There’s going to be a lot of young talent to keep an eye on at the 2021 World Junior Hockey Championship. This could be daunting, especially for newcomers to the tournament. 

If you come into the tournament as a broader NHL-focused fan, this series will take a look at the top prospects from each team.

Let’s kick it off with the brand new Central Division. 

Carolina Hurricanes

Team Canada: Ryan Suzuki

Team Russia: Vasiliy Ponomarev

Team Sweden: Noel Gunler and Zion Nybeck 

This will be Suzuki’s second year at the World Juniors, and he’s also the highest drafted Hurricanes prospect, taken 28th overall in 2019. While he appeared in the postseason training camp over the summer for the Canes, he did not crack the roster to head into the Toronto Bubble, so you can tell he’s hungry for the chance to prove himself.

Sweden has two prospects in the tournament, both Gunler and Nybeck have cracked their country’s roster for the first time. Hitting this stage for the first, they’re also going to be willing to prove themselves as later round draft picks. There’s definitely no need to ignore Ponomarev on Team Russia. The 18-year-old second round pick helped lead Russia to a Gold Medal in 2019 for the Hlinka Gretzky Cup. 

‘Canes fans have some options here, but it looks like Suzuki might be on his way to cracking an NHL roster soon, so give Team Canada a view for him.

Chicago Blackhawks

Team Canada: Kirby Dach

Team Czech Republic: Michal Teply, Michael Krutil

Team United States: Landon Slaggert

Most Blackhawks fans were rightfully keeping an eye on the development of Dach ahead of this tournament. He’s already played in the NHL, both in the regular season and in the playoffs, and he was named Captain for this year’s World Juniors roster.

Unfortunately, he suffered an upper body injury during an exhibition game and will be out for the remainder of the games, potentially into the NHL season.

Luckily for Blackhawks fans, there are other prospects to watch during the tournament. Slaggert, Teply, and Krutil were all taken in the 2020 draft in the third or fourth rounds. That’s not to disqualify them from attention. Slaggert got ice time for the Fighting Irish, Teply got 29 goals in 53 goals for the Winnipeg Ice, and Krutil got 5 points 19 games for the Sparta Praha U20. 

I’ve been impressed with what I’ve seen from Krutil, he’ll be on the top D pairing for the Czech Republic team. Even if Dach wasn’t out, I’d recommend that Blackhawks fans watch him and his development. 

Columbus Blue Jackets

Team Finland: Mikael Pyyhtia

Team Russia: Yegor Chinakhov

Team Slovakia: Samuel Knazko

Chinakhov is the one to watch for Blue Jackets fans. The 21st overall pick in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft, he was also the highest scoring teenager in the KHL and looks like he might be on Russia’s second line. He’ll certainly see some ice time for the team there.

But don’t sleep on Knazko or Pyyhtia. Knazko was plus-16 for Finland’s U-20 team, and appeared in five games for the World Juniors last year. Also on Finland’s TPS team, Pyyhtia got 19 points in 16 games and will be making his debut at the WJC this year. 

There’s some solid young talent for Blue Jackets’ fans to enjoy across the tournament, but if you only have time for one team, check out Chinakhov and Team Russia. 

Dallas Stars

Team Canda: Thomas Harley

Harley is the only Stars prospect that qualified for the World Juniors after making his NHL debut in the Round Robin this year. Harley looks eager to make his mark for Canada and for the Stars, so Dallas fans should give him a watch.

Detroit Red Wings

Team Czech Republic: Jan Bednar

Team Finland: Eemil Viro 

Team Sweden: Albert Johansson, Elmer Soderblom, Gustav Berglund, Lucas Raymond, Theodor Neiderbach

While previous seasons can be dismal, looking at the prospect pool can provide a great sense of hope for the future of your franchise. The Red Wings have seven players on three teams this year, so there’s plenty of opportunity to explore the talent soon to join your system.

The team with the most prospects will probably be Red Wings fans biggest chance to see the most potential NHL talent down the line, and that year it’s Team Sweden with five players that are draft picks. 

That crop of players also features Raymond, who was the fourth overall pick in the 2020 Draft. He got 12 points in 22 games in the SHL this season. While he’s yet to play in the NHL, it doesn’t seem like Red Wings fans will have to wait that long for his debut. 

Florida Panthers

Team Canada: Devon Levi

Team Finland: Anton Lundell, Kasper Puutio

Team Sweden: Emil Heineman

Team United States: Spencer Knight

The Panthers’ selection of prospects to watch is interesting because they have two goalies, Knight and Levi, in their prospect prospect pool this year. 

Knight already generates a lot of buzz. Playing for Boston College this season, he posted a 4-0-0 record with a .955 save percentage. He was the 19th overall pick in the 2019 Draft, so he might be seeing major ice time soon on a larger stage. 

He’s not the only one garnering attention. Lundell will be Finland’s Captain for his sophomore year in the championship and playing with fellow prospect Puutio. Lundell is a 12th overall pick from this year’s draft and won gold with Finland at last year’s World Juniors. He was also named Captain of this year’s roster, showing leadership promise and skill.

For Panthers fans, you couldn’t go wrong watching both Finland and USA. If you had to pick, I’d say watch Finland since Lundell’s the captain and there are two prospects on that team so you have more visibility.

Nashville Predators

Team Canada: Philip Tomasino

Team Finland: Juuso Parssinen

Team Russia: Egor Afanasyev, Yaroslav Askarov, Semyon Chistyakov

All three countries here offer great options. If you want the most visibility of Predators prospects, then Russia is gonna be hard to miss. Especially since their goaltending features Askarov, who was the 11th overall pick for the Preds in the 2020 Draft. The three Russians together already have success, winning the Karjala Cup in November. 

Team Canada will be hard to miss this year, especially with Tomasino on the team. He posted 100 points last season in the OHL and, as a 2019 24th overall pick, looks like he’s trying to prove he’s NHL ready. 

Tampa Bay Lightning 

There won’t be any Lightning prospects at the World Juniors this year. They did have one who initially qualified, Maxim Cajkovic, but he has been suspended due to some dirty hits in a scrimmage with his Team Slovakia teammates. The Bolts just won the Cup so at least your present is bright.

The teams in this division have some great options for future talent to watch in the present. As a Canes fan, I’m excited to see what Suzuki will bring to the tournament. I’m also excited to see what Team Canada and Team Sweden do. For a lot of teams, the future is looking bright with the sheer amount and quality of their picks involved. Which prospects are you watching this World Juniors Championship? Which countries are you rooting for?