Despite the tournament being the first look scouts have gotten at some of the 2021 NHL Draft eligibles, discussion surrounding the 2021 IIHF World Championship was dominated by players not eligible until next year – and in the case of Matvei Michkov and Connor Bedard, not eligible for two years.
Those two, along with Team Canada’s captain, Shane Wright, have all been designated franchise-altering talents and the future of the sport. The trio met in the gold-medal game – in which they had a hand in all but one of the game’s goals as the Canadians edged the Russians 5-3.
The competition also produced exceptional performances from the top of next year’s draft class, highlighting its potential to be one of the strongest in recent years. Let’s examine some of the underagers that stood out in Frisco.
Matvei Michkov – Winger – Russia – 2023 eligible
7GP – 12G – 4A
Michkov capped off a record-breaking season in the MHL with an MVP performance at the U18s as an underager. In his first appearance in North America, the phenom gave the fans in Texas and those watching on television an unforgettable first impression.
The 16-year-old, who is eligible for the 2023 draft due to his late birthday, entered the tournament with lofty expectations and met every single one. Sure, he didn’t reach Alex Ovechkin’s record of 14 goals in a single tournament, but the 12 he did score were all reminiscent of his compatriot. He picked corners every game, scored at important times for Russia, and even mixed in a through-the-legs goal and a Michigan. Just like Ovie, he’s got the talent and the swagger.
Connor Bedard – Center – Canada – 2023 eligible
7 GP – 7G – 7A
Get used to seeing Bedard compared to Michkov, there are still two more seasons until they will be drafted, and potentially six until they are both in the NHL as Michkov has a contract with SKA St. Petersburg until 2025-26.
Just like Michkov, there was a lot of weight put on Bedard’s shoulders prior to the tournament. He smashed the record for points-per-game by an exceptional status player in the CHL, albeit in just 15 games against relatively weaker opponents. Thus, everyone pointed to Connor McDavid’s 14-point performance at the 2013 tournament as a 15-year-old as the measuring stick – coincidentally the last time Canada won gold.
The Vancouver native matched that record with a hat-trick in the semi-final and a one-goal, one assist outing in the gold medal game.
Bedard came as advertised in Frisco, demonstrating his game-breaking skill and elite shooting ability. What may have come as a surprise to those watching, was Team Canada coach Dave Barr’s reliance on the 15-year-old in all situations.
Perhaps no moment greater demonstrated Bedard’s professionalism than his goal in the final game against Russia. Visibly distraught on the bench after missing a penalty shot, he went out on the next shift and did this:
Shane Wright – Center – Canada – 2022 eligible
5GP – 9G – 5A
Poor Shane Wright. The only player on this list who didn’t play a competitive game this season, the 17-year-old was cut for likely the first time in his life at Canada’s 2021 World Junior camp. Then, despite putting up the second-best points-per-game in tournament history, he was left off the U18 World Championship all-star team.
Somehow, in the midst of the hype surrounding Michkov and Bedard, Wright flew under the radar in this tournament. Well, under the radar for his standards. There is a slim chance that he cares, however – Wright was still the heart of Team Canada. Goaltender Ben Gaudreau described him as “the best captain [he has] ever had,” and he received praise all tournament long for the way he carried himself and competed at both ends of the ice.
Sure, had he played those two extra group stage games he could’ve padded his stats and broke Ovechkin’s record for points by an underager – but make no mistake, Wright put on a show in Frisco and picked up what will no doubt be the first of many gold medals. All eyes will be back on him next season as the heavy favourite to go first overall in 2022.
Ivan Miroshnichenko – Russia – 2022 eligible
7GP – 6G – 2A
Michkov’s partner in crime at the 2020 Youth Olympic Games was a quiet but effective presence up until the semi-finals. Then, he scored the fifth and sixth goals for Russia as they defeated Finland 6-5, including this beauty:
Miroshnichenko picked up points throughout the tournament, operating on his off-hand from the half-wall on the powerplay, where he is so dominant. He showed his ability to create havoc, carrying around his pro-sized frame around the offensive zone with ease until he found the back of the net or a seam to a teammate.
Overall, it was a solid showing in Frisco for the Russian. He is a locked in first-rounder next year and should challenge for a top-five spot in the draft. It is still up in the air whether or not he will play with the Muskegon Lumberjacks of the USHL or remain with Omskie Yastreby in the MHL.
Danila Yurov – Center/Left Wing – Russia – 2022 eligible
7GP – 4G – 7A
The late 2003 birthday was dominant in the first five games of the tournament, scoring four times and picking up seven assists. Unfortunately, he remained off the scoresheet when it counted, but his exploits still deserve praise.
He starred at the U17’s last year as Russia won gold and scored at over a point-per-game pace in the MHL this season before scoring two goals and one assist in three KHL playoff games.
He is poised to join Metallurg Magnitogorsk on a full-time basis next year and will look to join Miroshnichenko in the first round.
Sergei Ivanov – Goaltender – Russia – 2022 eligible
6GP – 2.63 GAA – .913 S%
Ivanov entered the tournament expected to be the Red Machine’s third goaltender behind 2003-borns Kirill Gerasimyuk and Valeri Brinkman. However, he was thrown into the net after Gerasimyuk let in four goals on 14 shots in the first game against the USA and made the starting job his own.
After being named to the media’s all-star team, there will certainly be more scouts in the stands when Yurov plays next season. He is only five-foot-eleven, so he wasn’t on a lot of team’s radars prior to this tournament. However, he was the starter at the YOG as Russia won gold.
Although Yaroslav Askarov has the crease locked down for the 2022 World Juniors, Yurov can work his way into the starting job for 2023 should he continue his stellar international play.
Brad Lambert – Center/Winger – Finland – 2022 eligible
5GP – 0G – 5A
The Finnish-Canadian failed to make a huge impact in the tournament, getting outshone by the 2021 eligibles and often failing to create offense trying to do it all by himself. Although he ended up with five assists in five games, he looked better at the World Juniors in December.
This will likely make zero impact on his draft stock. His resume is still incredible and he will surely battle Canadian Matthew Savoie for the second pick behind Wright in next year’s draft.
Although they were without star players Luke Hughes and Chaz Lucius, it was still a disappointing outing for the Americans, considering how dominant they usually are at this level.
However, losing to the Swedes in the quarterfinal should prove a valuable learning experience for the seven 2004-born players the USA sent to the tournament.
Lane Hutson was the standout of the group, filling in for Hughes as the PP1 anchor, showing tremendous patience and an ability to unlock defenses with one move. He finished the tournament with five assists in five games and was on some all-star ballots.
Rutger McGroarty, the top American prospect since the star-studded 2019 class, didn’t impress in Frisco – but didn’t necessarily have a bad tournament. He played a responsible 200-foot game, just didn’t display the elite offensive tools that make him so highly touted. He, alongside the rest of this year’s U17s, will be back with a vengeance next year.
The 2021 IIHF World Championship was a tremendously entertaining tournament in a year in which so much of junior hockey has been plagued by delays and cancellations. It will go down in history as the formal introduction to three of the next great players – although it is arguably even harder to distinguish which of Bedard, Wright, and Mickov will turn out best.
The Comerica Center in Frisco, Texas was host to one of the greatest gatherings of talent in the history of junior hockey.
Only eight months until the World Juniors!