World Junior Championship 2021 Preview

2021 World Juniors

The 2021 World Junior Championship is slated to begin on Christmas Day and will garner the attention of the hockey world as the NHL prepares to begin its season. Recent positive tests on both Sweden and Germany have made some question whether or not the tournament should be played at all but the IIHF seems intent on making this happen.

This tournament is extremely talented, featuring many players from both the 2019 and 2020 draft classes, as well as some 2021 and 2022 draft eligibles. Canada headlines Group A with what appears to be a pretty easy path to the top seed in the tournament whereas Group B is much more imposing and doesn’t have a clear cut favorite to win the group.

The small sample size of International play means that a player’s performance isn’t necessarily an indicator of future success or failure. It does however give a good glance at how a player stacks up against their peers of similar age.  The focus for me personally during these tournaments are how prospects think the game both with and without the puck.

In all, four Buffalo Sabres prospects will participate in this tournament and all of them figure to play substantial minutes as prominent players for their respective teams. Each of these players are outlined below along with a stat line that I believe is fair for each player to achieve in the tournament.

World Junior Preview – Sabres Prospects

  • Dylan Cozens (CAN) – After being a big contributor for Canada last year, Cozens looks to show off how much his game has improved since then and is currently slated to play on the top line as well as 1st powerplay unit. The quick and big bodied center has already proven he dominates at the junior level and will get the opportunity to get into game shape prior to the start of the NHL season where he stands a good chance at making the jump to the Sabres roster. The expectation is that Cozens will dominate in this tournament, and build off of his 9 point (2 goals, 7 assists) total from last years’ tournament where he scored in the Gold Medal game versus Russia.
    Player Goal for Tournament:  12 points (4 goals – 8 assists)
  • Jack Quinn (CAN) – Considered a long shot headed into Team Canada’s training camp, Jack Quinn surprised many by not only making the cut but getting an opportunity on Cozens’ 1st line wing. The sniper has one of, if not the best shot on the team and should benefit greatly from playing with Dach and Cozens. Look for Quinn to get into high danger scoring areas early and often, especially on the power play. Sabres fans are going to get a good glimpse at why Kevyn Adams and the organization thought he was worth taking at 8th overall.
    Player Goal for Tournament:  8 points (5 goals – 3 assists)
  • Ryan Johnson (USA) – While Johnson was invited to the US camp last year, he failed to make the cut but gets a chance to show off how much his game has improved since then. Starting out with some strong games for Minnesota in the NCAA, Johnson has been able to contribute on the scoresheet with his great vision and puck moving ability. The smooth skating defender is known for his transition game more than anything but hasn’t really been able to pile up point totals in his early career. He’s going to be a reliable and calming presence on the backend for USA , playing alongside Minnesota teammate Brock Faber. He should be able to pick up a few assists and perhaps even score a goal in this tournament but it’s his detailed play and understanding of the fundamentals that make him a valuable asset for the Americans.
    Player Goal for Tournament:  5 points (0 goals – 5 assists)
  • JJ Peterka (GER) – Kevyn Adams showed how much he liked German forward JJ Peterka by trading up for him in the 2020 NHL Draft. A behind the scenes look at the draft war room of the Sabres shows that the organization had a 1st round grade on the young German and were ecstatic to select him where they did. Putting up an impressive 4 goals and 2 assists in 7 games last year, Peterka is going to be relied on heavily as fellow countrymen Lukas Reichel and Moritz Seider will not be playing. He’s had a great start to the season in the Austrian ICEHL and should have a strong tournament for Germany even if they don’t stand much chance of progressing far.
    Player Goal for Tournament:  7 points (4 goals – 3 assists)

Team Previews (Gold Medal odds in parenthesis)

Group A

Canada (+160) – This year, Canada fields one of the best teams they’ve had in perhaps 10+ years as the team is loaded from top to bottom including 6 players returning from last years’ Gold Medal team. While the forward group took a massive blow with the loss of Captain Kirby Dach, Cozens, Byfield and the rest of the group should still provide four lines that can score. On defense, Bowen Byram and Jamie Drysdale figure to play big minutes and contribute on the scoresheet regularly. This immense group of talent coupled with the fact that Canada has landed in a relatively easy Group for Round Robin play means their path to the Gold Medal game is all but a guarantee. The goaltending situation for Canada can change at a moments notice as history has shown but my bets are on Taylor Gauthier to lead the way and hold down the starting job through the tournament.

Finland (+1100) – Team Finland is perhaps flying a bit under the radar as evidenced by their 11/1 Gold Medal odds but they are definitely capable of winning it all. Anton Lundell is the biggest reason why as he has shown that he can drive play at the professional level in Liiga at a very young age. There’s also the just turned 17 year old phenom Brad Lambert who is already projected to go in the top 2 of the 2022 NHL Draft. Lambert joins some strong forwards with a lot of experience in Liiga that can cause trouble for teams that don’t have as much experience playing against men. On the defensive side of things is where Finland is very strong as Ville Heinola, Mikko Kokkonen, and Topi Niemela lead the way. This team is one to watch throughout the tournament as they can avoid Canada potentially all the way until the gold medal game depending on how the cross over seeding goes.

Germany (+5000) – Germany played very well in last years’ tournament and was slated to be more of a threat this year but they will be without 2 players who would’ve made a huge difference to their success.  Moritz Seider decline to participate in the tournament and leaves a huge hole at defense for a Germany team whose talent level drops off pretty quickly.  The loss of Lukas Reichel to COVID-19 was also a big hit to Germany as he was a big factor in their limited success last year. Tim Stutzle and JJ Peterka are the ones to watch in this tournament

Switzerland (+5000) – A perennial threat to upset any of the top teams due to their style of play, Switzerland lands in a nice group to try and replicate their 3-1 Round Robin record from last year which included an upset over Finland. There is not much high end talent on this roster so victory will have to come in the form of solid and consistent team play which impedes their opponents. Lorenzo Canonica however is a 2021 draft eligible whom the Swiss will be relying on for offensive production.

Slovakia (+7500) – The Slovaks will be part of an interesting 3 way battle with the Swiss and Germans for 3rd overall in this Group. Down one of their higher end players in Maxim Cajkovic, success will be at the hands of Martin Chromiak who may be one of the biggest steals of the 2020 NHL Draft. Samuel Knazko is another player for watch for Slovakia but generally speaking this team is going to have a tough time doing battle with the upper echelon of teams in this tournament.

Group B

Russia (+275) – Team Russia always brings a strong group of skilled forwards and defenders and this year is no different. The size/speed combination they have along with the physical style of play make them very difficult to play against. This can also be their undoing though as teams of past have taken advantage of Russia taking some undisciplined penalties. The projected top line of Amirov, Podkolzin, and Khusnutdinov is going to be electric and must see TV. This line will be the reason that team Russia plays for or wins the Gold Medal. Where Russia has the edge though is in net with the top goaltending prospect in the entire world, Yaroslav Askarov.

USA (+425) – With some big time unfinished business from last years tournament, the USA has a strong group of forwards returning from last years team. Turcotte, Zegras, and Kaliyev headline what is going to be a high scoring 1st line. The Americans can roll 3 lines with excellent offensive skills as Boldy and Caufield look to show how their games have improved after some NCAA experience. On defense, the players to watch are big bodied defenseman Jake Sanderson who was drafted this past year as well as Cam York from last years team. Spencer Knight between the pipes makes a huge difference in giving the USA a chance at the Gold Medal as he is arguably the 2nd best goalie prospect in the world.

Sweden (+900) – Riding an incredible 52 game win streak in Round Robin play, Sweden lands in a tough group that will likely end that streak. Amazingly, Sweden hasn’t won a Gold Medal since 2012 (in Edmonton) so winning Round Robin games hasn’t amounted to much hardware for them. Lucas Raymond is the name to keep an eye on as he is the dynamic forward that will likely lead this team in scoring while Alexander Holtz should be able to pick corners at will with his excellent shot. Oskar Olausson is a 2020 Draft eligible forward who has had a strong season thus far in both the J20 and SHL. The quick forward is quite the playmaker and looks to be a good piece to make an impact this year: The Swedes are very talented and deep in defense as Soderstrom and Broberg are just a few names to keep an eye on.

Czech Republic (+3500) – Even being in such a strong group, the Czech’s have a lot of forward talent to upset some of the favorites in Round Robin play. Jan Mysak was seen by many as a 1st round talent but fell to the 2nd round in 2020 so he may have a bit of a chip on his shoulder to show off his skills against some other 2020 draftees. Pytlik, Teply, and Novak are all dangerous forwards who will give the Czechs the ability to stay in games. On the backend is where they are outmatched in this group as there are no true standouts than can give the top 3 teams a big challenge.

Austria (+50000)- Team Austria earned a spot in this years’ tournament without the help of star Marco Rossi last year but fortunately for them, they have him this time around. Unfortunately, their entire offense will have to be funneled through him as he is the lone player of note that can make noise in this tournament. Given Rossi’s talent level, he should be able to put up some points but overall this team is outmatched and landed in the toughest of the two groups. It will certainly be worth watching their games for Rossi but other than that the only thing Austria has going for them this year is the fact that they cannot be relegated due to an exception made by the IIHF due to COVID-19.

Prediction:

Team Canada should boat race everyone in Group A with the exception of Finland but there’s just too much fire power from the Canadians for them to really be a threat. If Germany had Reichel and Seider in this tournament then I think they would be a bigger threat to Finland for the 2nd seed in Group A. St├╝tzle will bring this team as far as he can and likely enough to to get them the 3rd seed but they are not deep enough to make a serious run. Finland will be interesting to watch and if they can pull off an upset against Canada, will look like a sudden favorite to go all the way.

Group B is strong once again in this tournament and will be a 3 way battle between the US, Russia, and Sweden for the top seed. At the moment I’m giving the edge to Russia as I think they have the advantage at forward and goalie. The USA and Sweden definitely have their hands full and will need to save themselves a bit for the medal rounds if either wants to make a run.

Group A Finish:

  1. Canada
  2. Finland
  3. Germany
  4. Slovakia
  5. Switzerland

Group B Finish:

  1. Russia
  2. USA
  3. Sweden
  4. Czech Republic
  5. Austria

Quarterfinals Finish:

  • Canada over Czech Republic
  • Russia over Switzerland
  • Sweden over Finland
  • USA over Germany

Semifinals Finish:

  • Canada over Sweden
  • Russia over USA

Gold Medal Finish:

  • Canada over Russia

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