August is normally a quiet month in hockey, a respite that falls between the frenzy of NHL free agency in July and preparing for September’s training camps.
But multiple Detroit Red Wings prospects will instead be showing off their skills at the World Junior Championship, which was postponed from its usual Christmas-time schedule till now because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The event, Aug. 9-20 at Rogers Place in Edmonton, features the U.S., Canada, Sweden, Finland, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Latvia, Slovakia and Czechia. Russia is barred by the International Ice Hockey Federation because of that country’s invasion of Ukraine.
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The Wings have players on the rosters of half of the participating nations. For some of them, it will be an opportunity to make an impression ahead of challenging for an NHL job next month in Traverse City.
“It’s fantastic for players to go into these world junior tournaments,” general manager Steve Yzerman said July 14. “They’re great experiences individually for them, but also in their development as hockey players playing in big games, do-or-die games and under the pressure, I think is great.”
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As can be expected with a Swedish national team, there are Wings in the mix: defensemen Simon Edvinsson and William Wallinder, and forward Theodor Niederbach. Edvinsson — the No. 6 overall pick in 2021 — is 6 feet 6, 205 pounds and stayed in Detroit to prepare for the event after turning heads in early July at the Wings’ prospects tournament.
He projects to play a major role for the Swedes, and that should help his cause when he auditions for a role with the Wings. Yzerman signed left-side defensemen Ben Chiarot and Olli Määttä in free agency, but Edvinsson is expected to challenge for the third spot. He has one full season in the Swedish Hockey League, so he’s not coming to camp with the same experience Moritz Seider had last year, but Edvinsson is as confident as he is big, and starring for his country at such a big event will further boost his cause.
Wallinder, drafted at No. 32 in 2020, had 19 points in 47 games in the SHL last season; he’s in a good spot with Rögle, the same team where Seider thrived in 2021 and also home to the Wings’ 2022 first-round pick, forward Marco Kasper. (Kasper, from Austria, opted out of the tournament to prepare for the SHL season). Niederbach (No. 51, 2020) is a right-shot center/wing coming off his first full SHL season (16 points, 51 games with Frölunda) and is also slated to play next season at Rögle.
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The big one — literally — to keep an eye on here is 6-6 goaltender Sebastian Cossa. Yzerman valued Cossa enough to trade up to select him at No. 15 in 2021, ahead of Jesper Wallstedt, who was projected to be the first goaltender drafted that year. (Wallstedt is part of Sweden’s roster.) Cossa was on the roster in December, but Brett Brochu, a goaltender twice passed over in the draft, was named starter by coach Dave Cameron.
Since then, Cossa starred in the playoffs, posting a .919 save percentage in 19 games as he carried the Edmonton Oil Kings to the Western Hockey League title and a Memorial Cup tournament berth. Cossa projects to play in Grand Rapids next season, as Yzerman acquired Ville Husso in July to pair in net with Alex Nedeljkovic, but could top the depth chart when the Wings need a call-up.
Canada’s roster also features defenseman Donovan Sebrango (No. 63, 2020), whose abrasive, smart game already made him stand out as a 20-year-old playing with the Griffins. (The tournament is an under-20 event, but the IIHF allowed players born in 2002 who have turned 20 to remain eligible for the summer re-do.)
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Defenseman Eemil Viro (No. 70, 2020) was one of the players Yzerman said in May he was “excited” to have in the system and looked forward to seeing whether Viro “can make the Detroit Red Wings or play in the American Hockey League.”
Viro, 20, had three goals and four assists in 52 games last season with TPS in Finland’s top league. He’s a good skater who has progressed solidly in three seasons in the Liiga, growing both the skill and physical sides of his game.
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Two Wings prospects cracked the roster: forward Carter Mazur (No. 70, 2021) and forward Red Savage (No. 114, 2021). Mazur had a strong showing (14 goals, 24 assists in 41 games) his freshman year at Denver while winning a national title. Savage plays at Miami (Ohio), where he earned 16 points in 35 games as a freshman.
Jan Bednar (No. 107, 2020) is developing nicely at Acadie-Bathurst in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, posting a 2.72 goals-against average and .912 save percentage in 47 games last season. An athletic 6-4 goaltender, Bednar has led his Titans into the playoffs the past two seasons.
Contact Helene St. James at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @helenestjames. Her book, The Big 50: The Detroit Red Wings is available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Triumph Books. Personalized copies available via her e-mail.