With team’s arriving in Canada to begin their COVID protocols, the World Juniors is just around the corner. After a couple scares with positive tests, the teams participating in this year’s tournament can now, for the most part, focus on hockey. Outside of obviously cheering for Canada and Kaiden Guhle, Habs fans will need to keep an eye on a few more teams, including one fierce rival.
Quickly taking a look at this year’s World Junior rosters as a whole, we can see that the LA Kings once again reign supreme. The team has 9, yes nearly two full lines of prospects at this year’s Tournament. They are followed by the Red Wings at 7, and the Ducks, Devils, Leafs at 6. The Habs have three prospects playing this year: Kaiden Guhle (Canada), Cole Caufield (USA) and Jan Mysak (Czech Rep). While this comes in slightly below the league average (~3.7 players/NHL team), the quality of talent among these three, as well as their involvement for their respective countries should offset this shortcoming.
Before complaining, it could be worse, the Habs could have as many as the St Louis Blues.
Without diving too deep into a full breakdown of each roster, here is a breakdown of how I believe the Tournament will unfold.
1. Canada (4-0-0-0)
2. Finland (3-0-1-0)
3. Germany (1-1-2-0)
4. Switzerland (1-0-2-1)
5. Slovakia (0-0-4-0)
Look, Canada sitting in First coming from a Canadian, no duh. Despite that fact, there is not enough talent in this division for any team to seriously threaten Canada at the top except for Finland. Creating a villain narrative out of the Fins will be an easy task for Habs fans, as the team boasts the most prospects from the Maple Leafs’ organization. Most notably Roni Hirvonen who was the First Line center in Assat, forcing Kotkaniemi to the second line! Before anyone jumps to any conclusion here, KK was simply there for ice time, so it would have made zero sense for Assat to break up their top line for a player who was there for a conditioning stint.
Outside of Guhle, the Habs have no other prospects on any roster in Division A, however this division will have no easy games. Germany, the Swiss and Slovakia are all up and coming programs that have made significant and noticeable progress at this tournament in recent years. It is incredibly unfortunate that the Germans will be without Lukas Reichel (CHI ’20, 1st) who tested positive for COVID and Moritz Seider (DET ’19, 1st) who decided to skip this year’s tournament. I don’t blame Seider, given all the hurdles of this year’s tournament, and the fact that he is playing on Rogle’s top pairing with Éric Gélinas. Not to mention the ample amounts of playing time in all situations, including the Power Play.
However, despite the progress being made by all of these countries, they are not yet ready to compete with a team of Canada’s caliber.
1. Russia (3-1-0-0)
2. USA (2-1-1-0)
3. Sweden (2-0-0-2)
4. Czech Republic (1-0-3-0)
5. Austria (0-0-4-0)
Might as well get the obvious out of the way early, Austria welcome and thanks for coming! You have to love seeing a lesser known hockey country making this tournament. The big question is will the Austrian’s capture the hearts of Canadians everywhere like the Danish did a couple years back? With the exception of Marco Rossi who is prime for a Niederreiter type tournament, the Austrians have no other NHL drafted players.
The Czechs will be competitive, but just don’t have the fire power to keep up with the top three in this division. Jan Mysak figures to have a prominant role on this team, hopefully filling the top center position on this team. While this team may not have much success in the standings, I will be very excited to see Mysak in action, more specifically, I will be curious to see how he responds to the added responsibility he will be asked to shoulder for this team. Mysak currently plays in a checking role in the Czech Pro League, so how will his game adapt in this tournament?
The jockeying for position between Russia, USA and Sweden will be the most intriguing part of the Round Robin games. The tournament’s organizing committee wasted little time getting this three headed monster going, with Russia and the US facing off the opening night of the tournament. So while Habs fans may have to wait until Boxing Day for Team Canada, they will get to watch their darling prospect in Prime Time on Christmas Day.
When determining between Russia, USA and Sweden, it really came down to goaltending. Yaroslav Askarov will likely win MVP of this tournament, and has a very real chance of dominating this tournament on his own. The fact that Russia has such a deep roster in front of him is just a cherry on top. You need to look no further than the recent Karjala Cup, where Russia ruffled some feathers sending their World Junior team to the tournament. To add insult to injury they won and Askarov was named top Goaltender.
Picking against the Red Wings, sorry I mean Sweden in the Round Robin was a daunting task considering their last loss in the Round Robin came in 2006. However, again, when judging Sweden vs USA, I find myself going with who I consider to be the better goaltender in Spencer Knight. I am a big Jesper Wallstedt guy, and think that he could actually keep up with the two aforementioned goaltenders, but it may not be his time for Sweden in 2021. It is important to point out that despite Sweden’s success in the Round Robin, they only have 1 Gold medal to show for it during this streak. Maybe a couple losses in the Round Robin will get them to a Gold medal game; where they will lose to Canada of course!
Let me be a partial narcissist for a moment and pretend I am the smartest man alive and I am correct on all fronts. This would give us a Playoff Round of:
(1A) Canada vs (4B) Czech Republic (Guhle vs Mysak)
(2B) USA vs (3A) Germany
(1B) Russia vs (4A) Switzerland
(2A) Finland vs (3B) Sweden
Finland vs Sweden is always an iconic match up, a little disappointing it happens this early in the tournament, but that will be the best game of the Quarter-Finals. Canada, USA and Russia should be able to get passed their opponents. The World Juniors have produced a Cinderella run or two before, but this year will not be the case. The Semi-Finals would look like this
(1A) Canada vs (2B) USA (Guhle vs Caufield)
(1B) Russia vs (3B) Sweden
I have to force myself not to talk about these matchups, so let’s get straight to the finals
Canada defeats Sweden in the finals.
Beating a team twice in one tournament is tough, let alone doing it three times in one year (forcing the Karjala Cup game in here). Sweden finally slays the Russian Dragon that has plagued them on international ice this year, only to face Canada.
Just for fun, I have also included my picks for the Top Player at each position along with the All-StarTeam.
Top Goaltender: Yaroslav Askarov, RUS (NSH ’20, 1st)
Top Defenseman: Bowen Byram, CAN (COL ’19, 1st)
Top Forward: Vasili Podkolzin, RUS (VAN ’19, 1st)
G: Yaroslav Askarov, RUS (NSH ’20, 1st)
D: Bowen Byram, CAN (COL ’19, 1st)
D: Ville Heinola, FIN (WIN ’19, 1st)
F: Alexander Holtz, SWE (NJD ’20, 1st)
F: Kirby Dach, CAN (CHI ’19, 1st)
F: Vasili Podkolzin (VAN ’19, 1st)
NOTE: Heinola may not play enough games to usurp a spot from Shakir Mukhamadullin (NJD ’20, 1st) but still deserves some recognition.
How do you see things going in Edmonton? Let us know in the comments!
Don’t forget to check out the rest of the Hot Sauce content! Peeze and Alex are joined again by Duke to discuss the NFL, NBA and a very odd situation with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Check them out here to find them on the Streaming platform of your choice!
Hockey talk continues on Weekly Sauce! Alex the Intern, Terry sit down with Jason Paul from Wave Intel to discuss how analytics and information are used in Hockey. They also go over Wave Intel’s player comparison tool using a couple Habs as example!
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