The 2021 World Junior Championship is set to take place in Edmonton, Alberta, from December 25th until January 5th. Similar to years past, top prospects prepare to represent their home countries with hopes of bringing home gold. This year’s World Juniors take place in a bubble with no fans and little media, unlike previous renditions. As is the case with everything involving the year 2020, uncertainty looms large. Expect some curveballs. At the same, expect great hockey from some of the most promising youth hockey can offer.
The Philadelphia Flyers have three prospects representing two countries in the 2021 World Junior Championship. All of them play for legitimate medal-contending teams, boasting tons of talent up and down the lineup. Of course, this is where most of Flyers fans’ attention should reside. Still, there is some draft-eligible worthy of your time as well.
Below, you will find everything you need in preparation for this year’s World Juniors.
2021 World Junior Championship – Teams to Watch
With just three players in the tournament, Team USA boasts the most Flyers prospects. Both defenseman Cam York and forward Bobby Brink are set for their second crack at World Juniors gold. Last year the United States fell short of expectations. This year, they have the firepower to contend.
In terms of skaters, Team USA’s strength lies with its forwards. The positional depth chart is flush with familiar names such as Cole Caufield, Alex Turcotte, Trevor Zegras, Matthew Boldy, Arthur Kaliyev, and Bobby Brink. On top of that, recently drafted top prospects Brendan Brisson and Sam Colangelo look to impact the team. From a 2021 NHL Draft lens, attention is on Matthew Beniers, who’s off to a great start with Michigan this season.
Philadelphia’s 2019 second-rounder, Brink, needs to bring his “A” game every night if he wants quality ice-time. Expect him somewhere in the middle-six to start the tournament with a place on one of the power-play units. Brink is a highly-skilled asset for the US. However, he is far from the only one that fits that category. Depth will only benefit the team. At the same time, it might prevent Brink from receiving consistent top-six minutes.
Defensively, the United States finds itself in a different circumstance entirely. A lack of depth exists, and Philadelphia’s 2019 first-round pick, Cam York, is positioned for a heavy workload. Expect him to play big minutes, man the top pair, and work on the powerplay. For York, this World Juniors will feel much different than last year’s. In 2020, he served mostly as a seventh defenseman. This time around, the United States looks at him as the number one guy on the blueline. Another name to watch on defense is the 2020 fifth-overall selection, Jake Sanderson. In his first World Juniors, expect Team USA to rely heavily on him.
The United States is always viewed as a team expected to compete for a medal. This year is no different. They have the firepower necessary up front to do so, and the goalie duo of Spencer Knight and Dustin Wolf should be fantastic. However, questions surround the depth on defense. This serves as a great opportunity to prove he can truly “the guy” on the back end.
Sweden is the other team of interest for Flyers fans. For most, this serves as their first real opportunity to see the 2020 second-round pick, Emil Andrae. Sweden possesses some strong talent on defense, making it challenging for Andrae to crack the top-four. Still, the team looks to involve him offensively as much as possible. Chances are he sees time on the power play, and Sweden takes advantage of his valuable skill-set.
Another area to keep your eye on, regarding Sweden, is in the net. 2021 draft-eligible Jesper Wallstedt is on display for the first time for the general hockey audience. He is the best goaltender of this draft class and most scouts place him somewhere in the top 15 of their rankings. Of course, the Flyers are not in the market for a goalie. Still, Wallstedt is a top-end talent everyone should watch out for.
Predicting realistic expectations for Sweden in this tournament is challenging. Due to the pandemic, they lost some of their key players, likely keeping them out of gold medal contention. At the same time, they are still very much in the running for bronze or silver.
To be clear, no Flyers prospects inhabit Canada’s roster. That does not mean this team should be ignored. If you are a prospect person, Canada’s World Junior teams are always a treat. This version is no different. Every position on this roster is loaded with high-end talent. Of course, a real possibility exists that they bring home gold for the second consecutive year.
Similar to Canada, there are no Flyers on Russia’s team. Still, this team is always fascinating to follow. Always stocked to the brim with talent, Russia always struggles to reach the top. This year, Russia brings another highly-skilled to the World Juniors, including goalie sensation Yaroslav Askarov. Whether results are different this time is still to be determined.
Storylines to Follow
This really goes without say. As is the case with almost everything in 2020, Covid-19 has already affected the World Junior Championships. From how the tournament is held to who is participating, things will look different. Although there is hope for “normalcy” in the bubble, always prepare for something to change due to these unexpected times.
Dark Horses Making Noise
Every year, there are always safe bets when predicting countries that will win a medal at the World Juniors. Canada, the United States, Russia, Sweden, and Finland always find themselves in contention. However, do not count out some of the other participating countries. Especially in a year as upside-down as this one, there is always one team that causes a little chaos and disrupts things at the top. Keep a close eye on the Czech Republic as they are quietly poised to make a little noise.
Flyers Prospects Impact
The three Flyers prospects participating in the World Juniors are some of the farm system’s best. Yes, playing in the international showcase is an accomplishment all on its own. However, it is all about the impact Brink, York, and Andrae provide their respective teams. Especially in York and Brink’s case, expectations are for them to consistently factor in their team’s success. The more they make their mark, the easier it is to project them as needle movers at the next level.
The World Junior Championship is always one of the best annual events in hockey. It occurs at a perfect time of year and provides fans with a fix during a generally quiet time in the sport (even without a pandemic). For Flyers fans, this year’s installment provides a real opportunity to catch three incredibly intriguing prospects in the system. Additionally, it gives people a glance at the future of the game. By the look of the talent representing all of the ten countries, that future is promising.
Photo by Dan Hamilton/Icon Sportswire