Connor Bedard, the projected No. 1 pick in the 2023 NHL Entry Draft, is one of several draft-eligible players looking to play a vital role for his country at the 2023 IIHF World Junior Championship.
The 17-year-old right-shooting center (5-foot-10, 183 pounds) with Regina leads the Western Hockey League in goals (27) and assists (37) and the Canadian Hockey League with 64 points in 28 games. He has points in 27 straight games, the longest in the WHL since Brett Lesson Prince Albert’s 30 in a row in 2018-19.
Bedard had eight points (four goals, four assists) in seven games to help Canada win gold at the 2022 WJC in August. He is expected to start the 2023 tournament at right wing with center Shane Wright, the No. 4 pick by the Seattle Kraken in the 2022 NHL Draft, and Brennan Othmann (New York Rangers).
“He’s got great hockey sense, he sees what’s coming at him and he’s able to adjust and adjust,” TSN director of scouting and NHL analyst Craig Button said. “He’s a great skater, he’s got great hands and the ability to operate in tight spaces and he’s got NHL scoring ability. He reminds me of Steve Yzerman in that way, too: He’s got a killer instinct. Steve had a steely determination to find a way to be successful and do whatever it takes to win. Conor, to me, has that same type of personality.”
Canada will play in Group A with Sweden, the Czech Republic, Germany and Austria at the Scotiabank Center in Halifax. The United States, who finished fifth at the 2022 WJC, will be drawn in Group B with Finland, Switzerland, Slovakia and Latvia at the Avenir Center in Moncton.
The top four teams in each group will play in the quarter-finals on January 2. The semifinals are on January 4, and the gold medal and bronze medal matches are scheduled for January 5.
The games will be broadcast on NHL Network in the United States and TSN in Canada.
Here are nine other draft-eligible players to watch at the 2023 WJC (players listed alphabetically):
Leo Carlsson, F, Sweden
Carlsson (6-3, 198), a rated skater on NHL Central Scouting’s preliminary player watch list, has 14 points (three goals, 11 assists) in 25 games for Orebro of the Swedish Hockey League, the top professional men’s league in Sweden. In his rookie SHL season, the 17-year-old also has 11 hits, six blocked shots and 34 shots on goal while averaging 15:26 on ice. Carlsson plays center for Orebro and winger for the Sweden U20 national team.
“A big, strong, two-way forward who is surprisingly good and quick for a player his size,” said NHL Director of European Scouting Goran Stubb. “He sees the ice very well, is smart and good at reading and identifying his options. He competes hard in all areas of the ice.”
Dalibor Dvorsky, F, Slovakia
Dvorsky (6-1, 201), an A-rated skater, broke a 24-year-old record set in 1998 by compatriot and retired NHL forward Marian Gaborik when he became the youngest scorer in the Slovak Extraliga on February 2. 2021. The 17-year-old left center has eight points (four goals, four assists) and 47 shots on goal while averaging 15:18 of ice time in 21 games this season with AIK in the Allsvenskan, Sweden’s second division.
“Dalibor is a speedy striker with excellent attacking instincts and vision,” said Stubb. “There’s room for more physical strength, but he’s surprisingly effective in fights and usually comes out on top. He’s a creative and reliable contender.”
Adam Fantilli, F, Canada
Fadili (6-2, 195), a freshman at the University of Michigan, is tied for third in NCAA Division I men’s hockey with 26 points (11 goals, 15 assists) in 16 games. The 18-year-old, who will likely open the tournament on the left wing with centers Logan Stankoven and Dylan Gunter, considers himself a two-way forward with an eye to emphasizing his ability in the attacking zone, but without forgetting his importance in the defensive zone.
“He plays the power play, kills penalties and is out there for key matchups,” said David Gregory of NHL Central Scouting. “His coach (Brandon Naurato) already puts him in every situation like he’s their best player, and he almost is. He’s adjusted well because he’s a good skater to the pace of the college game and he’s already making an impact. deadly on the power play because he has great vision.”
Lenni Hameenaho, F, Finland
The 18-year-old right-handed shooter (5-11, 173), one of the youngest players in Liiga, Finland’s top professional men’s league, has 13 points (four goals, nine assists) on 81 shots while averaging 15:57 of ice time time in 28 games for Assat.
“He plays a mature game, he’s competitive and hard-working with a great work ethic,” Stubb said. “He has smooth hands and is efficient on the move, using good puck handling skills. He plays with a lot of confidence, isn’t afraid to get involved and often wins battles along the boards.”
Samuel Honzek, F, Slovakia
Honzek (6-3, 186) has 43 points (17 goals, 26 assists) and is 2-for-4 on field goal attempts for Vancouver this season. The 18-year-old is one of two Slovakian-born players projected as a first-round pick in the 2023 draft.
“One of the first things that stood out about Sam was how quickly he adjusted to the WHL,” said John Williams of Central Scouting. “As a player, he has the ability to break plays, he scores important goals, he is big, strong, quick and skilful. He can beat you with his skill or just your strength.”
Axel Sandin Pellikka, D, Sweden
Pellikka (5-11, 176) is considered one of the most improved prospects in Sweden. After the 17-year-old, a rated skater started the season with Skelleftea in the Swedish Junior League (13 goals, 26 points in 20 games) he was promoted to the SHL and has five points (two goals, three assists) and 11 shots. while he averaged 9:28 in 14 games.
“He’s an aggressive-minded defender with very good skills and great offensive instincts,” Stubb said. “He has a good selection of hard shots with a quick release, is competitive, plays harder than he is and has a good work ethic. He will be one of the top 10 players on the mid-term list of international skaters.”
David Reinbacher, D, Austria
Reinbacher, an 18-year-old right-handed shooter, is a B-rated skater. The Austrian-born defenseman (6-2, 187) has 14 points (two goals, 12 assists) and is a plus-9 in 28 games for Kloten in the Swiss league.
“He’s a well-rounded defender with good physicality,” Stubb said. He is rarely out of position, plays a mature game, participates and acts and can play aggressively and hard when needed.”
Eduard Sale, F, Czech Republic
Sale (6-2, 174) has all the tools needed to become the next standout player from the Czech Republic. The 17-year-old has three goals and six points in 26 games for Cometa Brno in the Czech top flight this season after picking up 89 points (42 goals, 47 assists) in 39 games in the Czech junior league in 2021-22.
“He’s extremely mobile and active in the offensive zone, plays with a lot of confidence and is a good competitor,” Stuff said. “He’s quick with good balance and great footwork. I consider him an artist on the ice, but he could be more aggressive and tougher in tackles.”
Charlie Stramel, F, United States
The 18-year-old right shot (6-3, 212) and a rated skater has seven points (four goals) in 18 games as a freshman at the University of Wisconsin. Strammel could start the tournament in center with left wingers Kenny Connors (LA Kings) and Gavin Bridley (2023 eligible).
“He’s gotten his confidence back a little bit and he’s such a big, physical player and he’s got presence,” United States Youth National Team coach Rudd Pecknold said. “He’s got a great stick and he’s very good on the penalty kill like his stats. He’s a really good guy too.”