Prospect Ramblings: WJC Players to Remember

Dave Hall

2021-01-05

It’s no secret that the World Junior Championships provide a poor representation of a player’s development, and scouts (and fans) should do their best to keep judgments realistic and take what they see with a grain of salt. With that being said, it is still a tremendous opportunity to get a fresh and perhaps rare look at a player that you otherwise may not view on a day-to-day basis. 

This is what makes the tournament so great.

Sure, the ice can be extremely tilted at times and teams do suffer unfortunate blowouts. Yet, at the end of the day, not a single player regrets taking the ice in one of the globe’s most coveted tournaments. The exposure gained is invaluable for both these kids and the countries that they represent. Whether they are winning a game by a score of 4-3 or being blown out 14-2, many of these players end up benefiting from the opportunity and appreciate the ability to showcase themselves, regardless of their success, or lack of. 

Here are a few players that (in my mind) made their mark on this tournament and certainly had their “coming out parties” for the world to see. For obvious reasons, omitting players such as Trevor Zegras, Dylan Cozens, and Tim Stuetzle – all of which are clear dominant forces who will be taking over the NHL in just a matter of seasons, if not weeks. Instead, these are players, who, after this tournament, will likely be viewed in higher regard than they were pre-tournament.

Remember these names.

JJ Peterka, LW, Germany

Playing alongside Stuetlze surely benefits his case, but Peterka’s play has left a few GM’s second-guessing their decision to pass on him in the first round back in October. The swift skating German tied his linemate (Stuetlze) in points with 10 and was a consistent player for them, even when suffering a beating on the scoreboard.

He’s not quite elite in any aspect of his game, but strong in most. His motor is always running and his quick strides allow him to compete – and usually win – for his battles along the ice. I view him as a solid middle-six contributor, and on an up-and-coming roster such as Buffalo, has a good opportunity to provide production to an already strong young core. I forget to mention…he can shoot the puck as well.

Florian Elias, C, Germany

To stay with the German theme, Florian Elias may have made the biggest splash with regards to putting his name on the map. Coming in as an undrafted 18-year-old, Elias was somewhat unknown to most causal hockey fans and has spent his career in the German circuit – most notably within the Manheim system. He was fortunate to catch minutes on the top-line with the above-mentioned stars of Germany but also proved that he can hold his own and provide offense when needed. He finished the tournament with four goals and nine points. 

At 5-8′, he is clearly undersized. However, much like Peterka, is a hound on the ice and possesses great skating ability. He is shifty and does a nice job creating opportunities for both him and his linemates. Teams may be forced to double-check their game notes and take a flyer on him in the future. He should benefit nicely from this outing. Now, do we still think that we should be trimming the teams that compete?

Topi Niemela, RHD, Finland

A right-handed shot, you say? Responsible in his own end, but can jump up to contribute in the o-zone as well, you say? A third-round pick, you say? Congratulations to Topi Niemela, who just boosted his expectation with Leafs nation ten-fold. 

Niemela is the tournament’s top contributing defender (seven points) and has proved to be quite the unsung competitor. He paints the perfect portrait as a two-way defender and has been a reliable option during his Finnish junior carrer. I would not expect to see this offensive production translate to the higher levels, at least not at this rate, but he is certainly capable of developing into a sturdy third-pairing defender down the road.

Rodion Amirov, LW, Russia

Fluid, smooth, tricky, and responsible – all contributors to Amirov being one of the more exciting prospects in the game right now. He was a tough prospect to peg with regards to pre-draft rankings, and a consensus was hard to find among the string of reliable scouting voices. Some concerns being his slim build (6-0′, 168-pounds), combined with his inability to produce groundbreaking numbers within the higher ranks in Russia (as of yet). Yet, he holds above-average offensive skill, which should translate well. While his strong work ethic will keep him relevant, even if the points to do not follow immediately. He will be a fun player to keep tabs on while he grows overseas.

Peyton Krebs, C, Canada

I add him to the list as he missed significant time due to injury, so some are not familiar with him as of yet. Well, this kid can play. From a casual fan’s perspective, there are absolutely no indications of him suffering a severe Achilles injury just one year ago.  He is an obvious gamer who plays the game hard, with pace, and holds a strong taste for production. He has been a catalyst to Team Canadas’ success, providing nightly headaches for defenders, especially in front of the net, where goaltenders have endured little-to-no vision, thanks to his net-front presence.

Vegas will have a tough decision on their hands come January 13th. But whether he makes the team on opening night or not, it is clear that they have a strong NHL bound player on their hands.

Noel Gunler, RW, Sweden

Mercy, can this kid shoot out of a cannon. He scored four goals in the tournament, with three of them showing elite level release, going bar/post-and-in. He is still a few seasons away from making his way over to Raleigh and there have been noted worries over his work ethic, but boy, does he scream boom or bust. If he is able to clean up said downsides, he is a shoo-in for top-six and top powerplay deployment. 

Vasili Ponomaryov, C, Russia

Despite skating primarily on their fourth-line, Ponomaryov has been one of the – if not the – more consistent players on this Russian squad. He currently sits with three goals, which included this beautiful tally.

Much like Amirov, consensus on his draft rankings was rather inconsistent. Some had him as high as a mid-first prospect, while others had him drop to third-round. He eventually fell to the late second (53rd overall), where he was selected by the Carolina Hurricanes. Regardless, he brings a nice mix of both skill and sandpaper. He has solid vision, and he has shown throughout the tournament that he has soft hands to boot. One of my favorite to watch during the competition.

Devon Levi, G, Canada

I have a feeling that his fantasy ADP is shooting up the roof right now. Levi, a 2020 seventh-round-pick, is having a terrific tournament. He has yet to allow more than one goal in any game and is sporting three shutouts throughout, tying Justin Poggee for most shutouts in a WJC event.

I am personally keeping my expectation at bay, as his resume is scarce and his workload has been minimal during this tournament, with the exception of his semi-final win. With Jr. A the current height of his playing career, this U20 competition serves as his first taste of Major Junior hockey – meaning his sample size has been small. Although, in his defense, he has been absolutely dominant at that Jr. A level. 

He is set to make his Freshman debut for Northeastern University upon completion of the tournament, so I am eager to see how he fairs at the Collegiate level.

Arvid Costmar, C, Sweden

The Vancouver Canucks 2019 seventh-rounder had himself a fine tournament, showing off his ability to agitate his opponents and even showed a touch of offensive flash with two goals. Obviously, he is no guarantee to make a splash at the NHL level, but his pest-like style is always a welcomed trait that teams look for on their bottom-six.

We see you, Arvid.

Matthew Beniers, C, USA

2021 draft-eligible, Matthew Beniers, makes it quite impossible not to like what he brings to the table. Not only does he show tremendous promise on the ice, but his off-ice demeanor is something that teams will be forced to take into consideration. With a simple interview, you get a sense for his positive attitude and happy-go-lucky character, and it translates into his game.

He is a terrific skater and acts as a waterbug when prowling the ice. He has a strong work ethic and refuses to give up on plays. To top it all off, he can provide excellent opportunity off the rush and can contribute on the scoresheet – which is evident from his six points through eight games as a Freshman with the University of Michigan. I cannot picture him going any later than top-10, come this year’s NHL Entry-Draft.

Brad Lambert, C, Finland

Another draft-eligible, but this time not until the 2022 draft. I spoke on him in last week’s ramblings, so I won’t elaborate. Just know that he is incredibly skilled and certainly in my top-3 favorite prospects to watch in this tournament and to keep tabs on going forward.

****

Enjoy the Gold Medal game and have a great week.

@hall1289

 

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