D (Slovakia)
Nemec’s 26 points in 39 games make him the most productive draft-eligible defender ever in the Slovak men’s league, ranking third among all players behind just Marian Hossa and Marian Gaborik. Not bad company to keep. His playoff production only improved as he racked up 17 points in 19 games, the highest ever for any player in the playoffs in the Slovak league. Only Gaborik scored at a higher rate than Nemec’s 0.90 points-per-game. All this while also competing at the Olympics this year on top of other international events.
Nemec has shown the ability to rack up point totals, but can sometimes struggle in his own end against men. That will be the biggest thing scouts and analysts are watching for at the worlds. Can he handle the forecheck of some of the NHLers that will be at the event? What does he do when being attacked with speed, skill, and power at a level he hasn’t seen in the Slovak league?
David Jiříček, D (Czechia)
Jiříček is back from the injury he suffered at the canceled World Junior Championship in December. He has been practicing for a little while now and Jiříček played in two games with Czechia’s men’s team in preparation for the World Championship. Any knee injury is going to give NHL teams a bit of pause but Jiříček has often been viewed as the draft’s top defender. A big performance from the right-shot blueliner would go a long way to solidifying that.
The young Czech rearguard plays a physical brand of hockey and also brings some interesting puck-moving ability to go with it. Jiříček’s defensive game needs work in terms of positioning and reads at times but his effort is there and he is more than capable of winning a puck battle in the corner or boxing out at the net front. Whether making a breakout pass or threading the needle through defensive levels in the offensive zone, he has the ability to push play positively. He has a big one-timer and heavy slap shot but needs to work on ensuring he’s getting pucks on net more and less on trying to disintegrate pucks by shooting them as hard as possible. The worlds will be an excellent opportunity for Jiříček to showcase his health as well as his unique blend of physicality and puck-moving ability.