The 2021 IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship (WJC) is now complete with the Americans walking away with the gold after a 2-0 shutout of their rivals, the Canadians.
The World Juniors were once again an exciting showcase of future NHL talent, including many top prospects who will have their name called in July. So with the tournament now in the rearview mirror, let’s take a look at a few that took center stage and subsequently increased their stock going into the 2021 NHL Draft.
Matthew Beniers, Team USA
Of all the 2021 draft-eligible prospects in this year’s World Juniors, Matthew Beniers was by far the most impressive. In a tournament filled with 19-year-olds, he was noticeable in almost every game showing off his speed, two-way prowess, and exceptional motor. He did nothing but increase his stock going into this year’s draft, as some are now projecting him to go in the top-five, rather than somewhere in the top-ten.
As the tournament wore on, he was given more responsibility from head coach Nate Leaman as he saw time on both special teams and even in the final moments of crucial games. In fact, he was on the ice in the final minute of the semi-final game against the Finns as his team nursed a 4-3 lead. He finished the WJC with one goal and three points in eight games and a gold medal around his neck.
Sami Helenius, Team Finland
Sami Helenius wasn’t a high-minute man in this year’s WJC, but when he was on the ice, he was very effective. The 6-foot-6 forward displayed some high-end skill for Team Finland including a beauty against Team Slovakia when he blasted a powerful wrist shot past goaltender Samuel Hlavaj. He also had an assist in the bronze medal game and finished the tournament with two goals and four points.
Stanislav Svozil, Team Czech Republic
Despite being one of the lesser-known defensive prospects in this year’s draft pool, Stanislav Svozil had a very solid tournament. He only produced one assist in five games, but was one of Team Czech Republic’s most consistent defenders. He rushed the puck with confidence, used his high-end hockey IQ to create chances and did not get rattled when he had to face Goliath opponents in Russia, Canada and the United States.
When you dig deep into the advanced statistics, Svozil passed with flying colours, as he won 60 percent of his puck battles and finished the tournament with a 60 Corsi-for percentage (CF%). That’s very impressive, considering the teams he had to face. He also was not sheltered, as his average ice time hovered around 17 minutes per game.
Kirill Kirsanov, Team Russia
Team Russia had a disappointing finish to the 2021 WJC, but Kirill Kirsanov definitely did not. He was one of his team’s top defenders, even though he was not the flashiest. He played a quiet, efficient game on the backend and became one of head coach Igor Larionov’s most trusted defenders. By the end of the tournament, he was averaging over 20 minutes a night and even led his entire team in ice time with a staggering 26:51 in a 4-3 victory over Team Sweden in the round-robin.
Jesper Wallstedt, Team Sweden
Despite only getting into two games, Jesper Wallstedt still managed to impress everyone with his superb goaltending. He did allow four goals on 31 shots in a 4-3 overtime loss to Team Russia, but he looked confident in the crease and was a veteran presence, even though he was not a veteran. He was the goaltender of record when Team Sweden’s streak of 54 wins was broken, but he should not be blamed for that outcome.
Wallstedt showed tremendous poise in every minute he played and even demonstrated some puck playing prowess by completing 95 percent of his passes. He may not have had an all-star performance in this year’s WJC, but he will still be a highly-touted goaltender going into the 2021 draft.
Overagers That Impressed
On top of the players mentioned above, there were a few others that were passed over in previous drafts that had a strong showing at this year’s WJC. If they play their cards right in the coming months, they could have their name called on the draft floor after being passed over the first time through.
Leading the way from Team Germany was Florian Elias with four goals, five assists, and nine points in five games and was a dominant presence on the top line with Tim Stuetzle and JJ Peterka. He wasn’t just a passenger either, as he scored a few nice goals and was the perfect pivot for the two future NHLers. He also spent time on both special teams and averaged over 22 minutes of ice time for the never-say-die Germans.
Then there was Simon Latkoczy of Team Slovakia, who probably had the save of the tournament. He also held his own against the Americans with a 38-save effort and finished with a 2.61 goals against average (GAA) and .922 save percentage (SV%) in three games. On top of all that, he was deservedly named one of the top three players of the tournament along with teammates David Mudrak and Simon Nemec.
The WJC continues to be an excellent platform for many prospects to showcase their talents. However, it should not be the only source of information when evaluating them for the draft. That being said, it remains one of the most exciting events to watch every year and will continue to be a treasured tradition for many hockey fans around the world.