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Grading Habs prospects at the World Junior Hockey Championship

With another tournament in the books, it’s time to take a look at how the seven Habs prospects in action fared.

Czech Republic v Canada - Gold Medal Game - 2023 IIHF World Junior Championship Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images

The 2023 World Junior Hockey Championship has come to a close, with Canada repeating as champions on home soil before the tournament transitions to Europe for 2023. It had plenty of drama, some surprising upsets, and yet the odds-on favourites managed to come out on top.

Seven Montreal Canadiens prospects took part in this iteration of the tournament for their countries, and three of them are going home with a medal to show for it. As we do every year, it is time to take a look at their performances, and I’ll give them each a grade for their respective efforts on behalf of their countries.

Owen Beck: B+

A late addition to Team Canada, there isn’t a lot to judge when it comes to Owen Beck’s performance, but I’ve given him a B+ for a reason. Joining the team ahead of their quarter-final match with Slovakia, he played all of one minute in that game, and not much more in the subsequent two contests. He did, however, start as the 13th forward for the team, and worked his way into regular appearances on the fourth line through his three games.

What was noticeable about Beck’s short time with the team is that seemingly every time he was on the ice, something good was happening for Canada. Despite his limited ice time, he registered an important assist in the semifinals against the United States, and was generally a positive impact player in the minutes he got.

At the very least, Beck’s performance should put him firmly on the radar not only to make next year’s roster, but to play a more significant role for his country when the tournament shifts to Gothenburg, Sweden. This, of course, is assuming he’s available at that time, but if he is, it would be very surprising if he isn’t a big part of that roster.

Vinzenz Rohrer: B+

I struggled on giving this grade for Vinzenz Rohrer, as I wanted to bump him up a little higher, but couldn’t justify much more for the Austrian captain. After missing the team’s tournament opener due to illness, he came back to perform well for his team en route to an unfortunate sweep at the hands of Latvia in the relegation series.

Three points in five games may not sound like much of a tournament for Rohrer, but on an Austrian team that only had seven players find the scoresheet at all, it wasn’t a failure in the slightest. He actually finished third in team scoring, one point behind Ian Scherzer and Luca Auer, who both suited up for one more game than he did.

Plays like this showcased the quick hands that Rohrer possesses. Just being able to get his body adjusted to put this puck on net from a horrible angle is difficult enough, and though he benefits from a little deflection on the way, it’s him getting to that puck and getting it toward the net that impresses.

It may be a disappointing result for Austria, but it was a solid tournament for Rohrer individually. He will remain eligible for next year’s tournament, where Austria should be able to enjoy better results against more appropriate competition after being relegated.

Adam Engstrom: B-

A B- grade doesn’t imply that he had a bad tournament, it’s more that he wasn’t as impressive as I thought he could be for Sweden. It was an unimpressive tournament for Sweden on the whole, as they were dispatched dramatically by Czechia in the medal round before falling to the United States in the Bronze Medal Game.

Engstrom was good in the tournament, just not as dominant as I had expected him to be. He did score the only goal in Sweden’s shocking 1-0 effort against Germany, a game where they were expected to run over their opponents.

Engstrom’s skating really stood out, even in the lopsided Swedish loss against Canada. He is incredibly smooth, a rarity for bigger defencemen at times. One can understand why the Canadiens were willing to forego more dynamic options in the draft to get a big blue-liner who skates as well as Engstrom does.

He is also incredibly responsible with the puck, rarely making a bad outlet pass or turning the puck over to the opposition. I only grade him as a B- because I felt like he could have played a more imposing role in this tournament.

Oliver Kapanen: B-

I think my colleague Patrik Bexell would agree with me that Oliver Kapanen’s personal tournament was not as disappointing as the Finnish results overall. Still, I’ve graded him along with Engstrom as a B- for the effort.

Kapanen had three points through five games, which doesn’t seem like a lot unless you take into account that the top Finnish scorer had four. They struggled mightily to score in this tournament, and while not all of that is on the KalPa product, he could have made a huge difference for them if he found another gear.

Similar to Engstrom, I have him graded down a little due to my expectations for him being higher. I had thought that a 19-year-old who has been playing in the Liiga all season would be capable of more impressive output at a U20 tournament. Again, he wasn’t bad by any stretch, just underwhelming against what myself and others thought he might be able to accomplish.

Filip Mesar: A

I’m not sure I’ve ever had a player grow on me quite as fast as Filip Mesar has since the Habs drafted him. His performance at the World Juniors has furthered that admiration, as he was arguably the best player on the ice for Slovakia outside of perhaps Simon Nemec.

An alternate captain for his country, Mesar went on to put up seven points in five games, tied for the team lead and playing nearly 20 minutes per game — the third-most-used forward in the tournament.

In their stunning near-upset of Canada in the quarter finals, he completed a gorgeous pass to set up the tying goal for his country.

Mesar’s shot is one of his best tools, but it seems that his passing game is relatively underrated. He draws a lot of attention to himself in order to free up his linemates, and his awareness of where those linemates are at is impressive. On that sequence against Canada, he sells the defence by staring down the point before going against the grain to find Nemec on the doorstep. Misdirection is key to his passing game, and he used it perfectly here.

He will remain eligible for next year’s tournament, although he stands to have a legitimate chance to make the Canadiens roster out of next year’s camp, so his availability could be in question.

Lane Hutson: A

The only frustrating aspect of Lane Hutson’s tournament was his ice time, as he was one of the least-used defencemen on the American roster. Still, he managed four points through seven games, and was clearly a threat whenever he stepped on the ice. His ability to activate on the rush and make opposing players miss at the offensive blue line was impressive.

Particularly during three-on-three play, his skating skills were evident, and helped him set up the bronze medal-winning goal for the Americans.

The offensive abilities were never in question when it comes to Hutson, but one concern was how he would perform on the defensive side of the puck. He was quite capable in his own zone, and his biggest struggle came in defending against the rush.

His skating facilitated a torrid pace that benefited the Americans in transition, and while he was not as impactful in terms of controlled zone exits, gaining the offensive blue line was a breeze with him on the ice. Once in the offensive zone, his misdirection at the point opened up plenty of scoring opportunities, and he was dangerous every time he was on the ice as a result.

It wasn’t even a guarantee during the selection process that he’d make the roster, which seems silly to think about given how he performed. At the very least, he has cemented himself a spot for next year’s team, and since he is expected at this time to return to the NCAA, he should be there with more experience under his belt.

Joshua Roy: A+

This should come as no surprise given my status as a known Joshua Roy booster, but it should also come with little to no argument. A late cut from Team Canada for the ill-fated 2021 winter tournament, Roy played his way onto the summer team, and stood out as a key player in their gold medal win. That performance was important, as it made him a lock for this tournament, and he brought his game to an even higher level this time around, helping them repeat as champions.

He started the tournament on the third line, but after Canada’s opening game loss to Czechia, he was immediately promoted, which would prove crucial to the team’s success thereafter. The new top line of Roy, Logan Stankoven, and Connor Bedard drove the bus for Canada from that point, culminating in them being named the three best players for Canada in the tournament.

The lone weak point in Roy’s game was in transition, but that was more a product of his role on that line than any fault of his own. He was there to help dig pucks out of the corners, win loose pucks, and provide some offensive output and defensive support. He did precisely that, and while the transitional numbers left something to be desired, they belied the fact that his skating looked much better than it did even at the last tournament in August of 2022. Eye-test wise, it was clear that he has made significant progress in one of his biggest areas for improvement.

There is no overstating how effective he was in the offensive zone. Bedard ran away with the tournament scoring lead, but Roy finished with 11 points, tied for fourth overall, and second on Team Canada with Stankoven. Roy was used sporadically on a secondary power-play unit that barely saw the ice, so nearly all of his scoring was done at even strength. Quick hands and a knack for getting to the right place at the right time made him a nightmare at even strength.

His play along the boards and in the corners was tenacious, turning pucks over seemingly at will and enabling his line to generate offence as a result. His play in the defensive zone was stifling, using his quick hands and physicality to disrupt the opposing attack at every turn. And his penalty-killing surprised many who had yet to see that aspect of his game.

That semifinal game against the United States was a tour de force from Roy — two goals, two assists, and a would-be lock for player of the game if not for the sheer brilliance of Thomas Milic in net. His penalty-killing alone was a massive help, and he drew huge cheers from the Halifax crowd for efforts like the one above. It was truly his best game of the tournament, and one of the best I’ve seen him play in any uniform through the years I’ve been watching him.

It was an eye-opening tournament from Roy. While he’ll be too old to participate in the 2024 iteration, he ages out as a back-to-back champion, and showed significant development in important areas of his game that should translate to the next level.

He gets a well-deserved A+ for his performance, and Habs fans should be excited about what his development means for his future in the NHL.

Listen to Jared Book, Patrik Bexell and Matt Drake talk about their grades in the podcast below, or through your normal podcast provider: