The 2021 World Junior Championship has come to a close. The tournament was highly entertaining even without fans, with many exceptional NHL prospects on display. The United States pulled off a rather dominant Gold Medal performance, solidifying their place in hockey royalty as one of the best countries for player development in the world.
The World Junior Championship is short, so it can be rather hard to evaluate players given just how small of a window into the current development of a player it is. However, seeing a player compete against his peers can also help determine where a player may be at, and what strengths and weaknesses they currently possess. With the tournament now complete, here are some players that stood out, and others who were rather disappointing.
Zegras was an absolute terror as the leading scorer in the tournament. With a whopping 18 points in 7 games, Zegras showed why he is the best playmaker outside the NHL. He also displayed a lethal wrist shot and a willingness to use it. I wondered if Zegras was NHL ready this season. He certainly looks it. Don’t be surprised to see him on the Anaheim Ducks main roster when the NHL season starts next week.
Like Zegras, there was an expectation that Cozens would be dominant in this tournament. Cozens, as well, didn’t disappoint. With 16 points and 8 goals, Cozens displayed his elite skater and ability to create space for himself using his size. He also showed excellent defensive awareness and strong two-way overall play. Cozens is penciled in on the Buffalo Sabres main roster to start the season.
Lundell led the Finns with 7 goals and was extremely dominant all tournament long. Lundell already had a reputation as a strong defensive player, but there have been questions posed about his offensive ability. Though he was already putting those questions to rest before the season began, Lundell most certainly ended those with his performance. Lundell will finish the season in Europe, but he will likely challenge for a roster spot on the Florida Panthers next year.
Niemela was the surprise top defenseman in the tournament. He was projected to be a two-way defender at the next level. However, his offensive prowess and ability to move the puck up the ice quickly through an excellent first pass showed he may have more flare to his game than originally thought. Niemela looked comfortable running the powerplay and even driving play at times. The Toronto Maple Leafs second-round pick is a few years away, but his stock is climbing.
Farinacci centered the United States’ dominant third line in this tournament and answered many questions scouts had about his game. Farinacci showed a strong two-way game and played with tenacity. He was relentless at chasing down pucks, yet showed some strong offensive instincts at well. Farinacci will finish the season in the USHL and is still a few years away from NHL competition.
Stutzle, like Cozens and Zegras, was expected to be dominant. He certainly was. On a depleted German roster, Stutzle played over 30 minutes a night on multiple occasions, an astounding accomplishment. Stutzle led the German team to a quarter-final birth and showed why he was the third overall pick in the 2020 draft. Once Germany was defeated, Stutzle hopped on a plane and headed to Ottawa to begin the season. Look for him to start the season with the Senators next week.
Very few 16 year-olds play in the tournament, but Lambert was the best of the bunch. While he was statistically quiet, Lambert showed elite hockey sense and passing ability for such a young player. He ran Finland’s top powerplay unit and showed a diversity of skill and offensive ability. He will be a top-five pick in a few seasons.
Canada was the deepest team in this tournament, so it was expected some players would struggle to produce. That being said, Jack Quinn was still a huge disappointment in the tournament. Considered by some to be the best goal scorer in the 2020 draft, Quinn failed to create shot attempts. He also struggled defensively at five-on-five and at times was a defensive liability. The Buffalo first-round pick flew straight from the World Juniors to Buffalo’s camp, but he is unlikely to make their roster and is in likely need of seasoning before making the NHL jump.
Rossi, Austria’s captain, had a rather disappointing tournament. He is a bit of a more difficult case to analyze, considering he was the only NHL draft pick on his team, and he had COVID-19 about a month before the tournament. Even with those factors, Rossi was exceptionally quiet. Rossi struggled to drive play and looked tired overall. He is currently at NHL camp with the Minnesota Wild. Rossi is likely not quite NHL ready but could see AHL playing time to start the year.
The surprise first-round pick of the New Jersey Devils, Mukhamadullin has had a decent season in the KHL. However, the World Junior Championship exposed some mass weaknesses in his game. Mukhamadullin made many questionable decisions when attempting to move the puck. He also struggled to follow transitional plays and chased the puck with regularity. Mukhamadullin was always more of a long-term project for the Devils, but he looks further away than previously expected.
Team Finland knew they were in need of a group scoring effort heading into the tournament. Jarventie, a second-round pick of the Ottawa Senators last season, was expected to provide at least some of that. Instead, he was quiet and inconsequential offensively and defensively.
Askarov had moments of brilliance, showing why the Nashville Predators chose to select him in the first round last season. That being said, Askarov struggled mightily at times as well. He was unable to cover the top of the net with regularity and even struggled to hold on to his stick with regularity. Goalies take a long-time to develop, but a few concerns have risen to the surface in Askarov’s development.