Well, this is awkward. As you may have noticed, while a few Canadian National Hockey League teams play tonight, there aren’t any games at all on Saturday, or Sunday – the bread and butter for our “HNIC Coast To Coast” series. Something about trees and a man in a red suit … anyway. To keep you occupied, let’s talk about something that’ll begin Dec. 26 – Canada’s favourite holiday hockey tradition, the 2023 World Junior Hockey Championships!
What are the World Juniors?
For those who don’t know, the World Juniors, known also as the World Junior Ice Hockey Championships, WJHC, WJC, or the U20 World Championships, are the most popular age-limited hockey tournament in the world. The tournament, which is technically separated into four tiers but primarily focused on it’s Top Division, pits the best Under-20 talent not yet in the National Hockey League against each other, from around the world.
Typically, this tournament is played between Boxing Day and about a week into January, making it the perfect slot-in during the holidays for hockey fans. Last year was an exception, after a compromised attempt at a “bubble” led to major COVID-19 outbreaks on multiple teams, postponing the tournament to August. So while it’s a new year, it’s technically the second World Juniors in about four months.
The tournament has been run in an official capacity since 1977, with its popularity really exploding in the mid-1990s and truly taking off at the turn of the century, with major broadcast investments and dominant Team Canada helping push the event in its most crucial market.
This year’s tournament is being played in Eastern Canada. Specifically, in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and Moncton, New Brunswick. The tournament was originally meant to be hosted in Russia, but the hosting and participation rights were both taken away from the nation due to its early-2022 invasion of Ukraine. The first puck will drop on Dec. 26 and the Gold Medal Game will be played on Jan. 5.
A reminder that tournaments are dated after the years they approach into – so this is the 2023 World Juniors, not the 2022 WJC.
How Good is the 2023 Team Canada World Junior Team?
Canada won the 2022 World Juniors by the thinnest of margins, narrowly winning the Gold Medal Game 3-2 in overtime. This shows you the joys of knockout hockey, as in the big picture, Canada had gone 7-0 with a +27 goal difference, but could’ve felt much, much differently about their tournament had just one shot gone the other way.
So, can they repeat as champions? Well, they won’t be carrying over a ton of players from the team that won less than five months ago – there are no returning goalies, and Ethan Del Mastro (Chicago) and Olen Zellweger (Anaheim) are the only two returning defencemen. Six forwards return out of the 13 named, including alternate captains Logan Stankoven (Dallas) and Nathan Gaucher (Anaheim). Interestingly, the team’s youngest player is also a returnee – generational prospect Connor Bedard, who picked up eight points in seven games in his first go-around and is expected to be a go-to player in his victory lap.
Having players like Bedard and fellow projected 2023 Entry Draft lottery pick Adam Fantilli puts a lot of pressure on Canada, along with Seattle Kraken forward Shane Wright, who was loaned to Team Canada to be the team’s captain before an expected re-assignment back to junior for one more half season. Most experts of both the hockey and sportsbook world see Canada as the clear favourites in this tournament, and with an entire team of NHL-drafted prospects save for a goalie and the projected top two picks in a historically loaded draft, it’s not hard to see why.
If you’re looking to watch Canada, their round robin games are on at the following times:
- December 26th: 6:30 PM EST vs Czechia
- December 28th: 6:30 PM EST vs. Germany
- December 29th: 6:30 PM EST vs. Austria
- December 31st: 6:30 PM EST vs. Sweden
Which Prospects from Canadian NHL Teams are in the World Juniors?
While many Canadian fans will be watching this tournament to cheer their home country on, some have other motives. For example, you might be a fan of one of the seven Canadian NHL teams, and you want to keep up with some of the best-performing prospects in your team’s system.
Six of the seven Canadian NHL teams are sending players out to this tournament across six different countries, with none sending more players than Montreal (five), and no nation taking in more Canadian-committed talent than Sweden (six players). The breakdown is as follows:
- The Calgary Flames are sending 2021 second-round pick William Stromgren to the Swedish team, while 2022 second-round pick Topi Ronni will be playing for Finland.
- From the Edmonton Oilers, you’ll see Reid Schaefer, the 32nd pick in the 2022 draft, suit up for Canada.
- Five players represent the Montreal Canadiens, with 2021 fifth-round pick Joshua Roy playing for Canada, 2022 third-round picks Adam Enstrom and Vinzenz Rohrer playing for playing for Sweden and Austria respectively, 2021 second-rounder Oliver Kapanen playing for Finland, and my personal favourite, perhaps of every Canadian-committed player in this tournament, undersized scoring defenceman Lane Hutson, who Montreal drafted 62nd overall in 2022.
- The Ottawa Senators send a respectable bunch to the tournament as well, with four players. Zack Ostapchuk, taken 39th in 2021, will play on the wing for Canada. Tomas Hamara, a 2022 third-rounder, mans Czechia’s blue line. Fellow 2022 third-rounder Oskar Pettersson will play the wing for Sweden, and Tyler Boucher, taken 10th overall in 2021, will suit up for the United States.
- The Toronto Maple Leafs… don’t have anyone heading to the tournament. Many will swear to you that Ty Voit should’ve been there for Team USA, but either way, he’s not. Sorry, Buds fans.
- Checking in with the Vancouver Canucks, goaltender and 2021 fifth-round pick will try to backstop Finland to revenge, while two players will join the Swedes. Jonathan Lekkerimaki, who the team took 15th overall this summer, will provide scoring punch up front, while Elias Pettersson will hold the fort on defence. No, not that Elias Pettersson, they have another that plays defence, having drafted him in the third round in 2022.
- Lastly, we have the Winnipeg Jets. They’re sending four players. Two of them will be playing for the United States – on top of having some of the best names in the tournament, Chaz Lucius (their 2021 first-rounder that’s already playing in the AHL) and Rutger McGroarty (their primary 2022 first-rounder) hope to represent the Jets well. Fabian Wagner, a sixth-round pick in 2022, might be the biggest underdog of the mentioned group to make his national team. Lastly, Brad Lambert, the team’s secondary 2022 first-round pick, will be taking a break from the AHL to join his native Finland for a third consecutive tournament.
Who has the best odds at the 2023 World Juniors?
|2023 World Juniors Odds
It’s not a huge surprise to see Canada as the front runners in a market like this. Having Bedard, Fantilli, Wright, and a roster full of recent NHL draft picks of solid pedigree tilts things to their favour. After them, the markets really only seem to have confidence in the US, Finland, and Sweden, which I think is a fair group. The United States doesn’t have the high-end star power of Canada but has similar depths of NHL-tied talent, and the Finns and Swedes always put out competitive rosters full of a mix of domestic and NHL-tied players. Finland in particular established themselves as hungry by nearly winning last year’s event, and with only a few months passed, I doubt the returning players have moved on just yet.
After that, the outrights are just miracle strikes. Sure, Austria could theoretically win the whole thing at 500-to-1 odds, but you’re more likely going to look to them as your “team that gets relegated” pick in the props, which books like Sports Interaction are already offering. The detail for this tournament isn’t quite the same as you’ll find for say, the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but there are certainly options at the futures and individual game levels.
Where to Watch 2023 World Juniors Games
Want to tune into these games? Of course you do, that’s why you’re here. Worry not, we’re here to help!
The World Juniors follow a different set of rules than our usual Coast to Coast matchups. That’s because their rightsholder is TSN – the WJC’s have become the network’s sacred cow in the winter months. This makes things much easier for you, though – it’s just one channel to worry about.
The time blocks you’re going to be looking for if you’re on Eastern Time are 11:00 a.m., 1:30 p.m., 4:00 p.m., and 6:30 p.m.. Canada will always get the 6:30 p.m. game as the ability to reach an audience takes precedent. A slight deviation will come on Dec. 30 as Austria/Germany will be on at 4:30 p.m. instead of 4:00 p.m.
This schedule will maintain itself for the quarter-finals, which take place on Jan. 2. On Jan. 4, the semi-finals will shift the schedule to 2:30 p.m. for the first game and 6:30 p.m. for the second. The same will be used on the 5th for the Bronze (2:30 p.m.) and Gold (6:30 p.m.) medal games.
If you don’t have cable, TSN does offer a web-based subscription that can be picked up on a shorter-term basis. For Americans, a solid option will be the NHL Network, which carries the games in the US.
A Note From Jeff
I’d just like to leave one last note here that has become a staple of sorts for me in recent years, ahead of the tournament. As I’ve explained above and made obvious with the depths of detail shown, the World Juniors are an event that Canada takes very seriously. It’s a point of pride to succeed, to host, to be the country that cheers its boys on the hardest. That’s all well and good, until it comes crashing down.
Especially in the social media era, which drags down even the best of us on a bad day, discourse can get toxic and outright disastrous when things don’t go right for the Red and White (and, I’m sure to an extent, in other countries). The fact that this is the first proper rendition of this tournament since Ontario opened its books will likely add a bit of sweat factor as well. We’ve seen players become victims of years of scrutiny for the slightest mistakes, not to mention all out, targeted harassment.
No matter what happens in this tournament, keep in mind that this is a game first and foremost, that the players are just as hungry for success as you are (if not more so), and of significant note, we’re putting a nation’s worth of pressure on a handful of teenagers who won’t often have control of their total destiny in the next few weeks. To put things into perspective while using the subject of this website – several players on Team Canada are good enough to have their games wagered on, but too young to place wagers themselves if they were just random men scrolling on their phones in Ontario. Needless to say, this is a lot of weight to be put on their shoulders.
So let’s all enjoy the games, learn a bit about some of the next wave of professional hockey players, and cheer for a Golden outcome, while being mindful of who and what’s at play if it doesn’t go as planned. Beyond that – Happy Holidays, and we’ll be back with all seven Canadian NHL teams (with a bit more talk about this tournament sprinkled in) next weekend!