After the COVID-19 forced the cancelation of the 2022 World Juniors last winter, the tournament will be restarted on Tuesday in Edmonton, Alberta.
While a majority of Maple Leafs fans will likely cheer on Team Canada, there will be three other prospects representing two other nations to keep an eye on.
Matthew Knies, USA
The American will represent his country for the second time this year (third if you count the cancelled version of the tournament). The 19-year-old dressed in the red, white and blue at the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing in February.
In the one game his team played before the pandemic shutdown at the World Juniors, Knies scored a goal and he’s expected to be a productive forward for the Americans once again.
Drafted by the Maple Leafs in the second round (57th overall) in the 2021 NHL Draft, the Phoenix native will be returning to the University of Minnesota upon completion of the tournament.
Topi Niemela, FIN
The Finnish defenseman put up points at a blistering pace this season in Liiga. He scored 10 goals and had 32 points in 48 games with Karpat in 2021-22.
Niemela produced at over a point-per-game pace with two goals and six assists in seven games at the 2021 World Juniors and was named the top defenseman for the tournament.
Selected in the third round (64th overall) by the Maple Leafs in the 2020 NHL Draft, Niemela had a goal in the first two games in the first version the 2022 World Juniors. The 20-year-old signed a three-year, entry-level contract with the Maple Leafs in May.
Roni Hirvonen, FIN
Hirvonen will take part in his second World Juniors. The dynamic, two-way center scored a goal for Finland in the two games they played before the tournament was put on hold.
At his first World Juniors in 2021, Hirvonen scored two goals and added four assists in seven games and helped the national team win a bronze medal at the tournament.
The 20-year-old has spent his entire pro career in the Finnish league. He scored nine goals and had 26 points last season with HIFK. In May, the Maple Leafs signed Hirvonen to a three-year, entry-level contract, which begins this upcoming season.
The 2022 IHF World Junior Championship kicks off Tuesday, April 9 with Slovakia taking on Czechia at 2 p.m. ET. Finland goes up against Latvia at 6 p.m. ET followed by USA taking on Germany at 10 p.m. ET.
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