The 2022 World Junior Championships are upon us. This incredible and highly-anticipated best-on-best tournament of the next generation of hockey players has arrived, and there are some really good teams and players to pay attention to. To kick things off, we will take a look at team Russia versus team Sweden!
2022 World Junior Championships Predictions
These two hockey powerhouses have some things in common, but one thing sticks out the most; goaltending. For the Swedes, they have Jesper Wallstedt and Calle Clang, two extremely reliable netminders. For the Russians, they are led by the extraordinary Yaroslav Askarov. While both teams have rock-solid offence, there’s no question that their goalies will be their X-factors moving forward.
As mentioned, team Russia is led in net by Askarov, a Nashville Predators draft selection in 2020. This season, playing in five KHL games, Askarov has a 2.01 goals against average and .904 save percentage, decent numbers in a limited amount of games. There isn’t much competition in the net behind Askarov, with Yegor Guskov and Maxim Motorygin as backup options. Guskov has had the more impressive season than Motorygin, with a 2.88 goals against average and a .915 save percentage across 13 MHL games, while Motorygin played 15 VHL games, with a 4.04 goals against average and .894 save percentage.
On defence, the Russians have a few key names, with Shakir Mukhamadullin atop the list of names. Drafted by the New Jersey Devils in 2020, Mukhamadullin is a big and strong defender with excellent transitional abilities. His combination of size, skating and puck skills is what makes him such a big piece on team Russia’s back end. Another defender to watch is Kirill Kirsanov, who plays a similar game to Mukhamadullin, but with less offensive flair and more defensive responsibility. However, Russia’s depth on the blueline is lacking a bit, and the omission of OHL defenseman Daniil Chayka certainly didn’t help.
On offence, Russia has some very intriguing players. Carolina Hurricanes prospect Vasily Ponomaryov is another 2020 draft pick that will play a big role for Russia. He has six goals and 11 points in 16 VHL games, with an additional two points in 14 KHL games this season. Ponomaryov will bring with him a strong shooting ability and advanced defensive abilities, making him a match-up center with other teams’ top lines.
Marat Khusnutdinov is yet another 2020 selection, for the Minnesota Wild. He has scored four goals and 11 points in 29 KHL games this season. Khusnutdinov and Ponomaryov are similar to the point where they bring a strong defensive game. Khusnutdinov provides an incredible motor and work ethic. However, Khusnutdinov brings a playmaking style to the ice.
Other names to key in for team Russia are Fyodor Svechkov (Nashville), Nikita Chibrikov (Winnipeg Jets), Alexander Pashin (Carolina), and Danila Yurov (top 2022 draft prospect). But, arguably the most exciting name, is 17-year-old Matvei Michkov. Making the Russian World Junior roster at 16 is incredible, and the 2023 draft-eligible forward did just that. Scoring an absurd 28 points in 11 MHL games, and five points in 13 KHL games, the young phenom is looking to add to his already incredible resume.
For team Sweden, Wallstedt may just be the best goalie in the tournament. He’s also backed up by the very solid Clang, as already mentioned. But looking at their defence, it’s clear they have more strengths than just their netminders. The top defender is Detroit Red Wings top pick, Simon Edvinsson. Edvinsson has incredible offensive and transitional instincts and could help generate offence from the back-end. He is complemented well by Anton Olsson, a Nashville draft pick. Olsson is known for his extremely reliable and efficient defensive game. Helge Grans and Emil Andrae (Los Angeles Kings and Philadelphia Flyers draft picks, respectively) give the Swedes more depth than the Russians, at least on paper.
On offence, team Sweden has some big names. William Eklund (San Jose Sharks) is an incredible talent. He is expected to play a massive role in the tournament. Having recorded four assists in nine NHL games, he returned to Sweden’s top men’s league, the SHL. There, he has five assists in nine games. The extremely talented Eklund is playing alongside the high-powered Alexander Holtz (Devils), Fabian Lysell (Boston Bruins), Zion Nybeck (Carolina), Oskar Olausson (Colorado Avalanche), and Isak Rosen (Buffalo Sabres). Team Sweden is built on offensive dominance from Eklund’s, Lysell’s and Rosen’s elite skating and playmaking skills being paired with Holtz’s and Olausson’s goal-scoring abilities.
2022 World Junior Championships Prediction: Team Russia vs. Team Sweden
Looking at these two teams, the key factor will be goaltending. Askarov and Wallstedt can perform at a high level. If they hit those expectations, it should be a low-scoring game. However, the Swedes have better depth on both offence and defence. That said, I see team Sweden coming out on top in this contest.
Prediction: Sweden wins 3-2.