Scout Survey: 2021 WJC Roundtable
The World Junior Championship is the premiere event of junior hockey, putting the world’s best under-20 players under the spotlight.
While this year’s edition will be different from those past given the COVID-19 pandemic, you can bet that the passion with which these kids play will be evident. This is a chance to represent their country and for many, show off their skills in front of an international audience.
With the tournament about to begin, we posed some questions to a handful of FCHockey’s scouts to get their thoughts on the exciting event.
FCHockey: What are your personal thoughts on how international events like the WJC can impact a draft-eligible prospect?
“I think the impact the WJC can have on a draft prospect is very positive. It shows that the draft-eligible player can compete with the best players in their respective countries and often their best games are played. It’s a showcase where the player can show off their best talents.” – Olivia McArter, Eastern Canada scout
“For many players, they have all the possession and time on their own teams from being a top player. These tournaments force players to show up big sometimes playing specific roles. It’s nice to see players who have to adapt and still succeed.” – Joel Henderson, Western Canada scout
“For the players playing in this tournament, many of them are among the top players on their personal teams and, at times, among the best players in their league. Something that’s great to see in these tournaments is seeing these kids play against their age group on a global scale. It can be a humbling experience for some, but above all else, it’s great to see how these prospects perform at an elevated level of play and how they’re able to adapt their game to succeed at this level.” – Brandon Holmes, crossover scout
“I always like international play as it showcases players head-to-head against peers on an even playing field. That being said the WJC specifically is not a tournament designed for first-time draft-eligible players specifically so you always have to keep their performances and roles on their respective teams in context.” – Donesh Mazloum, Western Canada scout
FC: It is amazing to see how certain prospects elevate their game at this tournament every year. Some become household names (Jordan Eberle in 2009) and others fall short of the high expectations set. Do you place a lot of value in a good or bad performance by a player?
“I do, especially in a national showcase such as the WJC. If a player has a bad performance throughout the tournament it may show that he isn’t ready or able to compete at a higher level of play and faster pace. If he has a good performance, he’s more likely to stick out to scouts and have a possible better draft result.” – McArtur
“It all depends. It depends on their role usually. Sometimes it points out how far behind a player is from their peers or other times it’s showcasing how a player can adapt and shine in different systems. There are always takeaways to consider.” – Henderson
“I think it’s important to maintain an even-keeled outlook on this tournament in regards to the long-term development of a prospect. The elevated level of competition for these players is a treat to evaluate, and it’s absolutely appropriate to take note of players who rise to the occasion in environments like the World Juniors, but I don’t believe it’s fair to hold it against players who may fall a bit short of expectations. It’s a remarkably small sample size of five-to-seven games we’re looking at here, and those games should not make or break a player’s overall outlook in regards to projecting their development or draft position.” –Holmes
“It’s important to take information and value out of every viewing you have, however, you want to avoid falling into the trap of taking more from a WJC game than from a player’s club game. It’s nice to see players play up to the competition and slightly disappointing if they struggle, however, it is a small sample of a players ability in roles they may be unfamiliar with and on teams that have had minimal time together.” – Mazloum
FC: While this tournament can typically be dominated by players who have already been drafted, this is also a good chance for draft-eligible prospects to showcase their skills. Who are some first-time draft-eligible players in 2021 to keep an eye on in the World Juniors?
“Some deeper names to keep an eye on on European rosters include Oskar Olausson, Samuel Helenius, and Oleksii Myklukha. Olausson, one of the top junior-aged forwards in Sweden for the 2021 crop, is a skilled and finessed forward who may be able to seize a prominent offensive role for Sweden, as they had to leave some key members at home due to COVID restrictions. Though Aatu Räty is the draft-eligible name we initially expected to be watching for Finland, Helenius is the lone first-year-eligible forward to make the Finnish team. Helenius is a big six-foot-six, defensive-minded center who has found his scoring touch this season in the Finnish Liiga and figures to play a top-nine role for the Fins during the tournament. Myklukha is my favorite of the draft-eligible skaters for Slovakia; the right-shot forward has a very underrated shot and goal-scoring touch that I would love to see on display in a top-six role for the Slovaks.” – Holmes
“Matthew Beniers is off to a fantastic start this season for the University of Michigan and he looks set to have a prominent role for the Americans. With his high compete level and two-way prowess, he seems tailor made to pop in this short tournament format. The Russian team tends to rely on their older players, however, towering defenceman Daniil Chayka is one who could break the mould and play impactful minutes. Olausson has been one of the draft’s biggest risers to start the season and with Sweden’s roster in flux due to COVID, there is a meaningful role to be seized. Lastly, Jesper Wallstedt may not enter the tournament as Sweden’s starting goaltender however he’s had a monster SHL season and more than has the ability to step in if Alnefelt falters.” – Mazloum
FC: On the flip side of the first-time draft-eligible players, there are also those who are re-entering the draft and trying to make a good impression. Who are some overagers players that are good bets to raise their draft stock?
“The biggest story I’m pulling for is Canadian goaltender Taylor Gauthier. He’s seemingly played well enough for a team to take a shot on him so maybe this big stage could be the push he needed. Michael Gut and Simon Kubicek could show up big for the Czech squad too. Marko Stacha from Slovakia as well.” – Henderson
“Top of this list has to be Gauthier, who may be a key player in Canada’s quest for repeat gold. Gauthier, a southpaw goaltender from Prince George in the Western Hockey League, is among the favorites to start the tournament as Canada’s starting goaltender after a strong 2019-2020 campaign with the Cougars where he posted a .917 save percentage in 50 games played. In regards to draft day implications, playing a critical role for a prominent team such as Canada could do wonders for Gauthier’s bid as a potential re-entry selection in the 2021 NHL Draft.” – Holmes
“Gauthier is the obvious pick here, he’s been passed over in the draft twice however he’s played on some below-average Prince George team’s and now he has the chance to shine behind an absolutely stacked team Canada roster. Simon Knak is another player I’ll be watching closely as I thought he was a draft-worthy talent last season in Portland. He was recently named Switzerland’s captain and if Switzerland is to surprise anyone at this tournament, Knak will likely be leading the charge. Lastly, I’m personally intrigued by how Slovakia’s twin towers on the back end Oliver Turan and Andrej Golian have developed as they stood out to me at the 2018 Hlinka Gretzky Cup.” – Mazloum
FC: Do you have a bold prediction as to which 2021 NHL Draft prospect has the best tournament?
“Bold? Let’s say Beniers then. With the players the US is bringing to the party, it’s gonna be hard for him to get significant ice time, so if he can rise to the top that would be huge for his draft status.” – Henderson
“It may not be the boldest prediction, but I think Beniers is set up to have a fantastic showing at these World Juniors. Beniers has gotten out to a wonderful start in his freshman collegiate season for the University of Michigan and he has the opportunity to ride out this wave of momentum he’s on right on to the top line for USA. A full tournament playing between two top prospects such as Matthew Boldy and Cole Caufield? The sky is the limit for Beniers for the United States.” – Holmes
“I’m not sure if Beniers counts as a bold pick as he looks like he’ll be provided with the most opportunity, playing on one of USA’s top lines, but I’m expecting a big tournament out of him. Perhaps a bolder pick is that Wallstedt usurps Hugo Alnefelt in the Swedish net and leads them to a medal.” – Mazloum