Just the Facts:
- What is it?: Normally I’d make a joke about this being a giant teenager bowl, but as of right now, it is a bowl of teenager hockey.
- Where is it?: This version of the tournament will be sealed down in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.
- Defending Champs: Canada
- Places to Watch: NHLN in the USA, TSN in Canada, with TSN-GO having livestreams online
- Is this really the highest level of hockey competition on TV until the NHL gets it’s shit together?: You bet your ass.
- Why is this coming out almost a week before the event starts?: I want time to change it and also to wrap presents.
- United States
- Czech Republic
Bruins Prospects at the WJC:
Finland: Matias Mantykivi - C
Russia: Roman Bychkov - D
- This group is Canada’s to lose, though it’s clear they’re trying to make it difficult to be excited. Camp effectively closed early as everybody apparently got exposed to COVID, and they won’t have every player they want, as players like Owen Powers aren’t leaving Michigan. Still, they get Dylan Cozens, Jamie Drysdale, Quinton Byfield, Payton Krebs, Kirby Dach, and Phil Tomasino back, and are, as usual, the favorites in any tournament they’re in. They don’t even need to play Russia this time to scare everybody!
- Finland is going to be weird this year. As a precaution, Leijonat didn’t have a world junior camp prior to the 7th, with their final game for the U20 squad being a trio of friendlies against Sweden in early November, and most Liiga squads went into an extended break for much of late november and december. Finland as always is a very talented squad with their junior/minor leagues still playing, but who knows what they’ll be? They made the frankly bizarre choice to leave potential 2021 first overall favorite Aatu Räty at home (maybe his team, Karpat, pulled rank?), and Patrik Puistola waits at home in spite of being a near point-per-game level player, but they’ll more than likely have 2021 draft hopefuls along...but the big question is what do they show up looking like? Will they be ready? Or will they be rusty as all get-out? And what’s the funnier play here?: That they get curbstomped by this group of all groups due to a lack of real chemistry?, or they go undefeated thanks to the extended break/Liiga play keeping them all fresh?
- I love Switzerland hockey because it’s just a good, solid, simple system that’s built to play solid B average hockey. Nobody’s really high-end, but everybody knows exactly what they do in that system. It’s great!...But the problem is that they’re always in a group that has at least three teams that play hockey that is above A grade. Hockey that is played about as close to perfect as possible for teenagers. To make matters worse, a lot of the strongest parts of their roster aged out over the past year, and the most interesting prospect they have right now is Simon Knak, and a kid without a team thanks to COVID called Ray Fust who helped blow Germany out over the last couple of months. They’re probably better than at least one team in this group to stay afloat, but without a clear Luca Hollenstein replacement, I’m afraid the Swiss will have an uphill battle towards medaling.
- Slovakia sure has a very interesting roster. Returning is Samuel Hlavaj, a dude who really ended up getting shelled over the last few years and still comes back ready to go, a real young promising player in Oliver Fatul, A smooth skater and “wish the Bruins got this guy in the draft” kind of guy in Martin Chromiak, an enormous czech junior league demolisher in Robert Baco, and a very interesting 16-year old baby child in Simon Nemec who scored a whole-ass assist at the Tipsport Liga level against real life men. They’re interesting! But also extremely uneven. Their best center prospect so far is probably Oleksii Myklukha, who’s been good at the junior level, but otherwise they’re pretty much spent on the whole “Center” thing, and they had a player commit so many boneheaded penalties in practice they had to kick him off the squad. At the WJC, they’re good for at least one or two good wins, but otherwise...I recommend buckling up. It’s gonna be a rough, frustrating ride for most of it.
- Germany is probably the most intriguing team at this WJC. Sure, the gap in talent between themselves and Finland/Canada could have just full train after full train driven into it without any major problems, but what about the gap between them and say...Switzerland, or Slovakia? They caught pretty much everybody off guard last year by having at least one quality win, have an increasing share of middle power and first round NHL Draft names like Stutzle, Peterka and Riechel, all making a team with a lot of promise. They still don’t have the level of talent that the traditional powers in this tourney have, and are very thin on defense...but they’re getting there. Definitely keep an eye on them!
- The USA was playing a lot of hard games in getting this team together. The Pandemic, in case you haven’t noticed, has spiraled even more completely out of control here in America, and as the Owen Powers thing just showed, the NCAA teams were very selective on how they handed out their players. That said, still a lot of very good NHL prospects wearing the red, white, and blue: Caufield, Kaliyev, Turcotte, and Colangelo are a hell of a highlight of a forward group, and Spencer Knight looks like a hell of a goalie. Not as heavy a team, but oodles of skill. If they manage to avoid their trademark “fart around for 40 minutes then use the third period to win” strategies, I think they could go as far as they want to.
- Russia's youth play hockey with a lot of raw, maybe-roided-out heart: They don’t play super disciplined, they’re unquestionably flawed, but they are talented, driven, and honestly a lot of fun to watch. They dominated the Karjala Cup in stunning fashion this year, and they have a ton of players over 6’2 headed to Edmonton, with enormous and storied lads like Yegor Chinakhov, Maxim Groshev, and Vasili Podkolzin heading up a murderer’s row of scoring talent. Combine that with Boston’s Roman Bychkov, Semyon Chistyakov, and Yan Kuznetsov, this is going to be a rough group to face in open ice. Oh, and as if that wasn’t enough, Yaroslav “Russian Carey Price” Aksarov gets to come back. If they can keep it together and not spend every other minute killing penalties like they did last year, they can go the distance.
- Man, who knows what Sweden is going to be this year. Normally a form of great Save-% violence in a yellow sweater, Sverige's quirky government structure meant they literally could not legally enforce a lockdown or enforce mask usage because the legal framework for such things straight up does not exist, and as such the country has mostly been left to take voluntary measures to stop the spread of the virus. And the J20 (as they call U20 teams) has suffered greatly as a result of all that: positive cases aplenty, 80% of the coaching staff will likely not be allowed to participate to the point that the J18 coach was called in as a ringer...it's just a mess. They’re showing up as a mutant version of Sweden, which is better than some non-mutated versions of other teams, what with their Zion Nybecks and their Tobias Bjornfots and their Lucas Raymonds and Jesper Wallstedt in goal, but we can’t know if they’ll stay that good for long.
- The Czechs have never exactly been the best team defensively over the past four years, but this year...might be different? Maybe? There’s this kid named Stanislav Svozil who will probably make his way onto the squad who looks like he’s gonna be a burner, they have a returner defender in Martin Hugo, and Jan Bednar and Nick Malik in goal. Granted, they still gotta fill the rest of those slots and I can’t imagine that’s gonna work out super well (unless a defender comes out of nowhere), but they live and die by their offense, where their real strength lies: Guys like Jaromir Pytlik, Pavel Novak, and Jan Mysák will be a big part of how the Czech Republic ends up doing this year.
- Hallo, Austria! Wie Gehts? You brought Marco Rossi? You also brought some dude who’s last name is an enigma even to those who understand german? That’s cool! Unfortunately, you drew the short straw, so this year you’re going to die! But thanks to the IIHF giving amnesty to relegation this year, you are contractually obligated to live! Have fun!
2021 World Junior Championship Preliminaries Schedule:
December 25th - Christmas Day
Switzerland vs. Slovakia - 2pm
Germany vs. Finland - 6pm
USA vs. Russia - 7:30pm
Sweden vs. Czech Republic - 2pm
Germany vs. Canada - 6pm
USA vs. Austria - 7:30pm
Finland vs. Switzerland - 2pm
Slovakia vs. Canada - 6pm
Czech Republic vs. Russia - 9:30pm
Austria vs. Sweden - 6pm
Slovakia vs. Germany - 9:30pm
USA vs. Czech Republic - 2pm
Canada vs. Switzerland - 6pm
Austria vs. Russia - 9:30pm
Finland vs. Slovakia - 2pm
Switzerland vs. Germany - 6pm
Russia vs. Sweden - 9:30pm
Czech Republic vs. Austria -2pm
Canada vs. Finland - 6pm
Sweden vs. USA - 9:30pm