Everyone is prepared to judge what they witness over the course of the next two weeks.
The 2021 IIHF World Junior Championship is set to begin on Christmas Day and, due to the pandemic, potentially more eyes than ever will absorb the action of the tournament. With no competition from the NHL and some logistical drama about positive COVID cases in the Edmonton bubble, there exists a high degree of intrigue regarding whether the event can proceed smoothly, if at all.
If the tournament can take place with no hiccups, then the great takeaway from the event, as is the case every year, will be the performances of the participants. Their successes and failures will be placed under a microscope. Their most spectacular goals and greatest mistakes will be scrutinized. If a player finishes the tournament with zero points or 15 points, their achievements will be sensationalized and waves of commentary will pour in from people’s television sets and from social media.
For many spectators, this will be the first time that they have seen some of these players. Their performances will, thus, be judged harshly, as these will be their first impressions of the individuals. Scouts who have paid close attention to these players across their respective leagues will be familiar with their games and might compare their play here to their efforts with their club teams.
It is crucial to remember, however, that this tournament and others like it are not reliable indicators of whether a player will succeed professionally. Point totals at this tournament are less important than the shift-to-shift contributions of players, especially in an offense-oriented, high-octane tournament such as this where goals can occur in bunches and players deserving of points can be robbed over the course of a small handful of games.
The short sample size is worth taking into consideration, as well as the tournament’s highly-skilled, improvisational, and often rush-based style of play. There are issues of chemistry to consider, as well as parity, or lack thereof, within the round-robin groups.
These factors, in addition to others, may give certain players a greater opportunity to produce at the event than others. One should not lend too much credence, thus, to the placement of names on the points leaderboard at the end of the World Junior tournament. Instead, the tendencies, on-ice decision-making, and line-driving ability of players should be the focus of evaluations.
There are many top draft-eligible prospects and recent NHL draftees in this tournament whose performances will generate much debate among fans of the teams who drafted them. This week, we will look at two of those players from Team Russia, the Toronto Maple Leafs’ Rodion Amirov and Columbus Blue Jackets’ Yegor Chinakhov, both drafted in 2020. In addition, we will revisit one top prospect who flourished at the 2018 and 2019 World Juniors but whose journey to the NHL has been difficult: St. Louis Blues 2017 first-rounder Klim Kostin.
When Yegor Chinakhov’s name was called with the 21st-overall selection at the 2020 NHL Draft, most observers were speechless. Few had predicted that this second-time draft-eligible winger would be chosen in the first round. After being passed over in 2019, Chinakhov experienced a breakout 2019-2020 campaign in the Russian MHL, scoring 27 goals and 69 points in 56 games — fifth among scorers in the league. This was a major improvement over his total of eight goals and 16 points in 37 games the previous season with Omskie Yastreby, the junior affiliate of the KHL’s Avangard Omsk.
In their 2020 final rankings, NHL Central Scouting ranked Chinakhov 30th among European skaters. Thus, some ana