Canadian NHL team prospects at the 2021 world juniors

Team Canada Assistant Coach Michael Dyck talks what progress the team has made since the start of training camp and where he sees team chemistry going down the line in a press conference.

Every holiday season, the world juniors gives hockey fans a glimpse of the future of the game — both on the international stage as well as in the NHL. With so many top NHL prospects hitting the ice at once in best-on-best competition, the tournament is a great way to check in on your favourite team’s next stars.

This year, there are 24 players drafted by Canadian NHL clubs competing. Toronto has the biggest group suiting up in the tournament, while the Vancouver Canucks and Edmonton Oilers have the fewest — but perhaps some of the biggest stars.

Here’s a look at the Canadian NHL teams’ prospects suiting up for their countries at the 2021 world juniors.

Toronto Maple Leafs: 6

Mikko Kokkonen, D | Finland
Drafted: Round 3, 84th overall, 2019
Club team: Jukurit (Liiga)
This will be Kokkonen’s second world juniors stint after the Finns struggled at the 2020 edition. As the promising, puck-moving rearguard takes the next step in his development, he’ll also take on a leadership role as an alternate captain for the tournament.

Topi Niemela, D | Finland
Drafted: Round 3, 64th overall, 2020
Club team: Kärpät (Liiga)
The Finns know how to produce strong defencemen, and Niemela fits the mould of that mobile, dynamic rearguard who shines when driving the play.

Roni Hirvonen, F | Finland
Drafted: Round 2, 59th overall, 2020
Club team: Ässät (Liiga)
What he lacks in size, he makes up for in skating, puck-handling, and a strong defensive game. Just 21 games into his second Liiga season, he’s already matched last year’s rookie goal total (five).

Mikhail Abramov, F | Russia
Drafted: Round 4, 115th overall, 2019
Club team: Victoriaville Tigres (QMJHL)
The centreman was given the Victoriaville captaincy this season after the leading the team on the score sheet last year. He’s already put up four goals and 14 points in nine QMJHL games this year.

Rodion Amirov, F | Russia
Drafted: Round 1, 15th overall, 2020
Club team: Salavat Yulaev Ufa (KHL)
For most Leafs fans, this will be the first time they get to see Amirov in action. Sportsnet’s Mike Shulman spoke with the NHL’s director of Central Scouting, Dan Marr, prior to the 2020 draft. Marr had this to say about Amirov, who’s an unknown commodity to many:

“I just think, down the road, he may prove to be a real diamond in the rough. Even though he’s a well-known player, it’s just there’s been limited views on him and some games there’s limited ice time,” Marr told Shulman.

“He’s the guy who could shoot up to end up being one of the best players to come out of this draft as well. There’s just that little bit of unknown that the best is yet to come with him and we need to assume that’s gonna (become reality).”

Artur Akhtyamov, G | Russia
Drafted: Round 4, 106th overall, 2020
Club team: Bars Kazan (VHL)
Already this season, the young netminder has seen action at the junior, tier-two, and top level in Russia. Now, he embarks upon his first time representing his country on the international stage. It’s unclear how much ice time he’ll really see, but Leafs fans will be keen to learn more about the 2020 fourth-rounder.

Ottawa Senators: 4

Roby Jarventie, F | Finland
Drafted: Round 2, 33rd overall, 2020
Club team: Ilves Tampere (Liiga)
His rookie season in Finland’s top league is off to a stellar start — seven goals, 14 points in 19 games — and he’s quickly become one of the exciting and intriguing prospects in Ottawa’s system. He’s certainly set himself up for a strong world junior debut.

Tim Stuetzle, F | Germany
Drafted: Round 1, 3rd overall, 2020
Club team: Adler Mannheim (DEL)
This will be Stuetzle’s first competition since undergoing arm surgery back in October — a procedure that required a six-to-eight week recovery time. While this will be the first time Senators fans get to watch him in high-stakes competition as one of their own, it’s likely we’re about to see a lot more of him. The power forward, who is helping put Germany on the hockey map, is expected to make the jump right into the NHL.

Jake Sanderson, D | USA
Drafted: Round 1, 5th overall, 2020
Club team: University of North Dakota (NCAA)
The top defenceman selected in the 2020 draft, Sanderson is an elite skater and puck-mover who’s only just scratched the surface of his offensive upside.

Tyler Kleven, D | USA
Drafted: Round 2, 44th overall, 2020
Club team: University of North Dakota (NCAA)
Between Sanderson and Kleven — and, it seems, just about every other UND rearguard right now — the Senators have a lot to be excited about when it comes to the future of their blue line. At six-foot-four, Kleven has the size to be a strong shutdown man.

Calgary Flames: 4

Jakob Pelletier, F | Canada
Drafted: Round 1, 26th overall, 2019
Club team: Val-d’Or Foreurs (QMJHL)
Pelletier is smart with the puck and plays a sound all-around game — a perfect complement to some of the elite goal-scorers on Team Canada’s roster. He’s off to a great start this season with three goals and 13 points in nine games before attending national team camp. Though Pelletier won’t wear a letter with Team Canada, he’s a proven leader in the locker room. He wore the ‘C’ with the Moncton Wildcats last year and is currently captain of Val-d’Or, too.

Flames fans are going to love this guy:

Connor Zary, F | Canada
Drafted: Round 1, 24th overall, 2020
Club team: Kamloops Blazers (WHL)
Zary finished fifth in WHL scoring (37 goals, 86 points) last year, centring one of the league’s most productive lines. He could do the same with Team Canada — and the Flames hope in Calgary someday, too — as one of the most versatile players on the roster who’s got a great scoring touch.

Yan Kuznetsov, D | Russia
Drafted: Round 2, 50th overall, 2020
Club team: University of Connecticut (NCAA)
Kuznetsov (no relation to Capitals forward Evgeni) brings size — he’s six-foot-four, 209 pounds — and experience to a young Russian squad.

Dustin Wolf, G | USA
Drafted: Round 7, 214th overall, 2019
Club team: Everett Silvertips (WHL)
This will be Wolf’s second world juniors appearance, after starting just one game of the 2020 edition. The netminder is coming off a really strong 2019-20 season with Everett that saw him finish the year as leader or co-leader in wins, shutouts, save percentage, and goals-against average. The Flames rewarded his stellar season by handing him his first pro hockey contract.

Montreal Canadiens: 3

Kaiden Guhle, D | Canada
Drafted: Round 1, 16th overall, 2020
Club team: Prince Albert Raiders (WHL)
At six-foot-three, Guhle is a big body on the blue line — and he’s plays like it, unafraid to use a very physical game.

Though he’s projected as more of a shut-down d-man than an offensive defenceman and is slated to fit into that kind of role (likely alongside Justin Barron) with Team Canada, the strong skater has been known to jump into the rush and flex his offensive game, too. We saw a sharp rise in his scoring numbers last season with the WHL’s Prince Albert Raiders, tallying 11 goals and 40 points — more than double his offensive contributions from one season prior.

Jan Mysak, F | Czech
Drafted: Round 2, 48th overall, 2020
Club team: HC Litvinov (Czech)
After playing pro back home in the Czech Republic before even turning 18, Mysak made the jump to the OHL back in January and excelled with the Hamilton Bulldogs to the tune of 15 goals and 25 points in 22 games before the season was shut down.

Cole Caufield, F | USA
Drafted: Round 1, 15th overall, 2019
Club team: Univ. of Wisconsin (NCAA)
Caufield is one of the most electrifying young prospects suiting up in this tournament, a must-watch talent every time he’s on the ice. Despite his diminutive frame, he’s a dynamic playmaker on offence and creates scoring opportunities wherever he goes. He’s already got six goals and 12 points in 10 NCAA games as a sophomore with the Badgers.

Winnipeg Jets: 3

Cole Perfetti, F | Canada
Drafted: Round 1, 10th overall, 2020
Club team: Saginaw Spirit (OHL)
Perfetti, whose versatility up front could see him suit up at both centre and on the wing over the course of the tournament, is coming off a historic season with the OHL’s Saginaw Spirit that saw him set a new single-season franchise record for points with 111 (37 goals, 74 assists).

As dynamic a playmaker as he is — he’s so creative with the puck, earning comparisons to Nikita Kucherov for his skillset — it’s his hockey mind that really makes him special.

Ville Heinola, D | Finland
Drafted: Round 1, 20th overall, 2019
Club team: Lukko (Liiga)
Heinola is one of the few players in this tournament who has made his NHL debut — the Finnish rearguard made the Jets’ 2019-20 roster out of training camp (and an abundance of injuries on the blue line) and showed off some of his offensive upside with a goal and five points in his eight-game stint before being sent back to his Liiga club. Heinola is also one of the rare players who will play in his third WJC tournament — he helped Finland to gold in 2018-19, felt the sting of missing the podium last year, and is back for more as a leader on the blue line.

Henri Nikkanen, F | Finland
Drafted: Round 4, 113th overall, 2019
Club team: Jukurit (Liiga)
At six-foot-four and 209 pounds, Nikkanen has an NHL-ready frame and is still developing his ability to use it. His Liiga season is off to a strong start — two goals and seven points through 15 games — and he could play a big (literally!) role in Finland’s drive to get back on the podium.

Edmonton Oilers: 2

Dylan Holloway, F | Canada
Drafted: Round 1, 14th overall, 2020
Club team: University of Wisconsin (NCAA)
Holloway will be an interesting player to watch, as he could see time slotted in at various points in the lineup as both a top-six support and on a checking line against opponents’ big names. The Calgary native and future Oiler plays an excellent defensive game and is developing into a very complete player. Dan Marr, director of NHL Central Scouting, had this to say about Holloway prior to the draft:

“What always stands (out) with him is that he’s got really good speed, really good hockey sense, but it’s just the character through which he plays the game and the presence that he has in that he’s a competitor and he likes to win battles, he likes to win situations,” Marr told Sportsnet’s Mike Shulman.

“Like he’s in there in all the scrums and all the battles because he wants to win them. And … he’s a high-character, low-maintenance player.

Philip Broberg, D | Sweden
Drafted: Round 1, 8th overall, 2019
Club team: Skellefteå AIK (SHL)
Broberg was a surprise addition to Edmonton’s bubble squad over the summer, turning a camp invite initially intended to give the top prospect some valuable NHL experience into a much longer stay, though he didn’t wind up suiting up in competition. Now he’s back in the Edmonton bubble, headlining Sweden’s roster as both team captain and leader of what’s poised to be a strong defence.

Vancouver Canucks: 2

Vasily Podkolzin, F | Russia
Drafted: Round 1, 10th overall, 2019
Club team: SKA St. Petersburg (KHL)
Podkolzin comes into his third world juniors with a ‘C’ on his sweater and massive expectations — and rightly so. The power forward might already be in the NHL, had he not been locked into a KHL contract at draft time. That contract is also the reason he wasn’t drafted earlier, making him a potential steal for Vancouver at 10.

Arvid Costmar, F | Sweden
Drafted: Round 7, 215th overall, 2019
Club team: Linköping HC (SHL)
A wave of positive COVID-19 test results on Sweden’s roster opened up an opportunity for the Canucks seventh-rounder. Of all Canadian team prospects, Costmar has the potential to see the biggest rise in his stock.

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