World Juniors Team Breakdowns: Group B

Tony Ferrari



Graphic Courtesy of Andrew Armstrong


Throughout this week, the DobberProspects’ team is going to be bringing you a full World Junior Championship preview! From team breakdowns to hot takes and picks and predictions to cap off the week on opening day and Christmas! Be sure to check back all week for more World Juniors preview and coverage! 


Monday, December 21: Team Breakdowns: Group A/Group B
Tuesday: World Juniors Players to Watch
Wednesday: World Juniors Sleepers
Thursday: World Juniors Hot Takes
Friday: World Juniors Picks and Predictions


Dobber’s DraftCast World Juniors Preview with Cam Robinson and Danny Tiffany
DPR Episode 96: USA WJC Preview with Chris Peters
DPR Episode 97: WJC Preview Team Canada with Craig Button
DPR Episode 98: WJC Sweden Preview with Jimmy Hamrin
DPR Episode 99: WJC Preview Finland with Marco Bombino


Welcome to the Team Breakdowns for Group B at the 2021 World Junior Championships! It has been a crazy year, to say the least, but we are finally at the end of it. what better way to celebrate than with the biggest junior hockey tournament in the world! This is the group with the heavy hitters in it. All of Russia, Sweden, and the Americans come into the tournament with gold medal aspirations every year. Russia isn’t being talked about by many but they have the formula that often wins short tournaments – an explosive offense and an elite, game-stealing netminder. The Americans come into the event with high hopes thanks to having the security of Spencer Knight in net and the talent on every line and defensive pairing. They feature an offense with explosive potential as Cole Caufield, Trevor Zegras, Alex Turcotte and the 2019 U.S. NTDP get much of the gang back together. Sweden is a bit of a wildcard this year, however, as they have been the hardest hit nation by COVID with only the German’s challenging them for the unfortunate title. Sweden is missing coaches, stars like William Eklund and so many more that would have played integral roles. They still boast a bevy of talent though headlined by the likes of Lucas Raymond and Alexander Holtz looking to dominate and drive this team to a medal despite their challenges.


The Czech Republic are always up-and-down at these events and you never know what you’re going to get from them. This year’s squad features some interesting talent including 2021 NHL Draft prospect Stanislav Svozil and they bring back veterans Jan Myšák and Jaromír Pytlík among others. They could make some games pretty interesting. The final team in the group is the Marco Rossi led Austrian squad. They don’t feature at this tournament often and they don’t last long generally but with no relegation to worry about this year, could Marco Rossi have a big game and upset a big dog? He’s certainly talented enough to do so. Let’s dive into the analysis for each team, provided by the DobberProspects scouting team.



Russian Scout Dylan Griffing

Every year, Team Russia is seen as the “good, but no way they’ll get that far” team, and this time around, it seems no different. A good number of key names such as Grigori Denisenko, Alexander Khovanov, and Alexander Romanov are no longer eligible for the World Juniors, but they’ve done a good job replacing them. Yet, comparing the team to the likes of Canada, the United States, and Sweden still makes them seem like the underdogs.


Forward Depth: Speed, Scoring, and Strength

There’s no real ‘star power’ outside of Russia’s top line, but there’s plenty of talent that meshes well. Yegor Chinakhov, Yegor Afanaseyev, and Vladislav Firstov all have quite different styles of play, but will all be relied upon to be the scorers to fill out the squad. To accompany them and create plays are three speedy workhorses in Mikhail Abramov, Arseni Gritsyuk, and Vasily Ponomaryov. Maxim Groshev, Ilya Safonov, and Zakhar Bardakov bring the muscle to the lineup, but will rarely show up on the score sheet.


The First Line: Amirov – Khusnutdinov – Podkolzin

This is the definition of stacking a line, but also creating a synergized group. Marat Khusnutdinov is a small, feisty centerman who works hard to get the puck and move it, Vasily Podkolzin is a powerful, play-driving winger, and Rodion Amirov brings the scoring touch. We got a taste of these three at the Karjala Cup (a men’s tournament) and they blew expectations out of the water with Podkolzin racking up five points in three games and Amirov being named forward of the tournament.

But is this the ideal line? Sure, it is going to be dominant, but how much is it going to hinder the middle-six? For me, this isn’t the best option.

Amirov, Podkolzin, and Khusnutdinov all have the ability to run a line to an extent, and there’s one simple switch to make that really plays to the players’ strengths: swapping Yegor Chinakhov and Rodion Amirov. Chinakhov has a cannon of a shot but doesn’t play a complete game. He’s invisible without the puck, besides finding spots on the ice where he can catch the puck and shoot it. Playing him with Podkolzin alone creates a strong dual-threat offense and Khusnutdinov can be used as the support man.


Moving Amirov down to the second line is not a demotion, but rather putting him in a position to be even more important to the team. His two-way play will allow the other winger, likely Gritsyuk or Afanasyev, more freedom to use their creativity, rather than be stuck in the defensive zone. Amirov is not as good of a goal scorer as Chinakhov, but he has an accurate shot and uses it at the right times.


The Defensive Question Mark

Team Russia has one right-handed shot on the entire roster (Yegor Spiridonov), leaving them with eight LHDs. Kirill Kirsanov and Daniil Chayka are the lone 2021 Draft eligibles and ranked 2nd and 3rd in even-strength ice-time for the Russians at the Karjala Cup. Shakir Mukhamadullin is going to be a key player for the team, but he’ll need to show up big time, which he really did not do in the last tournament. Semyon Chistyakov was arguably the best defenseman for Russia at the Karjala Cup and brings a strong puck-moving ability. Artemi Knyazev and Yan Kuznetsov weren’t able to make the Cup games, but are big additions to the WJC team. Knyazev is a smooth skater who creates space and moves the puck well with great technique and finesse, whereas Kuznetsov is a big, powerful defender with a sneaky good ability to move the puck up the ice. Yegor Shekhovtsov and Roman Bychkov round out the defensive unit.


Superstar Between the Pipes

For those who aren’t aware, Yaroslav Askarov is a really good goalie; however, there’s still some question if he can atone for his previous WJC performances. He’s one year older now and has already figured out how to dominate the MHL, VHL, and KHL, plus he was deservedly named the goalie of the tournament for the Karjala Cup. The defense in front of him won’t be doing him any favors, but be ready for Askarov to put up more incredible numbers. Artur Akhtyamov and Vsevolod Skotnikov will battle it out to see who can be the number two behind Askarov.



What To Expect

This team definitely has the ability to medal and challenge the top dog Canadians. Most of the players on the team have already been given the chance to play with one another at the Karjala Cup, which they went undefeated in. Keeping the key names from the run like Amirov, Podkolzin, Chinakhov, Chistyakov, and Askarov plus adding talents in Abramov, Ponomaryov, Firstov, Knyazev, and Kuznetsov is going to put a major target on their backs. What perhaps doesn’t bode well for this team is the lack of World Juniors experience. Only three players (Podkolzin, Groshev, and Askarov) have made appearances in the tournament before and only Podkolzin managed to make a real impact. Only time will tell if they can reenact their performance in Finland or fail to overcome the more star-studded national teams.



Swedish Scout Mikael Holm

The last time the Swedish under-20 team was in Alberta for a World Junior Championship, they won. Mika Zibanejad scored the game-winning goal in overtime for Sweden as they beat Russia 1-0 in the Saddledome. That was only the second time Sweden won the tournament but now they’re back in Alberta and despite an outbreak of Covid-19 that has decimated the squad and coaching staff, Sweden is still aiming for gold.


Last year Sweden lost the semi-final against Russia in overtime and with that the opportunity for a lot of talented players born in 2000 to win a tournament with Sweden. Players like Samuel Fagemo, Rasmus Sandin, Nils Höglander, Jonatan Berggren, Nils Lundkvist, and Mattias Norlinder have all become old, too old for this tournament at least.


However, there are still players left from last year’s squad that will make an even bigger impact this year. Victor Söderström was one of the standouts last year and have the opportunity to lead the Swedish defense. Philip Broberg and Tobias Björnfot were both on last year’s squad and hope to make an even bigger impact this year. To add to the three returnees there’s Albert Johansson, a Red Wings second-round pick in 2019, who’s had a great first half of the season with Färjestad in the SHL. Another new face on the team is the Philadelphia Flyers 2020 second-round pick, Emil Andrae. Andrae has spent his entire year in the SHL with HV71. Those are the five defensemen that are most likely to be in the lineup for Sweden in their first game against the Czech Republic on the 26th of December. Then there are three defensemen that are fighting for the sixth and seventh spot. There’s Gustav Berglund, a sixth-round pick by Detroit Red Wings. Alex Brännstam, an undrafted player who’s played six games in the SHL with Djurgården this year. There is also Ludvig Hedström, also undrafted and a teammate of Brännstam, who’s played three SHL games this year.



Missing is William Wallinder who was tested positive for Covid-19 before the tournament and therefore not allowed to travel (not the only player in Sweden affected by the virus). Wallinder would’ve most likely been one of the eight defensemen traveling to Edmonton if he didn’t test positive. Helge Grans was the last player to get cut from the Swedish team, quite surprisingly. Grans was thought of being a sure thing on this team, especially since he was one of only three right-handed defensemen on the roster.


Behind the defense, Sweden will have possibly the best goaltender duo in the tournament with returnee and Tampa Bay prospect Hugo Alnefelt, who had a great tournament last year. They also have Jesper Wallstedt, a 2021 draft-eligible prospect who’s impressive play in the SHL as an 18-year-old has made him the next top goalie prospect and a top-10 prospect overall on the DobberProspects rankings in November. They’ll have to fight it out in the round-robin to see who’ll grab the starting spot in the playoffs. Behind the two is Calle Clang who most likely won’t see any minutes this tournament but the Pittsburgh Penguins prospect has had a good season with Kristianstad in HockeyAllsvenskan.


The Swedish forward group looks strong, despite the losses of William Eklund, Karl Henriksson, and Albin Grewe. Eklund, who’s eligible for the 2021 draft, tested positive for Covid-19 after a soaring start to the season and he leads all under-20 players in the SHL in points. Eklund would’ve been a key player for Sweden this tournament and could’ve improved his status in preparation for the 2021 draft. Henriksson, a second-round pick of the New York Rangers and the center between star players Lucas Raymond and Alexander Holtz for several years, also tested positive for Covid-19 and is out. Albin Grewe, a third-round pick of the Detroit Red Wings, also tested positive for the virus. These three forwards were all certain to be a part of the roster but have now found themselves staying home in Sweden instead of traveling to Edmonton.


Despite all these losses Sweden doesn’t lack in firepower. There’s the previously mentioned Holtz and Raymond who both played last year and made their marks in the tournament in the Czech Republic. They’re now the main pieces in the Swedish offense and are relied upon to bring Sweden all the way to gold. With them, the center will most likely be Theodor Niederbach. The Detroit Red Wings (they like their Swedes in Detroit) second-round pick has been dominating in the Swedish junior league this year and have also played a few games in the SHL with Frölunda. Among the forwards, there’s also New York Islanders first-round pick from 2019 Simon Holmström, Carolina Hurricanes second-round pick from this year’s draft Noel Gunler, 2021 draft-eligible Oskar Olausson, and Hurricanes fourth-round pick Zion Nybeck.



If there’s one concern with the Swedish forward group, it’s the lack of center depth. Henriksson was supposed to be the first-line center but when he was out of the tournament, Oskar Bjerselius was called to replace him. Bjerselius is an undrafted center who plays for Djurgården in the SHL. With him, there’s Theodor Niederbach, Albin Sundsvik, and Arvid Costmar. All of them play in the SHL but there’s a lack of an offensive threat there except for Niederbach. Sweden will have to put their hope in their strong wingers and that the centers are outplaying their expectations.


The Swedish team is strong enough to fight for gold and defend their 13-year long undefeated streak in the round-robin. They will have to rely on their strong defense and goalies and hope that Holtz and Raymond are as good as they were when they won the first-ever U18 World Championships for Sweden in 2019.



US Scout Clare McManus

The Americans are looking to rebound after a disappointing ending to the 2020 World Junior Championship last year in Czech Republic, breaking the longest active medal streak for the World Juniors. 


Coming into the upcoming 2021 tournament, the US team is yet again a group with a lot of experience playing together. Although, with the COVID-19 pandemic the Americans have taken a hit on their roster, losing some key players. Boston University’s Alex Vlasic, Robert Mastrosimone, and Drew Commesso have all been excluded from the tournament due to covid-protocols. They are also without the University of Michigan’s John Beecher and Thomas Bordeleau after John Beecher tested positive with the covid-19 virus. 


Despite this disappointment, Team USA still has a skilled roster with many talented players in all positions. 


Dazzling Forwards

The forward crop for the Americans is going to be a deadly one. Most of the players on the roster have already been drafted to NHL teams and have also played in the event before, bringing talent and international level experience. 



A player many have high hopes for is University of Wisconsin’s, Cole Caufield. Last year he did not have the best tournament, only posting a goal and an assist in five games. But with improvements made to his game over the long offseason, the best goal-scorer on team USA is looking to prove that he can be the best player on the ice. A guy that should definitely be paired with a speedy goal-scoring winger like Caufield is a playmaking forward like Trevor Zegras. The Anaheim Ducks prospect is a dangerous skater with elite vision and playmaking abilities. At last year’s tournament, he posted nine points in five games. Zegras will look to make an impression at this year’s event, especially to impress the Ducks management to show why he is ready for the NHL.  


The only 2021 draft-eligible on team USA this year is University of Michigan’s, Matthew Beniers. Currently ranked #16 by the Dobber Prospects scouting team, he plays a hard-nosed game. He is very reliable in puck battles and he brings a strong offensive presence as well. With the Michigan Wolverines, he has posted three goals and three assists for six points in eight games. 


While the Americans have an elite forward group, there are some under-the-radar players that will give team USA a lot of depth. Brett Berard is an undersized winger with a lot of offensive skills. Last year with the U.S. National U18 Team, he scored 16 goals and 18 assists for 34 points in 41 games played. Another forward is Brendan Brisson. The former Chicago Steel product, and now Michigan Wolverine, will be a key factor on the American’s power-play unit. He possesses a wicked one-time shot that led him to score 24 goals last season with the Steel.

Stud Defenseman

The blue-line will not be as strong as it has been in years past. K’Andre Miller, Mattias Samuelsson, Zach Jones, and Alex Vlasic have all aged out and or are not able to play in the tournament. It is definitely a hole in their roster but it should be something to worry too much about.


Cameron York will be a big role for team USA on the blueline. The WJC returnee has posted two goals and three assists for five points in eight games played this season with the University of Michigan. He has already made strong improvements to his game this year, being more reliable physically. Jake Sanderson will come into the tournament as a newbie. The Ottawa Senators prospect will provide a strong suite to the defensive core on the left side. His transition skills up ice will be a big factor for producing offense for Team USA. Sanderson will also provide a shutdown role on the defensive end for the Americans. 



Henry Thrun will play the role of a defensive defenseman. The Anaheim Ducks product does a good job to keep a tight gap and give the opposition no room to make a play. Drew Helleson is a puck-moving defenseman who can play hard on all three zones. He is also known to play a solid role on the defensive side of the game as well. He has had some experience playing with Team USA on the international stage before. This will give the Americans another player with experience and the ability to provide both an offensive and defensive role. 


Elite Between the Pipes

The Americans are very fortunate to be deep between the pipes. With the defensive not being as strong as it has been in years past, the netminders will provide a shutdown role. 


Spencer Knight, the Florida Panthers’ 2019 first-round pick, will be competing in his second WJC tournament. At last year’s event, he did very well posting a 2.49 goals-against-average and a .913 save percentage. Knight has also been the number one goalie for Boston College the past two seasons. So far this year, he has posted a 1.50 goals-against-average and a .955 save percentage in four games. It is safe to say Knight is locked for starting netminder in the 2021 WHC. 


Dustin Wolf is the definition of “size doesn’t matter”. The undersized goaltender from the Everett Silvertips is extremely athletic with elite mechanics. Last season with the Silvertips, he posted a 1.88 goals-against-average and a .935 save percentage in 46 games played. With the WHL on hold, Wolf has yet to play a game this season. It will be interesting to see how he performs after a ton of time off the ice.


Czech Republic

Czech/Slovak Scout Samuel Tirpák

Coming from two quarterfinal losses in a row at World Juniors means that the Czech Republic would go into this championship extremely motivated. And being put in the tougher group of the two does not help them either because, with this roster, I don’t expect them to battle for a top-two spot in the group, which likely means they play either Finland or Canada, assuming everything goes as expected.


The expected starting goaltender is Los Angeles Kings’ third-round selection from the 2019 NHL Entry Draft and Spokane Chiefs netminder, Lukáš Pařík. Nick Malík and Jan Bednář are expected to battle it out for the backup spot. The gap between each of the three goalies is not very big, so in as hard of a group as they have, Pařík can easily lose his expected starting position to one of those two goaltenders.


Czechs have a really solid defense group this year and that would be the main part of their possible success. One of the players to watch would definitely be Stanislav Svozil, who will most likely receive a top-four role alongside one of the more experienced defensemen. His defensive and transitional side of the game would be used to a big extend, since there are not many players on defense that are as skilled in those parts of their game as Svozil, especially on the left side. He will be relied on from a penalty-killing perspective as well. I expect this to be his coming-out party. 



The Czech defensive group has a little bit of everything when it comes to types of players. They have offensive defensemen, who will be key powerplay contributors like Šimon Kubíček or even 2022 NHL Draft prospect David Jiříček. They have two-way guys like already mentioned Stanislav Svozil as well as Karel Klikorka or Martin Hugo Haš. And they have more defense-based defenseman, Chicago’s fourth-round selection from 2020 NHL Entry Draft, Michael Krutil. It would be interesting to see who plays with whom, but I expect smart decisions on defense.


On offense, the main offensive catalyst would be Montreal Canadiens’ second-round selection in the 2020 NHL Draft, Jan Myšák. I expect him to shine at this World Junior Championship. He represented Czechs last year as well and performed really well, given the circumstances of low ice time and lack of any top-line opportunities. I expect him to lead the team in scoring both assist-wise and goal-wise. He drives the game really well from transition and that would be huge since I expect him to play with hard-nosed Adam Raška and Michal Teplý on top-line who are both capable of both creating space for Myšák and being able to capitalize on created opportunities.


Other players besides those mentioned I expect to take leading roles on offense for the Czech Republic are Jaromír Pytlík, Pavel Novák, Filip Koffer, and Michal Gut, especially Pytlík and Novák. Both of those players have tremendous puck skills and scoring abilities. It would be rather dumb to not capitalize on their skillsets and not play them together. One of the bigger storylines for their team would be if the defense would work as well as expected with different types of players or if it just looks good on paper and would not work. You need that defense to work in order to get as good of a spot in the group going into the quarterfinals as possible. Also, would Myšák, Pytlík, and other relatively high-end forwards be enough to drive that offense? I’m not sure of the answer here and that would be fun to watch.



Central European Scout Jeff Rea

No one, not even the members of last year’s team, expected Austria to be in this year’s World Junior Championships. 


Austria went into last year’s Division 1A tournament hoping to “maintain the class”. After an opening day 4-3 loss to hosts and tournament favorites Belarus, things were going according to plan. Then, unexpectedly, things changed. Upset wins over Denmark and Latvia were coupled with victories over Norway and Slovenia. Norway beat Belarus and Denmark, and Austria found themself promoted. 


Although several players were influential, the team was driven by the exceptional performance of one 2020 draft-eligible prospect. The tournament’s Top Forward and undisputed star recorded 5 goals and 11 points in 5 games and expertly led the team in every respect. Benjamin Baumgartner. Incredibly, Austria achieved the remarkable feat of returning to the World Junior Championships without Marco Rossi. The Minnesota Wild’s 9th overall selection chose to skip the tournament and focus on his effort in Ottawa with the CHL leading 67’s.


This time around, Baumgartner is not eligible but Rossi will carry the torch. The diminutive two-way center torched the OHL last season, with a league-leading 120 points (in 56 games) at a scorching pace of 2.14 points per game. He was the first European to ever lead the OHL in scoring. Rossi has been training with the Zürich Lions this year. He appeared in one National League game where he looked poor, but there is no doubting his potential to star in Edmonton and make amends for lost time with Austria.



There is some talent around Rossi as well. Three members of the 2019-20 promotion-winning side are forwards who are currently playing in Sweden’s J20 Nationell.  Red Bull Akademie graduate and Halifax Mooseheads import draft selection Seena Peeters has put up seven goals and eight points in six games for Rögle. Peeters posted an impressive three goals and six points in five games at the D1As, last year. 6’1 172 lb Leon Wallner has 10 points in 11 games for Södertälje. He’s been a top-six producer for the past two seasons in that organization. Lucas Thaler has been with Mora IK for the past three seasons. He put up five points in 12 games this season before the J Nat was shut down.


The fourth forward to return is Tim Harnish. Harnish is one of many Red Bull Juniors on the Austrian roster. He has been playing pro hockey for the past two seasons across the Austrian first and second leagues. Harnish had 17 goals and 37 points in 31 games in the AlpsHL with Red Bull Juniors last season. Fabian Hochegger is another forward who could fill a top-six role. The 5’9 center put up 19 points in 56 games with Drummondville. He was also absent from the team that won D1A Gold last year, but ironically, he featured on the U20s at the D1As the year prior.


Austria has Sebastian Wraneschitz in the net. The 6’0 Vienna Capitals product has featured in six games in the Austrian first league this year. He has a respectable 2.30 GAA and a .909 save percentage. Last year he was loaned out to Kiekko-Vantaa and Skelleftea in the Jr A SM-Liiga and J20 SuperElit where he played 15 games across leagues. He may be the strongest goalie of the nine in Central Europe. He moves well and is capable of winning games single-handedly, as proven this year in Vienna. He is also prone to allowing weak goals and having problems tracking the puck.


Austria had two of the three players selected in the 2020 NHL available for selection. Unfortunately, talented Anaheim Ducks draft pick Thimo Nickl did not pass Covid testing protocol. It was a huge blow for Austria. Nickl was selected 104th overall this past October after impressing in Drummondville. He had started the season well in Rögle alongside Senna Peeters.


Speaking of Rögle, 16-year-old Marco Kasper is one of several interesting 2022s to keep an eye on in this tournament. Kasper plays an interesting game, which features a nice blend of skill, grit, and awareness. Perhaps the fact Austria doesn’t need to worry about relegation was enough to give Kasper the nod. The thought of him learning from Marco Rossi is a good one. The two share some similar traits. Kasper has eight points in seven games in the J18 Region and two goals in six games at J20 Nationell. He looked particularly good in over 16 minutes of TOI against star-laden Frölunda.


17-year-old Mathias Böhm is another name to look out for. He has 11 goals and 23 points in 13 games for the Junior-Capitals of Vienna this season. Granted the ICEJL is not the highest level of competition, but his inclusion in this team is a statement in itself. With Thimo Nickl out, returnees Luis Lindner, Timo Pallierer, and Jacob Pfeffer will be counted upon to lead the D. Lucas Necesany is a 17-year-old with the Red Bull Juniors worth watching, as well. Of their parts, the defense appears to be the most lacking; which is particularly concerning given the strength of their group.


All in all, for a country making its first appearance in the World Junior Championships since 2010 there is a lot to write home about. They lack depth, experience and most certainly enter the tournament as outsiders. They wouldn’t want it any other way.




The World Juniors are inching closer and despite the COVID-19 pandemic throwing things for a loop on multiple occasions, the IIHF is pushing forward. Additional COVID cases and sudden changes are likely to change a lot as we go forward and the analysis in the team breakdowns will not be immune to that. The German team had eight positive tests just prior to the weekend. With their roster already missing key cogs such as Mortiz Seider (SHL) and Lukas Reichel (pre-travel COVID), what happens if JJ Peterka or Tim Stützle are among the positives? What if the Americans, a pre-tournament favorite, suffers an outbreak just before the quarter-finals? There is so much still up in the air with trying to pull off the World Juniors during a global pandemic.


It will be a unique year at the annual holiday tournament, mirroring the year we all went through in reality. If the players, staff, and teams working behind the scenes can all stay healthy, maybe this could be the perfect way to end the year. Maybe watching a Finland-Sweden quarterfinal will remind us all of years past. We could get a bit of a mental breather from the real world to sit down in suspense as Canada battles the Americans in a pivotal game. Hopefully, this tournament is able to help bring some normalcy to our lives in a life-changing year for many of us. Enjoy the World Juniors.



Name Fantasy Upside NHL Certainty
Garin Bjorklund 5.5 5.5
Hunter Shepard 8.0 4.0
Mitchell Gibson 7.0 5.5
Clay Stevenson 8.0 7.0
Stepan Gorbunov 4.0 4.5
Matvei Shuravin 5.0 6.5
Justin Poirier 8.0 6.0
Noel Fransen 7.0 5.0
Alexander Daryin 5.0 2.0
Carson Bantle 4.0 3.5