The Toronto Maple Leafs may be on pause, but there are three prospects to watch for at the 2022 World Junior Hockey Championships this week.
When you’re a Toronto Maple Leafs fan, looking into the future is typically the only place you find happiness, as hope is our favorite word. Each year the World Junior Hockey Championship (WJHC) provides that hope as there are typically a few prospects in the Leafs system who perform at an admirable level.
In recent years, it’s been Rasmus Sandin and Nick Robertson who have had unbelievable WJHC and have brought great happiness to the Leafs fanbase.
This year, there are only three players who made their respective countries roster:
Roni Hirvonen (Team Finland)
An undersized centre, Hirvonen is playing in his second consecutive WJHC and was a lock to make the team once again after dominating in 2021.
He was a bright spot on a Finland team that won Bronze last year.
The 19-year-old is off to a great start with HIFK Helsinki, having scored six goals and 18 points in only 26 games played. His offensive abilities are clearly his biggest attribute, as you should expect him to have another great performance at this year’s tournament.
If Finland ends up competing for another medal this year, expect Hirvonen to be a big reason why.
Topi Niemela (Team Finland)
Drafted 64th overall in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft, many people were surprised that the Toronto Maple Leafs were able to get him at that selection still.
Topi Niemela is one of the brightest defensive prospects in the Leafs system, because he’s not only great defensively, but he’s incredibly skilled offensively. Similar to Hirvonen, Niemela played a big part in Finland’s bronze medal winning team at last year’s tournament.
In fact, Niemela actually won the Top Defenseman honors last year and it wouldn’t be shocking if he did it again this year.
Matthew Knies (Team USA)
Knies is a 6-foot-3, 210 pound left-shooting goal-scorer who’s from Arizona and is representing Team USA at the WJHC. Does that sound familiar to you at all?
Is Knies the next Auston Matthews?! Probably not, but it’s pretty funny to see the comparison between the two.
With 16 points in 18 games with the University of Minnesota, Knies is having a great freshman season, as he’s only two points back of the team lead. Since this is the first time Knies is playing in the WJHC, you shouldn’t expect a ton from him, but it would be a pleasant surprise if he lights up the event.
Either way, there are at least three players from two different countries that you can cheer for and hope have huge tournaments.