It has been a wild tournament so far at the World Juniors specifically in Group B. It has been wacky, it has been stupid and it has been FILLED with penalties, but most importantly, it has been damn fun to watch. So, let’s recap it, and then look into our crystal ball to see who will win the whole thing in a week. “A week” man the World Juniors are too short.
3 Takeaways from Group Play.
POWER PLAYS ARE IMPORTANT:
I mean holy shit man, these IIHF refs love to be the stars of the show. The Czech have TWENTY-FIVE POWERPLAYS in four games, 25! Not fishy at all that the tournament is also in the Czech Republic. Nonetheless, it does make for some interesting games and if underdogs can stay discipline, they will get their chances on the man advantage to do some damage as Germany did against the Czech and even the U.S. to an extent. The two leaders on the power play, Canada and Sweden, won their groups with both of their units scoring on more than 40 percent of their five on four opportunities. Much of the reason why power plays are so key is that everyone’s penalty kill is actually horrible. I mean watching these kids try to kill penalties against all of the skill teams like USA and Sweden have is quite funny. The States PK is especially bad as they have only killed 65 percent of their penalties and it isn’t hard to see why. TSN showed a short clip of one of the U.S. penalty kills against Canada and all four penalty killers were in a straight line in front of their goalie, it was surreal to watch.
I mean just look at this, they have no idea what they are doing out there, one forward chasing, one staying still and neither defenceman picks up the open guy in front and don’t even get me started on how easy the zone entry was. The team that takes the least penalties and is most effective on their power play, no matter who it is, will have the best chance to win this tournament. Looking at how many power plays the home nation is being gifted every game, don’t be surprised if they cause an upset or two like they did Russia.
This is no longer a ‘19-year-olds tournament’
You’ll hear Bob Mackenzie say it literally every pre-game show, but to echo his statement. This tournament has usually been dubbed a tournament where the 19-year-old players shine because of well EXPERIENCE AND ALL THAT. But there has been a shift in recent years and this year has seen the most drastic change in attitude. This year’s rendition has the most ever seventeen-year-olds and most countries are fielding their youngest teams ever. Draft eligibles have been lighting up the tournament, guys like Lucas Raymond and Alexander Holtz on Sweden or Alexis Lafreniere (for one game) on Canada or Tim Stutzle on Germany or even Simon Knak on Switzerland. Mind you these are all special, special talents, but they are being given big roles as seven and eighteen-year-olds and that doesn’t happen very often at this tournament. For the most part, however, this year’s tournament has been one for the true eighteen-year-olds. For example, 2019 ninth overall pick Trevor Zegras is leading everybody with nine points and has showcased his incredible vision
or how about Patrik Puistola who has four goals and leads Finland with 7 points. I could list every eighteen-year-old that is coming up big for their country or you could just take my word for it so we can move on. The point is, most unreal nineteen-year-olds nowadays are playing in the NHL, so this really is a big chance for high picks from that summer’s draft that people have questions about or potential high picks that people have questions about, to show their skills. The tournament will only be getting younger as more and more youth are being pushed to the NHL to start their careers as early as possible, so get used to it.
International Hockey is morphing into the NHL in terms of parity
I genuinely believe that there are seven teams who can win this tournament (sorry Slovakia, you just kinda suck). Russia BLEW OUT Canada, but also lost to the Czech who lost to Germany who almost upset the USA, but the USA also beat Russia and the Czech, BUT ALSO LOST TO CANADA. Yeah, it is a whole ass mess out here, but the point is anyone can beat anyone as Switzerland beating Finland also proved. Are there favourites? Of course, Sweden has looked incredible and Canada (barring that horrible game against Russia but we will never ever talk about that again) has looked great in their last two AND they are getting arguably the best forward in the tournament back. But there are favourites in the NHL too, look at Tampa, probably the biggest favourite in a playoff series EVER and they couldn’t win a single game! AGAINST THE BLUE JACKETS!1! Not one!
The last time a nation won back to back tournaments was 08,09, which is a different DECADE! Although Finland has looked good, it doesn’t look like they are going to be the first team in 10 years to go back to back, but hey! With this tournament, nowadays, you never know. With the Czech’s home-ice advantage and Switzerland’s favourable draw, they make two dangerous, dangerous underdogs. So look, I am going to try and predict who will win, but realistically this one is as tough to crack as a Rubix cube. (I can never figure those things out)
5 players who have impressed me the most
Trevor Zegras (USA)
Zegras played just about 10 minutes against Germany, but still managed to get FOUR ASSISTS, all primary too! He really has been a wizard with the puck, what impresses me most is how direct and positive he is with the puck. He is always trying to find a teammate in a spot where they can get a shot off and he usually succeeds. Here is to hoping he plays more in the medal rounds
Nils Hoglander (SWE)
Well, I mean he did this
so I don’t really know what else to say. On a real note, I have been pleasantly surprised at how well rounded Hoglander’s game is. He is a really good passer and he uses his ridiculous skill and creativity in the right moments, his talents are game-breaking and if he continues to improve his all-around game, he will be a great asset for the Canucks
Nick Robertson (USA)
This one may be a little biased as Robertson is a Leafs prospect, but he also has just been really good. His defensive game has really caught my eye, he is very responsible and has a sneaky stick, William Nylander like (The sneaky stick that is not his responsible defensive game). It isn’t hard to see why Robertson attracted Kyle Dubas’ eye, he is short, he is skilled and he is fast. Right up ol’ Kyle’s alley.
Look, he is already learning from Auston Matthews.
Alexander Romanov (RUS)
Romanov won Best Defenceman at last year’s tournament and he has been just as good if not better this year. He has four points, but what impresses me most is what a good leader he has been. He is carrying the Russian defence playing at the very least 20 minutes a game and is clearly looked upon to get the boys going and to keep everything calm on the backend. His skating ability is clearly better than most guys his age and if he catches you with your head down, you are in BIG TROUBLE, I mean this guy is a train.
Tim Stutzle (GER)
Stutzle lived up to the hype and more in group play. He only tallied three assists in four games, but man is this guy talented. His stickhandling is elite and his passing isn’t too shabby either
He has an explosive stride and if he gets space to wind up, he can go through your whole team. He has definitely shown NHL teams that he is worthy of a top-five pick.
3 players who have disappointed me
Quinton Byfield (CAN)
I mean the guy doesn’t have a point. It is tough for 17-year-olds to perform at this tournament, but Byfield has been the only highly touted prospect who hasn’t done anything of note. He will still be a stud in the NHL, just not having a great tournament so far.
Lukas Dostal (CZH)
After winning Best Goalie in 2019, Dostal hasn’t been able to recapture last year’s magic. He is carrying a .885 SV percentage and a 3.5 GAA and has only started two of Czechia’s four games. He will need to really pick it up if the home team wants a shot at winning their first Gold since 2001.
Cole Caufield (USA)
Caufield hasn’t been bad, but again you just want more from a guy with so much skill. He needs to shoot more. The last few games he has looked a lot more dangerous and is finally getting some chances, the OT winner against Czechia should really boost his confidence and he could be the key to U.S. success.
The Medal Round
A small preview of the four QFs and a prediction.
Sweden VS Czech Republic
This will be a good one. Sweden had a tough time overcoming Finland and the Czechs might be a tougher test. Both teams have a good power play and can score, but the Czechs are missing their best player Jan Jenik as well as other key forwards. Home ice is a big factor for the Czech, but with the injuries and just how good Sweden is, it will be hard for them to pull off the upset.
Canada VS Slovakia
Worst game of all four, Canada shouldn’t have any problems blowing out Slovakia. They will also be getting Alexis Lafreniere back.
USA VS Finland
By far the toughest one to predict, but I give the U.S. favourite status. I still don’t know how good Finland is, that loss to Switzerland was a confusing one. Special teams will be a big factor in this one.
Switzerland VS Russia
Switzerland has upset Russia in the Quarters before, Nino Niederreiter played a big part in that, and this has all the makings of another giant-killing. Switzerland comes in confident after beating the Fins and man can they score. The interesting question will be who does Russia go with in goal, the young prodigy Askarov or the veteran Miftakhov. Askarov can steal a game, but he seemed nervous in the opener against Czech and got pulled after two periods, Miftakhov was good against Canada, but poor against the US. It will be a good one either way.