It’s official, the 2021 World Junior Championships will go on, in a bubble of course! As a special added bonus, the tournament has been extended by a day this year, with the first puck drop of the Tournament set for Christmas Day. The 25th will be headlined by Russia vs USA, followed by Canada starting off the tournament against Germany on Boxing Day. Despite the lack of fans for this years tournament, the buzz and excitement in Canada will be apparent everywhere during the holidays.
With the start date for the next NHL season up in the air, this tournament has the potential to see a few extra faces that would have otherwise not been available. Players like Alexis Lafrenière and Kirby Dach for Canada, or former First Overall Pick Jack Hughes (USA) are all eligible to play in the tournament. Realistically their respective NHL clubs probably do not allow them to join their National Team Programs, especially if it conflicts with training camp. The Habs do not have any players on the bubble like this as our young guys like Kotkaniemi and Suzuki are too old to play.
Canada (Gold) – 12/26 vs GER | 12/27 vs SVK | 12/30 vs SUI | 12/31 vs FIN
Finland (4th) – 12/25 vs GER | 12/27 vs SUI | 12/29 vs SVK | 12/31 vs CAN
Switzerland (5th) – 12/25 vs SVK | 12/27 vs FIN | 12/28 vs CAN | 12/30 vs GER
Slovakia (8th) – 12/25 vs SUI | 12/27 vs CAN | 12/28 vs GER | 12/30 vs FIN
Germany (9th) – 12/25 vs FIN | 23/26 vs CAN | 12/28 vs SVK | 12/30 vs SUI
While Canada may be in division without the typical Powerhouse Countries, there will be no easy games with this division. The team will likely be returning six player from 2020 (excluding Lafrenière), two of which will be on Defense where we find the lone Habs prospect on Canada’s Invite List. Kaiden Guhle, the Habs 2020 First Round pick will be in tough to make this team with an abundance of talent on the back end.
Byram (COL ’19 1st) and Drysdale (ANA ’20 1st) are the two returning players from last year and will likely form the team’s top pair. Thomas Harley (DAL ’19 1st) should fill the second pairing LD spot, leaving Guhle to fight for the final spot on that side. Matthew Robertson (NYR ’19 2nd) and Ryan O’Rourke (MIN ’20 2nd) are Guhle’s toughest competition for that spot. All three play a similar role for the respective Junior clubs, and Robertson has a slight edge being a year older.
Owen Power (2021) is the final name that Guhle and Habs fans alike will need to monitor. I think that he will make this team as the 7th defenceman, basically leaving the 3rd LD spot as Guhle last chance. Power is a projected Top 10 Pick in next year’s draft, he is the biggest Defenseman on this team (6’5, 211), coming off a very productive season with Chicago in the USHL. He was a late addition to this roster, but he has the size and skill to make this team, especially as the 7th D in a limited capacity role.
It is a very quick recap for Pool A as the Habs do not have any prospect on any of the other teams in this division. I will however take this moment to quickly preview this Division. Canada’s toughest competition is clearly the Fins, they are coming in 2020 with Medal aspirations, led by Ville Heinola (WIN ’19 1st), Anton Lundell (FLA ’20 1st) and Aatu Raty (2021).
Germany is the next toughest competition (made clear by Canada’s schedule selection), led by their three-headed scoring attack in Reichel (CHI ’20 1st), Peterka (BUF ’20 2nd) and Stutzle (OTT ’20 1st). The back up of this team will be anchored by Moritz Seider (DET ’19 1st), and despite this team lack of high end depth, this program has come leaps and bounds in the last few seasons. This should be the tournament they shake some cages and let the world know they are here.
Switzerland and Slovakia round out this division, neither are expected to make a deep push. The Swiss, much like Germany have made a major push over the last decade to put themself in the conversation of traditional Hockey Power Houses. Both they and Slovakia have been mainstays in this tournament over the years, but the risk of relegation is a very real threat for both teams as newly promoted Austria will be anything but a pushover.
Russia (Silver) – 12/25 vs USA | 12/ 27 vs CZE | 12/29 vs AUS | 12/30 vs SWE
Sweden (Bronze) – 12/26 vs CZE | 12/28 vs AUT | 12/30 vs RUS | 12/31 vs USA
USA (6th) – 12/25 vs RUS | 12/26 vs AUT | 12/29 CZE | 12/31 vs SWE
Czech Republic (7th) – 12/26 vs SWE | 12/27 vs RUS | 12/29 vs USA | 12/31 vs AUT
Austria (Promotion) – 12/26 vs USA | 12/28 vs SWE | 12/29 vs RUS | 12/31 vs CZE
As much as Habs fans would love to see Alexander Gordin (MTL ’20 6th) playing for Russia, I don’t think he is on their radar. I love the pick and the highlights look amazing so far in the MHL, but he is far too good for that league. He has since been called up to the VHL (essentially Div 2, so for simplicity, think AHL), and his production level in this league will be more telling of his skill level. Gordin has limited international experience with Russia, playing for the U18 team where he put up respectable numbers. It is not impossible, just improbable, but I will be rooting for him regardless!
Moving to the Swedes, the Habs unfortunately do not have any prospect looking to make this roster. Mattias Norlinder (MTL ’19 3rd) is now too old to play in this tournament just like Kotkaniemi (MTL ’18 1st). One player that will have Habs fan excited is Jan Mysak with the Czech Republic. The second of the team’s back-to-back picks in the second round, Mysak is one of 10 returning player on the Czech roster and should slot into his team’s First line Center role. Mysak is the player I am the most excited to watch (after Caufield of course) because I want to see what he can do against his peers his own age.
Now, for the Country to salvage Habs’ fans excited and optimism for their prospects in the World Juniors; Team USA. With four prospects invited to their training camp, Habs fans could find themselves rooting for our biggest rival at the tournament. Starting up front, the obvious, Caufield should be a locked and loaded first line player for the US. He should be one of the tournament’s leading scorers as he will likely get the majority of the offensive zone draws and should be the trigger man on the Power Play.
Next up, Luke Tuch (MTL ’20 2nd) should find himself in a bottom six or 4th line role on this team. He, like Caufield is a product of the USNTDP and is a big bodied player that will play a specific role for this team. His gritty, in your face style will be used to gain some momentum for the US, and his ability to seek out pucks in the dirty areas along with his nose for the front of the net should garner him a couple goals in the tournament. The last name up front for the US is Sean Farrell (MTL ’20 4th), the Chicago Steel product fell into the Habs lap in this year’s draft. He is a favourite within the US national program among his coaches and peers. His lack of an opportunity to prove himself due to COVID will hurt his chances to make this roster in 2021, but he should be on their radar for 2022 .
The last name to bring up is defenseman Jayden Struble (MTL, ’19 2nd). The Greek god as Bergy once referred to him as, is a physical freak that possess elite skating and puck moving ability. His offensive skill set is better suited to facilitate offense rather than create it, but his full two-way game makes him a very exciting prospect. A quick fun fact, Struble was one week (7 days) away from being in this year’s draft, and some scouts had him as a Top 10 talent had he been drafted this year. That’s saying a lot given how deep this year’s draft was, specifically at Forward which pushed several highly skilled defenseman way down the draft board. Struble was supposed to Red Shirt last year at Northeastern but he forced his way onto the roster, playing a lot of hard minutes for the Huskies along side fellow Habs prospects Jordan Harris.
Much like Guhle Struble will face some very tough competition to make this team. Despite only returning Cam York from last year’s squad, the US is very deep on their Blue Line, especially on the left side. Struble may not be the tallest (6’0, 205) but he is the heaviest defenseman on this team and he has a real chance to make this team as a bottom pairing or 7th defenseman to play a shut down role for the US.
2021 DRAFT PROSPECTS TO WATCH
As is the case every year, a few of the top names for the upcoming draft find their way onto their National Team rosters. As we can see already, Clarke, Lambos and Guenther were not invited to Canada’s summer camp, thus not be eligible for this tournament. Similarly Simon Edvinsson is stuck in a system that produces stellar defenseman at an excessive rate and Luke Hughes was the victim of a deep year at D for the US. Aatu Raty is name to keep an eye on, he is in the argument to be the First Overall pick and will likely be a key piece in Finland’s offense. Jesper Wallstedt should at least get a game or two in the Round Robin portion of this tournament. However, once the tournament reaches the Knock Out phase, he will likely return to being the team’s backup.
Despite all the changes caused by COVID, the annual tradition lives on in Canada. The addition of Christmas Day games is very exciting, and while it may not be Team Canada, mini Team Habs will kick off the tournament against Russia to give the city something to watch as we spend time with our families during the holidays!