WJC Scouting Notebook: The other Elias Pettersson turning heads

All of the competing teams at the World Junior Hockey Championship have two games in the books, and the tournament is already providing some incredible results.

Team Germany, for example, defeated Team Finland 4-3 in their first game. It was the first time the Germans have tasted victory over the Finns, having gone 0-25 in their previous meetings.

Team USA, after a slow start versus Team Norway, have now scored 15 goals in their past five periods and find themselves atop Group B.

Team Canada’s top ranked prospect, Macklin Celebrini, is the new torch bearer for draft eligible players at this event. Last year all eyes were on Connor Bedard and Adam Fantilli. Celebrini is leading the Canadian team, and all scorers, with two goals and four assists. 

The city of Gothenburg is buzzing like Halifax and Moncton were at last year’s tournament. Gothenburg is known as the “craft beer capital” of Sweden. I’m sure fans from every nation are enjoying themselves away from the rink, especially the 3,500 or so Canadians who have made the trip overseas to cheer on Team Canada.

Here are some of my scouting observations from the tournament so far:

• With the WJC being played on the larger European ice surface, skating and agility are premium skill attributes that will shine.

The following sequence displays exactly what I’m describing. Team Canada’s first goal of the tournament was a result of Nate Danielson battling down low in Finland’s zone. Danielson works below the goal line, slips off a check, distributes the play “low to high” on to Denton Mateychuk’s stick.

Watch as Mateychuk eludes pressure, spins off his check, and further extends the play to the stick of his defence partner, Maveric Lamoureux. Lamoureux directs the puck on net, where it bounces off of Danielson, who’s now net front creating havoc, and into the Finnish net.

I describe plays like this as a combination of skating, agility, skill and will. All attributes required for team success at an event like this.

• Otto Stenberg, from Team Sweden, was selected by the St. Louis Blues in the first round (25th) at last June’s draft. Stenberg is a skilled bulldog with a lethal release. He loves directing pucks on net and is hard to defend with his elite catch and release.

Stenberg had a hat trick in the game versus Germany. His first goal is a prime example of how hard, and accurately, he shoots the puck.

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• When Peter Forsberg was starring in the NHL he was widely considered as a gritty, elite, offensive talent. He would surprise opponents by how hard he would check them when he extended plays along the boards. He was more than just skill and finesse.

This year’s Team Sweden at the WJC has some heavy, skilled, hard-to-play-against forwards and defencemen on their roster.

Filip Bystedt is a 6-foot-4, 198-pound forward who was drafted by the San Jose Sharks 27th overall in 2022 and has impressed early in this tournament. Bystedt is proving to be a threat off the rush. He has the puck touch to beat opponents 1-on-1 in open ice, or work down low off the cycle and protect pucks heading to the crease. He’s a handful to defend.

Liam Ohgren is Team Sweden’s captain and a Minnesota Wild prospect selected 19th overall in the 2022 draft. He has only been credited with one assist in the first two games, but his presence is being felt every time he rolls over the boards. Ohgren is being used in all situations. He also isn’t shy about engaging physically. It’s only a matter of time before he is rewarded for his aggressiveness directing pucks on net. Ohgren was credited with six shots on goal in Sweden’s 5-0 win over Germany.

The Vancouver Canucks selected defenceman Elias Petterrsson in the third round (80th overall) at the 2022 draft. Todd Harvey and his staff might have a home run pick on their hands.

Petterrsson is already averaging over 23 minutes of ice time per game and he’s being tasked with matching up against top lines. I’ve witnessed Pettersson winning his share of physical battles, skating pucks out of danger, and distributing accurately in the first two games. He also isn’t putting up with any push back, or nonsense, from opponents. Several times he’s been engaged behind the play, extending battles. The TV viewer isn’t always privy to seeing what we are witnessing live at the rink. He’s a bit of a throwback. I love his compete and presence.

• Team USA boasts, in my opinion, the deepest forward group of any team in the tournament.

Consider these stats for the Americans through two games played:

Columbus Blue Jackets 2023 second round pick (34th overall) Gavin Brindley has four goals and one assist.

Brindley is a somewhat undersized, darting, skilled forward with relentless compete in the trenches. He never quits on a play and he’s used in all situations. It wouldn’t be wise for teams to sleep on Brindley due to his stature (5-foot-9, 170 pounds). He’s a fire hydrant in motion.

Philadelphia Flyers first round pick in 2022 (fifth overall) Cutter Gauthier has scored four assists so far.

Gauthier can play the game a variety of ways. He’s a big (6-foot-3, 190-pound), power body who can dominate along the wall and rip pucks from the weak side flank of the power play.

Forward Jimmy Snuggerud, the 23rd overall pick in the 2022 draft (St. Louis) has four goals and one assist so far. Snuggerud has a shoot first mentality. He has a fantastic release and doesn’t require much time to direct pucks on net accurately. Pucks seem to find goal scorers in the offensive zone and they sure fine Snuggerud.

University of Michigan forward, and Chicago Blackhawks first round pick in 2022 (13th overall), Frank Nazar has already chipped in five assists.

Nazar missed most of last season with injury, but he’s fully healed and back playing to his identity. Nazar is a burner in open ice. He’s quick out of the blocks and has the legs to back opponents off their blue lines. He’s hard to defend. When he beats his first check, and drags a second check into the play, he has the vision to distribute to open line mates and make plays.

And still it’s important to recognize that three elite scorers for Team USA have yet to really hit their stride offensively at this year’s WJC. The Boston College Line, consisting of Gabe Perreault, Will Smith and Ryan Leonard, have only scored two goals and three assists between them. When they come to life it will create further distractions for opposing teams, making USA all the more dangerous.

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