Top NHL prospects, top WJC performers
by Lucas Aykroyd|04 JAN 2021
While many of the top NHL prospects at the 2021 World Juniors play for Team Canada, nations like Russia, Sweden, and the U.S. are also well-represented.
photo: Andrea Cardin / HHOF-IIHF Images

With the NHL season set to kick off on 13 January, fans are eagerly monitoring 2021 World Junior rosters, wondering which drafted players could make an impact in the future – or even this season.

We went through all 31 teams and picked one player drafted by each club who has shone in Edmonton over the holidays. Let’s take a look.

Anaheim Ducks: Trevor Zegras (#9 overall, first round, 2019)

The 19-year-old American leads the World Juniors in scoring (6+9=15) and has shown superb goal-scoring and playmaking skills from Day One. He’s played the wing under coach Nate Leaman, which buoys his chances of cracking the Ducks, who have Ryan Getzlaf, Adam Henrique, and Sam Steel down the middle.

Arizona Coyotes: Victor Soderstrom (#11 overall, first round, 2019)

Even though the heady Swedish blueliner flubbed a penalty shot versus the U.S. on New Year’s Eve and his team crashed out against the Finns in the quarter-finals, Soderstrom could be ready to make the leap to the NHL at 19. He led the Juniorkronorna in average ice time (23:28) and tied for the team scoring lead with five points (0+5=5).

Boston Bruins: Roman Bychkov (#154 overall, fifth round, 2019)

Frequently paired with the towering Yan Kuznetsov, Bychkov has had a solid tournament for coach Igor Larionov’s Russian team. All three of the Buran Voronezh defenceman’s assists came in a 7-1 romp over Austria.

Buffalo Sabres: Dylan Cozens (#7 overall, first round, 2019)

Cozens, a co-captain for Canada, has provided fantastic two-way play and leadership on and off the ice. Buffalo’s top prospect leads the tournament in goals (7+6=13) and is second in points to Zegras. Like Zegras, he might best be eased into the NHL on the wing.

Calgary Flames: Jakob Pelletier (#26 overall, first round, 2019)

Sixth in scoring for Canada (3+2=5), Pelletier took the shot that deflected in off Dylan Holloway for the eventual winner against Finland. He’s a complete, high-energy player, who will get a good look at training camp and maybe a taste of NHL action this year.

Carolina Hurricanes: Vasili Ponomaryov (#53 overall, second round, 2020)

Another Canes pick, Sweden’s Noel Gunler (4+1=5) also had a strong WJC, but Ponomaryov (3+0=3) has stood out with his great hands and big-game presence. The 18-year-old Muscovite scored twice in the 5-3 win over the U.S. and added a spectacular shorthanded breakaway goal in the 2-1 quarter-final win over Germany. Could use a couple more years of seasoning.

Chicago Blackhawks: Landon Slaggert (#79 overall, third round, 2020)

Slaggert has had a workmanlike tournament as a bottom-six forward, averaging 12:38 per game. The physical 18-year-old  American erred with his checking-to-the-head penalty in the 5-2 quarter-final victory over Slovakia. He escaped punishment for a high hit on Russian captain Vasili Podkolzin in the opener.

Colorado Avalanche: Bowen Byram (#4 overall, first round, 2019)

A fluid skater with superb on-ice vision, Byram has excelled in all three zones as Canada’s co-captain. Avs fans, already spoiled by Cale Makar’s rookie season, are in for a treat with the former Vancouver Giant. Coach Jared Bednar has enough blue line depth to not rush Byram.

Columbus Blue Jackets: Samuel Knazko (#78 overall, third round, 2020)

With Russia’s Yegor Chinakhov injured for the better part of three games, Jackets fans shifted their focus to Knazko, the Slovak captain. On an eighth-place team that relied on short shifts, the 18-year-old defenceman played respectably, leading Slovakia with 18:25 in ice time. He missed one game due to injury, the 6-0 round-robin loss to Finland, and his absence was felt.

Dallas Stars: Thomas Harley (#18 overall, first round, 2019)

Plus-minus isn’t everything, but Harley’s +10 rating – tied with Dylan Cozens for third-best at these World Juniors – is a nice reflection of his effectiveness on Canada’s shutdown pairing with Braden Schneider. Harley, who spent weeks in the bubble during Dallas’s 2020 run to the final, looks ready for at least a cup of coffee in the big league this year.
Detroit Red Wings: Lucas Raymond (#4 overall, first round, 2020)

With due respect to the towering Elmer Soderblom, Raymond (2+3=5) was, as expected, the best of Detroit’s five Swedes here. Granted, the talented Frolunda winger generated more chances than he converted – his 25 shots are second only to partner-in-crime Alexander Holtz’s 26. But Raymond shone with a goal and an assist against Finland, even if it wasn’t enough to advance.

Edmonton: Dylan Holloway (#14 overall, first round, 2020)

Like Swedish captain Philip Broberg, a fellow Edmonton first-rounder, Canada’s Dylan Holloway has had to play through pain at these World Juniors. But the 19-year-old continues to grit it out on the top line with Cozens and Connor McMichael, doing the dirty work and back-checking. No need to rush this University of Wisconsin forward.

Florida Panthers: Spencer Knight (#13 overall, first round, 2019)

Florida’s new Goaltending Excellence Department has ample material to work with in the U.S.’s Knight and Canada’s Devon Levi. Knight stands out after posting back-to-back shutouts against Sweden and the Czech Republic – a feat never achieved before by a U.S. goalie. Finnish captain Anton Lundell, another Panthers first-rounder, hopes to spoil this goalie party in the last two games, of course.

Los Angeles Kings: Quinton Byfield (#2 overall, first round, 2020)

L.A. boasts an NHL-high nine prospects at these World Juniors. Even though the U.S.’s Alex Turcotte and Arthur Kaliyev are picking up steam, our nod goes to Byfield (2+5=7) who exploded for six points against Switzerland. Byfield is Canada’s youngest player for the second straight year.

Minnesota Wild: Matthew Boldy (#12 overall, first round, 2019)

The 19-year-old Boldy (4+2=6) is coming on strong after failing to make last year’s U.S. team. Beyond his hat trick in the 11-0 thrashing of Austria, he’s been a power-play force: witness his slick pass to Arthur Kaliyev for the opening goal against Slovakia.

Montreal Canadiens: Kaiden Guhle (#20 overall, first round, 2020)

Out of the Habs’ three prospects in Edmonton, the U.S.’s Cole Caufield faced the highest expectations, and although he’s had a slow tournament (2+2=4), he could still turn it around in his last two games. That said, Guhle (2+1=3) has been an important and relentless part of a Canadian defence corps that has surrendered a tournament-low four goals. We’ll also give him the edge over Czech captain Jan Mysak (2+1=3).

Nashville Predators: Philip Tomasino (#24 overall, first round, 2019)

With no disrespect to Nashville’s three Russian prospects, including top Yaroslav Askarov, Canada’s Philip Tomasino has been a revelation. Originally pencilled in as the 13th forward, the multi-dimensional Oshawa Generals forward has stepped up offensively (4+2=6), including the game-winner and an assist versus Slovakia, and has played the kind of two-way hockey that will encourage Predators GM David Poile to give him a good look.

New Jersey Devils: Dawson Mercer (#18 overall, first round, 2020) 

Under coach Andre Tourigny, Mercer’s ice time (13:08) is comparable to Tomasino’s (12:12) so far, and the 19-year-old QMJHL star has also bought into the team-first concept that’s gotten Canada this far, shining on the penalty kill. He’ll face a good test versus Russia in the semi-finals, going up against a fellow Devils prospect, defenceman Shakir Mukhamadullin. New Jersey’s young core has a tough year ahead, and Mercer may benefit from avoiding that baptism of fire.

New York Islanders: Simon Holmstrom (#23 overall, first round, 2019)

Despite Sweden’s disappointing quarter-final elimination, Holmstrom tied for Sweden’s points lead (0+5=5). The smart former HV71 attacker will need to focus on shooting more (just 3 shots at this WJC) in his second season with the AHL’s Bridgeport Sound Tigers.

New York Rangers: Brett Berard (#134 overall, fifth round, 2020)

Diminutive but gritty and skilled, Berard (1+4=5) has fit in nicely on a dynamic U.S. line with John Farinacci and Bobby Brink that stepped up in Slovakia’s ouster. His future with the Rangers is unknown, but he’s making a positive impression in 2021.
Ottawa Senators: Tim Stutzle (#3 overall, first round, 2020)

Stutzle is mature enough to play a meaningful role with the Senators this season after captaining Germany to its first quarter-final berth ever. The human highlight reel (5+5=10) sits third in tournament scoring.

Philadelphia Flyers: Cam York (14th overall, first round, 2019)

York, who celebrates his 20th birthday on 5 January, has been far more impactful in his second World Juniors. Leading the U.S. in ice time (20:47) and second in tournament D-man points (1+5=6), the U.S. captain continues to show significant upside as a future top-four Flyers defender.

Pittsburgh Penguins: N/A

The Penguins have two goalie prospects at this tournament, but neither Finland’s Joel Blomqvist nor Sweden’s Calle Clang has gotten to play.

San Jose Sharks: Artemi Knyazev (48th overall, second round, 2019)

Knyazev has been Russia’s top points-producing defenceman (1+3=4) so far. The 19-year-old Kazan product, who played two seasons with the QMJHL’s Chicoutimi Sagueneens, could add depth to the Sharks’ blue line in a few years.

St. Louis Blues: N/A

The Blues are the only NHL club with no prospects at this year’s World Juniors.

Tampa Bay Lightning: Hugo Alnefelt (71st overall, third round, 2019)

Sweden’s Alnefelt had mixed results (2.36 GAA, 90.2 save percentage) at these World Juniors, including giving up four goals on 21 shots and getting pulled versus the U.S. on New Year’s Eve. However, with Andrei Vasilevski firmly installed as the number one goalie of the Stanley Cup champion Lightning, there’s no reason for the 19-year-old HV71 goalie not to keep honing his game in the SHL for a few more years.

Toronto Maple Leafs: Topi Niemela (64th overall, third round, 2020)

With three Finns and three Russians under the microscope, we’ll give the nod to defenceman Topi Niemela (2+5=7) over forward Rodion Amirov (2+4=6). Nobody expected the 18-year-old Karpat Oulu  product to lead all rearguards in scoring at this point, but he’s played great heads-up hockey for coach Antti Pennanen and is a key asset on the breakout.
Vancouver Canucks: Vasili Podkolzin (#10 overall, first round, 2019) 

There is still reasonable doubt about how many points Podkolzin (2+2=4) will be able to produce at the NHL level. However, Canucks fans have been heartened by how the Russian captain, playing his third World Juniors, has shown off his power forward skills as these World Juniors progress.

Vegas Golden Knights: Peyton Krebs (#17 overall, first round, 2019)

Playing on Canada’s second line with Cole Perfetti and Connor Zary, Krebs (3+5=8) has been an impact player for Canada. And that doesn’t just mean sending Czech forward Martin Beranek over the board with a hit in the 3-0 win over the Czech Republic. The 19-year-old Winnipeg Ice captain has gotten better with each game, contributing two assists in the semi-final while attending to his defensive responsibilities.

Washington Capitals: Connor McMichael (#25 overall, first round, 2019)

After hitting three posts in the 4-1 win over Finland, McMichael (3+4=7) stepped up with an assist and the empty-netter versus the Czechs. He’s already equalled his point total from last year’s gold-medal team and has taken a team-high 20 shots. Don’t be surprised if he joins Washington’s taxi squad.

Winnipeg Jets: Ville Heinola (#20 overall, first round, 2019)

Appearing in his third World Juniors, Heinola has had a relatively quiet run offensively (0+2=2), especially compared to the 14 points in 19 games he put up with Lukko. But despite a hand injury against Canada, the elite Finnish defenceman was named Best Player in the comeback quarter-final win over Sweden, and his ability to log big minutes and control the play is critical to Finland’s dream of capturing its fourth gold medal in eight years. Heinola looks NHL-ready.