Final rosters have been announced for the 2021 World Junior Championship (WJC) scheduled for Dec. 25 through Jan. 5 at Rogers Place in Edmonton. The tournament will be held without fans in a bubble environment, similar to what the NHL used for the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The Los Angeles Kings topped the league for the second-straight year with nine prospects selected to tournament rosters. The Carolina Hurricanes had four representatives — tied for ninth-most — selected to various lineups around the world. Here is a look at all four and what they bring to the table for their respective teams.
Ryan Suzuki – Canada
A month ago, Ryan Suzuki appeared to be a long shot at making the Canadian team laden with talent from top to bottom, but the 19-year-old impressed in camp and weathered numerous rounds of cuts to make the final lineup.
Suzuki was selected 28th overall in the 2019 NHL Draft by the Hurricanes for his excellent vision and passing skills. He’s known for being very deceptive with the puck and a smooth skater on the ice.
The London, Ontario, native has good international experience representing Canada at the 2019 IIHF Under-18 World Championship and registered 177 points in 173 games in his first three seasons in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL).
In November 2019, while playing for the Barrie Colts in the OHL, Suzuki sustained a severe eye injury after being hit with a high stick that left him with 20/100 vision in one eye. The young prospect missed seven weeks to recover and was moved by the Colts to the Saginaw Spirit at the trade deadline. After the move in his return to play, Suzuki scored 13 goals and tallied 35 points in the final 23 games of the 2019-20 OHL season.
Suzuki is expected to make an immediate difference on the talented Team Canada squad alongside Spirits linemate, and 10th-overall pick by the Winnipeg Jets, Cole Perfetti.
Vasili Ponomaryov – Russia
There were many surprising selections to the WJC rosters this year, but Vasili Ponomaryov was not one of them. The 18-year-old Russian boasts great international success on his resume, representing his home country at the 2018 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge, where he led Russia to the gold medal with eight points (four goals, four assists) in six games. The Zelenograd, Russia, native also won gold in 2019 with six points in five Hlinka Gretzky Cup games.
At 17 years old, Ponomaryov registered a career-high 49 points in 57 games with the Shawinigan Cataractes of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL). So far in the 2020-21 season, he has nine points (five goals, four assists) in nine games. The Hurricanes selected Ponomaryov in the second round, 53rd overall, in the 2020 NHL Draft. He is a steady shooter who is expected to continue his success into the new year for Team Russia.
Noel Gunler – Sweden
Noel Gunler was one of two Hurricanes prospects to crack the roster for Team Sweden this year. He possesses solid international experience playing in various global tournaments, including the World U-17 Hockey Challenge in 2017.
The 19-year-old winger currently splits time between Luleå HF and Brynäs IF of the Swedish Hockey League, posting a combined six points through 18 games so far in the 2020-21 season. In 2018-19, he logged 46 total points in 31 games in the J20 SuperElit, Sweden’s top junior league. Carolina selected Gunler with the 41st-overall pick for his impressive skating ability and playmaking that will surely be on display at the 2021 WJC.
Zion Nybeck – Sweden
Zion Nybeck is the second Hurricanes’ prospect to make the Team Sweden lineup. The 5-foot-8 forward has spent this year between the Swedish Hockey League and the J20 league, tallying 10 points in 22 total games. The young winger is no stranger to the international stage after helping Sweden win its first-ever gold at the 2019 Under-18 World Championship, logging five points in seven games.
Nybeck was selected by the Hurricanes in the fourth round of the 2020 Draft and is known for his unique patience with the puck and his next-level shot placement. In 2019-20, he registered 66 points (27 goals, 39 assists) in 42 games with HV71’s junior team, leading the SuperElit in points and setting the league record for assists and points by a player younger than 18 years old.
Both he and Gunler are competing in the tournament for the first time, and Nybeck will be eligible to play in next year’s tournament as well.
Though four prospects is an impressive feat for the Hurricanes organization, there were some prospects surprisingly left off the final roster.
Forward Jamieson Rees was a noteworthy cut from the Team Canada roster after he impressed at camp scrimmages and averaged nearly two points per game for the Sarnia Sting of the OHL this past season. But Carolina’s Seth Jarvis was perhaps the biggest surprise. The forward taken 13th overall in 2020 was thought to be a shoo-in after he tallied an impressive 98 points (42 goals and 56 assists) in 58 Western Hockey League games. He had made the cut for the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge and 2020 Hlinka Gretzky Cup, but both he and Rees were cut in the final rounds of the roster decisions for the 2021 WJC.
With the rosters set and play beginning in a little over a week, teams will start traveling to Edmonton soon if they haven’t already. The 10 teams will be split into two groups for the preliminary round, with Team Canada looking to defend its championship. Every team will rely on playmakers to advance, and good hockey is a certainty as prospects around the world will have the stage to themselves to showcase why they should be allowed to take the next step into the big leagues.
Covering the Hurricanes for THW. University of Florida alum. Former sportswriter with The Alligator, ESPN Gainesville and Drafttek.