It’s always disappointing when a nation’s best players aren’t able to compete at the World Juniors. This year, Germany will be without Tim Stützle, who will remain with the Ottawa Senators, as well as John Peterka and Lukas Reichel, who are excelling in the AHL this season. All three are eligible to compete, and many expected them – or, at least, two of them – to anchor Germany’s top line in 2022 after they were some of the most exciting players on the ice in 2021.
However, when one player leaves, another has to come in and take his place. After assuming the German top-six was all but a lock, competition is wide open this year, giving several players opportunities to thrive that never would have otherwise. Once again, this will be a team to watch as they go up against historically tougher teams like Canada, the Czech Republic, and Finland in Pool A, but it will also be interesting to see if any of their talented 19-year-olds can catch the eyes of the international hockey community.
It was a given that Stützle would lead the Germans in points in 2021 or at the very least come in second to Peterka; the pair had just been selected in the top half of the NHL draft, 3rd and 34th overall respectively and had already shown their incredible chemistry and skill at the 2020 World Juniors. But, what wasn’t expected was how well Florian Elias would mesh with the two stars, becoming one of Germany’s top players at the tournament. In five games, the 5-foot-8 speedster put up an incredible four goals and nine points, just one shy of his two linemates and higher than Canada’s Connor McMichael, the United States’ Alex Turcotte, and Russia’s Rodion Amirov.
This year, Elias returns alone and will be responsible for anchoring the top line. While there is debate whether he will excel without Stützle or Peterka, there’s no question he’s a special junior talent and that Germany has fully placed their trust in him. Last season while playing with the Adler Mannheim in the Deutsche Eishockey Liga (DEL), he won the Rookie of the Year award after playing 34 games and scoring eight points, an impressive pace for an 18-year-old in the league. He hasn’t slowed down, either, scoring an incredible five goals in three games at the 2021 4 Nations Tournament in Lillehammer this year. It was therefore an easy choice to give him the ‘C’ as the team’s captain. He’s intelligent, creative, and hard-working, making him Germany’s best offensive weapon against a very tough Pool A.
Despite Elias’ skill, he’ll still need to get some support from his teammates; a single star cannot propel his team to greatness. Fans saw that scenario happen last year with Marco Rossi and the Austrians – the Ontario Hockey League’s top scorer was held pointless in four games as the Austrians were tossed aside. Thankfully, the Germans know what they’re getting into as they’ll be bringing several returning players, including Joshua Samenski, Markus Schweiger, and Jakub Borzecki, who was under quarantine for the entire 2021 tournament. However, their best option to put on the top line may be newcomer Alexander Blank.
Related: 2022 Guide to the World Juniors
Blank is a bit of an unknown outside of Germany and arguably a bit of a late-bloomer. Prior to last season, he had never been selected to a German national team. But in 2020-21, something clicked, and he’s been on fire ever since. After spending most of his early career in Austria and then in the lower tiers of Germany, he made his DEL debut with the Krefeld Pinguine and put up an impressive six goals and 13 points in 36 games. His pace of 0.36 points per game may not seem all that high, but it’s one of the best seasons ever recorded by an 18-year-old in the league.
It was no surprise that Blank was nominated for the 2021 DEL Rookie of the Year award, and though he lost out to Elias, it hasn’t slowed him down one bit. He’s been unquestionably the best U-20 player in Germany’s top league this year with 10 points in 28 games, doubling the player in second place. He doesn’t have much international experience, but with how he’s doing this year, he’s a dark horse to put up some big numbers at the World Juniors.
When the Edmonton Oilers selected Luca Münzenberger in the third round last year, there were more than a few eyebrows raised. The 6-foot-2 defender was barely ranked by any major sources, leading many scouts to view him as a late-round pick, and yet the Oilers grabbed him 90th overall. His stats weren’t all that inspiring, either; he played just six games in the DEL U20 league, putting up a goal and two assists. The season before, he had 18 points in 33 games.
However, the Oilers saw something special in the German teenager, and now much of the world is seeing it, too. Münzenberger made the decision to join the University of Vermont for the 2021-22 season, taking the huge leap and leaving his home country to play in North America. As a freshman, he’s demonstrated some incredible defensive instincts and tenacity when it comes to shutting down opponents. Vermont head coach Todd Woodcraft called his game “ultra-competitive”, while others have described him as a bit of a throwback defender thanks to his mean and physical style.
While Münzenberger won’t wow you with his offensive prowess, he’s far from a slouch with the puck. As a freshman with the University of Vermont this season, he’s put up two assists in 15 games, which puts him at the same pace as fellow freshman Tristan Broz, a 2021 second-round pick of the Pittsburgh Penguins, who has just two assists with the University of Minnesota after scoring 51 points in 54 games in the United States Hockey League in 2020-21. The German has a great shot, great mobility and agility, and can play effectively on both the power play and penalty kill. He’ll be a leader for Germany this year, giving them stability on the blueline like Moritz Seider or Christian Ehrhoff before him.
The Germans don’t have the same star power as last year but that doesn’t mean they’ll be pushovers. Once again, their roster is packed full of players who regularly play in top professional leagues across Europe, giving them what it takes to handle powerhouses like Canada and Finland. Plus, they have nine players returning to Edmonton after helping the team accomplish their best tournament finish in 2021. They’ll still need to get a bit lucky to improve on their 6th place finish from last year but with talents like Elias, Blank, and Münzenberger, they’ll have the right pieces in place to make an impact at the World Juniors.
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An elementary teacher by day and an avid hockey fan, Dayton joined The Hockey Writers in 2019 and currently covers the Ottawa Senators, World Juniors, and NHL Entry Draft.