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: WJC USA 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
Every year the World Juniors has a couple of surprise stars. Players that are in their 18 or 19-year-old season who was drafted in the mid-late rounds of the NHL Draft playing big roles for their teams. This year will be no different. While we can’t assure you that these guys will pop off and be the surprise stars of the tournament, they are players we’ve identified as key cogs in their lineup that may not get the accolades or love that they deserve. Can Arseni Gritsyuk provide the depth scoring that Russia will need? Just how good has Juuso Pärssinen been this year? Can JJ Peterka emerge from the shadow of Tim Stützle and outdo him at this event for a second straight year? Will Oskar Olausson be able to make up for some of the offense Sweden lost to COVID?
C Juuso Pärssinen – Finland – Nashville Predators
I feel like a lot of people don’t really recognize how good Pärssinen really has been this season. He already played pretty well last season and now he’s taken steps in the right direction as he has 12 points in 18 games for TPS Turku in Liiga. That makes his current PPG 0.67, which is better than Markus Granlund and Mikko Koivu had in their draft+2 seasons. That’s also a great PPG considering that he is defensively very dedicated which might sometimes hurt his offensive game. Pärssinen has been centering the second line of his team and has averaged about 17 minutes of TOI per game. His development has been fast since he’s worked really hard to become a top-six player in Liiga with big responsibilities. He’s a very ambitious player and his main goal in his career is to be in a leading role in an NHL team. He’s also an assistant captain for TPS at 19 years old, so it might tell something about the kid’s leadership skills, and it makes me wonder why he wasn’t given “A” in World Juniors.
Pärssinen is a two-way center with good size. His skating is not the best but for his size, but it’s definitely passable. He uses his big body well and is a great puck protector. He possesses a good hockey IQ and has solid playmaking skills and an above-average shot. He’s also really dedicated defensively. Pärssinen is the kind of guy who doesn’t shine in any particular area but is pretty good at everything. He also has good PP skills and the ability to contribute there as well. I believe he’s going to be centering Finland’s second line and should also play in one or the other of the team’s PP units. Don’t sleep on this guy, he will be one of the key players of Finland.
W Arseni Gritsyuk – Russia – New Jersey Devils
Team Russia’s key to success may just lie in their forward depth. The likes of Chinakhov and Afanasyev are very well known at this point, but one player stands out the most to me, and that’s Arseni Gritsyuk.
Looking back to the Karaja Cup in early November, Gritsyuk failed to register a single point for the Russian U20s, but still had a very strong performance. Since then, he returned to the VHL with Novokuznetsk and racked up four points in five games. He also got a KHL call-up for Avangard Omsk since winning the gold medal with Team Russia, but only received three minutes of ice time.
What makes Gritsyuk such a player to watch is his shiftiness, patience, and poise with the puck on his stick. He’s an out-and-out play driver who brings a sense of unpredictability with him. Last season in the MHL, Gritsyuk took advantage of his strong shooting ability to score 28 goals for the Hawks, one more than his teammate, Yegor Chinakhov. On top of his raw shooting talent, he can also be the main playmaker of a line by driving play down the flanks and throwing passes into dangerous areas. Patience is one of his best attributes, though, as he holds onto the puck well and creates space to attack.
What can be expected out of Arseni at the World Juniors? Potentially a lot. Back in the 2018-19 season, Gritsyuk totaled five points in seven games at the U18-WJC and three points in five games at Hlinka, so there is a history of him accumulating points in international play. The lines at Russia’s first practice had him on the second line, playing with Vladislav Firstov and Ilya Safonov. The latter of the two isn’t exactly known for his production, but expect Gritsyuk and Firstov to link up very nicely if they stick together through the tournament.
W Oskar Olausson – Sweden – 2021 NHL Draft
Going into this tournament Olausson is the only Swedish draft-eligible skater and his stock has risen significantly during the first half of the season. He started at 54 in our rankings in August. In November he was 27th. Now, he’s even higher. After a crazy start in the J20 league in Sweden, scoring 14 goals in 16 games, he got the chance in the SHL with HV71. After a slow start he scored his first SHL goal in late November and in the game after that he scored another one and then another one in the next game. After three goals in three games, his spot with the Swedish team at the World Juniors was secured.
What can we look forward to with Olausson at the World Juniors? He’s a 6’2 forward with great skating, great hands, a good motor that he uses well in the forecheck, he can play all situations and he can score goals. In the SHL he’s played with Zion Nybeck, Carolina Hurricanes fourth-round pick from 2020, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see them together in the tournament as well. They will probably play on the third line together with either Albin Sundsvik or Arvid Costmar between them. With either of them at center, Olausson wouldn’t have to take that big of a responsibility defensively and could focus on creating magic with Nybeck on the offense.
You can see in this clip what Olausson and Nybeck can do together.
Olausson should get the opportunity on one of the power-play units and if he does he could be the forward, outside of the obvious duo of Holtz & Raymond, who’ll make the biggest impact for team Sweden.
It wouldn’t be surprising to see this tournament as a coming-out party for Olausson. He’s an intriguing prospect and we all know what a good World Junior’s could do to someone’s draft stock. He could even rise into the top 10 with a good performance in the tournament. He certainly has the talent for it.
Last year, the German U20 team vaulted to the top group to play against the likes of Canada and the United States. They showed flashes of what we all had hoped for with talents like Tim Stützle and Moritz Seider leading the way. Seider was a beast on the back end. Stützle was strong upfront and provided plenty of highlights. They even had Lukas Reichel, drafted 18th by Chicago this past October, providing a solid secondary scoring option away from the Stützle-led top line. There’s a legitimate argument that neither Stützle nor Reichel were the German’s best forward, however. John-Jason Peterka put up six points in seven games for the German squad and his brand of foot-on-the-gas, attack-mode style of game gave him an edge at the annual U20 event.
Peterka plays fast and doesn’t stop. His feet are always moving and whether he is closing out along the boards to stop a transition or beat a defender to the back wall on a forecheck, Peterka was a difference-maker last year for the Germans. So his name should be talked about in the lead-up, right? Especially with the absences of Seider (SHL) and Reichel (COVID) likely meaning the top line of Stützle and Peterka will have to carry the load. Nope. No one is paying attention to the best German forward at the 2020 World Juniors because everyone wants to see Stützle’s first game action of the year and see if he is fully recovered from the fractured wrist he suffered in October.
It feels weird to call Peterka a sleeper due to the fact that many became familiar with him through the draft process last year and they saw him play the role of Germany’s most dangerous draft-eligible throughout the event last year. His shot is better than he gets credit for and he plays in the middle of the ice and around the net. If he’s Germany’s best player, things could go awry at the World Juniors. If Stützle plays the way many hope and Peterka can ride his co-tails a bit, the German’s could pull an upset off. Either way, I expect Peterka to be the top point-getter for Germany.
Don’t sleep on any of these guys going into the tournament because they could blow up and have a big event! There are always so many fun storylines that emerge from the World Junior Championships, this year will be full of its own. Whether it’s Gritsyuk or Peterka, Olausson or Pärssinen, or maybe it’s someone we haven’t mentioned, there will be a new star or two after the WJC. It is going to be a blast finding out! Enjoy the pre-tournament games tonight! We are a little more than 48 hours away from the games starting to count. Should be fun!
Be sure to follow the writers who contributed to DobberProspects’ WJC Sleepers! Swedish Scout Mikael Holm, Russian Scout Dylan Griffing, Finnish Scout Eetu Siltanen have all been doing great work so give them a follow on Twitter for your latest 2021 NHL Draft and prospect coverage!