The 2022 IIHF World Junior Championship (WJC) was set to be an exciting one, with loads of young NHL prospects and draft-eligible prospects alike lining up for their shot at impressing scouts from every NHL team on the world’s biggest stage. The Buffalo Sabres had four players in attendance for the tournament: 2021 first-overall pick Owen Power (Canada), 202114th-overall pick Isak Rosen (Sweden), Jakub Konecny (Czechia), and Nikita Novikov (Russia). While each of these prospects impressed in their own right over a few games, their opportunities were short-lived, as the IIHF announced just a few days into the tournament that the remainder of the World Juniors had been canceled, due to a series of game postponements as a result of positive COVID-19 tests among players and staff.
Adam Mair, the Sabres’ director of player development, said that “For a lot of these players, this tournament is something that they’ve aspired to throughout their young careers.” It’s unfortunate that they were not able to showcase their talent and skill in full, or chase their dreams of winning World Juniors gold. (From ‘Prospects Update | Mair discusses Sabres at World Juniors,’ NHL.com, 12/23/2021)
Power Made History For Team Canada
Since using the first-overall pick on Power in the 2021 draft last summer, Sabres general manager (GM) Kevyn Adams has been keeping a close eye on how the 19-year-old defenseman playing in his sophomore season at the University of Michigan has been coming along. It’s safe to say he’s been coming along quite nicely. In 18 NCAA games this season, he has three goals and 20 assists for 23 points, already more than his 16 points in 26 games last season. His success at the college level immediately translated to the international stage, as well, because he burst onto the scene with an historic performance.
In Team Canada’s opener against Czechia, Power squared off against fellow Sabres prospect Konecny. He also put on a performance for the ages, scoring a hat trick in a 6-3 Canada win. He became the first Canadian defenseman in World Juniors history to record a hat trick – an incredible feat when thinking back on all of the great defensemen who have pulled the Canadian sweater over their heads.
Power’s offensive production didn’t stop there. He posted two assists in a 11-2 routing of Team Austria in Canada’s second game of the tournament, tying him for second in tournament scoring among all players with five points. While his on-ice performance is a spectacle in and of itself, Mair is most impressed with Power off the ice.
“He is a hardworking, driven player,” Mair said. “Very humble, comes from a good family. A lot of the players of his caliber have those characteristics, but just his willingness to accept feedback and want to get better on a daily basis [stand out].” It’s a shame that Power lost his chance to play in any more games for Canada in his first WJC appearance, but on the bright side, Sabres fans caught a brief glimpse of the special player that is closer to joining their roster than ever.
Rosen Was Quiet In Pair of Games Played
Power might have been the marquee Sabres prospect playing in this tournament, but he was just one of four players representing the team in Red Deer and Edmonton, Alberta. Rosen, the Sabres’ second 2021 first-round pick, was skating for Team Sweden and had a chance to showcase his offensive talent, as well. After an impressive outing at the U-18 World Championship last May where he scored seven goals in seven games, he looked to continue to prove himself among the best players in his age group.
Rosen was limited to two games played just like Power, and had one assist in those games. He finished the tournament with a plus-one plus-minus rating.
“He’s got offensive tools and offensive potential,” said Mair of Rosen. “That’s what our scouts saw in him when they drafted him, and that’s what our development staff sees in him now and we’re excited to work with him on kind of maximizing those abilities.” Rosen is still undersized at his young age, weighing just 157 pounds and standing at 5-foot-11. He’ll need a fair amount of time to develop and strengthen his body to play at the NHL level, but he still has plenty of time to do that. In fact, at 18-years-old, he’s going to be eligible to play in the World Juniors again in 2023.
Konecny & Novikov Impressed
Konecny was the lowest-drafted Sabres prospect to appear in this year’s World Juniors, taken in the seventh round of the 2020 draft. Since then, he’s jumped up to Czechia’s top professional hockey league, Czech Extraliga. In 24 games with HC Sparta Praha, he has four goals and three assists for seven points. A smaller center at 5-foot-10, he relies on his speed and determination to influence the play when he’s on the ice. In 2 games played this tournament, he registered zero points.
“I think he’s got a great motor, first of all,” Mair said about Konecny. “He’s a competitive kid, his feet are always moving, and he plays with a quick mind. Yes, his speed is good. He plays fast, and I think that’s important . . . But he also plays fast in his mind and in his motor. That determination, I think, is something that sticks out for him.” That’s high praise from the Sabres’ director of player development. A “high motor” is a synonym for having what it takes to play in the NHL, and if he’s able to develop his body like Rosen will need to, too, Konecny could see the ice for the Sabres one day.
The fourth Sabres prospect to play in this tournament was Novikov, the last of three Russians drafted by the Sabres in the 2021 draft (sixth round, 188th overall). At 6-foot-4 and 207 pounds, he is a big body for just 18-years-old. He’s spent this season in the KHL – Russia’s top hockey league – with Dynamo Moscow, where he’s recorded one goal and three assists for four points, with a plus-two rating. Along with Rosen, his age allows him to return to next year’s World Juniors as well.
“He’s a defender, a big-body guy that is smart and efficient with the puck,” Mair said of Novikov. “Down in the corners and around the net-front, he has a little bit of heaviness and assertiveness there as that big body . . . We think there’s a lot of room for growth there.” Novikov had zero points and two penalty minutes in two games for Russia in the WJC.
Sabres’ Prospects Lost Opportunities With World Juniors Cancelation
It was just a few days in to the 2022 World Junior Championship when the IIHF announced that they had canceled the remainder of the tournament. The cause of cancelation was attributed by the IIHF to a COVID-19 outbreak, while many in the hockey world attribute the cancelation to the shortcomings of tournament planning on the part of the IIHF.
“We owed it to the participating teams to do our best to create the conditions necessary for this event to work, the IIHF said in their press release announcing the tournament’s cancelation. “Unfortunately, this was not enough. We now have to take some time and focus on getting all players and team staff back home safely.”
It’s unfortunate that the Sabres prospects in attendance, as well as every other player in attendance, was unable to live out their dreams of pursuing a gold medal at the World Juniors. Hopefully the ones that can get that chance again do in fact get that chance, and this beloved tournament can resume as normal in December 2022.
Brandon is a Buffalo Sabres Contributor for THW and Co-Host of THW’s ‘Sabres Scoop,’ who received his Master of Science in Sport Administration from Canisius College in Buffalo, NY, and founded his website, Seltytending, in 2017. He is an avid hockey writer and podcaster with prior work experience in the OJHL, NWHL, and NCAA. Twitter: @BSalts15