The 2021 World Junior Championships begin on Christmas Day in Edmonton with 10 teams including Canada, Finland, Germany, Slovakia and Switzerland in Group A, while Austria, the Czech Republic, Russia, Sweden and the United States are in Group B. This season, there will be no relegation due to COVID-19.
It is expected to be a top-notch tournament with very little hockey being played in North America. Canada will have 20 former first-round picks on the squad, reminiscent of teams from the lockout years of 2005 and 2013. The Russians will be strong as usual as their Under-20 team won the Karjala Cup, a tournament usually played by men’s teams, with the other three squads from Sweden, Finland and the Czech Republic all having much older teams.
Of course, the pandemic is taking a toll on the tournament as Sweden lost a bunch of players while the Americans will not have John Beecher who tested positive on December 12, and the Sharks Thomas Bordeleau who was rooming with the Bruins prospect Beecher and was banned from the tourney.
A couple of players will be at NHL camps and therefore not be in Edmonton including the American’s Nick Robertson who will be trying to make the Toronto Maple Leafs, and Alexis Lafreniere of Canada who was selected first overall and was not released by the New York Rangers.
Here are the rosters and team affiliations of all players, including who are 2021 and 2022 eligible. The Los Angeles Kings lead with nine prospects while the St. Louis Blues are the only team without a prospect to watch in the tournament.
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Forwards: Mathias Bohm –2021 Draft Eligible, Tim Harnisch - 2021 Draft Eligible, Maximilian Hengelmuller - 2021 Draft Eligible, Fabian Hochegger - 2021 Draft Eligible, Marco Kasper - 2022 Draft Eligible, Clemens Krainz - 2021 Draft Eligible, Julian Pauschenwein - 2021 Draft Eligible, Senna Peeters - 2021 Draft Eligible, Marco Rossi - Minnesota, Lucas Thaler - 2021 Draft Eligible, Maximilian Theirich -2021 Draft Eligible, Marlon Tschofen - 2021 Draft Eligible), Dominik Unterweger - 2021 Draft Eligible, Finn van Ee - 2021 Draft Eligible, Leon Wallner - 2021 Draft Eligible
Defensemen: Jonas Kutzer - 2021 Draft Eligible, Luis Lindner - 2021 Draft Eligible, Moritz Molls - 2021 Draft Eligible, Lukas Necesany - 2021 Draft Eligible, Timo Pallierer - 2021 Draft Eligible, Jacob Pfeffer - 2021 Draft Eligible, Bernhard Posch - 2021 Draft Eligible, Niklas Wetzl - 2021 Draft Eligible, Philipp Wimmer - 2021 Draft Eligible
Goaltenders: Jakob Brandner - 2021 Draft Eligible, Leon Sommer - 2021 Draft Eligible, Sebastian Wraneschitz - 2021 Draft Eligible.
The Austrians advanced to the tournament by defeating Hungary as Latvia, Belarus and Denmark either refused to travel to the elimination tourney or had too many COVID-19 cases to participate. The Austrians should be fodder in this tournament. Most players are 2021 eligible and playing this year will provide valuable experience for next year.
Player to Watch: The Austrians have a star in Marco Rossi who led the OHL in scoring with 120 points in only 56 games for the Ottawa 67s, winning the Most Outstanding Player in the league, and then was drafted ninth overall by the Minnesota Wild. He has a good chance to crack the Wild lineup once he enters training camp.
Forwards: Martin Beranek - 2021 Draft Eligible, Michal Gut - 2021 Draft Eligible, Filip Koffer - 2021 Draft Eligible, Martin Lang - 2021 Draft Eligible, Radek Muzik - 2021 Draft Eligible, Jan Mysak - Montreal, Adam Najman - 2021 Draft Eligible, Pavel Novak - Minnesota, Filip Prikryl - 2021 Draft Eligible, Ondrej Psenicka - 2021 Draft Eligible, Jaromir Pytlik – New Jersey, Adam Raska – San Jose, Jakub Rychlovsky - 2021 Draft Eligible, Michal Teply – Chicago, Matej Toman - 2021 Draft Eligible, David Vitouch - 2021 Draft Eligible
Defensemen: Martin Has - Washington, David Jiricek - 2022 Draft Eligible, Karel Klikorka - 2021 Draft Eligible, Michael Krutil - Chicago, Simon Kubicek - 2021 Draft Eligible, Radek Kucerik - 2021 Draft Eligible, Daniel Poizl - 2021 Draft Eligible, Jiri Suhrada - 2021 Draft Eligible, Stanislav Svozil- 2021 Draft Eligible
Goaltenders: Jan Bednar - Detroit, Nick Malik - 2021 Draft Eligible, Lukas Parik – Los Angeles
The Czechs have nine players who have been drafted by NHL teams, and could surprise as two of their netminders, Jan Bednar (Detroit) and Lukas Parik (Los Angeles) have been drafted into the NHL. They likely are a middling team in the tournament and while they should make the playoffs, an upset would be needed to advance to the semi-finals.
Players to Watch: Jan Mysak was selected in the second round (48th overall) in October by the Canadiens and is their best player. The Blackhawks reassigned Michal Teply to the Czech side and he should be watched. A couple of 2021 eligible draft choices, defenseman Stanislav Svozil and forward Michal Gut bear watching as well as they will be selected in July.
Forwards: Mikhail Abramov - Toronto, Yegor Afanasyev - Nashville, Rodion Amirov - Toronto Zakhar Bardakov - 2021 Draft Eligible, Danil Bashkirov - 2021 Draft Eligible, Yegor Chinakhov - Columbus, Vladislav Firstov - Minnesota, Arseni Gritsyuk – New Jersey, Maxim Groshev – Tampa Bay, Marat Khusnutdinov - Minnesota, Vasili Podkolzin - Vancouver, Vasili Ponomaryov - Carolina, Ilya Safonov 2021 Draft Eligible, Yegor Spiridonov – San Jose
Defensemen: Roman Bychkov - Boston, Daniil Chayka - 2021 Draft Eligible, Semyon Chistyakov – Nashville, Kirill Kirsanov - 2021 Draft Eligible, Artemi Kniazev – San Jose, Yan Kuznetsov - Calgary, Shakir Mukhamadullin – New Jersey, Yegor Shekhovtsov - 2021 Draft Eligible
Goaltenders: Artur Akhtyamov - Toronto, Yaroslav Askarov – Nashville, Vsevolod Skotnikov - 2021 Draft Eligible
The Russians have an outstanding team and have to be medal favorites and could make it into the finals on January 5, they are that talented. There is a lot of talent on this team from the net on out and they should be exciting to watch.
Players to watch: As mentioned in the previous paragraph, their goaltending is led by Yaroslav Askarov who was taken 11th overall in the 2020 Draft by Nashville and is capable of winning the tournament by himself. There were three other Russians taken this season in the first round as the Maple Leafs selected Rodion Amirov 15th (he led all scorers in the Karjala Cup with three goals in three games), while defenseman Shakir Mukhamadullin and Yergor Chinahkov, were taken back-to-back 20th and 21st overall by New Jersey and Columbus respectively. Vasily Podkolzin was drafted 10th overall by Vancouver in 2019 and he also bears watching.
Forwards: Oscar Bjerselius - 2021 Draft Eligible, Arvid Costmar - Vancouver, Noel Gunler – Carolina, Emil Heineman - Florida, Simon Holmstrom – New York Islanders, Alexander Holtz – New Jersey, Oskar Kvist - 2021 Draft Eligible, Theodor Niederbach - Detroit, Zion Nybeck – Carolina, Oskar Olausson - 2021 Draft Eligible, Lucas Raymond - Detroit, Elmer Soderblom - Detroit, Albin Sundsvik – Anaheim, Jonathan Wikstrom - 2021 Draft Eligible
Defensemen: Emil Andrae - Philadelphia, Gustav Berglund - Detroit, Tobias Bjornfot – Los Angeles, Alex Brannstam - 2021 Draft Eligible, Philip Broberg - Edmonton, Ludvig Hedstrom - 2021 Draft Eligible, Albert Johansson - Detroit, Victor Soderstrom - Arizona
Goaltenders: Hugo Alnefelt – Tampa Bay, Calle Clang - Pittsburgh, Jesper Wallstedt - 2021 Draft Eligible
The Swedes were hit and hit hard by COVID-19 as Karl Hendriksson, William Wallinder and William Eklund were unable to travel with the team. Hendriksson was expected to center the top line between Alexander Holtz and Lucas Raymond. Wallinder was supposed to be a top-four defenseman while Eklund is 2021 eligible and could have taken over for Henriksson on the top unit. Sweden also lost their coaching staff due to the coronavirus and could be at a disadvantage in the tournament.
Players to watch: There are still so many for Sweden, led off by Lucas Raymond who was drafted fourth overall in 2020 by Detroit. The star player had five goals and 12 points in 22 games with Frolunda of the Swedish Hockey League and was their go-to player on the power play of late. Arvid Costmar could center the top line with Hendriksson out and that should excite Vancouver fans. The blueline is strong with Tobias Bjornfot, Philip Broberg and Victor Soderstrom heading up the defense.
Forwards: Matthew Beniers - 2021 Draft Eligible, Brett Berard – New York Rangers, Matthew Boldy - Minnesota, Bobby Brink - Philadelphia, Brendan Brisson - Vegas, Cole Caufield - Montreal, Sam Colangelo - Anaheim, John Farinacci - Arizona, Arthur Kaliyev – Los Angeles, Patrick Moynihan – New Jersey, Landon Slaggert - Chicago, Alex Turcotte – Los Angeles, Trevor Zegras - Anaheim
Defensemen: Brock Faber – Los Angeles, Drew Helleson – Colorado. Ryan Johnson - Buffalo, Tyler Kleven - Ottawa, Jackson LaCombe – Anaheim, Jake Sanderson - Ottawa, Hunter Skinner – New York Rangers, Henry Thrun - Anaheim, Cam York - Philadelphia
Goaltenders: Spencer Knight – Florida, Logan Stein - 2021 Draft Eligible, Dustin Wolf - Calgary
The Americans should be a medal favorite as well as they have outstanding goaltending with Spencer Knight and Dustin Wolf, a solid blueline led by Jake Sanderson and Cam York and firepower up front with Cole Caufield and Alex Turcotte leading the way.
Players to watch: Spencer Knight is good enough to steal the tournament for the United States as he and Askarov are the two best goaltenders in Edmonton (and that could include the Oilers goaltenders). Keep your eye on Matthew Beniers who will likely be the highest drafted player in 2021 and playing at the World Championships. He should go in the top-five. The Americans have Montreal draft pick Cole Caufield as their top forward and watch out for Trevor Zegras who had nine assists in five games in the 2020 WJC. Matthew Boldy of the Wild is also worth watching.