The 2021 World Junior Championship is in the books and the tournament will be remembered for many different reasons. Hopefully, this is the one and only WJC played inside a bubble with empty seats, but fans will recall this tournament because of Team Canada’s dominance until they ran into the United States for the gold medal. Today, we look at the bright future that was on display for a pair of Pacific Division rivals and the Florida Panthers.
Ducks, Kings Rivalry About to Pick Up
Tuesday night’s gold medal game between the United States and Canada was another great chapter in the rivalry between the bordering nations. It also served as a sneak peek of just how good a rivalry in the NHL might be in the next couple of years.
The Pacific Division’s Freeway Face-Off, the rivalry between the Anaheim Ducks and Los Angeles Kings, is about to have the heat turned up. Last night’s game featured a total of nine players drafted by the two Southern California teams. The Ducks were represented by Sam Colangelo (USA), Jamie Drysdale (CAN), Jackson LaCombe (USA), Henry Thrun (USA) and Trevor Zegras (USA). Meanwhile, the Kings had recent draft picks Quinton Byfield (CAN), Brock Faber (USA), Arthur Kaliyev (LAK) and Alex Turcotte (LAK) on the ice.
Future rivals Turcotte and Zegras were the offensive heroes as Team USA pulled off the upset to take home the gold. Just past the midway point of the first period, Turcotte scored the opening goal of the game off of a redirection.
The goal came after the United States had the puck within the Canadian zone for over a minute. It was the first allowed all tournament long at 5-vs-5 by Canada as they found themselves trailing on the scoreboard for the first time. Turcotte said this was “by far the biggest goal I’ve ever scored in my life.”
Zegras doubled the lead just 32 seconds into the middle frame to conclude the scoring on the night.
The ninth overall pick of the 2019 NHL Entry Draft started the day with some pregame comments that caused quite the stir on social media. But when you have played as well as Zegras has, you have every right to feel confident. He talked the talked and then walked the walk.
He finished the tournament with 18 points, one shy of the American record set by Doug Weight in 1991. Zegras has 27 points in his two WJC appearances, tying Jordan Schroeder for the most USA Hockey history. Schroeder scored his 27 points over the course of three tournaments. The Ducks prospect was named the 2021 Most Valuable Player for winning the scoring title with seven goals and 11 assists in seven games. He was also the only American player named to the All-Star team.
Thing are surely looking up for the Ducks and Kings after some recent struggles. All NHL fans cannot wait to these exciting young players make their way into the league over the next couple of years.
Panthers Future is Looking Awfully Bright
The Panthers sent five prospects to the World Junior Championship and four of them will return home with a medal around their necks. Both goaltenders in the gold medal game, Devon Levi and Spencer Knight, are recent draft picks of the team. Anton Lundell and Kasper Puutio each captured the bronze medal with Finland.
Florida appears to be set in goal for the foreseeable future. Levi was named the Best Goaltender of the tournament. He won six games with a .964 save percentage (SV%), 0.75 goals-against average (GAA) and three shutouts.
After a shaky start in an opening game loss to Russia, Knight bounced back to lead the United States to gold. He won five games while posting a .939 SV% and 1.63 GAA with three shutouts. While the Panthers wait for these two promising young netminders to develop, they have Sergei Bobrovsky locked up for the next six seasons. Not too shabby.
Their 2020 first-round draft pick, Lundell, had himself quite the tournament while earning a bronze medal. The knock on him heading into the draft was his low ceiling when it comes to providing offense. He has done nothing but silence those critics all season long.
After falling behind 1-0 to Russia on Tuesday, Lundell evened up the score by fighting his way to the front of the net for a nice redirect.
He added an empty-net goal in the final moments of the game to seal the victory of Finland. Lundell finished the tournament with six goals and 10 points, tying Tim Stutzle for third in scoring. He was named to the All-Star team, along with teammate and defenseman Ville Heinola. Add this to the 12 goals and 20 points he has for HIFK in 17 Liiga games and you can say he isn’t too worried about his “low offensive upside.”