By Isaiah Bouchard

Throughout mid December, the World Junior A Challenge was held in Truro Nova Scotia, where five teams faced off in a competitive round robin tournament. This year we got to see two team Canadas, Canada East and Canada West. As well Team USA, Sweden, and Slovakia. While it may not get the same press as the big World Juniors coming at the end of the year, the A Challenge gives us a chance to see players that may not have what it takes to make the highly competitive U20 rosters. The A challenge is especially crucial for Canadian players playing in the Junior “A” leagues, who may not get the chance to shine in the bigger CHL leagues. Big names in this year’s draft such as Trevor Connelly and Alexander Zetterberg have a chance to truly shine as the stars of their teams. And we even get to see a bit of a glimpse into the 2025 draft class as well.

Tournament Recap

Dec 10th saw Canada West lose 4-2 against Sweden, and Canada East win 7-2 against Slovakia. Dec 11th saw USA defeat Slovakia 6-1, and Canada East defeat Canada West 5-2. The 12th saw only one game, as Alexander Zetterberg faced off against Trevor Connelly in a high scoring affair, where the US won 7-4. Dec 13th saw Canada West defeat Slovakia 7-3, and Canada East shutout Sweden 5-0. The red-hot team USA went up against Canada West on the 14th, where USA won 5-1. Dec 15th, the final night before the finals, saw Sweden beat Slovakia 6-2, and USA beat Canada East 7-2.

After the first 10 games, USA held a clear 4-0 lead, scoring 25 goals. Second place was team Canada East, with a record of 3-1, and 19 goals. Sweden ended their first 4 going 2-2 and 14 goals. Canada West finished 1-3 with 12 goals. And Slovakia finished last going 0-4 with 8 goals total.

The Semi Finals saw team USA (1st) face team Canada West (4th), where team Canada West upset the powerhouse Americans in a crushing 4-3 OT win. The US went to the bronze medal game, while Canada West went to the gold medal game. Canada East (2nd) faced Sweden (3rd) where Canada East barely managed to out score a very game team Sweden, winning 7-5. The Bronze medal game between team USA and team Sweden was another high scoring affair, where Sweden yet again scored 5 goals but could not get the win. USA won 8-5, securing the bronze medal. Finally it was Canada VS Canada for the gold which saw yet another surprising upset as the 1-3 Canada West beat team USA and team Canada East to win the gold medal. Team Canada West won 7-2 in the gold medal game.

So after an interesting ride for the A Challenge this year, who shined brightest?

Team Canada East, Silver Medal.

Trevor Hoskin, C, Cobourg Cougars (OJHL), Right Hand, 6’1”, 172 lbs. Born May 18th, 2004.

Representing the OJHL and the Cobourg Cougars, Trevor Hoskin tied for first overall in points for the tournament. With 3 goals 8 assists and 11 points, Hoskin was a consistent player for team Canada East. And being the main offensive force on one of the best teams in the A Challenge looks good on the 19-year-olds career resume. Coming from the OJHL, Hoskin is going to need big moments in order to get noticed. One of the best players to come out of the A Challenge is certainly a place to start. On top of this, Hoskin has a great chance to make it to 100 points this year. If he can continue to play at the top of his game, Hoskin could find a spot in the draft this year. As he is now in the very least being talked about.

“Trevor possesses so much skill with the puck, he is a super competitive player who wants to win and has elite playmaking skills.” – DraftPro’s Carson Klein.

Dylan Edwards, F, Toronto Patriots (OJHL), Left Hand, 5’8”, 154 lbs. Born July 20th, 2005.

Formerly apart of the Erie Otters, Dylan Edwards impressed many in this A Challenge with his 6 goals and 10 points. Like Hoskin, Edwards needed this big showing. His name is now in circulation, as it is hard to ignore the showing that Edwards had. While his time in the OJHL has been good, it is by no means attention grabbing. These 6 goals will certainly boost his stock on draft day.

“Plays hard on the puck and creates lots of chances to score with his powerful shot.” – DraftPro’s Carson Klein.

Andy Reist, F, Cobourg Cougars (OJHL), Left Hand, 6’0”, 174lbs. Born May 15th, 2004.

Another OJHL rep, as well as Trevor Hoskin’s linemate, Andy Reist finished the A Challenge with 7 points and 4 goals. On top of this, Reist had an incredible game 1 against Slovakia, scoring three goals to help Canada win 7-2. He remained at a steady point per game for the rest of the tournament, showing he can stay at a competitive level night in and night out.

His offensive instincts are extremely gifted. He becomes an automatic threat to create an opportunity for his team anytime he is in the offensive zone.” – DraftPro’s Carson Klein.

Etienne Lessard, D, Cornwall Colts (CCHL), Left Hand, 5’9”, 174 lbs. Born May 22nd, 2004.

From the Cornwall Colts of the CCHL, Lessard was Team Canada East’s best defensemen. He shows great two-way capabilities, dishing out assists and playing smart on both ends. He’s already more than doubled last years point total in Cornwall, on pace for over 70 points in 48 games. His small stature is always going to be a question for scouts. But 6 points in 6 games playing against stiff competition is a good start to get Lessard noticed.

Dawson Labre, G, Smiths Falls Bears (CCHL), Left Hand, 6’3”, 181 lbs. Born June 22nd, 2004.

From the Smiths Falls Bears, Dawson Labre led Canada East between the pipes. He was one of the few goalies of the entire tournament that finished their save percentage above a .900. Without a doubt the best goalie to come out of the A Challenge. With another slow draft year for goalies, this couldn’t have gone better for Dawson Labre. A strong performance now will certainly get scouts interested in the young Canadian goaltender.

Team Canada West, Gold Medal.

Jack Silverberg, F, Okotoks Oilers (AJHL), Right Hand, 5’9”, 165 lbs. Born December 1st, 2004.

After scoring 3 goals and 6 points to end the tournament, Team Canada West displayed why Hockey is indeed a team sport. From the AJHL, which had 3 players picked last year in the draft, Silverberg is making a strong argument to be the best player out of the AJHL this year. He has potential to be a big goal scorer when his team needs him, which was on full display on his 2-goal game against Slovakia. His draft stock certainly improved after winning gold for team Canada West, something that the other AJHL drafted players from last year can not say.

Logan Sawyer, LW, Brooks Bandits (AJHL), Left Hand, 6’1”, 174 lbs. Born May 6th, 2006.

From the AJHL’s Brooks Bandits, Logan Sawyer likely has the greatest chance of being drafted from team Canada West. While he and Jack Silverberg scored equal points in the tournament, Sawyer will likely look better coming out of the A Challenge due to being a year younger. On top of that he is looking on par with players such as Hudson Malinoski and Aiden Fink who were drafted from the AJHL last year. But he has a gold medal that they do not have.

“Sawyer uses his big frame and skating ability to drive through coverage and capably keeps control of the puck. He has excellent vision on the ice and reads plays consistently. On top of this he has an excellent release for his shot, making him a dangerous scoring threat as well. He has the potential to be a solid second line power forward who could become a Nick Schmaltz type NHLer if things go very well.” – DraftPro’s Andy Miller.

Matthew Van Blaricom, F, Humboldt Broncos (SJHL), Right Hand, 5’11”, 174 lbs. Born August 26th, 2006.

With 4 goals and 5 points after its all said and done, Matthew Van Blaricom should certainly get noticed for leading team Canada West in goals. Currently sitting at nearly a goal per game for the Humboldt Broncos in the SJHL, Van Blaricom is immerging as a pretty underrated goal scorer. Being only 17 years old, Van Blaricom’s chances of being picked are starting to rise, his gold medal and goal scoring abilities will certainly build his reputation and lead to his name being tossed around come draft day.

Layne Loomer, F, Blackfald Bulldogs (AJHL), Right Hand, 5’11”, 170 lbs. Born July 17th, 2005.

If one more nod had to go to any skater on the gold medal team, it would be Layne Loomer from the Blackfald Bulldogs. 3 goals and 2 assists are not too shabby for a team that did not have an easy time in the tournament by any means. Loomer looks like he is on pace for a solid season in the AJHL this year, and a gold medal at the A Challenge should go far in building his resume.

Erick Roest, G, Sherwood Park Crusaders (AJHL), Left Hand, 6’0”, 170 lbs. Born October 26th, 2004.

Team Canada West’s goaltender, Erick Roest deserves a mention after his impressive showing in the semi finals and finals. His poise and clutch abilities were on full display for team Canada West’s final games and it is unlikely Canada West would win any gold without Roest between the pipes. He shows these same abilities in the AJHL playoffs as well. If any GM is looking for a sleeper pick in the later rounds, why not take a chance on a goalie that has proven he can handle the pressure?

Team Slovakia, 5th place.

Daniel Jencko, C, Youngstown Phantoms (USHL), Left Hand, 6’0”, 181 lbs. Born January 9th, 2005.

There is really only one player to mention on team Slovakia and that is Daniel Jencko. Despite only being 18 years old, Jencko is already a well travelled player. Having seasons in the Slovakia leagues, J20 Nationell, SHL, USHL, multiple international tournaments, and now the World Juniors A Challenge. Slovakia was outclassed in this tournament, but that didn’t stop Jencko from putting up a good fight with 4 points and 2 goals. Slovakia may have went 0-4, but Jencko was a positive that came out of the tournament for Slovakia. His solid skating and playmaking abilities were on full display, and he showcased his not-too-shabby shot as well. After being in, so far, 3 leagues this year, it will be hard to predict where, or if, Jencko will end up on draft day. But here’s hoping a GM will take a chance on this fiery Slovakian forward.

Adam Cedzo, F, HC Oceláři Třinac (Czechia), Right Hand, 5’10”, 157 lbs. Born February 23rd, 2005.

A quick mention should go to Adam Cedzo from the Czechia League as well. He played well for a team that was often struggling and showcased a lot of high effort plays. He got 3 points for the tournament often being there for most of Slovakia’s big offensive and defensive plays. A solid and underrated player.

Team Sweden, 4th place.

Alexander Zetterberg, C, Örebro HK J20 (J20 Nationell), Right Hand, 5’8” 159 lbs. Born April 27th, 2006.

So far, the players mentioned were undoubtedly helped by their performances in the A Challenge, but as we look at Zetterberg, it’s not that simple. He did have a good showing, scoring 5 goals and 4 assists for 9 points to cap off the tournament. But no medals will certainly hurt his stock come draft day. His chances of making the U20 World Juniors team is small, so this was Zetterberg’s big chance to showcase his talents to the scouts watching. And in some ways, he certainly did. He finished in the top 5 for goal scorers at the end of it all, but that was not enough to place him in the top 5 for points overall. Still, he scored more points that any player on Team Canada West, so that has to mean something. Overall Zetterberg had a shaky tournament, with some ups and some downs. His amazing stick handling was on full display and he got to showcase his goal scoring ability.

“He is a game breaker who can have an off shift and then on one shift dominate and take the game over. Zetterberg is accurate and can get some power behind his shots. He has the ability to cover the opposition and can finish off the plays well. Zetterberg is likely going to develop into a second liner with some good offense.  He will likely be a mid-second round selection and great selection for any team in the upcoming draft.” DraftPro’s Andy Miller.

Lucas Pettersson, C, MoDo Hockey J20 (J20 Nationell), Left Hand, 5’11” 170 lbs. Born April 17th, 2006.

One player that was undoubtedly helped on team Sweden, was one Lucas Pettersson. With 8 points to finish the tournament, Pettersson certainly brought some eyes on him as he displayed his good all-round game. He is a player suitable for the earlier rounds, possibly as high as the 3rd or maybe even the 2nd round. It depends on how the rest of his season goes of course, but now his name is out there, as player who can hang and even improve a clear high draft pick such as Alexander Zetterberg.

“Peterson is a quick skating forward.  He is a very strong skater and can use this to be an effective player on the power play.  Petterson sees lanes before they open up and is very aware. He has a high hockey IQ with great vision.  Petterson makes good decisions more often than not. Pettersson will be a third or fourth round selection, likely inside the top 100.  He could develop into a good two way forward who could develop into a Teurovinen or Eberle type forward.” – DraftPro’s Andy Miller.

 Anton Frondell, F, Djurgårdens IF J20 (J20 Nationell), Left Hand, 6’0”, 179 lbs. Born May 7th, 2007.

Who could be one of the best players in the 2025 NHL draft, Anton Frondell shows a lot of promise at 16 years old. 7 points is not bad for a young man such as himself, which goes double considering all of team Sweden was underaged compared to the other teams. Frondell showcased excellent positioning and hockey IQ, playing on par with a lot of older guys pretty easily. He had 2 multipoint games and is already looking like he has a permanent spot in the U20 Nationell League at only 16 years old. Without out a doubt this is only the beginning for Anton Frondell.

“Frondell is a dynamic player who has a knack to finish plays off with his quick and deceptive release. Frondell is a player who elevates the skill of others on the ice with him and he is one of the youngest players in the tournament. Frondell is a player who will be one to watch for the 2025 draft and should be a top two round selection if he continues his development.” – DraftPro’s Andy Miller.

Victor Eklund, LW, Djurgårdens IF J20 (J20 Nationell), Right Hand, 5’10”, 152 lbs. October 3rd, 2006.

Brother to the San Jose Sharks’ William Eklund, Victor showcased some promising glimpses of skill and potential. He has a good energy about him and can set up plays very well. Excellent passing overall helped Eklund get to 7 points with 6 assists. It’s not so certain that Victor will be on par with his brother William, but a good showing for team Sweden will help Eklund out come draft day. Like Anton Frondell, Eklund is playing comfortably in the U20 Nationell League, and with William Eklund already making strides in the NHL, don’t be surprised to hear Victor Eklund’s name called sooner rather than later.

Alfons Freij, D, Växjö Lakers HC J20 (J20 Nationell), Left Hand, 6’1”, 192 lbs. Born February 12th, 2006.

Arguably the best defensemen from the entire tournament, Alfons Freij is making a strong case to go in the first round. He’s a great skater, an excellent passer and play reader, without a doubt Alfons Freij is an excellent offensive defensemen. A defensemen whose capable of scoring multiple goals a night, Alfons Freij has definitely captured the attention from scouts and GMs after his performance in the World Juniors A Challenge. A true testament to the tournaments growing relevance in recent years.

Team USA, Bronze Medal.

Trevor Connelly, F, Tri-City Storm (USHL), Left Hand, 6’1”, 161 lbs. Born February 28th, 2006.

It’s hard to argue for anyone else having as much pressure as Connelly had when coming into this tournament. His placement on draft day is highly debated, and many are not sure if he is truly first round worthy. But after tying the lead for points in the tournament, scoring 6 goals including a 4-goal game against Sweden, Connelly’s stock has certainly improved. He shows that he can be a top guy, that he can take over a game, and that he can lead his team to win in big situations. While Erick Roest and the rest of Team Canada West upset the Americans in the semi finals, Connelly was a prime reason for his teams dominant win over Sweden. Overall it was a great tournament for Trevor Connelly and the results have certainly planted himself as a first rounder, maybe even a top ten draft pick.

“Connelly is a superb skater who is not afraid to drive the center lane with speed, with or without the puck. He is a game breaker who can elevate the game of all those around him. He is an electric player who is very exciting to watch. Connelly will develop into a first or second-line center and could develop into the range of a Matt Barzal type center.  He is a lock to be a first rounder and likely in the top half of the first round.” – DraftPro’s Andy Miller

Mac Swanson, F, Fargo Force (USHL), Left Hand, 5’7”, 157 lbs. Born January 10th, 2006.

After tying Trevor Connelly and Trevor Hoskin for top point scorer, Mac Swanson has certainly put his name on the board. The 17-year-old now has two bronze medals and a solid season in the USHL to put on his resume. Swanson was likely going to be selected no matter what, but now the question as to where he places is starting to become clear. He seems destined for the first half of the draft after this performance. He showcased excellent playmaking skills, enough to give him three multipoint games. The future is looking up for this Alaskan born forward.

“Swanson is a smooth skater who has excellent edge control and balance, a truly dynamic forward who moves the puck well.  He could develop into a dynamic second line center who could be hard to cover at the NHL level due to his vision and high hockey IQ that he possesses.” – DraftPro’s Andy Miller

James Reeder, F, Dubuque Fighting Saints (USHL), Right Hand, 5’9”, 168 lbs. Born October 6th, 2005.

For his draft year, Reeder did not perform to what he had hoped in the USHL. Now as an 18-year-old, he’s looking like a point per game player, but that is unlikely going to cut it as there are a plethora of 17-year-olds making similar strides. That is why Reeder needed this excellent performance at the A Challenge. Scoring 8 goals, making him the top goal scorer of the tournament, and 10 points, James Reeder may have just put himself on the map.

“Reeder is a quick skater and works to get to the inside.  He has the ability to receive passes at the net front and finish consistently. He is a player who has a great release that is hard to read.  Reeder goes to the net like Gallagher and is able to keep his hands open and available to finish off the play. Reeder has the ability to be a second liner if he can continue to finish plays off or a third liner with some offensive abilities.  If he develops to his maximum potential he could be a Ryan Johansen type player.” – DraftPro’s Andy Miller.

Joe Connor, C, Muskegon Lumberjacks (USHL), Left Hand, 5’10”, 174 lbs. Born March 31st, 2005.

The heart and soul of this team USA, Joe Connor displayed his excellent playmaking and hockey IQ all tournament long. Scoring 4 goals and 10 points, Joe Conner was the main reason why team USA had 4 10-point players. Not just through his goals and assists, but puck driving ability. Without a doubt one of the most underrated players to come out of the A Challenge, and he certainly deserves to have his name passed around the draft board.