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World Juniors 2021 predictions: Hockey experts pick who will win gold

After some uncertainty and some tweaks, the puck is ready to drop on the 2021 IIHF World Junior Championship on Christmas Day. Over the course of 12 days in Edmonton, Alta., 250 of the highest junior gamers from 10 nations will hit the ice with the single-minded focus of successful gold.

With the NHL’s 2021 season now set to start on Jan. 13, this yr’s match options not solely a few of the brightest prospects for the upcoming draft but additionally a variety of gamers who will crack NHL opening evening rosters. For now, although, their sights are set on nationwide pleasure and future locker room bragging rights. It might be an all-out slugfest till medals are handed out.

Sporting Information requested a few of the prime specialists within the sport for his or her picks for gamers to observe/X-factors, match MVP and which three groups might be skating off with shiny new medals come Jan. 5.

Who do you have to keep watch over?

EXPERT X-FACTOR/PLAYER TO WATCH TOURNAMENT MVP
Jackie Spiegel, Sporting Information Yaroslav Askarov (Russia) Kirby Dach (Canada)
Mark Masters, TSN Cole Caufield (USA) Dylan Cozens (Canada)
Chris Johnston, Sportsnet Yaroslav Askarov (Russia) Kirby Dach (Canada)
Mike Morreale, NHL.com Anton Lundell (Finland) Spencer Knight (USA)
Scott Wheeler, The Athletic Matt Bernier (USA) Kirby Dach (Canada)
Aaron Vickers, FC Hockey Yaroslav Askarov (Russia) Kirby Dach (Canada)
Steven Ellis, The Hockey Information Yaroslav Askarov (Russia) Kirby Dach (Canada)
Cam Robinson, Elite Prospects Jake Sanderson (USA) Spencer Knight (USA)
Ryan Pike, Flames Nation Cole Caufield (USA) Dylan Cozens (Canada)
David Alter, TSN Cole Caufield (USA) Dylan Cozens (Canada)

Spiegel on why Askarov is her X-factor: The Russian netminder is a star within the making. The 18-year-old was dominating the KHL — a 0.96 goals-against common and a mind-blowing .962 save share in seven video games — earlier than heading to camp. If he can try this in hockey’s second-best league towards older gamers, a few of whom are twice his age, then think about the way it’ll go towards his friends. Plus, he did not have the very best go of it final yr and might be trying to show himself on the worldwide stage.

Vickers on why Askarov is his X-factor: There’s a cause Askarov was the highest-drafted goalie in 2020 by a good margin and broadly thought to be the highest goaltending prospect since Carey Worth. His unimaginable begin to the season with SKA St. Petersburg factors to that and his skill to hold Russia on this match.

Alter on why Caulfield is his X-factor: I count on Cole Caulfield to thrive in a match the place velocity and talent might be on show early. With gamers having been stored in isolation, it’s affordable to count on that it’s going to take just a few video games earlier than defensive buildings are established. Within the meantime, Caulfield ought to mild the lamp at will. He had six objectives and 6 assists in 10 video games with the Wisconsin Badgers earlier than heading to camp and seems to be higher than ever.

Spiegel on why Dach is her MVP: Already an NHL participant, Dach is a extremely expert, big-bodied ahead who could make the important thing play when wanted. With 9 bubble-hockey video games (after a 64-game NHL season) beneath his belt, Dach is aware of how you can thrive in what might be a troublesome — and quiet — atmosphere.

Vickers on why Dach is his MVP: Laborious to not think about Dach taking part in a pivotal function on what many are projecting to be a gold medal-worthy entry. Dach has the instruments and NHL expertise to be an absolute standout.

Alter on why Cozens is his MVP: A gifted playmaker with the power to maneuver up and down the ice with velocity, Cozens is the right mixture of self-discipline and offense that ought to be a catalyst for Canada’s offense. Taking part in in his second World Juniors, Cozens’ expertise with the successful staff from 2020 might be an asset and he ought to simply finest his two objectives and 7 assists in seven video games from final yr.

Which groups will end on the rostrum?

EXPERT GOLD SILVER BRONZE
Jackie Spiegel, Sporting Information Canada USA Russia
Mark Masters, TSN Canada USA Russia
Chris Johnston, Sportsnet Canada Russia Sweden
Mike Morreale, NHL.com USA Canada Sweden
Scott Wheeler, The Athletic Canada USA Russia
Aaron Vickers, FC Hockey Canada USA Sweden
Steven Ellis, The Hockey Information Canada Russia USA
Cam Robinson, Elite Prospects USA Canada Sweden
Ryan Pike, Flames Nation Canada Sweden Russia
David Alter, TSN Canada Russia  USA

On their podium picks: 

Spiegel It has been some time because the Canadians gained back-to-back golds (2005-09), however this yr’s squad has built-in expertise with six gamers coming back from final yr’s golden staff. That can assist steadiness out the nerves. Whereas Canada’s goaltending is the good unknown, the staff is loaded with up-front expertise that may lead a deep run and get the massive objectives when wanted. 

Ellis  USA and Russia are so shut. Pure expertise at each place. I am giving Russia the sting between them, although, as a result of I feel Askarov is just the very best goaltender at this match. If he performs like anticipated, he’ll be a difference-maker, nevertheless it may come right down to how he performs on Christmas Day (towards the U.S.); the winner of that sport may win Group B.

Pike — Canada, Sweden and Russia are the category of this match. Canada’s goaltending is arguably their weak spot, however they’re robust and deep in all places else.

Robinson Why USA? I am going large on talent right here. We’re one of many uncommon years the place a staff can match the Canadians up entrance. They maintain about even on the blue line after which personal an enormous benefit in web. I like them to attain themselves out of hassle after which depend on Knight to close the door.

Canada is just too good to not win, however my feeling is they cannot overcome the failings in objective. The straightforward aspect of the bracket will not put together all of them that nicely for the medal rounds nevertheless it’s arduous to ever wager towards this staff.

Sweden’s unimaginable round-robin streak will finish this yr, however they’re going to discover a technique to beat the higher Russian staff within the third-place tilt after banding collectively within the face of a COVID-depleted roster. As for the Russians, I may have simply as simply put them first; they’ve the talent and so they have Askarov. He is as large an X-factor as there may be however they’re going to lose within the semis and lose curiosity within the bronze.

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