UFWJ Preview: Medal Favourites Emerge for Inaugural Tournament With Plenty of Podium Contenders

Ultimate Fantasy World Juniors is ready to drop the puck again on this innovative dynasty league for the World Junior Championship.

With a supplementary draft replacing a third of the players that are not returning from the December tournament — more than 90 of the 250 — the UFWJ countries aren’t as strong on paper as the inaugural rendition but a couple appear to be frontrunners among a handful of other podium contenders.

We’ll save those medal predictions for last, but check out the UFWJ Preview Show for insights on every country’s chances based on before and after roster comparisons.

This preview will also highlight the returnees, the reinforcements, and the key losses for each country heading into the UFWJ tournament that starts today with a total points format through the medal round. For those interested, here is a look back at the December rosters to compare and contrast and draw your own conclusions.

Republic of the Seven Seas

Decimated beyond their depleted rivals, Republic of the Seven Seas lost their top three picks — including first overall selection Matvei Michkov — and all eight defenders in having to fill 17 spots on their 25-man roster. That was by far the most of any country, and suddenly without seven of their Top 10 selections from December, Republic of the Seven Seas was dealt a blow too big to overcome.

Already built for the future, Republic of the Seven Seas approached the Supplementary Draft with an eye towards the 2023 tournament this winter by targeting likely returnees rather than one-and-done ringers for this summertime showcase. That meant taking Brennan Othmann and Sean Behrens over Aatu Raty and Thomas Bordeleau with their top two picks. That strategy can be debated in the present but Republic of the Seven Seas has reloaded for the future.

Valtakunia

Stealing Bordeleau in the second round — with their first pick, at seventh overall — Valtakunia emerged as a favourite for gold and looking like a lock to medal, with a strong returning core led by Connor Bedard, Mason McTavish and Luke Hughes. That dynamic duo on Canada’s top line makes Valtakunia the team to beat despite their lack of goaltending. This country boasts enough firepower to outscore the competition.

East End

Can Raty offset the loss of Cole Perfetti? That is a decent trade-off for East End, who are now loaded with Finns and Canadians as sure medal contenders, while returning their entire defense group. Their goaltending will suffer without the relegation round, but those Finns could pave the way for a podium finish. Kent Johnson could be the tournament MVP, and if he plays to his potential, East End could come out on top.

Monstopia

If defense and goaltending win championships, Monstopia might still be in the mix. Jesper Wallstedt is another MVP candidate as the tournament’s No. 1 netminder, while Simon Edvinsson and David Jiricek should be studs on the back end. But Monstopia will need massive performances from Matt Coronato, Jonathan Lekkerimäki and William Dufour up front to have a hope of medalling. Scoring depth is their biggest concern, so Wallstedt will need to steal them a medal.

Eliteprospectia

Eliteprospectia is reeling from 11 total losses, including six of their Top 10 selections — highlighted by first- and second-round picks, Shane Wright and Owen Power. They also lost Jake Neighbours and Xavier Bourgault among a strong Canadian contingent from the initial draft.

Logan Stankoven is their lone returning forward from Canada and they added his new linemate Tyson Foerster as Wright’s replacement, while welcoming back Simon Knak as a potential difference-maker from Switzerland. Eliteprospectia still has a fairly deep forward group and won’t go down without a fight but doesn’t pack the same punch without those two big guns. Expect Eliteprospectia to be in the battle for bronze!

CanWest

CanWest is in the same boat, having lost their top player at every position with Matty Beniers, Kaiden Guhle and Joel Blomqvist not returning. Those are huge blows — also losing 11 in total, tied for the second most — but CanWest fared relatively well in the Supplementary Draft and still has a starting goaltender in Slovakia’s Simon Latkoczy, along with a top D in Topi Niemela and enough forward depth to compete for a medal. It will likely be bronze now, instead of gold, without that aforementioned trio.

Scorway

The surprising early leaders from December’s small sample size — just three days of gameplay — Scorway is also down a handful of key contributors, headlined by Alexander Holtz and Juraj Slafkovsky. The slate is wiped clean now and everyone is starting from scratch, so Scorway will need their Finnish forwards — namely, Joakim Kemell and Brad Lambert — and their Swedish defenders to lead the way again. Goaltending is a giant question mark without Jakub Malek, so Scorway will need somebody to step up and provide heroics in hopes of staying in the medal hunt.

Midgard

Bringing up the rear by a significant margin back in December, Midgard might be better the second time around, with Kaidan Mbereko potentially the Americans’ starter and Logan Cooley now their go-to guy up front — more proven and prepared to dominate this tournament.

Midgard had a tough initial draft with GM Luke Shonwise a late addition to the fold, so they are playing catch-up in this dynasty league but have Aron Kiviharju on their protected list as a future face of the franchise.

Anarchia

Several quality returnees — including their top two D and Canada’s goaltending tandem — will keep Anarchia in medal contention. But with only two picks in the Top 50 and one of them since getting cut (Aidan Hreschuk), the Supplementary Draft won’t provide much help in terms of reinforcements.

Anarchia will be relying on the holdovers from their original roster to bring home a medal but may not have the horses to challenge for gold. That battle for bronze is going to be intense!

UCan Republic

The loss of Russia will impact UCan Republic more than most — without Yaroslav Askarov and Marat Khusnutdinov — but we’ll see whether their new American goaltenders can rise to the occasion. That decision to take Remington Keopple and Andrew Oke with their top two picks will be ‘make or break’ but the bold strategy could pay dividends. They would need to steal the show for UCan Republic to steal a medal. The rest of their roster remains in decent shape, so bronze isn’t out of the realm of possibilities.

Fisher’s Medal Predictions

The way I see it, Valtakunia and East End pulled away from the pack by landing the top two talents in the Supplementary Draft (Raty and Bordeleau). I’d be shocked if they didn’t finish 1-2 in the UFWJ standings, barring injuries or blockbuster trades to bolster their rivals. I’m going with Valtakunia for gold and East End for silver. If East End’s goaltenders produce their share of fantasy points, that could tilt the pendulum in their favour, but Valtakunia is actively trying to upgrade in goal by shopping Quentin Musty from their protected list.

That battle for bronze will be a sight to behold, with six legitimate contenders. Anarchia, CanWest, Eliteprospectia, Monstopia, Scorway and UCan Republic were all worthy of consideration to round out the podium — with Republic of the Seven Seas and Midgard as the also-rans — but Anarchia being backstopped by Canada’s goaltenders became my deciding factor for bronze.

As for my WJC predictions, I’m taking Finland over Canada for gold, with Sweden over the Americans for bronze. Canada could obviously prevail but Finland has the most returnees and added Raty as a ringer. I’d be stunned if that wasn’t the final four, and I really feel Finland and Canada are a cut above there — just like Valtakunia and East End here.


 

Follow on Twitter: @TheUFWJ and @UFHL_Scouting

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