IIHF World Championship: Young Players to Keep an Eye on: Bedard and Slafkovsky

The IIHF World Championship is now taking place in Czechia, offering participating nations the opportunity to compete while preparing their squads for upcoming tournaments. Who will endure, though, with so much young talent on their rosters?

It is well known that the hockey federations worldwide use the World Championship to assist choose the makeup of their teams, particularly with the Four Nations and Olympics scheduled for the next two years. That explains why, following a taxing NHL season, so many of the league’s best players want to play for their home nations.

While some of the biggest names in attendance include John Tavares, Erik Karlsson, Victor Hedman, Roman Josi, and Brady Tkachuk, fans are more interested in the up-and-coming talent. The final three first-overall selections will all compete in the World Championship. There will be some of the top up-and-coming players in the NHL. In an attempt to raise their profile before the annual draft in June, a handful of the best prospects eligible for the 2024 NHL Draft will take part.

Let’s examine a few of the best emerging athletes competing in the men’s worlds.

Canada’s Connor Bedard, C/W
As he tries to establish himself as a serious contender for the NHL’s Four Nations competition next year, when he will just be 19 years old, the favorite to win the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s rookie of the year will be a crucial player for Canada. His shooting is deadly, he has thrived in the NHL as a facilitator alongside superior finishers, and the offensive flair and skill he would bring to the roster would provide Canada with some of the greatest depth in a real best-on-best competition. He has participated in pre-tournament play for Canada’s top line, so it appears he will have every opportunity to secure a spot on Team Canada going forward.

Slovakia’s Juraj Slafkovsky, W.
The second half of this season was a real coming-out party for the 2022 first-overall pick. Together with Cole Caufield and Nick Suzuki, he was a fantastic fit on the top line of the Montreal Canadiens, contributing superb forechecking and board play to complement his outstanding playmaking and vision. Slafkovsky is also capable of scoring goals; in his draft year, the Olympics served as his big coming-out party. If his performances in the tournament’s first game and pre-tournament games indicate anything, Slovakia will be expecting for him to be an impact player all over the rink. Slafkovsky made significant progress this season, and the worlds should only be one more step in his growth into a premier power forward.

Canada’s Owen Power, D.
The rising star defenseman for the Buffalo Sabres is making his way back to the men’s national team, having competed for his country at the Olympics and the Worlds in his draft year before turning pro. The large, graceful defenseman will be crucial to the Canadiens’ success in this competition. He will be trying to secure a depth berth on the Olympic or Four Nations squad, but it won’t be an easy feat given how talented the blueline is. In order to have a chance at making those squads, Power needs to step up and perform well at the World Championship.

Ryan Leonard, W, USA, and Will Smith, C, USA
Because they have been close for the past two years, the Boston College teammates are put together here. Observing them conquer the NTDP and now the NCAA as rookies has been a lot of joy. Smith is the dynamic, extremely talented playmaker who finds his line. The guy who starts the engine for his line is Leonard, the proverbial bull in a china shop. They’ve been an incredible power when combined, and now they have the chance to compete against men at the national team level, demonstrating how near they are to the NHL. Both appear set to return to college the next season, though it wouldn’t be stunning if they ended up joining San Jose or Washington, respectively, after their collegiate careers.

Finalnd Konsta Helenius, C.
Konsta Helenius, one of the top draft-eligible players in the competition, will be trying to make up for a disappointing U-18s campaign in which he scored goals on the powerplay but lacked motivation at even strength. Throughout the season, Helenius has made a name for himself as a pro-style player, and tonight will be his last chance to demonstrate it on a major platform against NHL players.

Lucas Sweden’s Raymond W.
Raymond will wear a ‘A’ on his Sweden shirt following an incredible season in which he nearly single-handedly willed the team into the postseason. On the global arena, he has consistently excelled, leading Sweden to medals at nearly every level. Raymond ought to be among Sweden’s top offensive players because he is constantly involved in the game. Seeing his star continue to flourish at the Worlds will be entertaining.

Trevor Zegras, USA (C/W)
It will be a good chance for the Zegras to start over as the offseason approaches after an awful season in which he was hurt, the subject of trade rumors, and couldn’t seem to get on the ice when he was healthy. Although he undoubtedly possesses technique and flair, this year he struggled with consistency in his game. It’s not like he lacks success experience—he has previously had two NHL seasons with 60 points or more. This reset will help Zegras be ready for a strong comeback the following season.

W, Germany; JJ Peterka,
Peterka, one of the most underappreciated breakout performers from the previous campaign, is among Germany’s top players in this competition. Despite not scoring in the opening match of the tournament against Slovakia, he ought to be a factor going forward. Peterka plays at a fast pace in an attempt to pressure opponents into making mistakes by using his quickness. Next season, Peterka is a player to keep an eye on because he might be able to make a big impact for Buffalo.

Canadian Ridly Greig, C.
The terrific pest from Ottawa has looked fantastic in pre-tournament action, and even though he will only be a depth player for this Canadian squad, he always manages to find a way to steal the show. He can reach the unclean areas, score goals, score some hits, rough house after the whistle, and get close to his opponent. It will make for an intriguing plot to see how all of things play out at the international level, where the regulations are somewhat stricter and less is allowed.

Norway’s Michael Brandsegg-Nygard, W.
He may be the top player for Norway at the men’s world championships as well. He was the best player for Norway at the World Junior Championship. MBN is a solid, strong winger who has grown throughout the course of the season. After the World Juniors, his offensive game really took off, and he was unstoppable in the Swedish second division playoffs. He combines talent and power to play well at both ends of the rink. He would greatly benefit from a strong showing at the World Championship in terms of his draft stock.

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