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. I went through Group A countries (Canada, Finland, Switzerland, Slovakia and Germany) in part one (link), and in this one I’ll 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.
The only returning forwards for Russia are Vasili Podkolzin (VAN) and Maxim Groshev (2020). Podkolzin already carried an ‘A’ last time and it wouldn’t surprise me if that was upgraded to ‘C’ next time. He will be the big star on the team and he’s expected to carry them both offensively and defensively. Groshev played a depth role on the team last time. With his robust playing style and KHL experience, he will definitely be on the team again but I don’t expect him to play an offensive role next time either.
Alexei Tsyplakov was a surprise cut from the previous team but should play a big role down the middle this time. Ilya Nikolayev (CGY) and Yegor Spiridonov (SJS) are the other two 2001 born options to center a line but I gave the second and third line center roles to two 2002 born players in Vasili Ponomaryov (2020) and Marat Khusnutdinov (2020). They are younger but they’re also more skilled offensively and they also play a very good two-way game. Both are projected second round picks for the upcoming draft.
Yegor Afanasyev (NSH), Vladislav Firstov (MIN) and Mikhail Abramov (TOR) are my other choices for top six wing positions. They are high NHL draft picks and have had success in their leagues. But all three play in North America which could definitely complicate things because Team Russia has often chosen players who play in Russia instead even though they may not be as good. The same is obviously true for Ponomaryov as well.
Rodion Amirov (2020) should be a lock for the team and he definitely could play a top six role. I gave the final spot to Arseni Gritsyuk (NJD) but there are a bunch of good options besides him as well. Daniil Guschin (2020) and Alexander Pashin (2020) are two small wingers with lots of offensive talent. Dmitri Sheshin and Yegor Chinakhov went undrafted last summer which was a bit surprising but they’ve dominated the Russian junior league – very talented offensive players as well. Bogdan Trineyev (2020) and Dmitri Zlodeyev (2020) may not be as flashy but they could play more of a two-way role.
Everyone on defense aged out, so it’ll be a completely new group of defenders. Alexander Nikishin (2020) should be a lock for the team because he’s a big, physical defenseman with a lot of KHL experience and a 2001 birth date. Artemi Knyazev (SJS) would probably be the top defenseman on this team and he would have to take responsibility with the puck because the offensive talent on this blue line is limited.
Shakir Mukhamadullin (2020), Yan Kuznetsov (2020) and Daniil Chayka (2021) are all 2002 born defenders with great size and a good amount of experience already despite their age. They’re not difference-makers but should be solid players for this level. Kuznetsov and Chayka play in North America, though. The defensive group would be completed by Semyon Chistyakov (NSH) and Roman Bychkov (BOS), two drafted players from the Russian junior league.
Yaroslav Askarov (2020) will return for his second tournament, and this time he should be ready for the challenge. The other two goalie spots are up in the air but Vsevolod Skotnikov (2020) has often been backing up Askarov in the past, so I went with him. Artur Akhtyamov (2020) had a great season in the MHL, so he got the third spot. Both of them are 2001 born goalies which is an advantage on Team Russia.
The entire line of Alexander Holtz (2020), Karl Henriksson (NYR) and Lucas Raymond (2020) is eligible to return to the tournament. Considering all the success they’ve had together as a line, it makes a ton of sense to keep them together and give them the keys to the castle. Their role was a bit limited last time but they are expected to carry the load offensively this time around.
Simon Holmström (NYI) and Noel Gunler (2020) are two players who were definitely good enough to be on the team already last time, so it makes sense to put them together on the second line. They are both very talented offensive players. Holmström is more of a playmaker whereas Gunler is a goal-scorer, so they could be a nice fit together. This would be an excellent second line.
There’s a lot of competition for the remaining wing spots but I went with Zion Nybeck (2020) and Elmer Söderblom (DET) on the third line because they have dominated in the Swedish junior league and they’re best suited for an offensive role. Nybeck is small whereas Söderblom is huge, so maybe that kind of evens things out?
The final two spots went to Albin Grewe (DET) and Daniel Torgersson (2020). They are also capable of playing an offensive role but they can bring a physical presence and a solid two-way game to the fourth line as well. I chose Oskar Magnusson (2020) as the 13th forward because he can play all three forward positions and he can play up and down the lineup in any role. I desperately wanted to put him somewhere in the actual lineup but just couldn’t justify replacing anyone in the top nine, and felt like the other players on the fourth line were better fits for that role.
Sweden has a lot of great options at wing (including the notable cuts) but the same can’t really be said about their centers. Arvid Costmar (VAN) and Theodor Niederbach (2020) were my selections for the offensive lines because of their skill-set and their play in the Swedish junior league and in past international events. But this will be a bit of a question mark on their roster. I chose Albin Sundsvik for the fourth line because he can be a reliable defensive center. He has good size and a good amount of experience from the SHL already.
Victor Söderström (ARZ), Tobias Björnfot (LAK) and Philip Broberg (EDM) are the three returning defensemen here. There’s a decent chance that Söderström and Björnfot will be playing in the NHL instead but if they’re available, they could form one of the best defensive pairs in the tournament. This trio would be the backbone of this team for sure.
Besides those three, Albert Johansson (DET) should be a lock for the team because of his abilities and SHL experience. After him, I chose Eric Hjorth (CBJ) and Helge Grans (2020) to the right side with Emil Andrae (2020) being the seventh guy. Grans and Andrae should be full-time SHL players next season which is what gave them the edge over their competition.
Hugo Alnefelt (TBL) is eligible to return, and he would be the early favorite to be the best goalie in the tournament. Behind him are two 2002 born goalies in Jesper Wallstedt (2021) and Calle Clang (2020). Wallstedt is a projected first round pick for the 2021 NHL draft whereas Clang is a projected mid-round pick for the 2002 NHL Draft. Not having Alnefelt would be a huge loss for the Swedes but these two could handle the workload if needed.
Alex Turcotte (LAK) and Trevor Zegras (ANA) signed NHL contracts after just one year of NCAA play, so it’s definitely possible they’ll be playing in the NHL instead. But as mentioned in the beginning, I only assumed that sure things won’t be available and therefore I included both of them here. Both are returning players just like John Beecher (BOS) who is centering the third line.
Nicholas Robertson (TOR), Cole Caufield (MTL), Arthur Kaliyev (LAK) and Bobby Brink (PHI) are also all returning players. They are all extremely talented offensive players with a ton of goal-scoring ability. This top six would be as deadly as they come. Just a ridiculous amount of offensive skill there. Maybe the best top six group in the tournament, although Canada has a pretty good one as well.
Matthew Boldy (MIN) is a player I really wanted to have in the top six but just couldn’t justify him over any of the other options. Robert Mastrosimone (DET) gets the final scoring line spot because of his offensive abilities and because he is a bit older than the other options.
The fourth line could definitely be filled with depth players from the 2001 age group but instead I went with three 2002 born forwards who have the ability to play a reliable two-way game and be a physical presence on the ice. Matthew Beniers (2021) is a player who would be a good fit in this role as well but I decided to go with Luke Tuch (2020) and Dylan Peterson (2020) at wings and Ty Smilanic (2020) down the middle. I also chose Thomas Bordeleau (2020) as the 13th forward because he would be able to fill a top nine role in case of injuries.
Cam York (PHI) is the only returning defenseman and the expected number one defenseman on this team. One player who could surprise here is Jake Sanderson (2020) who has been developing rapidly this season. Despite being younger than the other defenders, he could end up being USA’s top option at even strength while York handles the top power play duties.
The rest of the defense is good but nothing special. Drew Helleson (COL), Ryan Johnson (BUF), Domenick Fensore (CAR), Case McCarthy (NJD) and Henry Thrun (ANA) are all solid players who bring different things to the table but I could definitely see some of the notable cuts stealing their spots on the team. Johnson is the highest draft pick among that group but his transition to the NCAA level hasn’t gone smoothly. The other four have experience from playing with this group at the NTDP and they’ve had a better start to their NCAA careers.
Spencer Knight (FLA) and Dustin Wolf (CGY) are both returning goalies. Knight will challenge Alnefelt and Askarov for the top goalie award, and considering the team in front of him, he could definitely take it home. Wolf would be a number one goalie on most other teams but it’s a shame he’s stuck behind Knight. I chose Drew Commesso (2020) as the third goalie. He’s a projected mid-round pick for the 2020 NHL Draft, and the best 2002 born goalie for USA, so it’s good to give him that experience for the year after when he’s expected to be the number one goalie for Team USA.
Michal Teplý (CHI), Jan Mysak (2020), Jaromir Pytlik (2020) and Adam Raska (2020) are the returning players up front, so they’ll definitely play a big role on this team. Both Mysak and Pytlik played at wing last time both they have experience from center as well, and I felt like they were the best options to handle top six center duties. Teplý should be the offensive leader on this team whereas Raska brings his physical presence and solid two-way game to the table.
I filled the top six forward group with Pavel Novak (2020) and Martin Lang who both played in the WHL this past season. Novak had a great rookie season there, and Lang had a decent season as well. They’ve both played a lot of games with the Czech national team in lower age groups. Novak is a projected mid-round pick for this upcoming draft.
The third line has Michal Gut (2020) and Filip Koffer who also played in the WHL this past season. In fact, Tomas Chlubna (2020) is the only top nine forward in my projection who didn’t finish the season in the CHL. Chlubna spent the season playing against men at the second highest level in Czechia, and he was a leading player for the Czechs on their under-18 team. Both Gut and Chlubna are projected late round picks for the 2020 NHL Draft.
For the final four spots, I included Marcel Barinka and Ivan Ivan (2020) who are both also playing in the CHL, and then a couple of younger forwards in Stanislav Vrhel (2021) and Jakub Kos (2021) who both played in Finland this past season. But these four spots would likely go to some unknown depth guys instead.
On defense, the Czechs will have four returning players. Simon Kubicek (2020) was a top player for them already last time, so he’s expected to be their number one defenseman. Karel Klikorka (2020) and Martin Hugo Has (WSH) also played a pretty big role and should see that expanding even further. Radek Kucerik (2020) is the fourth returnee.
The most exciting newcomer is Stanislav Svozil (2021), a projected first round pick for the 2021 NHL Draft who already spent a full season in Czech Extraliga at age 16. He’s the most promising blueliner the Czechs have had for a while, so I think he’ll earn a pretty big role on the team despite being just 17 years old.
Michael Krutil (2020) and Marek Blaha (2020) complete the lineup among defensemen. Both are potential draft picks this summer but no sure things to be picked. Blaha is small but very talented offensively whereas Krutil brings more size and defensive capabilities to the table.
Lukas Parik (LAK) is the expected number one goalie for the Czechs. Both he and Nick Malik (2020) are returnees, and both saw action this past winter already. Jan Bednar (2020) was the final goalie cut from the roster last time, so it makes sense that he’s included this time around. Both Malik and Bednar are projected mid-round picks for the 2020 NHL Draft.
For Austria, I’m not even going to include a picture of their projected lineup because it would have just two names on it. Center Marco Rossi (2020) is their superstar and would be one of the top players in the event but there’s a pretty good chance he’s playing in the NHL, so that would obviously be a massive blow to Austria’s chances of avoiding relegation.
The other name is defenseman Thimo Nickl (2020) who had a strong rookie season at the QMJHL. He’s a projected mid-round pick for the 2020 NHL Draft and would obviously be the top defenseman on Team Austria.
And that’s all for now, thanks for reading. Remember to follow me on Twitter @JokkeNevalainen.
Main picture courtesy of HockeyCanada.ca