January 2, 2021

2021 WJC: 7 standouts from the preliminary round

The 2021 World Junior Championship is trucking along with the preliminary round coming to an end.

As always in this tournament, certain names emerge as names to know. Some of them you may have expected, some maybe not.

At FCHockey, we’re focused on the NHL Draft. So while Trevor Zegras, Tim Stützle, and Dylan Cozens may be standouts in this tournament overall, we’re looking at your favourite team’s future prospects.

See Also: 2021 WJC: Draft-eligible player guide

With the elimination rounds about to kick off, here are seven names that have been turning our heads to start this tournament. There’s still plenty of action left, but these prospects have already earned some recognition.

Matthew Beniers, C, Team USA – 2021 eligible

If you’ve been watching the 2021 World Juniors, chances are you’ve seen a glimpse of what USA’s Matthew Beniers can do. The centerman has been a top-six contributor for the Americans, acting as the pivot between Minnesota Wild prospect Matthew Boldy and Montreal Canadiens sharpshooter Cole Caufield. Through the four preliminary games, Beniers has two assists and has shown his tenacity and determination on the ice. He constantly battles for the puck, always looking to win it back for his team, and he’s always going at full speed. In fact, the University of Michigan star is third in the tournament in challenged won per game, averaging 17 battles for a neutral puck per game, and winning 10.8 per game – a 63.2% win rate. The prospect has shown his skill on the ice and should be a key figure for the USA moving into the medal rounds.

Florian Elias, C, Team Germany – 2021 re-entry

The first of two re-entries on this list, I’ll be the first to say there’s a caveat to having Florian Elias on this list. The German forward has been playing on the top line between Ottawa Senators’ future star Tim Stützle and Buffalo Sabres’ JJ Peterka. But, Elias has been keeping up with the two talents and is fifth in the tournament with three goals, five assists and eight points in his four games. Elias might seem like a bit of a passenger on his line, but he has been contributing in big ways. He’s fourth in the tournament in challenges won per game (right behind Beniers) with 10.5 wins and 18.3 attempts per game (57.5% win rate). In the offensive zone, that rate jumps up to 70%. The top line for Germany is a huge reason for them entering the medal round, and it will need to continue that if they are going to make any noise.

David Jiricek, D, Team Czech Republic –2022 eligible

When scouting Team Czech Republic in this tournament for the NHL Draft, you’re first going to look at Stanislav Svozil – we’ll get to him. Yet it’s likely going to be David Jiricek that steals your gaze. Not eligible until the 2022 NHL Draft, Jiricek has arguably been the Czech’s best defender. The right-handed rearguard has one goal and one assist in the tournament so far and has been impressing as one of the youngest players in this tournament. What might be the most impressive is that Jiricek is second in the tournament in Corsi at 54. For a defenseman playing just 15:18 minutes a night on average, he’s made his time count. Looking towards the 2022 NHL Draft, the Czech may just have another first-round talent on their blue line following Svozil in the 2021 class.

Kirill Kirsanov, D, Team Russia – 2021 eligible

Coming into the 2021 World Juniors, Daniil Chayka was the draft-eligible Russian name to know. Halfway through, another name has been turning heads on the Russian blue line: Kirill Kirsanov. Playing over 20 minutes a game, Kirsanov has been arguably one of Russia’s best defenders in all three zones. He angles out well defending the rush, shows great footwork and hands in his transition and has great vision in the offensive end, finding lanes and working the cycle. Kirsanov has shown some consistency issues this season, but if this is a look at what he can do, he might just earn himself a spot in the first round.

Brad Lambert, C/RW, Team Finland – 2022 eligible

Our second 2022-eligible player might be one of the most impressive on this list. Brad Lambert may be one of the youngest players in this tournament, but he doesn’t play like it. There are times when the Finnish forward looks like a man among boys, driving the net, playing with fearlessness. He’s been getting top-six minutes with Team Finland and has one of the best on-goal shot percentages in the tournament (88.2%). Lambert should be a leader on the team in the 2022 World Juniors and it’s very likely that he’ll be in the NHL for the 2022-23 season.

Stanislav Svozil, D, Czech Republic – 2021 eligible

Jiricek has been turning heads, but so has the older Svozil. Very likely to be a first-round pick in the 2021 NHL Draft, Svozil has just one assist in the tournament so far. But he fights hard, winning 60% of his puck battles, and he’s put on display his ability to find gaps, process the game, and fill empty ice. His hockey instinct and intelligence are on display often and you never know when he might spring into action and create a chance. One of the best defenders in the class, Svozil has been showing why in this tournament.

Sebastian Wraneschitz, G, Austria – 2021 re-entry

Austrian goaltender Sebastian Wraneschitz has earned a spot on this list. The goaltender may have lost all three games he played in with a 7.45 goals against average and .892 save percentage, but the netminder also faced a whopping 178 shots, nearly double that of the closest goaltender to him. He continued to play with poise and determination, not looking flustered at any point. On top of being the feel-good story of the tournament, Wraneschitz likely made some teams take notice. He could very well be a later-round pick in the 2021 NHL Draft, continuing his feel-good story in July.

Honourable Mentions: Simon Knak (re-entry), Samuel Hlavaj (re-entry), Martin Lang (re-entry), Simon Nemec (2022), Oskar Olausson (2021), Jesper Wallstedt (2021) 

Stats provided by InStat

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