December 22, 2020

2021 WJC: 10 draft-eligibles to watch

The World Junior Championship is one of the most exciting events on the hockey calendar.

As is the NHL Draft. 

So when you get draft-eligible prospects playing big roles at the World Juniors, exciting things can happen.

See also: 2021 World Juniors: 10 Draft-Eligible Overagers to Watch

With the under-20 tournament set to kick off in Edmonton, Alberta, FCHockey has put together a list of 10 first-time, draft-eligible prospects that should be top of your list to keep an eye on. 

Related: 2021 World Juniors Draft-Eligible Player Guide

Whether you’re a draft enthusiast, a prospect enthusiast, or a casual hockey fan, these 10 prospects will be sure to impress over the next two weeks.

Read: 2021 World Juniors: Scout Survey

Matthew Beniers, Team USA

Matthew Beniers is the lone draft-eligible for Team USA. The centerman has been an early riser in draft boards thanks to his impressive play with the University of Michigan in the NCAA. In eight games, the forward has three goals, three assists, and six points to go along with his stellar two-way game.

Going through the United States National Team Development Program, Beniers has played in both the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge and World Under-18 Hockey Championship, winning a bronze medal in the latter.

“Beniers possesses some quick feet that he utilizes in both directions with an almost tireless effort level,” Eastern Canada head scout Dylan Galloway said. “His back check is almost as smart and aggressive as his forecheck… Effective not only in straight line puck races, but I particularly liked his 4-way mobility with and without the puck.

“Without the puck, he does a solid job of understanding how to use his body positioning to gain the inside lanes on pucks, and then when the opportunity arises, activate his explosive first few steps to lose his coverage.”

There’s a very good chance that Beniers comes out of the World Juniors as the best draft-eligible in the event. There’s already been talk about him in a top-six role, centering Cole Caufield and Matthew Boldy. If you aren’t keeping an eye on the prospect, you’re likely to regret it.

Lorenzo Canonica, Team Switzerland

Lorenzo Canonica is another name you’re likely to start hearing more and more. The Swiss prospect is another draftee into the QMJHL who has yet to come to North America. The Shawinigan Cataractes selected him 20th overall in the CHL Import Draft. This season, he’s been impressing in the U20-Elit, scoring 11 goals to go with eight assists and 19 points in 20 games. Like Biasca, this will be his first major tournament, but he spent time with the U16, U17, and U18 teams.

“Quick and shifty skater who gets up to top speed quickly with smooth edgework that gives him great elusiveness in open ice,” Eastern Canada scout Joseph Aleong said. “Succeeds at handling the puck and making plays inside movement, making him a threat in transition and when fighting through contact.

“Shows great vision, shoulder-checking before he picks up the puck and showing creative footwork to open up passing lanes. He’s unafraid of getting to the dirty areas of the ice and finds open ice to present a shooting target for his linemates.”

Cononica has the skill to impress, and should bring that to the U20 team. Don’t be surprised when Canonica is one of the best forwards on Team Switzerland.

Giancarlo Chanton, Team Switzerland

One of the older draft-eligibles on this list, Giancarlo Chanton put his name on the radar after being selected 47th overall in the 2019 CHL Import Draft and making the jump to the OHL’s Niagara IceDogs. He’s been spending most of his season with SC Langenthal in the Swiss League, collecting a goal and assist in 11 games.

Chanton has quite the international resume so far, playing at the European Youth Olympic Festival, Hlinka Gretzky Cup, and World Under-18 Hockey Championship. He’s been an alternate captain for the U17 and U16 teams and could be in line for a big role on this U20 team.

“Strong foundational passer who moves it out of his own end with pace and flashes the ability to hit stretch passes to create an offensive chance,” Aleong said. “Shows some good puck control carrying through the neutral zone but lacks separating speed and the skill to gain the zone consistently.

“Displays some decent vision when set up in the offensive end but could stand to be more aggressive jumping into shooting lanes and trying to find a lane to the net.”

Chanton could be leaned on quite heavily by Team Switzerland, given his experience at the international level. How he handles that pressure should go a long way for his draft projection.

Daniil Chayka, Team Russia

After spending the 2019-20 season in the OHL with the Guelph Storm, Daniil Chayka is now back in Russia on loan while the OHL awaits its potential start date. He’s spent time at the MHL, VHL, and KHL levels, playing most of his time in the KHL with CSKA Moskva. He’s played in seven games at the top level, and while he’s been held pointless, playing in the second-best league in the world is impressive.

Chayka has a great deal of experience with Team Russia, playing in the 2018 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge, 2019 Hlinka Gretzky Cup, 2019 World Junior-A Challenge, and the recent Karjala Cup. Chayka knows what it takes to win in these events, winning gold at the World Under-17 Challenge and the Hlinka Gretzky, plus he was named to the World Junior-A Challenge All-Star team.

“His skating proficiency is evident, as he moves smoothly in all directions and can accelerate to a high gear in very little time,” crossover head scout Derek Neumeier said in a recent report. “He’s a very range defender with his skating and reach, who isn’t afraid to activate to make himself a rush option or to move deep into the offensive zone.”

Chayka should be one of the top draft eligibles in the entire tournament, thanks to his skill and experience. While he’s behind some older Russian defenders, he should impress with the time he’ll be given.

Samuel Helenius, Team Finland

Samuel Helenius has made the full-time jump to the top Finnish league, the Liiga this season. Playing with JYP, the six-foot-six, 201-pound centerman has played in 18 games, scoring five goals, adding three assists for eight points. He did spend some time with Team Finland’s U18 group, but this will be his first tournament. He’s been playing against men this season, so it will be interesting to see how he does against his peers in this tournament.

“He knows when to drop down and support the defenders, jumping into the corners and using his long reach to pull the puck out of scrums, get in the passing lanes, and poke check pucks away,” crossover scout Josh Bell said from a recent scouting report. “He’s still figuring out how to use his size to his advantage, especially difficult playing in a men’s league. He’s constantly scanning, checking for where the attackers are and where his next move is.”

Helenius has come out of the season’s gate impressing by sticking in the Liiga. He’ll likely play a bottom-six role on the team, but should he stand out in doing so, his draft stock should rise.

Noah Meier, Team Switzerland

One of the older players eligible for the draft, Noah Meier has spent his season mainly in the Swiss League, playing in 17 games, scoring once and collecting four assists. The defender played with Switzerland in the 2019 Hlinka Gretzky Cup and the European Yother Olympic Festival the season prior, so he’s not new to the international scene.

“Meier’s a smooth-skating, mobile defenceman. Has solid top speed too,” European scout Dennis Schellenberg said in a recent scouting report. “He was able to outspeed opponents at this level and managed to get back in position in time. He was aggressive on the puck carrier using his strong timing playing the puck with the stick. This is one of his biggest assets. Knows when to use the stick to interfere plays and is excellent in poking the puck away.”

Meier has looked good in FCHockey’s views this season, and if he can continue that into the World Juniors, he will continue to garner attention for the 2021 NHL Draft. 

Oleksii Myklukha, Team Slovakia

One of the most known names on Team Slovakia, Oleksii Myklukha has put himself on the radar by playing in the QMJHL. Born in Poland and holding dual citizenship with Slovakia and Ukraine, Myklukha has been impressing against 18- and 19-year-olds since he was 15, resulting in the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies drafting her 54th overall in the 2019 CHL Import Draft. He hasn’t played yet this season, so this will be his first look in the 2020-21 season.

In the 2019 Hlinka Gretzky Cup, the centerman went a point-per-game, collecting two goals and two assists in four games. He’s also played in the 2019 European Youth Olympic Festival and the 4-Nation Cup the year prior. He could take on a big role with Team Slovakia.

“His four-way mobility is good, as he’s quite light on his feet,” Bell said. Without the puck, he keeps pressure on his opponents but isn’t overly effective in forcing mistakes or turnovers… The forward seems to pull away from contact with the puck and when he chases the puck. He holds up at the last minute, pulling back and rarely winning races or maintaining control when confronted physically.”

Myklukha should be one of the top forward for Team Slovakia. If they are to make any noise in the tournament, they’ll need him to bring his best game.

Oskar Olausson, Team Sweden

Oskar Olausson has been a name on everyone’s mind to start the 2020-21 season. The young Swedish player has been entering first-round consideration after getting in 11 SHL games with HV71, including three goals in his first three games. He’s also been tearing up the J20 Nationell, scoring 14 goals, adding 13 assists for 27 points in just 16 games.

“Olausson is a dynamic two-way forward that delivers in both ends,” Swedish regional scout Fredrik Haak said in a scouting report. “Quick turns with and without the puck. Great speed and balance overall and seems to use his body and arms well to cover the puck and gives him an advantage and more time to make his play.

“When he has the puck in the offensive zone, it’s difficult for opponents to catch him and he makes fantastic plays around the net and also diagonal passes that open up the ice for his team.”

With Olausson already impressing this season, expect him to continue to do so on the international stage. Even if he doesn’t stand out, there likely wouldn’t have been many out there to predict that he would make this team. His being here is a feat in itself.

Stanislav Svozil, Team Czech Republic

A player that many will already know, Stanislav Svozil has been capturing the attention of draft and hockey enthusiasts over the past couple of years. FCHockey’s 26th-ranked prospect in our preliminary ranking from earlier this month and is one of the more promising defenders in this class. He has spent his draft year with HC Kometa Brno in the Czech league – the top tier men’s league in the Czech Republic – but has yet to record a point in 10 games.

The smooth-skating defenseman has a length international resume, from the 2019 Hlinka Gretzky Cup to the Karjala Cup earlier this year. His best performance came at the 2019 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge where he was the alternate captain and had four assists to help Team Czech Republic to a bronze medal. He was the Rookie of the Year in the men’s league last season and was selected 15th overall by the Regina Pats in the 2020 CHL Import Draft.

“He times his stick checks well, getting in the lane when players are about to pass him or just after they’ve passed him,” Bell said in a recent report. “If the latter, he did well at slowing the rush and forcing the player to the boards… good at distributing the puck, really liked his scans of the zone on puck retrieval and defending rushes, and at times, puckhandles very confidently… Svozil has some very intriguing traits and has very good instincts on the ice.”

Svozil should be one of the top defenders for Team Czech Republic, if not the No. 1 defender. A potential first rounder, keep an eye on Svozil in this tournament.

Jesper Wallstedt, Team Sweden

Jesper Wallstedt might just be the most known name on this list – and for good reason. The netminder looks to stick in the SHL this season, already playing in nine games and recording an impressive 2.06 goals against average and .920 save percentage. He did play one J20 Nationell game, recording a shut out.

Wallstedt’s international resume is impressive. He’s twice been on the roster for the World Under-18 Hockey Championship, played in the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge, and twice participated in the Hlinka Gretzky Cup.

“His poise and composure are miles ahead of most other netminders his age,” Neumeier said. “Doesn’t look nervous at all staring down dangerous scoring chances. He uses his large frame and big equipment to play a simple blocking style, and he is incredibly effective at it.

“His form and technique are rock solid, so when he squares up to a shooter there’s almost no daylight to aim for.”

The goaltender could be the backup to the older Hugo Alnfelt, but don’t be surprised to see him get some starts and even take over the reins in net.

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