In our final installment of Prospects to Watch, we look at the young players for the new West Division. This division’s teams are in a variety of situations, half are Stanley Cup contenders and the other half are in a rebuild. With that, there’s a great mix of prospects to explore.
Team Canada: Jamie Drysdale
Team Sweden: Albin Sundsvik
Team United States: Sam Colangelo, Jackson LaCombe, Henry Thrun and Trevor Zegras
Ducks fans have a lot of options to explore for this year’s World Juniors.
This will be the second appearance at the WJC for both Zegras and Drysdale. Drysdale is also notable as the highest drafted Ducks prospect in the tournament, taken 6th overall at the 2020 NHL Entry Draft. In the OHL last season, he scored 47 points in 49 games, with 38 of those being assists as a defenseman.
Amongst the four prospects on Team United States, Zegras has garnered a fair amount of attention. The 2019 9th overall pick has already established himself as a playmaker with his elite passing. He’ll be playing with three other prospects for the Ducks, and he’s the one that stands out the most to me.
Team Canada is going to be a wagon this year, but it does only have one Ducks prospect on the roster. Meanwhile, Team US might be the best team to cheer for with the most names and options for fans, so I recommend giving both countries a view. If you can only commit to one team, then pick Team United States.
Team Sweden: Victor Söderström
Team Finland: Aku Räty
Team United States: John Farinacci
The three Coyotes prospects are split evenly across three teams, so there’s not a wrong answer.
Soderstrom is the highest drafted prospect, taken at 11th Overall in the 2019 Draft, so he might be the quickest to break into the NHL. In the World Juniors last year, he scored 6 points in 7 games for Sweden, and had the second best plus/minus on his team at +5. He was also named one of the alternate captains of the team, meaning he’ll get some leadership experience. Team Sweden might be your best bet, not to disparage either Raty or Farinacci on their respective teams.
Team Canada: Justin Barron, Bowen Byram, Alex Newhook
Team United States: Drew Helleson
Avalanche fans have a lot to look forward to this WJC. Helleson, Newhook and Barron are making their debuts in the tournament. Their development is going to be key, especially for defensemen Helleson and Barron as the Avalanche enhance their blue line. However, I’m most curious about Byram.
The 4th overall pick in 2019, Byram is returning to the World Juniors after a slightly disappointing start to the 2019-2020 OHL season. He seems prime for his chance to prove his spot, both on this roster and potentially the Avalanche’s. Since Kirby Dach is out with an injury, Byram and Cozens will be alternating as captains.
Since he was in already in the Edmonton Bubble for the Avalanche in the 2020 Playoffs, Byram seems like he’s working to further develop and prove he’s NHL ready. If he’s not enough to entice you to watch Team Canada, Newhook plays a great offensive game and Barron, after being named captain of the Halifax Mooseheads, makes his debut and wants to show he’s ready to play after a blood clot took him out temporarily last year.
Team Canada: Quinton Byfield, Jordan Spence
Team Czech Republic: Lukas Parik
Team Finland: Kasper Simontaival
Team Slovakia: Martin Chromiak
Team Sweden: Tobias Bjornfot
Team United States: Brock Faber, Arthur Kaliyev, Alex Turcotte
Kings fans can be excited this year since they have the most prospects participating in the World Juniors this year with nine. There are a lot of names to be curious about. I’m so excited for Byfield. He had 82 points in 45 games in the OHL last season, and he’ll be making his NHL debut soon.
With the wide array of opportunities across six countries, Kings fans can’t go wrong with whatever choice they make. Honestly, I’m having a tough time choosing between Team Canada and Team United States for Kings fans. For the sheer numbers game of picking the most prospects available, I’d say go with Team US. Turcotte is back for his second World Juniors and will be named alternate captain and that team has the most Kings’ prospects. But keep an eye on Byfield, he’s going to be dangerous.
Team Austria: Marco Rossi
Team Czech Republic: Pavel Novak
Team Russia: Vladislav Firstov, Marat Khusnutdinov
Team United States: Matthew Boldy
While Team Russia boasts the most prospects from the Wild, my attention was caught by the prospects on Team Austria and Team United States. Rossi and Boldy are both first round draft picks for the club.
In the 2019-2020 season Boldy earned 26 points in 34 games at Boston College and Rossi scored 120 points in 56 games in the OHL. They could be making their way into the NHL within the next couple of years, so Wild fans watch them this championship. If you have to pick between those two, Rossi is the more physical player while Boldy, rebounding from a slow start at BC, is making a comeback.
San Jose Sharks
Team Czech Republic: Adam Raska
Team Finland: Santeri Hatakka
Team Russia: Artemi Kniazev, Yegor Spiridonov
Several of the prominent Sharks prospects are already in their system, whether that be their team or in the AHL. Thankfully, there are still some solid options to watch this World Juniors, especially on Team Russia. Kniazev has a lot of offensive skill as a defenseman, getting 43 points in 53 games in the QMJHL’s 2019-2020 season. Spiridonov is more of a defensive forward and is solid on the penalty kill.
Hatakka on Team Finland also seems like an interesting watch. Though he’s a sixth round pick, Hatakka plays a very shutdown game and will be a hard defenseman to play against for the other teams. He doesn’t score a lot of points, but he is physical and fights for the puck. If you want to only focus on one player, make it Hatakka for Team Finland. If you want to watch two prospects at once, pick Team Russia with Kniazev and Spiridonov.
St. Louis Blues
Similarly to the Tampa Bay Lightning, they have no prospects competing in this year’s WJC. But you guys won the Cup in 2019 so my pity is low.
That wraps it up for this series of Prospects to Watch. Kings fans and Ducks fans be excited about. I’m personally intrigued to see how Byram will do, especially since his leadership role will be expanded without Dach. Team Canada’s prospects will prove lethal throughout the tournament, but there are certainly players not on that team that are worth a watch, like Rossi for Austria and Stützle for Germany.
Who are you watching? What are you excited to see as the tournament continues?