A crazy year ends in a little over a month, and a new year brings new hockey. The NHL is still adamant that the 2020-21 season will begin on Jan. 1, but international play will start before then.
The 2021 International Ice Hockey Federation World Junior Championship is scheduled to begin Dec. 25, 2020, through Jan. 5, 2021. Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the tournament will be played without fans in a single location in Edmonton, Alberta. And unlike in previous years where the roster limit is 23, including three goalies, this year’s team will have two extra skater spots for a full 25, leaving the door open to more prospects to display their skill on a global scale.
The Carolina Hurricanes had five prospects compete in the tournament last year, the third-most of any NHL team. But with their ever-growing prospect pool, they could have an even bigger turnout for 2021.
The most notable Carolina prospect in the Canadian camp this year is the 13th-overall pick, Seth Jarvis. The young winger impressed in his second full season in the Western Hockey League with a staggering 98 points (42 goals and 56 assists) in 58 games. The forward was given team MVP and finished runner-up for the Bob Clarke Trophy for top scorer in the league. He is a logical choice to crack the final roster thanks to his international competition experience at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge and the 2020 Hlinka Gretzky Cup.
Other prospects in contention for roster spots are forwards Jamieson Rees and Ryan Suzuki. Both players entered camp as longshots, battling other dark horses for the last remaining openings. Rees has made a case to be kept around on a roster that includes six players who helped Canada win gold in 2020. The 19-year-old centerman finished last season in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) with a career-high 61 points in 39 games and netted two goals in an intrasquad scrimmage held a week ago.
Suzuki has also done well with his time in camp. The young center has had some bad injury luck, including a lingering left eye injury after a high stick over a year ago. Still, he has battled hard, scoring in the scrimmage last week. Though it seems he hasn’t made as much noise as other bubble players as of right now. Plenty of time remains, though, before final rosters are announced in late December.
Center Vasili Ponomaryov, Carolina’s 53rd-overall pick in the 2020 NHL Draft, appears to be the front runner of Carolina’s prospects to make the team on a talented Russian squad. The Zelenograd, Russia, native totaled 49 points in 57 games with the Shawinigan Cataractes of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League in 2019-20 and won gold for Team Russia at the 2019 Hlinka Gretzky Cup, scoring twice. He’s expected to be a dynamic goal scorer at the next level with an impressive motor and two-way ability.
Alexander Pashin was a surprise omission from the team’s preliminary roster this year. The 18-year-old averaged over a point per game in Russia’s Minor Hockey League during the 2019-20 season and was considered the steal of the draft when the Hurricanes took him in the final round in 2020. He still has time before he ages out to crack the roster and prove he belongs with the best.
The Hurricanes prospect pool has representatives in the States as well. Defenseman Domenick Fensore, a 2019 third-round pick, is one of the fastest players in his age group and is considered a great offensive defenseman after totaling 42 points in 55 games with the U.S. National Under-18 team in 2018-19 and had 16 points in 34 games with Boston University last year. However, at 5-foot-7, he still needs to distinguish himself more from players with more size.
Teams Sweden and Finland
Another 2020 draft pick continues to jostle for a spot in Scandinavia. Winger Noel Gunler, drafted 41st overall, has the ability to make the final cut for Team Sweden with his excellent instincts and a powerful shot that makes him dangerous on the offensive end. However, nothing is certain on an incredibly skillful Sweden squad.
In Finland, Patrik Puistola is another talented forward, hopeful of making the final roster. Puistola was selected in the third round in 2019 by Carolina after he impressed in Finland’s junior league and second-tier pro league. He is a tricky left-handed shot and is considered a pure goal scorer.
Despite an unusual calendar year, and with the NHL season still in some doubt, Hurricanes fans should be relieved to have some hockey to look forward to in December. The World Junior Championship will provide a nice occasion to sit, watch prospects play and fantasize about their team’s future success. Until then, prospects around the world will continue to try and catch the eye of scouts and coaches hoping to get the next big opportunity.