What we learned at the 2023 World Junior Hockey Championships
There was virtually no set of results today that could shake me from my conviction that this was the best World Juniors I've covered in my professional career. That much was never in doubt.
That we were treated to perhaps the best this tournament could offer on its final day was just the icing on the cake. Between Team USA's 7-6 overtime win over Sweden for bronze and Canada's 3-2 win in extra time against Czechia for gold, we got the exclamation point on a tournament that was full value from start to finish.
This year's World Juniors had it all. There were unlikely heroes, like Adam Gajan – an undrafted goaltender who spent most of this season in the NAHL – who stole the starting job in goal for Slovakia and ran with it en route to among the best results in the tournament after not even making their debut roster. Ludvig Jansson (Florida Panthers) scored more goals in this tournament for Sweden than he has in any full season since he was 15-years-old – good enough to make the media All-Star Team.
There was history, too. Whether it was Connor Bedard matching records, tying records, or creating a highlight-reel play nearly every time he touched the puck, you witnessed something extraordinary every time he stepped on the ice. This will doubtless be Bedard's last World Juniors, and he leaves the tournament holding the Canadian record for goals scored (14), total points (31), and jaw-dropping plays (too many to count).
There were upsets, almost too many to remember without scanning the tournament's schedule page. You had an opening day that started with the Swiss taking down Finland 3-2 in overtime and then closed with Czechia handily dispatching the Canadians to the tune of a 5-2 final. Barely 24 hours later, Slovakia rocked Team USA 6-3 and did it with their country's best prospect, Juraj Slafkovský, rocking a different mix of red, white, and blue with the Montréal Canadiens. Germany came within a goal of getting in on the action at Sweden's expense, too.
And, of course, the tournament's titans eventually reminded everyone of their quality. You take one quick look at the tournament standings and how everything shook out in the end, and there's a perfect mix of "ah, that makes sense" and "well, good for them." The ideal outcome for any international tournament, if you ask me.
I could keep going on and on about just how much I enjoyed this tournament and what a treat it was to cover, but I can only expect to keep your attention on that point for so long. So instead, what do you say we get straight to what we learned at this tournament?
Go Premium to access this article
Register your Premium-membership at eliteprospects.com to get access to this article and more quality, in-depth coverage at EP Rinkside