Filip Mesar demonstrated at the 2023 World Junior Championship that he is much more than just an offensively gifted player.
He is phenomenal on transitions, enabling him to ease his way out of the defensive zone to create offensive opportunities. His fluent skating, matched with his quick hands, can be compared to Mat Barzal on the New York Islanders. The number of times he opened himself up in space to be an option on the breakout was encouraging to see, especially seeing how the Canadiens struggle with that.
It’s highly impressive how he handles the puck, deceives with a single feint, and places precise passes through sticks and bodies, and his game-tying assist against Canada was a great example of that:
Mesar has elite playmaking abilities. He attracts defenders to open up space for his teammates, and usually gets them the puck. The only downside offensively is his shot. There is no problem with being a pass-first player, especially when you do it really well, but his shot needs work. He puts himself in great positions to score, dazzling through defenders, yet he often couldn’t finish it off at the tournament. Mesar ended up scoring two goals and four assists in five games and was a big reason why they were so close to beating Canada in a semi-final thriller that was decided in overtime.
His offensive abilities and IQ are obvious but what really stood out for me were his defensive skills. He was creating turnovers, intercepting passes, blocking shots, and forechecking tenaciously. He took his defensive game to another level in this tournament. It helps explain why he was one of the last cuts at Montreal’s training camp as he doesn’t hurt a club defensively when he’s on the ice, and that’s such an important factor in gaining an NHL coach’s trust.
His defensive ability just seemed to grow in these games, which led to him having 18 takeaways in only five games. His IQ plays a huge part in that, and usually puts him in a good position for these types of plays. So far as an OHL rookie with Kitchener, Mesar is a point-per-game player, and for some, that is disappointing. When you factor in how difficult it is for a European to adjust to new, culture, smaller rinks and the North American style and you consider how strong he is already defensively, however, it all bodes well for him to eventually find himself a regular role in the NHL with the Canadiens.
Here are some of the more notable plays from Mesar in his five WJC games: