2021 WJC: 10 draft-eligible overagers to watch
The World Junior Championship annually provides an opportunity to see the best prospects in the world.
Many of them have already been drafted by NHL teams. Some are eligible for the upcoming drafts. And then, some have already been passed over in the NHL Draft and are still eligible to be selected by teams.
The 2021 World Juniors has a number of these overagers, many of which are going to be well worth some attention as the draft approaches. For some, the under-20 tournament is an excellent opportunity for them to show that they’re among the best of their age group, making sure that NHL teams are noticing.
FCHockey has followed these prospects for years already, and with the start of the tournament just days away, we’ve put together 10 names that you need to keep an eye on in the tournament. These players are all eligible for the 2021 NHL Draft and will be looking to make up for not hearing their names called in past drafts.
Taylor Gauthier, G, Team Canada
FCHockey’s 2020 NHL Draft Rank: 285
The lone draft-eligible player on Team Canada, goaltender Taylor Gauthier has an opportunity to really stand out on the international stage – should he grab the starters net and not let go. He’s battling with New York Rangers prospect Dylan Garand and Florida Panthers netminder Devon Levi for the No. 1 spot for the Canadians.
The netminder is no stranger to Team Canada, backstopping the team in the 2017 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge, 2018 Hlinka Gretzky Cup, and the 2019 World Under-18 Hockey Championship. He’s spent the rest of his time with the WHL’s Prince George Cougars, improving on his numbers each season
From FCHockey’s 2019 NHL Draft Guide: “Gauthier brings confidence and swagger to the goaltending position. He plays with a ton of fire and seems to relish net-front battles and the opportunity to put his body on the line. While he uses his size and compete level to his advantage, he has an unorthodox stance and can be a bit clunky in his movements.”
Maximilian Glötzl, D, Team Germany
FCHockey’s 2020 NHL Draft Rank: N/R
You’ve heard of Tim Stützle, JJ Peterka, and Lukas Reichel, the three German sensations eligible for the 2020 NHL Draft. But defender Maximilian Glötzl was also eligible, granted not quite at the tier of the three forwards.
The defender has played with Germany before, in the 2018 World Under-18 Championship (D1A), where he helped the team to a gold medal. He’s seen time with the U16, U17, U18, and U20 groups in the past as well. This season, he’s been on loan in the DEL2 with EC Bad Nauheim, collecting four assists in seven games.
“A smooth skater who makes play accurate breakout passes and plays well defensively,” said former FCHockey scout Janik Beichler. “He’s an extremely speedy skater… (makes) some smart pinches along the boards in the offensive zone… (and can) throw some big hits to disrupt plays and create turnovers without taking himself out the play.”
Michal Gut, C, Team Czech Republic
FCHockey’s 2020 NHL Draft Rank: N/R
After being drafted 57th overall in the 2019 CHL Import Draft, Michal Gut made the jump to the WHL’s Everett Silvertips for his draft year. The Czech forward then collected 36 points (13 goals, 23 assists) in 51 games. This season, with the WHL yet to drop the puck, Gut is on Alan in the Czech2 with HC Banik Sokolov, with 11 points (seven goals, four assists) in nine games.
The pesky forward has been a leader for the Czech teams for years, captaining the Czech squads in the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge, European Youth Olympic Festival, and the Hlinka Gretzky Cup. He could be leaned upon heavily in this tournament.
“Gut is a two-way, physical player who does have some ability with the puck but overall doesn’t play the smartest brand of hockey,” Western Canada head scout Justin Froese reported. “There’s a lot of simplicity to his game and although he does have moments where he looks heavily involved in the play, there’s not much variation or interesting factors.
Samuel Hlavaj, G, Team Slovakia
FCHockey’s 2020 NHL Draft Rank: 96
One of the more surprising undrafted prospects in the 2020 NHL Draft, Samuel Hlavaj was passed over for the second time by NHL teams. The goaltender has a strong season in the QMJHL, going 33-3-2 and recording a league-leading 2.25 goals against average and a .915 save percentage. He was named to the Second All-Star Team, the All-Rookie Team, and the Defensive Rookie of the Year.
The netminder already has quite the resume with Team Slovakia, twice playing in both the World Under-18 Hockey Championship and the World Junior Championship. In the 2019 World Juniors, Hlavaj was honoured as a top-three player on his team.
From FCHockey’s 2020 NHL Draft Guide: “Hlavaj moves well in the net and his lateral movements are fluid, not always needing to complete his full motion slide before getting back up again, which shows he has full control of his body. He battles through traffic and screens to follow the puck closely and isn’t afraid to use his stick to cut passes or to poke check forwards. He is strong on his post and displays solid vertical coverage when the puck is in proximity with the net.”
Simon Knak, RW, Team Switzerland
FCHockey’s 2020 NHL Draft Rank: 128
Simon Knak has already been named the captain of Team Switzerland and will be a leader on the team. The right winger played in the tournament last year, as well as the World Under-18 Hockey Championship the year prior. He’s participated in the Hlinka Gretzky twice as well.
Knak was drafted 40th overall by the WHL’s Portland Winterhawks in the 2019 CHL Import Draft, collecting 34 points (nine goals, 25 assists) in 49 games. This season, he’s been on loan in the National League with HC Davos, scoring twice and adding two assists in 11 games.
“Compared to earlier views at the national team level, he has been improving his explosivity in the first strides,” said European scout Dennis Schellenberg in a report this season. “Is able to take off much faster than a few months ago and possesses nice top speed. Is hard to separate from the puck when hitting full speed as he can use his long reach nicely and keep chasing opponents away from the puck.”
Simon Kubicek, D, Team Czech Republic
FCHockey’s 2020 NHL Draft Rank: 160
This list seems to have a theme of WHL players, and Simon Kubicek is no different. The defender has already spent two seasons with the WHL’s Seattle Thunderbirds and has spent the start of 2020-21 overseas with HC Stadion Litomerice in the Czech2 league. In nine games, he has a goal and three assists.
This will be Kubicek’s second stint in the World Juniors after an impressive performance last season that earned him a top-three player on his team nod. The prospect also has a Hlinka Gretzky Cup, a World Under-18 Hockey Championship and the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge under his belt.
From FCHockey’s 2020 NHL Draft Guide: “He is an all-situations, workhorse defenseman and does everything for his team, excelling on both sides of special teams. He’s above average with the puck, receiving passes with ease and settling down bouncing pucks. His puck protection is impressive, keeping it on a string and swinging it around while also twisting and turning his body to prevent forecheckers from stealing it.”
Nick Malik, G, Team Czech Republic
FCHockey’s 2020 NHL Draft Rank: 110
The third and final goaltender on this list, Nick Malik was another surprise after going undrafted in 2020. The netminder showed off his skill in the OHL last season with the Soo Greyhounds and has started 2020-21 on loan in the Czech2 league with HC Frydek-Mistek. HE has an impressive .921 save percentage to start his season.
Malik played one game in the World Juniors last season, has twice played in the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge, and has one Hlinka Gretzky experience as well.
From FCHockey’s 2020 NHL Draft Guide: “Malik is a very strong butterfly style goalie. He has NHL ready size and he uses it well when sealing the ice with his pads… His lateral movement is controlled, moving side-to-side with ease… Very confident with the puck on his blade and handles the puck with smooth hands. The flaws in his game are coachable issues that can be resolved as he develops.”
Senna Peeters, C, Team Austria
FCHockey’s 2020 NHL Draft Rank: 158
Senna Peeters has had an interesting journey up to this point. The forward has already played in Germany, Austria, the USA, Canada, and is now playing with Rögle BK J20 in the J20 Nationell. In six games, he has seven goals one assist.
Peeters first tour with the Austria team came last season at the D1A World Juniors, helping his team win the goal medal and a promotion to the top tier. He had three goals and three assists in five games.
From FCHockey’s 2020 NHL Draft Guide: “Peeters is a skilled goalscoring winger who excels at finishing plays around the crease. A smooth skater with a fluid stride, but he lacks the quickness, agility and speed to be a threat on the counterattack. His low center of gravity and solid puck skills allow him to protect his puck well… He has a quick release and an excellent scoring touch, which helps him capitalize in dangerous areas and surprise goaltenders.”
Ruben Rafkin, D, Team Finland
FCHockey’s 2020 NHL Draft Rank: 58
After playing his draft year with the Windsor Spitfires, Ruben Rafkin has moved back to Finland and is playing in the top league, the Liiga, with TPS. In 10 games, the defender has a goal and two assists.
The defenseman played in the Hlinka Gretzky Cup last season, and both the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge and Europen Youth Olympic Festival in the year before. After earning honours on the OHL First All-Rookie team, this is very much an overage to watch for the 2021 NHL Draft.
From FCHockey’s 2020 NHL Draft Guide: “Rafkin may not stand out on the ice every game but he is often able to showcase his mature and poised style of play. He is a crisp and efficient skater, seemingly wasting little energy getting up to full speed. He has a great head on his shoulders and utilizes that to do a great job of shutting down zone entries, separating opponents from the puck and moving the puck up ice again. His gap control is impeccable and his vision on the defensive side of the game is exceptional.”
Ilya Safonov, C, Team Russia
FCHockey’s 2020 NHL Draft Rank: N/R
Finally, we come to double overager Ilya Safonov. The Russian forward could be a big name for the Russia team this year, bringing his grit and defensive ability to his game. This has been on display in the KHL this season with Ak Bars Kazan, where he has one assist in 21 games. It’s been a while since Safonov was a part of the national team. The last appearance was playing in the 2017 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge.
“Safonov is a huge, meat n’ potatoes kind of center who can also surprise opponents with his quickness and range,” head crossover scout Derek Neumeier said. “He can handle difficult matchups and kill penalties well enough, but don’t expect much from him if he has to carry the puck or make plays with it.
“Any offense from him will come from the net-front. Blue Jackets prospect Dmitri Voronkov was a two-way force for Russia at last year’s World Juniors, and it seems like the team will be hoping for something similar from Safonov this time around.”