Great year for juniors
by Martin Merk|19 JUL 2021
Young Canadian players Owen Power, Braden Schneider and Cole Perfetti celebrating with the championship trophy after a 3-2 gold medal game overtime win against Finland at the 2021 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship 
photo: Andre Ringuette / HHOF-IIHF Images
The 2021 IIHF World Junior Championship seems like ages ago because of the pandemic, so it might be tricky for some fans to remember that the tournament, played in Edmonton without fans, was won by the United States while Canada took silver and Finland bronze.

Sound familiar?

The just-completed 2021 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship in Riga, Latvia, saw Canada win gold, Finland silver, and the U.S. bronze.

It was a unique year in so many ways. Canada had an incredible seven players from its U20 team who soon after made their NHL debuts, and the Americans had five. As well, there were four players at this year’s U18 who also played at the World Junior Championship: Attilio Biasca (SUI), Brad Lambert (FIN), David Jiracek (CZE), and Stanislav Svozil (CZE).

There were no players who played at all three men’s events – U18, U20, senior – and there were no players who played at the World Juniors and World Championships, and who also played in the NHL.

But among all the players who quarantined and tested and isolated and were cautious every step of the way during this past IIHF season, four stand out because they won medals at both the World Junior Championship and World Championship – Braden Schneider and Cole Perfetti of Canada, Anton Lundell of Finland, and Matthew Beniers of the U.S. 

Team USA’s Beniers is only 18 years old and already has earned a medal at three IIHF events. He won a bronze with the 2019 U18 team to go with this year’s haul – gold at the World Juniors and bronze in Riga at the Worlds. He will be draft eligible this month and if his stock wasn’t high before – and it was – it’s even higher now. After two years in the USNTDP (2018-20), Beniers played this past season at the University of Michigan alongside Canada’s Owen Power, who also played at the World Championship in Riga. The two are top contenders to go first overall at next month’s NHL draft. While Beniers is a forward, Power is a defenceman, but at this year’s World Juniors Beniers was the youngest player on the U.S. team and a contributor to the team’s third-place finish. In Riga, he played in six of the team’s ten games and averaged 6:28 of ice time.

Anton Lundell of Finland is an “old” 19. Drafted 12th overall by Florida in 2020, the centreman has already played in five IIHF events for Suomi, starting with the 2018 U18 when the Finns won gold. A year later, he played at both junior events, this time winning gold at the World Juniors while the U18 finished 7th. At this year’s World Juniors Lundell wore the “C” for his country, and in Riga he was tied as the team’s top scorer with four goals. He also led the team in plus-minus at +7. He has played for Helsinki IFK for all of his domestic league career, but just days after earning silver in Latvia he signed a three-year entry-level contract with the Florida Panthers, so he will no doubt be part of that surging team in the NHL come next fall.

Canada’s Cole Perfetti made his Team Canada debut this year, and he had so much fun he did it twice. Drafted 10th overall by Winnipeg in 2020, he turned pro immediately and played this past season for the Jets’ AHL affiliate in Saginaw. It wasn’t his first choice, but with COVID-19 all but forcing the OHL to cancel its season, Perfetti wanted to play somewhere, and the Jets felt the AHL was the logical place for him to be. He responded with a fine rookie season, after which he was invited to join Team Canada by GM Roberto Luongo. Perfetti played all ten games for Canada at the World Championship, scoring two goals, including the game winner against Kazakhstan, and averaging more than eight minutes of ice time per game. As a result of his progress this year, Perfetti will be looking to make the Jets at training camp this September.

Braden Schneider is another teenager, 19, and was drafted 19th overall by the New York Rangers last year. The defenceman made his Team Canada debut in 2019 at the U18 and was part of Canada’s silver-medal team at the World Juniors in Edmonton this past January, where he had a goal and assist in the semi-finals of a 5-0 win over Russia. He played his entire major junior career in the WHL with Brandon and will likely turn pro this fall, either with the Rangers or their AHL affiliate in Hartford, for which he played two games this past season as well. He didn’t get a lot of playing time with Canada in Riga, but he is big and strong and good in all areas of the ice. Fans will no doubt be hearing more about Schneider in the coming years.