Today, we’re continuing to highlight big performances from U23 players in Denmark.
Daniela Pejšová, 20 | Team Czechia
Team Czechia made history in Denmark and young stars were a huge part of making that happen. Pejšová had 5 goals and 4 assists in 7 GP to help pave Czechia’s road to its first bronze medal at the World Championship. That earned her Best Defender honors from the Directorate and a spot on the media’s All-Star team.
Pejšová led her team and all defenders in Denmark in scoring. That’s right, all defenders — not just those in Group B. There was definitely some luck involved in some of her production — she shot over 30% — but Pejšová is the real deal. She ate up a ton of minutes for Czechia, with an average TOI/GP of 23:59, and found a way to leave her mark on every game.
The big question now is what can Pejšová do, if anything, to top this performance? Still just 20, she looks like the future of Team Czechia, and the Czechs have needed stars on the blue line to compliment their star forwards for a long time.
Natálie Mlýnková, 20 | Team Czechia
In the 2021-22 season, Mlýnková had 7 goals in 22 games at the University of Vermont. In 7 games in Denmark, she scored 6 times for Team Czechia. So, we can safely say she had a fantastic tournament, by any unit of measure.
Mlýnková struck three times on Team Czechia’s power play — a somewhat overlooked part of the team’s success (23.53%) — and was one of the highest-volume shooters in the tournament. Mlýnková finished with 31 SOG, that’s an average of 4.42 SOG/GP. The puck possession style of Czechia is only as good as the chances it creates and finishes on and that is exactly what this young sniper was able to do: finish.
Her goal-scoring numbers at Vermont may have been modest up until now but don’t be surprised if we see more offense from Mlýnková moving forward. She has a big role on the Czechia squad, as evidenced by her 18:57 TOI/GP, and will for the foreseeable future.
Elisa Holopainen, 20 | Team Finland
The Finns had their worst-ever result in a major international tournament, which has led to a lot of buzz back home about what went wrong and who is to blame. Someone who is not to blame is 20-year-old Elisa Holopainen.
Holopainen has been tabbed as a future star for Finland by me and others who are a lot smarter than me for years. In Denmark, she finally had “that” tournament. That tournament that helps put a rising talent on the map and demands the attention of the hockey world. Holopainen led Finland with 5 primary points — 4 of which were goals — in 7 GP in Denmark and finished with 6 points. That means she had a hand in 31.5% of the team’s total offense. She was also one of just six skaters who put at least 30 shots on net.
She was on a mission.
Suomi voittaa ottelun jatkoajalla! Elisa Holopainen iskee voittomaalin. 🏒— discovery+ sport 🇫🇮 (@dplussportfi) September 3, 2022
Huomisessa sijoitusottelussa vastaan luistelee Ruotsi - Japani -ottelun voittaja.#Naisleijonat #Leijonat #mmkisat pic.twitter.com/f0zcLhcA6A
The Naisten Liiga star seemed to take her game to another level at Beijing with 4 points in 7 GP, so it was encouraging to see her build on that production in Denmark. If the 2022 Worlds made anything clear, it showed us that the Finns need to embrace the future of the program. Anxious Finns need to look no further than Holopainen’s 4.61 GS/60 — the second-highest of any non-North American skater in Denmark — for the hope of a better tomorrow for the national team.
Akane Shiga, 21 | Team Japan
Anyone who has followed Team Japan for the last few years knows that we should all be excited about Akane Shiga. In Denmark, she had another performance that proved her classification as a rising star and a player who can absolutely shape the future of her national team.
Shiga had 3 goals, 2 assists, and 20 iSOG in 7 GP for Japan. Keep in mind that her team finished the tournament with 11 goals — she had primary points on 36% of her team’s total offense. And everyone on every team she faced knew that she was the player they had to try to stop. Despite that, Shiga led her team in scoring with a rate of 1.76 P/60 and was a huge part of the team’s identity. Her play off the puck seems to get better with each tournament, growing hand-in-hand with her confidence as a finisher.
One can’t help but wonder if she would benefit from going pro in Europe or North America to hone her skills more regularly against the top players in the world. At 21, there are still many levels to her game we just haven’t seen. Whatever her path is, she remains the present and future of Smile Japan. An undeniable star.
Maja Nylén Persson, 21 | Team Sweden
Our last profile for our 10 U23 players with key performances at the 2022 IIHF Women’s World Championship is Sweden’s Maja Nylén Persson
Make no mistake, Hanna Olsson had a fantastic tournament and deserves every glowing word that has been or is yet to be spoken or written about her play in Denmark, but she wasn’t the only young star who made an impact. Our spotlight is on Nylén Persson who had 4 points — 3 of which were goals — in 6 GP for Sweden. She had points on one out of every four goals the Swedes scored and averaged 20:27 TOI/GP and 31 shifts each game.
Nylén Persson has already established herself as one of the best young defenders in the game and is a keystone the future of the Swedish national team can be built around. Every time she plays on the big stage, she looks better. In Denmark, she just kept making big plays and looked like she was playing faster and smarter than she did in Beijing where she was also a standout. Her potential may only be capped by those around her.
To be fair, we should also highlight her fellow Swedish blueliner Mira Jungåker, 17, who had 4 assists and a goal of her own. She looked like she was ready to be more than a third-pairing defenseman and could be another key skater for the Swedes to build around.
All data courtesy of IIHFFY, IIHF.com, and EliteProspects.com