By JD Lagrange – No, they are not sending beer, although we remember when were 18-19 years old, right? But as the IIHF World Junior Championships are set to begin, the Montreal Canadiens will be very well represented. The Habs will have no less than six of their top prospects participating in the prestigious tournament, and there is plenty of ground to debate whether or not three more should have been there.
Logan Mailloux wasn’t invited, most likely due to a combination of a story he’s trying to put behind him and a recent scandal with Hockey Canada. Speaking of Team Canada, they have surprised many observers when cutting center Owen Beck from their squad. And the Montreal Canadiens made a controversial decision by not freeing up last summer’s first overall pick, Juraj Slafkovsky to play for Slovakia in the tournament.
Habs’ fans will have plenty of games to watch if they wish to do so, a the six Canadiens’ participants will be playing for six different Countries. Here are the Canadiens’ prospects participating in this year’s tournament:
Adam Engstrom SWE: The 6-foot 2-inches, 190 lbs left-handed defenseman was selected in the third round (92nd overall) at the 2022 NHL Draft by the Canadiens. He just turned 19 in mid-November. He plays for Rögle BK in the SHL where, in 23 games so far, he has three goals, two assists for five points.
His pace is good and can travel well with the puck and join the attack as well he plays a strong rush defence. Adam has a good passing game and scans the ice to find open passes. He pushes the play ahead and does not need to go for his first instinct and can have multiple solutions with the puck. –EliteProspects 2022 NHL Draft Guide
Lane Hutson USA: The 18 year-old dynamic defenseman only stands 5-foot 8-inches and 148 lbs. The Canadiens made him their second round pick (62nd overall) at the 2022 NHL Draft in Montreal. In what’s known to be a physical, intense tournament for 19 year-olds, it will be interesting to see how he fairs but against older competition in the NCAA, he has 18 points in 16 games already, as a freshman.
A fantastic skater with second-gear acceleration. He possesses great vision of the ice and is reliable for a good first pass out of the zone, EPRinkside.com 2021
Oliver Kapanen FIN: The 19 year-old center stands at 6-foot 1-inch and tips the scale at 179 lbs. He was selected by the Canadiens in the second round (64th overall) at the 2021 NHL Draft. In 32 games this season in Liiga, he has seven goals and seven assists for 14 points.
Kapanen’s game is all about his instincts in the offensive zone combined with lethal finishing skills from close and mid-range. He recognizes space well and takes advantage of even the slightest mistakes by the opposing defences. He has some gravitational elements as a playmaker, being able to draw in pressure before dishing the puck to an open teammate. –EliteProspects 2021 NHL Draft Guide
Filip Mesar SKA: Mesar is another 18 year-old Habs’ prospect making the national team for this year’s WJC. Selected by the Canadiens in the first round (26th overall), the 5-foot 10-inches forward had a good first camp with Montreal. But was sent to the OHL’s Kitchener Rangers this season, where he has 22 points in 17 games so far.
This Slovakian winger just flies out there, weaving through traffic with a crossover-heavy stride, changing lanes and speeds to throw defencemen off balance, and exploding away from contact with forceful weight transfers. He’s an absolute force between the blue lines and one of the draft’s best transition forwards. The next item on the list is Mešár’s handling skill. The mechanical base is sound, with his hands operating independently of his feet, the puck in his hip pocket, and his top hand pushed out for the full range of motion. He dekes past opponents with quickness, precision, and agility. Simply put: Mešár’s got moves. –EliteProspects 2022 NHL Draft Guide
Vinzenz Rohrer AUS: Standing at 5-foot 10-inches and 161 lbs, the 18 year-old was selected in the third round (75th overall) at last summer’s NHL Draft. He plays for the Ottawa 67’s of the OHL where he has an impressive 32 points in 26 games so far this season.
The physical play of Rohrer starts with his body positioning. He gets low, sticks his leg in front of the opponent’s, then follows through his hips. He beats down players with his stick, but never takes penalties. Along the boards, he steps out into space to intercept the incoming defender, then makes the next play. And he’s so good at getting inside on players that he draws penalties and knocks bigger defenders off balance. –EliteProspects 2022 NHL Draft Guide
Joshua Roy CAN: Last but not least, Joshua Roy will be playing in his second WJC tournament. The St-Georges-de-Beauce native stands at 6-feet and 187 lbs and was selected by the Canadiens in the fifth round (150th overall) at the 2021 NHL Draft. Roy has an amazing production of 43 points in 26 games so far for the Sherbrooke Phoenix in the QMJHL.
He uses teammates to find scoring opportunities. He remains only a shooter, but as he can beat goalies cleanly over and over again at this level, you can’t really blame him. Otherwise, he remains physical and a good puck protector, turning his back to opponents as they pressure him, holding the puck on the boards, and finding short outlets. –EliteProspects 2021 NHL Draft Guide
I have said it before and I will say it again, it is my humble opinion that the Canadiens have erred by not loaning Juraj Slafkovsky to Slovakia to participate in this tournament with his good friend Filip Mesar. And there are many reasons why I’m thinking that. To make it easier, I have decided to put them in bullet-point for you.
- Now that injured players are coming back, he is back playing on the bottom-six and when Brendan Gallagher returns, Slafkovsky will be back on the fourth line.
- He only had 10:34 of ice time against Arizona on December 19th. The following game against Colorado, he only played 2:07 in the third period. The next game against Dallas, he had a total of three shifts in the third period again.
- Slafkovsky has not played in a leadership role since midget level. He’s always been at a level up or against men.
- The tournament is close by for Habs’ management to keep a close eye on him, being in the Maritimes.
- As the tournament is in Canada, it is being played on the smaller ice surfaces, allowing Slafkovsky to continue getting used to having less space than in Liiga.
- Having some quality time with his good friend Mesar over the Christmas holiday would have been extremely beneficial psychologically.
- It would have given him an opportunity to apply, at a lower level, what he has learned so far this season from Adam Nicholas and Martin St-Louis.
- It would have provided him with an opportunity to be a dominant player, something he hasn’t been able to do since the U-18 tournament a year ago.
- He is going to get killed if he doesn’t learn to keep his head up at this level.
I know that some feel like he has nothing to gain by playing against junior players but it is my strong belief that these people are wrong. We’re not talking about sending him to a junior league here, but at the highest level, most competitive junior hockey tournament, with the best junior players in the world, many of which are drafted in the NHL, where he would have been facing predominantly guys older than him. And it’s only for a couple of weeks, after which he could return to Montreal.
I am more than willing to give this new management the benefit of the doubt when it comes to their decision-making about player development. But sometimes, you learn quicker not only by learning from your own mistakes, but by the mistakes made by others in similar situations. Previous management took two high draft picks and kept them in Montreal, only to see them fade away. Here’s hoping that history doesn’t repeat itself here. They cannot afford for it to go sideways.
Keep following our weekly feature In the System as I will be adding a table showing these six young men’s production in the Tournament. The next feature is set to be published tomorrow, but as the tournament starts tomorrow, you will see their production in the January 2nd, 2023 edition.
For the entire schedule, visit the IIHF World Juniors’ website.