World Juniors Daily: Luke Hughes Stands Out For USA; Finland, Czechia Win

World Juniors Daily: Luke Hughes Stands Out For USA; Finland, Czechia Win

FloHockey’s Chris Peters is on the scene at the 2022 World Junior Championship sharing observations from each day of the action.

Aug 10, 2022 by Chris Peters
World Juniors Daily: Luke Hughes Stands Out For USA; Finland, Czechia Win

FloHockey’s Chris Peters is on the scene in Edmonton for the 2022 World Junior Championship. He’ll be sharing daily observations, prospect and team analysis, and news from throughout the tournament.

EDMONTON – Day 1 of the 2022 World Junior Championship is in the books and while the on-ice product undoubtedly feels like the top junior hockey competition in the world, not much else does. We’re normally prepping for the World Juniors while also celebrating the winter holidays with family and friends. It’s as if the good feelings of the holiday season transition right into this tournament which starts on Canada’s Boxing Day normally. Without that, the buzz has dropped a little bit.

Additionally, ticket sales for the tournament have been especially soft, with the first three games played in a near-empty Rogers Place. More people are expected in the seats for Canada’s games, but even those will be emptier than you’d normally expect for this particular tournament.

The good news is, the players still showed up to compete and there are a ton of NHL prospects showcasing their talents. We’re also getting a chance to see a lot of players who now have a full season of development under their belts, which makes for even better players than they were when this tournament had initially kicked off in December before its cancellation. So it might still be summer, but a lot of players looked like they’re in midseason form.

While I’m in Edmonton, I’ll be providing daily dispatches on various observations of what I’m seeing, including top player performances, surprise standouts and more, including a special focus on Team USA in this tournament.

Luke Hughes stands out in USA’s 5-1 win over Germany

The U.S. played the final game Tuesday, taking on a German squad that is missing some of its very best players from this age group. As a result, the Americans out-shot Germany 51-11, earning a 5-1 victory in a game that could have been a lot more lopsided if not for Carolina Hurricanes prospect Nikita Quapp in net.

Luke Hughes, selected by New Jersey at fourth overall in 2021, was one of the real standouts of the game. He quarterbacked USA’s top power play unit, scored the game’s first goal and assisted on another. He seemed to be involved in everything and had the puck on his stick a lot.

Hughes is one of those players that has benefited from extra development time. He played his best hockey in the second half of last season and ended up becoming a top-10 finalist for the Hobey Baker Memorial Award as one of college hockey’s top players. He’s bigger, stronger and has really developed into a goal scoring threat from the back end as showcased by his first-period goal that was a hard shot through traffic that beat Quapp clean.

“I think I’ve grown a lot as a person, grown in confidence,” said Hughes. “I’ve really learned my body and how to use it to help my game. It’s just focusing on getting better every day, growing my skills.”

Hughes also had the chance to play for the senior national team at the Men’s World Championship in the spring, playing alongside and against NHL players, which will be valuable experience returning to the junior tournament.

“Playing with guys like Seth Jones and Nate Schmidt and watching how they compare on and off the ice, seeing what they could do and then seeing what [I] could do in that atmosphere playing against men. Coming back here, I think I’m pretty confident in my abilities in taking over games.”

Hughes was named USA’s player of the game for his efforts and looks like he’s going to be playing a fairly substantial role on this roster.

“I think we feel like he’s in a way better place to run our power play,” said USA head coach Nate Leaman. “His shot from up top is very good. So we want him to shoot and we’ve been encouraging him to shoot it more. Then on the breakouts, he can escape, it’s unbelievable.”

Leaman also mentioned Jake Sanderson as a key part of the winter team. Sanderson was the captain and ran the first power player for Team USA in December, but is not with the team this time. Those are big shoes to fill, but the early indications are Hughes is ready to step into them quite well.

Other USA players of note

Hunter McKown – The only undrafted skater on Team USA’s roster, McKown showed he belonged pretty early. He’s on the second power play for the U.S. and showed he can play at the pace needed to be effective in this environment. He got a few good looks at the net that he didn’t manage to finish, but if he can stay dangerous against the tougher teams, NHL clubs are going to take note because he’ll be eligible to sign as a college free agent this season.

Riley Duran (BOS) – Contributing on two goals in the game including scoring one of his own, Duran pleased his coaching staff by being “on it” as Leaman said. Duran was strong on the forecheck and was able to make some quality plays through the neutral zone on rushes. He played with good pace, too, and showed why he made this team despite not even being in the camp for the team in December.

Logan Cooley (ARI) – With a goal in the first period, Cooley opened his World Junior account with his speed on a rush through the middle of the ice and finishing his own rebound. He showcased his speed and high-end hand skills throughout the game, creating chances and having quite a few scoring chances of his own. I expect we’ll see him only get better as the tournament wears on.

Matt Coronato (CGY) – Assisting on Cooley’s goal, Coronato had a strong overall game. He led the U.S. with seven shots on goal, but couldn’t solve Quapp himself. That said, Coronato was noticeable as it looks like his skating has gained a step or two over the last year and his skill level really popped. He was making a lot of plays and had the puck a lot.

Brock Faber (MIN) – Steady as it gets on the back end, Faber is going to be a key figure on this roster and not just because he’s the captain. Because of all the power plays the U.S. had, his minutes were down compared to some of the other defensemen, but any time he was on the ice, good things happened. He is such a tremendous skater and makes good reads when he has the puck. He’s going to be a security blanket player for this coaching staff.

Other Team USA notes:

  • Nate Leaman says that USA’s goaltending situation is not yet settled, though Kaidan Mbereko got the start against Germany. They have three goalies they feel can play for them, with Mbereko and Remington Keopple looking likeliest to be No. 1 and No. 2, but Leaman was not ready to name Mbereko the full-time starter after he stopped 10 of 11 shots and didn’t get tested a ton against Germany.
  • USA’s power play units were as follows in game on:
    PP1: Luke Hughes (NJD), Matt Knies (TOR), Thomas Bordeleau (SJS), Carter Mazur (DET), Mackie Samoskevich (FLA)
    PP2: Jack Peart (MIN), Brett Berard (NYR), Logan Cooley (ARI), Matt Coronato (CGY), Hunter McKown
  • USA finished 48.1% from the faceoff dot, with Germany winning two more draws than the Americans did. It’s something that could become a bigger issue against better teams if the U.S. is on the wrong end of the faceoff battle.

Elsewhere at the World Juniors

Czechia Outlasts Slovakia: In one of the great rivalry matchups, Czechia had to overcome an early 2-0 deficit and survived coughing up a 4-2 lead later in the game to beat rival Slovakia. Jan Mysak (MTL) was stellar in that contest for Czechia, scoring a goal and assisting on another while playing nearly 22 minutes of the game. Slovakia, however, also proved that even though they are missing some of their biggest talents from December, they should not be taken lightly.

Finland Rolls Past Latvia: In the middle game of Tuesday’s opener, Latvia gave Finland some good push back, but eventually the Finns found their game and cruised to a 6-1 victory. Finland’s top line did most of the damage as Aatu Raty (NYI) and Joakim Kemell (NSH) finished with four points, while captain Roni Hirvonen (TOR) had three points and was named his team’s best player of the game. Finland has a real chance to win this tournament if their top guys are really going like they appeared to be against Latvia. Bigger tests lie ahead, however.

Wednesday’s schedule

Switzerland vs. Sweden, 2 p.m. ET

Canada vs. Latvia, 6 p.m. ET

Austria vs. Germany, 10 p.m. ET