2021 World Junior Championship: 10 NHL prospects to watch in the international showcase

The 2021 IIHF World Junior Championship is set to get underway in Edmonton this week and it should be a bit of a different experience given the protocols surrounding COVID-19. But, as always, the international tournament will act as a showcase for some of the best U-20 hockey prospects in the world — including some future NHL stars who have already been drafted.

Let’s highlight a dozen of the most notable prospects who will be looking to make a splash as they work toward the NHL. 

Trevor Zegras, F, USA (Anaheim Ducks)

Though the Americans had a disappointing tournament last year, Trevor Zegras was one of the few standouts. He showcased his superb vision, tallying nine assists in five games for Team USA. He should be a key facilitator for the offensive unit once again this year.

Zegras, 19, was taken ninth overall by the Ducks in the 2019 NHL Draft and should be on his way to the NHL soon.

Cole Caufield, F, USA (Montreal Canadiens)

Caufield was part of USA’s disappointing squad last year and he may have been the most disappointing performer of all. He had just a goal and an assist in five games for the Americans in the 2020 tournament, though his use and deployment was questionable. This year, he should have more of an opportunity to make a major impact for Team USA.

Caufield, a University of Wisconsin star and 2019 first-round pick of the Canadiens, is one of the best pure goal scorers in the tournament. If he can find that scoring touch this time around, the Americans should have more success.

Spencer Knight, G, USA (Florida Panthers)

How far the Americans go this year may very well hinge on how well Spencer Knight plays between the pipes. The 19-year-old is one of the best goaltenders in the tournament and will be looking to improve upon a 2019 WJC in which he started four games and finished with a .913 save percentage. 

Knight, who was taken 13th overall by the Panthers in 2019, has had an incredible start to his sophomore season at Boston College and will look to ride that momentum as USA’s last line of defense at the WJC.

Quinton Byfield, F, Canada (Los Angeles Kings)

Byfield was the second overall pick in this year’s NHL Draft and is probably the most hyped player on an absolutely stacked Canadian roster. Byfield brings a great mix of size, skill and speed and should be one of the most dangerous and explosive offensive weapons in a Canadian uniform.

This is Byfield’s second WJC, as he was part of Canada’s gold-medal winning roster last year but had a minimal impact in a depth role — recording just one point in seven games played.

Kirby Dach, F, Canada (Chicago Blackhawks)

Dach is the only player on this list that already has NHL experience. With the delayed start to the NHL season, Dach has the opportunity to play in his first WJC and captain Team Canada before joining the Blackhawks for training camp. 

Dach, 19, showcased moments of greatness in his rookie season with Chicago, though he only tallied eight goals and 23 points through 64 games. (He added six points in Chicago’s nine playoff games.) He has great hands, incredible vision and passing ability — especially for a player of his size (6-foot-4, 196 lbs.). He should be able to do plenty of damage up front for the Canadians.

Bowen Byram, D, Canada (Colorado Avalanche)

Byram is an elite talent on the blue line and is confident, intelligent and skilled in all three zones. He’s a great passer and should have a prominent role in facilitating Canada’s high-powered offense in this tournament. 

Byram was the fourth overall pick in the 2019 NHL Draft and was part of Canada’s gold medal team at the WJC last year, tallying two points in seven game. His production should see a massive bump with an increased role this time around.

Lucas Raymond, F, Sweden (Detroit Red Wings)

Raymond went to the Red Wings with the fourth overall pick in last year’s draft. Though he wasn’t the prize they were hoping for after a historically bad season, Raymond is still a very promising player with tons of upside. He’s a well-rounded playmaker with excellent vision and hockey IQ and he should be a 200-foot difference-maker for the Swedes this year. 

This will be his second go at the WJC, as he had two goals and two assists in seven games for Sweden last year.

Alexander Holtz, F, Sweden (New Jersey Devils)

Alongside Raymond will be another promising offensive prospect in Holtz, who went seventh overall to the Devils in this year’s draft. Holtz has a variety of tools and skills to complement his wicked shot, but he’s primarily seen as a pure sniper who is a threat to score from anywhere in the offensive zone. 

Philip Broberg, D, Sweden (Edmonton Oilers)

This will be Broberg’s third go at the World Juniors. Though he’s had limited success on the scoresheet so far (two points in 11 WJC games played) he’s expected to be an integral piece for the Swedes on the back end. The 19-year-old is a fantastic skater who has an ability to close gaps, de-possess attackers and quickly push play the other way. 

He was taken by the Oilers with the eighth overall pick in the 2019 draft.

Tim Stutzle, F, Germany (Ottawa Senators)

The third overall pick in this year’s NHL Draft, Stutzle is a talented offensive playmaker who should be the centerpiece of the German squad. He’s a great skater with an excellent all-around offensive skillset, and he’s found success at the WJC stage before. In five games for Germany last year, Stutzle had five assists. 

Shakir Mukhamadullin, D, Russia (New Jersey Devils)

Mukhamadullin, 18, went 20th overall to the Devils in this year’s draft. He’s a big defenseman (listed between 6-foot-2 and 6-foot-4) who can skate well and isn’t afraid to unleash his booming shot. He has been able to use his size to overpower attacking opponents, even when playing against older competition in the KHL. He should be a strong, intimidating presence on Russia’s blue line in his first WJC tournament.

Yaroslav Askarov, G, Russia (Nashville Predators) 

Askarov is arguably the best goalie in the tournament and will be a massive key for the Russians as they hope to have another strong tournament this year. Askarov started five games for last year’s silver medal-winning Russia squad, recording a .877 save percentage. 

He was taken 11th overall by the Predators in this year’s draft..


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