Consider the World Juniors one big interview for prospects.
While some players are trying to increase their future draft stock and use it as an opportunity to showcase themselves, others are essentially using it as a tuneup for larger opportunities.
Columbus Blue Jackets forward Kent Johnson found his moment and capitalized at the most opportune time.
Tucking in his own rebound, Johnson scored the golden goal in overtime as Canada defeated Finland 3-2 for the gold Saturday night in Edmonton.
Johnson turned in a pretty good performance during the tournament with nine points (three goals, six assists). He also made waves when he scored 'The Michigan' in the Canadians' 5-1 victory over Czechia.
In Canada’s 5-2 win over Czechia during the semi-finals, Johnson had three points (one goal, two assists). On the other side for Czechia, Blue Jackets prospects David Jiricek and Stanislav Svozil each had an assist in the semi-final matchup. Martin Rysavy was held pointless.
Czechia fell 3-1 to Sweden in Saturday’s Bronze Medal game.
Overall for the tournament, Jiricek had four assists in seven games while Rysavy had two goals in seven games. Svozil had three points (one goal, two assists) in six games.
It was a good showing for all the Blue Jackets prospects, and it’s good to see Johnson have success in anticipation for Blue Jackets training camp in a few weeks, where he will vie for a top-six role.
Kent Johnson (CBJ) probably having his best game of the World Juniors today. Puck has been on his stick so much and he just makes play after play. Has a goal and two assists so far.— Chris Peters (@chrismpeters) August 19, 2022
He was named the best player in the semi-final victory on Friday.
Kent Johnson is putting on an absolute clinic with the puck in this game. - @mike_p_johnson of @TSN_Sports following Canadas 4th goal of the game. Johnson picked up the primary assist on Canadas 3rd and 4th goals (both PP) and has a goal today. #CBJ #WorldJuniors— Coby Maeir (@CobyMaeir) August 19, 2022
Future NHL draft pick Connor Bedard had the following to say about Svozil.
CZE D Stanislav Svozil plays with Connor Bedard in Regina. Bedard: "Hes so good offensively. At the blue line, when hes making a move, I dont think he really turned it over there once this year. His ability to play all areas of the ice, hes definitely incredible to watch."— Jon Rosen (@jonnyrosen) August 19, 2022
Cleveland Monsters goalie Pavel Cajan got some work in for Czechia in the 5-2 loss to Canada on Friday, making eight saves on nine chances.
After Jiricek's World Juniors performance, could that, mixed with a strong training camp, give Blue Jackets management some pause and even consider the 18-year-old for the team this season?
Coby Maeir offered that thought. While that's intriguing, it's likely he'll start the year in Cleveland, or back with HC Plzen in Czechia, since Columbus currently has a plethora of defensemen on the NHL roster such as Zach Werenski, Vladislav Gavrikov—entering a contract year as a UFA—Adam Boqvist who just signed a three-year extension, and Andrew Peeke who broke out in 2021-22.
Nick Blankenburg looked good in a brief stint late last season and was signed to a two-year contract this summer. Jake Bean had a nice year offensively but is looking to add more defensively and stay healthy. Then there's the other notable free agent signing, Erik Gudbranson, on board after a four-year deal, and Gavin Bayreuther who is a UFA after the season.
Regardless of when a player like Jiricek, and Denton Mateychuk for that matter, enter the picture for the Blue Jackets at the NHL level, the team looks to have some solid defensemen in their corner. That will sure help Werenski and the blue line and The Athletic’s Scott Wheeler was a fan of those picks for the Blue Jackets at Nos. 6 and 12 overall respectively.
As the team looks to keep taking the next step, the Blue Jackets’ present and future look bright.