10 NHL Prospects to Watch at the 2021 World Junior Championships

Lyle Richardson@@SpectorsHockeyFeatured ColumnistDecember 23, 2020

10 NHL Prospects to Watch at the 2021 World Junior Championships

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    Petr David Josek/Associated Press

    The 2021 IIHF World Junior Championships will be held in Edmonton starting Dec. 25, 2020, and concluding with the Gold Medal game on Jan. 5, 2021. The tournament involves the best young under-20 hockey prospects from 10 countries.

    This tournament is also a terrific opportunity for hockey fans to see several promising NHL draft picks in action. Except for the St. Louis Blues, every NHL team will have at least one prospect in this competition.

    For many of these youngsters, the World Juniors is a time to shine on the world stage. It can become a significant stepping stone on their paths toward big league professional careers. It also provides many NHL fans with a first glimpse of future stars.

    Here are 10 NHL prospects to keep an eye on in the upcoming 2021 World Junior Championships.

Yaroslav Askarov, Russia

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    The only goaltender selected in the first round of the 2020 NHL draft, Yaroslav Askarov was taken 11th overall by the Nashville Predators. He made his full-time debut in Russia's Kontinental Hockey League this season with St. Petersburg SKA, sporting a record of 4 wins and 3 losses in seven games with a 0.96 goals-against average, a .962 save percentage and one shutout.

    Askarov, 18, is the top candidate to become Russia's starting goaltender in this upcoming tournament. This will be his second appearance in the World Juniors. Quant Hockey indicates he appeared in five games in last year's competition, though his stats (2.71 GAA, .877 SP) were below his usual standard.

    Now a year older and more experienced, the 6'4” Askarov should have a much better performance this time around. This will also provide the Predators with a good look at the young goalie who could become a starter for their club in a few years. Backstopping Russia to World Junior gold would make a terrific first impression.

Quinton Byfield, Canada

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    Selected by the Los Angeles Kings' second overall in the 2020 NHL draft, Quinton Byfield spent the last two seasons with the Ontario Hockey League's Sudbury Wolves. The 6'4”, 214-pound center tallied a team-leading 82 points in just 45 games in 2019-20.

    Byfield is among six players returning for Canada this year. He tallied one assist in seven games as Canada won the 2020 World Junior Championship. On Dec. 11, NHL.com's Adam Kimelman reported the 18-year-old is hoping to use that experience to his advantage.

    With first-overall pick Alexis Lafreniere not participating in this year's tournament, Byfield will garner considerable attention. A big, skilled forward, he will be expected to play a major role for Canada. A strong performance against the world's best prospects could prove the springboard toward joining the Kings in 2021. 

Bowen Byram, Canada

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    Appearing in his second straight World Junior Championship for Canada, Bowen Byram was selected fourth overall by the Colorado Avalanche in the 2019 NHL draft. On Nov. 23, SI.COM/The Hockey News' Steven Ellis suggested the 19-year-old defenseman was well ahead of his peers entering this tournament.

    The 6'1”, 190 Byram is a superb, all-around blueliner who was outstanding for Canada during their gold-medal run in last year's championship. He had 71 points in 67 games with the Western Hockey League's Vancouver Giants in 2018-19 and 52 points in 50 games before COVID-19 prematurely ended the 2019-20 schedule.

    Byram's skills, experience and leadership made him one of Canada's alternate captains in this tournament. He's projected to become a significant part of the Avalanche's defense corps. Leading Canada to their third gold medal in four years would only burnish his reputation and perhaps vault him into the Avalanche roster next season.

Yegor Chinakhov, Russia

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    The Columbus Blue Jackets raised eyebrows by selecting Yegor Chinakhov 21st overall in the 2020 NHL draft. Many pundits didn't even have him on their list of last season's top 100 prospects. This tournament will be the first opportunity for NHL followers to see this previously unheralded young Russian winger in action.

    Chinakhov caught the Blue Jackets' attention last season by tallying 27 goals and 69 points in 56 games in Russia's junior league. He also netted seven points in 12 games with the KHL's Avangard Omsk. Now in his first full season with his KHL team, the 19-year-old winger has 15 points in 27 games.

    On Dec. 1, Kimelman cited Blue Jackets European player development coach Jarkko Ruutu singing Chinakhov's praises. His experience playing on Avangard Omsk's top line with professional players could give the young Russian a competitive edge in this tournament.

Spencer Knight, USA

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    The Florida Panthers' first-round pick (13th overall) in the 2019 NHL draft, Spencer Knight is expected to be the starting goaltender for Team USA in this tournament. This year will be the 19-year-old's third straight World Junior Championship.

    At 6'3” and 197 pounds, Knight is a big, athletic goalie currently in his second season with Boston College. NHL.com's Mike G. Morreale observed he was a finalist last season for the Mike Richter Award, given to the NCAA's top goalie. He's off to a good start this season, winning all four of his starts with a 1.50 goals-against average and .955 save percentage. Two of those victories were by shutout.

    This will be Knight's final appearance in the World Juniors and his last chance to win gold for his country. He could become a contender as the tournament's top goaltender. A solid performance on his part could further his path to the NHL.

Anton Lundell, Finland

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    The Florida Panthers selected Anton Lundell with the 12th overall pick in the 2020 NHL draft. He enters this tournament with 12 goals and 20 points in 17 games this season with HIFK Helsinki of Finland's Elite League. The 19-year-old center is on pace to exceed last season's career-best 28-point performance.

    Lundell has previous experience at this level, having helped Finland win gold at the 2019 World Junior Championship. A skilled two-way center, the 6'1”, 185-pounder is expected to play a lead role for Finland in this competition.

    On Dec. 8, Morreale reported Lundell could be playing with the Panthers sooner rather than later. Gregory Campbell, their vice president of player personnel and development, told Morreale he's impressed with the youngster's overall performance in Finland this season. If that carries over into this tournament, Lundell could move closer to achieving his NHL dream.

Lucas Raymond, Sweden

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    Lucas Raymond heads a list of seven Detroit Red Wings prospects participating in the 2021 World Junior Championship. The Wings selected the 18-year-old left winger from Sweden's Frolunda HC with the fourth-overall pick in the 2020 NHL draft.

    Raymond is taking part in his second World Juniors. He tallied two goals and two assists for four points in seven games as Sweden took bronze in the 2020 tournament. Now in his third season with Frolunda HC, he has five goals and 12 points in 22 games.

    A strong skating, competitive two-way player, the 5'10", 161-pound Raymond could have a bright future with the rebuilding Red Wings. He's not expected to make the jump to the NHL this season as the Wings tend to take their time developing their young talent. Nevertheless, Raymond could move quickly up their prospect depth chart with a solid effort in this tournament.

Marco Rossi, Austria

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    Selected ninth overall by the Minnesota Wild in the 2020 NHL draft, Marco Rossi enjoyed a stellar performance last season with the Ontario Hockey League's Ottawa 67's. Tallying 120 points in just 56 games, he was the leading scorer in the Canadian Hockey League and the OHL's most outstanding player.

    At 5'9” and 187 pounds, the 19-year-old Rossi may be small by NHL standards, but he's blessed with tremendous hockey skills. In addition to his eye-catching offensive skills, the young Austrian is a versatile forward who can also skate on the wing and plays a responsible defensive game.

    The Athletic's Scott Wheeler reported last month Rossi had tested positive for COVID-19. He has since overcome the illness and is medically cleared to play in this tournament. The underdog Austrians need him at his best for a shot at winning a medal.

Jake Sanderson, USA

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    The second player selected in the first round by the Ottawa Senators (fifth overall) in the 2020 NHL draft, Jake Sanderson is the son of former NHL forward Geoff Sanderson. The 18-year-old was also the top defenseman selected in this year's draft. It's his first appearance in the under-20 World Junior Championship.

    A freshman at the University of North Dakota, the 6'2”, 185-pound Sanderson can log big minutes and play in every game situation. He tallied three points in as many games for UND before joining Team USA for this tournament. He'll be a solid addition to the American defense corps.

    Sanderson won't be making the jump to the Senators this season, but their scouts will likely be closely following him in this tournament. Ottawa fans will also be watching to catch their first look at the blueliner they hope will become a key part of their defense in the near future.

Tim Stuetzle, Germany

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    The Ottawa Senators selected Tim Stuetzle with the third overall pick in the 2020 NHL draft. He plays for the Mannheim Eagles of the Deutsche Eishockey Liga (DEL). On Dec. 3, Sportsnet's Wayne Scanlan reported the 18-year-old center recently resumed skating with the club after recovering from surgery on Oct. 15 to repair a broken hand.

    Stuetzle enjoyed a solid debut with Mannheim last season with 34 points in 41 games. A versatile forward who can skate at center or on the wing, he has tremendous speed and playmaking skills. He played well for Germany in the 2020 World Juniors, collecting five assists in as many games, and will be expected to provide his squad with leadership and experience.

    It'll be interesting to see if Stuetzle feels any lingering effects from his injury and the long layoff from playing. On Dec. 12, the Ottawa Sun's Bruce Garrioch reported the youngster will likely join the Senators following this tournament. That could become a certainty if Stuetzle plays a starring role for Germany.

    Players stats via HockeyDB.com.

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