The final day of group play at the World Junior Championship will be vital for some, significant for most, and an opportunity at a final tune-up for a chosen few. The United States and Kazakhstan are both set at their final point totals (eight and zero, respectively), while the other eight teams will fight on Monday to determine final seeding and to avoid relegation.
Sweden vs. Slovakia (9:00 AM)
With a win here, Sweden will finish with the highest point total of the group stage, carrying four wins (one in overtime) for 11 points. Samuel Fagemo (Los Angeles Kings) and Nils Höglander (Vancouver Canucks) have led the offense with six points apiece, and Toronto Maple Leafs defensive prospect Rasmus Sandin turned heads on Monday with two assists.
Slovakia enters off a drubbing at the hands of Switzerland, a game that never should have gotten as out of hand as it did. While Switzerland was the arguable favorite coming in, a 7-2 loss was certainly unacceptable for the Slovaks, especially so close to home.
Still, Slovakia is safe from relegation with Kazakhstan’s four-loss performance, so this game can provide each team a chance to sharpen themselves before the final tournament.
Robert Dzugan has led the Slovakian team on offense with three goals. But with a weak output of scoring, they must have better goaltending. If they’re going to overcome the heavy favorite Sweden, they need one of their netminders to step up to the challenge.
Players to Watch: Rasmus Sandin D [TOR], Samuel Fagemo F [LAK]; Robert Dzugan F, Samuel Hlavaj G (SVK)
Russia vs. Germany (9:00 AM)
At the beginning of this tournament, no one likely expected this game to carry a ticket to the relegation game as its stakes, but here we are. Assuming the game concludes in regulation, one team will advance to the tournament and the other will face Kazakhstan in a two-game relegation faceoff. That threat is no surprise for Germany, the newest team in this year’s tournament, but for Russia, even the possibility will come as a huge shock.
German captain and Detroit Red Wings prospect Moritz Seider had his best game of the tournament so far in a 4-1 loss to Canada on Monday, winning player of the game honors in the process. He has four assists through three games and will look to create goals once again to generate the huge upset against Russia.
The Russians will face a difficult decision between the pipes. Yaroslav Askarov is a phenomenal goaltending prospect but has struggled so far in this tournament. Amir Miftakhov doesn’t have the bona fides on paper to earn a start off of a rest day, but he did pitch the shutout against Canada and has been phenomenal in his appearances.
Still, the Russians will need Askarov hot if they want to thrive in the tournament going forward, so expect him to get the start. Look for Nikita Alexandrov (St. Louis Blues) to remain hot as well. He’s leading the Russian team in more ways than one: in scoring, with four points, and in physicality, as he delivered a massive hit to American forward Bobby Brink in front of his team’s bench on Sunday.
Russia will enter this game as favorites, but do not write the Germans out. They’ve played a strong tournament, despite their place in the standings, and will be hungry to score the big upset here.
Players to Watch: Moritz Seider D [DET] (GER), Yaroslav Askaraov G, Nikita Alexandrov F [STL] (RUS)
Finland vs. Switzerland (1:00 PM)
But for an overtime loss to rival Sweden in the opening game, Finland has had a very impressive tournament. They’ve won their last two games by a combined score of 15-2, and enter this matchup against Switzerland on a day of rest to boot.
Patrik Puistola (Carolina Hurricanes) is tied for second in the tournament with seven points, and Kristian Tanus, a 2020 prospect, is in the group that trails him at six. They’ve also received strong goaltending from both Justus Annunen (Colorado Avalanche) and Kari Piiroinen.
Even with the big win over Slovakia, there isn’t a clear path to victory for Switzerland here. Matthew Verboon and Valentin Nussbaumer (Arizona Coyotes) are both tied with Tanus at six points, so they’ll be the hot hands leading the offense. But short of a goaltending miracle, Finland could roll to another big victory, and look like a serious threat to win their fourth gold medal since 2014.
Players to Watch: Patrik Puistola F [CAR], Kristian Tanus F (FIN); Matthew Verboon F, Valentin Nussbaumer F [ARI] (SUI)
Canada vs. Czech Republic (1:00 PM)
Czech Republic: Roster
Thanks to the 6-0 defeat they suffered at Russia’s hands, Canada’s tournament seems worse than it really is. In truth, a win here will win them Group B and put them in the driver’s seat for the tournament, but it won’t come easily.
The Czech Republic is hosting this year’s tournament, and they look determined to make it count, as they’ve been a nightmare in all three games they’ve played. They took the United States to overtime on Monday, battling back late to tie it. Libor Zabransky of the Moose Jaw Warriors scored the opening two goals of the contest.
Unfortunately, Coyotes prospect Jan Jenik, who had been having a tremendous tournament, suffered what looked to be a devastating knee injury in this matchup and will likely be out of action for the remainder of their games.
The Canadians will be the heavy favorites here despite still missing Alexis Lafrenière. Joel Hofer won player of the game honors with a near shutout against Germany, and one wonders if that will earn him the starting job during tournament play. If so, they will likely rest him for this final group stage matchup.
Canada is still waiting for high-profile prospects like Joe Veleno (Red Wings) and Quinton Byfield (2020 Draft Eligible) to step up and contribute offensively. Fourth overall pick Bowen Byram (Avalanche) has remained remarkably quiet, too. If that group of players gets going, Canada still remains a serious threat for gold in this year’s tournament, particularly if Lafrenière is able to return.
Players to Watch: Libor Zabransky D (CZE); Quinton Byfield F, Bowen Byram D [COL] (CAN)
Day 6 Summary
While seeding is somewhat important in the WJC, top contenders like Finland, Sweden, and Canada will use Day 6 as a prep day for the elimination tournament ahead. Don’t expect to see overworked goalies in action, and look for coaches to try and finalize the lines they want to hang their medal hopes on.
The most hotly-contested game should be the matchup between Russia and Germany, as the winner of that will avoid the relegation threat entirely. Each of Tuesday’s games has an obvious favorite on paper, but the 2020 WJC has been anything but predictable so far.
Stephen Ground is an author with The Hockey Writers and is co-host of the Two Guys No Cup Podcast. He enjoys studying the numbers and providing fresh looks at various stories.