2021 WJC: 5 overager standouts
Another edition of the World Junior Championship is in the books.
While it’s important not to put too much weight into the performance of individuals in this event, it does provide a look at how draft-eligible prospects are progressing and how they stack up against their peers.
For players re-entering the NHL Draft, that step forward shown in this tournament can help to build some draft momentum as they look to hear their name called in the offseason.
In the 2021 World Junior Championship, a number of overagers impressed while representing their country. Here are five draft-eligible re-entry candidates that stood out over the past two weeks.
Florian Elias, C, Team Germany
This list may be alphabetical, but Team Germany’s Florian Elias deserves to be at the top. The centerman truly impressed in this tournament, playing on the top line between German studs Tim Stützle and JJ Peterka. At first glance, you may think that the overager was benefitting by playing on a line with two of the top players in this tournament. To an extent, maybe. Looking closer though, he contributed in his own way to the success of that top line.
Elias collected at least one point in all five of his games, racking up four goals and five assists for nine points. Three of those assists were primary. The DEL’s Adler Mannheim forward played on both the power play and the penalty kill, won 59% of his puck battles, and averaged 5.4 takeaways a game. He also steadily improved his passing in the tournament, from a 69% accuracy in game one to a 93% rate against the Russians in the Quarterfinal. He finished the tournament completing 79% of his passes.
Elias impressed in the DNL last season and was a leader in this tournament. Despite being passed over in the 2020 NHL Draft, Elias could be the German forward to keep an eye on in the 2021 edition.
Simon Knak, RW, Team Switzerland
Team Switzerland captain Simon Knak may not have lit up the scoresheet like Elias, but he was a constant threat and consistently drove the play for a Swiss team that struggled this year. In his four games played, he had just one goal – one of only five that the Swiss scored in the entire tournament. For his efforts, he was named a top-three player on the Swiss team.
The right winger consistently played over 20 minutes a game, highlighted by 26:02 in a 5-4 loss against Germany – Knak and Switzerland’s final game of the tournament. He finished with an average of 22:22 per game. He was a leader on special teams and made it extremely hard on his opponents. Even against Team Canada, he was battling hard, keeping pressure on the opponents, and defending well in transition. He played at a high pace and led by example on this young team.
The WHL’s Portland Winterhawks forward was one of a handful of players passed over in 2020 that raised a few eyebrows. He could be a key overager to watch in the 2021 NHL Draft.
Martin Lang, W, Team Czech Republic (double overager)
The first double overager on this last, Team Czech Republic forward Martin Lang impressed in the World Juniors, as he should being one of the older players in the tournament. In five games, Lang led the team with five points (three goals, one assist), helping the Czechs to the Quarterfinal round versus Canada. Granted, two goals and an assist came in one game in a 7-0 win against Austria.
Lang was arguably the Czech’s best forward through the tournament, providing a similar type of output to Knak. Lang played hard, showed off some great speed and an intriguing shot toolbox. He completed 86% of his passes and won 52% of his luck battles. Even against the powerhouse Canadians, Lang won 53% of his battles.
He’s not a guarantee to get drafted, but he did look good in the event so he makes this list. Also, it’s important to note that while he’s a double overager, he was just one day away from not being eligible for the 2019 NHL Draft (born on September 15, 2001). Really, he should be thought of as a single overager.
Simon Latkoczy, G, Team Slovakia
The first of two goaltenders on this list, Simon Latkoczy wasn’t handed the starting role. Team Slovakia seemed to be leaning towards double overager Samuel Hlavaj (who easily could be on this list as well). Hlavaj was given the net versus Canada and Finland, where Latkoczy got the easier matchups versus Switzerland and Germany.
The team’s lone win can versus Switzerland, with Latkoczy recording a shutout. In the Quarterfinals match against the USA, the team turned to Latkoczy again in a do or die moment. The netminder responded with a 38-save performance, giving his team every chance to stay in the game. He let in just four goals, the least amount the USA put past a netminder (tied with their 4-0 win over Sweden). He finished the tournament with a .922 save percentage.
Latkoczy was honoured as one of the team’s top-three players in the tournament. Shortly after the tournament, FCHockey’s own Justin Froese then broke the news that the netminder will be headed to the USHL’s powerhouse Chicago Steel after starting the season in the Slovakia U20 league. Last season, Latkoczy played for the USHL’s Madison Capitols and was named to the All-Rookie Team. Especially backstopping Chicago, he’s one to keep tabs on ahead of the 2021 NHL Draft.
Kari Piiroinen, G, Team Finland (double overager)
Coming into the World Juniors, many had the Finnish net locked for Pittsburgh Penguins 2020 NHL draftee Joel Blomqvist. That wasn’t the case. Instead, Team Finland seemed to be between double overagers Kari Piiroinen and Roope Taponen. They split the exhibition game versus the USA and then each played a game. From there on out, it was Piiroinen’s net.
After his 5-3 win against Germany in game one, Piiroinen shut out Team Slovakia, held Team Canada to just four goals (making 36 saves), and after letting two goals in against Team Sweden in the Quarterfinals, he shut the door and helped the team to a 3-2 win. In the Semifinal matchup versus Team USA, he let in four goals against, stopping 22 shots. To put the cap in his performance, he stopped 28 of Russia’s 29 shots in the bronze medal game, securing the bronze with a .966 save percentage. He finished the tournament with a .915 save percentage and a 2.18 goals against average.
Piiroinen was a big reason the Finns made it to the bronze medal game, making some big saves when it mattered. He’s been impressing in Finland this season on loan in the Mestis with TUTO Hockey, going 7-2-5 with a .924 save percentage and a 2.26 goals against average. He might be worth a look in the later rounds of the 2021 NHL Draft.