2021 World Junior Preview

 

The World Juniors are set to get started on December 25th, 2020. Although there will be no fans in the stands, the excitement around the tournament is high. One change this year is there will be no relegation or promotion. This means the same 10 teams will be competing in next year’s tournament. Also, there will be no relegation series so the bottom two teams from each group do not play after the group stage. Before the tournament officially starts, here is a preview of all 10 teams, and what we can expect from them over the next two weeks.

Group A:

Canada:

The Canadian team is ready to defend their gold medal from last year. Although the team did lose captain Kirby Dach for the tournament, they have plenty of WHL talent in Peyton Krebs, Dylan Cozen, and Conner Zary. The blueline will once again feature stud defenceman Bowen Byram who will be relied upon heavily this tournament. With Dach out, Byram and Krebs will need to take on more of a leadership role as returnees from last year’s team. In goal, Canada looks set with Devon Levi controlling the crease. This is a highly skilled team that is expected to compete for a medal this year.

Projection:

Team Canada should finish first in Group A. Canada is arguably the best team in this tournament and we should expect them to be in the gold medal game when the tournament is over. Look for WHL players like Byram and Cozen, who are returning players, to have a huge impact on this tournament. Look for Canada to physically dominate games and wear down opponents as they make a push for back to back golds.

Finland:

Finland is a very skilled team that has a chance to go deep in this tournament. First-round NHL picks like Ville Heinola and captain Anton Lundell will look to drive the Finnish offense. Both are returning players who were part of Finland’s gold medal team back in 2019. This is a hungry team who will try and repeat what they did the last time the World Juniors were hosted in Canada back in 2019.

Projection:

Finland should finish second in Group A, and should at least compete for a bronze medal. They were badly outshot against the US during their pre-tournament game, but once this team clicks, they will be dangerous. Strong goaltending and a well-balanced attack will help guide Finland through the tournament, and into the medal round.

Switzerland:

Switzerland is lead by captain and Portland Winterhawk Simon Knak. Group A is very tough, but Switzerland could surprise some people and even pull off an upset in the quarterfinals. If they can play sound defensive hockey and have their goaltenders steal a game, this Swiss team could be exciting to watch throughout this tournament.

Projection:

Switzerland should finish third in the group. They may have an outside chance of advancing in the tournament but will be up against Sweden, Russia, or the USA in the quarterfinals. This team should still be exciting to watch and could be a sleeper when it comes to potential upsets in the quarters.

Slovakia:

Slovakia was hammered in their pre-tournament game by the Czech’s 6-0. It is going to be tough for them in Group A, but they may be saved due to German’s COVID-19 issues. Their blueline will be lead by WHLers Samuel Knzako of Seattle and Marko Stacha of Vancouver. The team will have to hope that players like Martin Chromiak and Michael Drabek step up big time if they want to avoid a poor showing.

Projection:

Slovakia should finish fourth in Group A, but don’t expect them to go far in the tournament. Making the quarterfinals will be the main focus for Slovakia during this tournament.

Germany:

Unfortunately, due to multiple positive COVID-19 tests, it is very possible Germany does not make it out of the group stage. They will be down to five defencemen for the first two games of the tournament at least and will need time to get everyone back up to speed for the final two games. If they make it to the quarterfinals, it would be surprising. They do have Tim Stützle, but that may not be enough to push them over the edge into the quarters this year.

Projection:

If Germany does not make it out of the group stage, don’t be surprised. They have a decent team but the COVID-19 positive tests may be more than this team can handle. This year may be dark for a German team that had a lot of potential coming into the tournament. Thankfully, they will avoid relegation and can return next year.

Group B:

Russia:

The Russians are a dangerous team that should be in the gold medal game by the end of the tournament. They have plenty of starts like captain Vasili Podkolzin, goaltender Iaroslav Askarov, and defenseman Daniil Chayka who is expected to be a first-round pick this season. Russia will also be looking for revenge after last year’s defeat to Canada in the final. The team now coached by hockey Hall of Famer Igor Larionov will be looking for their first gold since 2011. Look for this team to put up a lot of goals, while throwing huge hits and wearing down opponents all tournament long.

Projection:

Don’t be surprised if Russia is in the gold medal game. This team should be considered one of the favorites to win the entire tournament. They have a tough division with the US and Sweden but should be able to breeze past them in the group stage. This team is big, they have experience and they can score. Any team that lines up against Russia should be concerned, as they are one of the strongest teams in this tournament.

The United States:

The USA is stacked with offensive talent. They are lead by their captain Cam York and Jake Sanderson on the backend while bolstering some highly talented forwards in Alex Turcotte, Cole Caufield, and Matthew Boldy. In goal, the tandem of Spencer Knight and Everett’s Silvertips Dustin Wolf. If the US can get their powerplay going, watch out. This team has the capability to put up a lot of goals during this tournament.

Projection:

The US is a team that can challenge for a spot in the gold medal game. They have the talent, but can they match the physicality that Canada and Russia will bring? They should finish second in Group B behind Russia, but should still be considered one of the favorites in this tournament to win. The US will be exciting to watch and should put up plenty of goals in the next two weeks.

Sweden:

Sweden had some Covid issues before the tournament that ended in their head coach missing the tournament. Regardless, this team is solid and should push for a spot in the medal round. Their defense is rock solid with Philip Broberg, Tobias Björnfot, and Victor Söderström. Upfront, they are lead by some highly skilled forwards in Lucas Raymond and Alexander Holtz. They are in a tough division and will have to rely on goaltending if they want to make it far in the tournament.

Projection:

Team Sweden is slated to finish third in Group B. Sweden should however be able to still push for a spot in at least the bronze medal game. To do this, they will have to beat either Canada or Finland in the quarterfinals. Sweden is a sleeper team in the sense that they could go far in this tournament, but are not being talked about much. They have arguably the top defense in the whole tournament while bolstering strong goaltending. if the tandem of Hugo Alnefelt and Jesper Wallstedt can remain strong, then Sweden could pull off some upsets and have a real chance at a medal in this tournament.

Czech Republic:

The Czech’s will be lead by Regina Pats Import Draft pick Stanislav Svozil on the backend. Svozil is projected to be a first-round pick in this year’s NHL Entry Draft and will need to be on top of his game for the Czech’s to avoid a quick end to their tournament. In a division with Russia, the US, and Sweden, it will be difficult for the Czech’s to finish top three. Winnipeg Ice’s Michal Teplý and Kelowna Rockets’ Pavel Novák will be relied upon to carry the offense. Spokane Chiefs’ Lukas Parik will need to provide strong goaltending for the Czech’s to have a chance.

Projection:

The Czech Republic should finish fourth in Group B, but don’t expect them to pull off an upset against Canada or Finland in the quarterfinals. They are a decent team, but they just don’t have the talent this year. The Czechs will be an exciting team to watch for fans of the WHL as they have 10 players who could be playing for teams in the Western Hockey League this coming season. Other than that, don’t be surprised if the Czech’s are eliminated in the quarterfinals.

Austria:

Austria returns to the IIHF World Junior Championship after being promoted last year. The team is lead by Marco Rossi who was drafted ninth overall in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft. Austria will be lucky if they make it out of the group stage. Luckily, there is no relegation this year or else Austria could be a one and done team in the Championship.

Projection:

Austria is going to have some issues in this tournament. The competition is too tough for them to compete. It would be incredible to see them make a cinderella run, but don’t count on it this year. Luckily there is no relegation round this year or else Austria may have been relegated this year.

 

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    Adam Kierszenblat
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      The World Juniors are set to get started on December 25th, 2020. Although there will be no fans in the stands, the excitement around the tourna
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