COLUMN: Blackhawks fans should be watching the World Juniors

Crowe: Potential Chicago superstars on display at the WJIHC


Darren Calabrese | The Canadian Press via AP

Canada’s Connor Bedard, left, shoots in front of Czechia’s Stanislav Svozil during second-period IIHF world junior hockey championship game action in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Monday, Dec. 26, 2022. (Darren Calabrese/The Canadian Press via AP)

By Alex Crowe, Assistant Sports Editor

Editor’s note: Alex Crowe is a junior journalism major and serves as a senior sports reporter at the Northern Star. His views do not necessarily reflect those of the Star. This is an opinion piece.

The 2023 World Junior Ice Hockey Championships have arrived, giving Chicago Blackhawks fans a chance to watch up-and-coming talent amidst Chicago’s recent on-ice shortcomings.

After missing the postseason four of the past five seasons, new Blackhawks general manager Kyle Davidson traded away key pieces like two-time 40-goal scorer Alex DeBrincat and 2019 third overall pick Kirby Dach during the 2022 NHL Draft. These moves signified the Blackhawks’ intention to go through a full-scale rebuild.

While the Blackhawks endure the challenges of said rebuild, sitting dead last in the NHL with a record of 8-20-4, fans should seize the opportunity to watch the team’s top prospects and potential future draft picks at the 2023 World Junior Championship in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and Moncton, New Brunswick, in Canada.

The World Juniors is an elite international tournament held by the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) comprised of 10 countries that occurs every year after Christmas and through the new year. The world’s best hockey players aged 20 and younger come together to represent their respective nations. Participating nations this year are Canada, the United States, Sweden, Finland, Slovakia, Latvia, Germany, Austria, Czechia and Switzerland.

The tournament features a mix of players that have already been drafted and prospects for the upcoming NHL Drafts.

The World Juniors has Chicago’s fingerprints all over it this year and features players that Blackhawks fans should be excited about. Team Canada, the heavy favorites to win the event, has four Blackhawks prospects, including 2022 seventh overall selection Kevin Korchinski.

Other selections such as 2021 first-round selection defenseman Nolan Allan, 2021 second-round pick forward Colton Dach and fourth-round pick defenseman Ethan Del Mastro are also suiting up for the loaded Team Canada.

Chicago also has 2021 fourth-round pick forward Victor Stjernborg playing for dark-horse Team Sweden.

Watching already-drafted Blackhawks prospects isn’t the only appeal for Hawks fans at the World Juniors. Top prospects for the upcoming draft are also participating in the tournament.

If the Blackhawks’ current standing holds, they will have the best odds at landing the first-overall pick in the 2023 NHL Draft Lottery and will not be able to fall out of the top three.

Fans watching Team Canada will get to see Connor Bedard – SportsNet’s projected first overall selection in 2023 and potential generational talent – play at the highest level of aged 20 and under competition. Bedard has all the tools to be one of the best players in the NHL. His wicked wrist shot, blazing speed and incredible puck-handling should have Blackhawks fans praying the lottery balls fall their way.

Still not sold on Bedard? You should be now:

Should the draft lottery not grant the Hawks the top draft spot, there are other incredible talents playing in the tournament other than Bedard.

Chicago fans may know of Adam Fantilli, who played in their own backyard for the Chicago Steel in the United States Hockey League for two seasons, and now plays for the University of Michigan at the NCAA Division 1 level. Fantilli has accumulated 26 points in 16 games for Michigan.

Similar to Bedard, Fantilli’s level of offensive prowess is rare in a draft-eligible player. He is SportsNet’s third-ranked prospect for the upcoming NHL Draft.

Fantilli will suit up for Team Canada alongside Bedard, so Hawks fans will have the opportunity to watch him and Bedard put on a show wearing the same colors.Even if the Blackhawks fall out of the top draft spot and miss out on Bedard, Fantilli should not be considered a consolation prize but rather a rebuild-accelerating player.

With the Blackhawks going through a major shift in identity, the World Juniors is a perfect opportunity for Chicago hockey fans to not only watch more competitive hockey than their NHL team is providing, but see the current prospect pipeline and the potential next Patrick Kane-caliber player for the franchise showcase their skills.

The tournament continues at 3 p.m. CST Wednesday as Team USA takes on Team Slovakia on NHL Network.

This poll has ended.

Which player are you most excited to watch?


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