The 2021 World Junior Championship tournament is scheduled to be played in about eight months, and I’m sure we’re all hoping things to return to normal by that time – not because of the tournament but just to get back to some sort of normalcy within a reasonable time. The tournament will be played in Canada with Edmonton and Red Deer hosting the event.
Since I have a lot of time on my hands, I started doing some early lineup projections for the tournament. And before long, I had finished them for all the major countries. So, I decided to do my best for the other countries as well and then share those projections with you. In this article, I’ll go through Group A countries (Canada, Finland, Switzerland, Slovakia and Germany), and another article will come out a bit later where I go through Group B countries (Russia, Sweden, USA, Czech Republic and Austria).
The 2021 tournament will be the last one for players born in 2001, so teams are mostly dominated by that age group. But I believe in choosing players based on merit instead of just age, so I included a bunch of 2002 born players as well as some 2003 born players as well.
The major countries have too many players to choose from, so I’m sure everyone will disagree with some of the choices I’ve made. But I’ve also included some notable cuts so you can easily make changes in your head. For the sake of this project, I assumed that only Jack Hughes (NJD), Kaapo Kakko (NYR), Kirby Dach (CHI) and Alexis Lafrenière (2020) are unavailable because they’ll be playing in the NHL. Of course it’s likely that some others will be unavailable as well, either because of injury or because they’re also playing in the NHL. But I didn’t want to speculate, so I only removed the sure things from my projections.
To keep things consistent, I chose a roster of 13 forwards, seven defensemen and three goalies for all the teams. Obviously some teams could decide to go with 12 or 14 forwards but again, I didn’t want to speculate with that. There has also been talks about expanding the rosters for next season but I haven’t seen anything official about that yet, so I did the projections with the assumption that roster size will continue to be 20 skaters and three goalies like it has been in previous years.
Every player has either their NHL team abbreviation or the NHL Draft when they’re first-time eligible mentioned after their name in parenthesis. If neither one is mentioned, that means the player was eligible for the 2019 NHL Draft but didn’t get drafted. Obviously all under-20 players will re-enter the 2020 NHL Draft but for clarity’s sake, they don’t have anything mentioned after their name.
Without further ado, let’s get to the projected lineups.
Right off the bat we go with the team that has more quality options than any other country in the world – and it’s not even close. The projected top line of Alex Newhook (COL), Peyton Krebs (VGK) and Dylan Cozens (BUF) was excellent at the U18 Worlds a year ago, so I decided to tap into that pre-existing chemistry. Cozens is the only one out of those three who has already played at the World Juniors, and he could very well play with the Sabres at this point.
Other returning forwards are Quinton Byfield (2020), Connor McMichael (WSH) and Dawson Mercer (2020). Byfield and McMichael are ready to take a much bigger role this time around – unless they’re in the NHL – but I believe Mercer will be passed over by other players who are better suited for a scoring line role at this level – most notably Samuel Poulin (PIT), Cole Perfetti (2020), Philip Tomasino (NSH) and Jack Quinn (2020).
But as a returning player, Mercer pretty much gets a spot on the team by default, and his playing style definitely allows him to play on the fourth line once again. Adam Beckman (MIN) and Jamieson Rees (CAR) join him on the fourth line with Dylan Holloway (2020) being the 13th forward because of his versatility and maturity.
On defense, Bowen Byram (COL) and Jamie Drysdale (2020) are the two returning players and they would form the best pair in the tournament. Both are ready to dominate at this level and both would be early favorites to win the best defenseman award in the tournament – but it also wouldn’t be shocking if both of them were playing in the NHL.
There will be a ton of competition for the final five spots. Thomas Harley (DAL) and Braden Schneider (2020) are locks in my mind but I could understand arguments against it. Jordan Spence (LAK) would add some offense from the third pair whereas Matthew Robertson (NYR) and Kaeden Korczak (VGK) would play more of a defensive role on this team. All the notable cuts are good enough to be on this team and play a good role there.
All of Canada’s goalies from the previous tournament aged out, so their goalie situation is a bit of a mystery. I went with Taylor Gauthier as the number one option because he’s older and has more experience. But Dylan Garand (2020) and Tristan Lennox (2021) are definitely goalies who are projected to have a higher upside at the NHL level, so they could surprise and steal the spot. Or we could see a complete dark horse coming out of nowhere and stealing the job.
Anton Lundell (2020), Patrik Puistola (CAR), Aatu Räty (2021), Aku Räty (ARZ) and Antti Saarela (CHI) are returning players up front. Lundell didn’t play this past winter because of an injury but he played in the tournament before that – there’s also a good chance he’s unavailable because he’s playing in the NHL. Lundell, Puistola and the younger Räty would be some of the top options up front because of their skill and experience but the older Räty and Saarela are better suited for a defensive role on this team.
New additions to offensive roles would be Tuukka Tieksola (CAR), Roni Hirvonen (2020), Kasper Simontaival (2020), Veeti Miettinen (2020) and Brad Lambert (2022). Hirvonen and Lambert are capable of playing down the middle as well but I liked other players there more, and both of them have experience from playing at wing. These new additions would add a ton of firepower and create a well-balanced top nine where everyone can score.
The ninth player in my projection is Juuso Pärssinen (NSH) because he outplayed Henri Nikkanen (WPG) this season. But Nikkanen has shown more offensive potential in the past, so those two could easily switch spots. But for now, Pärssinen is ahead and it’s up to Nikkanen to outplay him in the first half of next season if he wants to get that third line spot.
On defense, Ville Heinola (WPG) would play in his third WJC tournament unless the Jets decide to keep him this time around. If available, he would be the number one defenseman on the team. Mikko Kokkonen (TOR) and Santeri Hatakka (SJS) are also returning players, and Eemil Viro (2020) is the only newcomer on the left side.
The entire right side aged out but Antti Tuomisto (DET) and Topi Niemelä (2020) are two players who arguably should have been on the team already last time, so they are definitely ready for a big role on this team. There will be a lot of competition for that third spot on the right side but I gave it to Ruben Rafkin (2020) because of his maturity. He would be playing more of a defensive role on this team.
Joel Blomqvist (2020) is the obvious choice for starting goalie. Even though he is the youngest of the three options, he has had great success at every level and this would be just a new challenge for him to overcome.
This is where things start to get a little tricky because I couldn’t figure out more than 10 names for the Swiss team. Simon Knak (2020) is a returning player and the top prospect out of Switzerland for this upcoming draft – a projected mid-round pick. Gaétan Jobin and Joel Salzgeber are the other two returning forwards. Keanu Derungs (2020) might get drafted this summer but Kevin Lindemann (2020) likely doesn’t. Lorenzo Canonica (2021) is their top name for the 2021 NHL Draft.
On defense, Rocco Pezzullo and Bastian Guggenheim (2020) are returning players. Both are unlikely to be drafted. Noah Delémont (2020) could get drafted but his draft stock has definitely plummeted throughout the season. Giancarlo Chanton (2021) and Noah Meier (2021) are the top defensemen from Switzerland for the 2021 NHL Draft.
The situation with Slovakia isn’t much better than it was with Switzerland but I managed to think of 14 names for them, so that’s a little better. Maxim Cajkovic (TBL), Michal Mrázik and Dominik Jendek are the returning players up front. Cajkovic was obviously a top player for the Slovaks already last time but this time he’s required to do even more.
Martin Chromiak (2020) and Oleksii Myklukha (2021) are ready to take on a big role and contribute at both ends of the ice. Chromiak is a projected second/third round pick for this upcoming draft. Myklukha’s late birthday pushes his draft eligibility to 2021 but at this point, he projects to be drafted around the same range as Chromiak.
Juraj Slafkovsky (2022) is the big wildcard among this group. He has shown potential to be one of the best players to ever come out of Slovakia but it remains to be seen if he’s ready to play at this level, and maybe more importantly, if the coaching staff is willing to give him a chance at this level. Last year, they left Chromiak off the team even though everyone expected him to be there.
On defense, there are four returning players in Samuel Knazko (2020), Marko Stacha (2020), David Mudrak and Oliver Turan. Knazko is the most interesting name for draft purposes and should get drafted somewhere in the third or fourth round.
Even though he is born in 2004, Simon Nemec (2022) should be a lock for the team and for a big role there because he already spent most of the season at the men’s level at age 15 and his development is definitely way ahead of the schedule.
Samuel Hlavaj was Slovakia’s number one goalie already in the previous event and he’s eligible to return. Even though he went undrafted in 2019, his chances of getting drafted this summer are very high.
The situation with Germany is just as bad as it was with Switzerland – only 10 names I could think of. Lukas Reichel (2020), Tim Stützle (2020) and John-Jason Peterka (2020) were already top players for Germany this past winter but they need to carry an even bigger load this time around. Stützle might be playing in the NHL but as mentioned in the beginning, I’m including him and others like him in these projections for now.
Nino Kinder and Jan Nijenhuis are the other returning forwards, and they should play a bigger role this time around. The sixth name up front is Florian Elias (2020), a highly-skilled offensive forward who might get drafted in the late rounds this summer.
On defense, Moritz Seider (DET) is the only returning player – assuming he’s not in the NHL. He was already one of the best defensemen in the tournament last time. He’s joined by Maximilian Glötzl (2020) and Simon Gnyp, two players who were somewhat surprisingly cut from the previous tournament. Glötzl could be drafted in mid to late rounds.
Tobias Ancicka is the only goalie eligible to return, so it’s pretty easy to assume he takes over the starting job.
And that’s all for now, thanks for reading. Remember to follow me on Twitter @JokkeNevalainen.
Main picture courtesy of HockeyCanada.ca