First Rounders’ First Day of 2021 World Juniors
With the first day of games over and the second underway, some players have set the tone for the World Juniors. Only half the countries have played so far, with Canada having yet to play a real game. But of the teams with a game under their belt, the NHL first-round picks have really run the gamut of production. Here’s a quick look into what they’ve done (or not done) so far.
Tim Stützle (#3rd 2020, Ottawa, unsigned)
Germany faced Slovakia in their opening game yesterday. Though the scorecard was in the Slovaks’ favor, Senators prospect Tim Stützle came out of the gate hot. He scored his first World Juniors goal since 2019 (U18, just first U20), and notched an assist. Last year, he had 5 assists in 5 games. This year, he seems to be hungry for more. In between, he spent a year playing with Alder Mannheim in the Deutsche Eishockey Liga. He scored 7 goals and had 27 assists in the DEL. It seems this professional experience has added to his game and it will be exciting to see him play throughout the tournament.
Cole Caufield (#15 2019, Montreal, unsigned)
He was one of the talks of the 2019 draft class, only to fall to #19. Caufield did well in the USA opener against Russia with an assist. While the USA lost in their opener against Russia, that can’t be the only disappointment Caufield feels right now. In his U18 World Juniors in 2019, he had 18 points in 7 games. Last year, his first U20, he had 2 points in 5 games. The assist yesterday shows me that he’s trying to get back the spark he had in 2019. It seems like a message to himself and to the Canadiens that he intends to improve himself and help his team on every level he plays.
Trevor Zegras (#9 2019, Anaheim, ELC)
Zegras scored his first World Junior goal since his U17 games in 2018. It seems to me that the past year he spent at Boston University has elevated his playing and his confidence. He had 36 points in 33 games at BU. If those points weren’t enough of a confidence boost, Zegras signed an entry-level contract with the Ducks back in March. What’s a better game booster than an NHL contract at 19 years old?
Spencer Knight (#13 2019, Florida, unsigned)
Knight was one of the few singular players to have a rough first day at the World Juniors. He gave up 4 goals on 12 shots yesterday against the Russians. It’s not a great look to get pulled from the first game at the tournament. But that being said, the Russian Machine is nothing like the Hockey East teams he’s played in the last month. It was a hard team to play first and he no doubt beat himself up at least a little bit. Knight needs to leave this one behind him and focus on Austria later today. No offense to Austria, but they’re not likely to be nearly as tough as Russia.
Yaroslav Askarov (#11 2020, Nashville, unsigned)
From the other end of the ice, Askarov fared a little better. Though perhaps not his best game, he was able to secure the win for Russia, only allowing 3 goals on 26 shots. He’s likely drawing on his experience from his 7 games in the KHL since they started their 20-21 season. While his record in the K is 4-3-0, and not what he would need it to be NHL ready, he’s had some world-class players shoot at him. That’s invaluable experience to have as a goalie facing other kids his age without the same experience. I think he’ll fare much better against most of the other teams in Group B.
It may be a flawed way of thinking, assuming that all first-round picks are going to be the ones that stand out the most among their peers. In a tournament like the World Juniors, kids in most countries work their whole childhood just to make it, and they’re going to be playing their hearts out. Sometimes the biggest stars crack under pressure, sometimes they get outshone, and sometimes they live up to expectations. After one day, it’s impossible to tell how each of these guys will turn out. But, it’s certainly exciting to watch young talents be put to the test.
-Heidi Thomas (@DamselOnDrums)