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Vasili Podkolzin headlines the Canucks prospects expected to play at the 2021 World Juniors

The 2021 World Juniors kicks off on Christmas Day: which Canucks prospects will be playing?
Vasili Podkolzin will be Russia's most important player at the 2021 World Junior Championships. photo: Darryl Dyck, CP

It’s still entirely up in the air when the 2020-21 NHL season will begin. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has said they’re aiming for a January 1st start, but there’s talk among NHL ownership that the start of the season could push into February.

That doesn’t mean there won’t be any hockey in the intervening months. On Tuesday, Hockey Canada and the International Ice Hockey Federation announced the schedule for the 2021 World Junior Championship on TSN. Like the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the tournament will be played in a quarantined bubble in Edmonton without fans in attendance.

The tournament will kick off on Christmas rather than its usual starting date on Boxing Day, with the gold medal game taking place on January 5th.

That means, even if the Canucks’ season hasn’t started by the beginning of January, fans will still be able to watch a few Canucks players — or at least prospects in their system. At minimum, the Canucks should have two prospects at the 2021 World Junior tournament and could have a couple more. 

Let’s take a look at the four Canucks prospects most likely to play for their respective countries and when you'll be able to watch them.

Russia - Vasili Podkolzin and Dmitry Zlodeyev

Team Russia will have at least one Canucks prospect and could have two.

Vasili Podkolzin will be Russia’s biggest star at the tournament and carry the team at both ends of the ice. He’s likely to be the captain of the team as well as one of just two players expected to return from last year’s team.

It’s been a bizarre start to the season for Podkolzin, whose ice time has fluctuated wildly in the KHL. In general, KHL teams don’t give teenagers a lot of ice time, even if they deserve it, and that’s especially true for players destined to play in the NHL — why bother developing a player that isn’t going to play for you in the future?

That just means that SKA St. Petersburg is missing the opportunity to take advantage of Podkolzin while he’s still on the roster. He only got real minutes when half his team tested positive for COVID-19 and had to be quarantined. 

That won’t be a problem at the World Junior tournament, where Podkolzin will be leaned on heavily. He had just 5 points in 7 games at last year’s tournament despite playing a dominant two-way game and setting up his linemates for all sorts of glorious chances that didn’t result in goals. 

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This tournament gives Podkolzin another chance to put up points against his peers and quiet any fears that might linger over his lackluster point totals in the KHL. 

Russia might have another Canucks prospect in more of a depth role. Dmitry Zlodeyev, the Canucks’ 6th round pick in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft, has made several appearances for Russia at international tournaments, including the Hlinka Gretzky Cup last year.

While Zlodeyev is more of a long shot to make the roster, his relentless motor and two-way game could earn him a depth role, particularly with his strong start to the season. He has 4 goals in 7 games in the VHL, Russia’s second-tier men’s league, and if he can continue to impress, he might earn himself a spot.

Russia’s tournament will kick off with a marquee game on Christmas against Team USA.

  • Dec 25, 6:30 pm - Russia vs USA
  • Dec 27, 6:30 pm - Russia vs Czech Republic
  • Dec 29, 6:30 pm - Russia vs Austria
  • Dec 30, 6:30 pm - Russia vs Sweden

Sweden - Arvid Costmar

Regrettably, Nils Höglander isn’t eligible for this year’s tournament after his show-stopping performance last year. He’ll turn 20 on December 20th, just 12 days too early to meet the age cutoff. The Canucks should have at least one prospect on team Sweden, however.

Sweden doesn’t have a lot of depth at centre, so Arvid Costmar, picked in the 7th round in 2019, could see a lot of ice time. He has a well-rounded defensive game to go with his offensive upside, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see him used in all situations at the World Juniors.

Costmar has been a staple of Team Sweden in international play, so he should be a lock for the team. He was outright dominant in Sweden’s under-20 SuperElit league last season, racking up 26 goals and 50 points in 29 games, which led the league in points-per-game. It would have been nice, however, to see him play more games in Sweden’s men's leagues — he split 14 games between the SHL and Allsvenskan.

This season, Costmar is right back where he left off, putting up 6 points in just 3 SuperElit games. He’s now in the SHL with Linköping and has started to play a regular shift in the last two games after mostly warming the bench. 

Viktor Persson, picked in the 7th round at this year’s draft, is also eligible for the World Juniors, but appears to be completely off Team Sweden’s radar. He hasn’t played in any international tournaments for Sweden, who have a strong defence corps. It would take a phenomenal performance from Persson over the next month to get himself noticed.

You’ll be able to catch Costmar starting with a morning game on Boxing Day.

  • Dec 26, 11:00 am - Sweden vs Czech Republic
  • Dec 28, 3:00 pm - Sweden vs Austria
  • Dec 30, 6:30 pm - Sweden vs Russia
  • Dec 31, 6:30 pm - Sweden vs USA

Finland - Joni Jurmo

The Canucks’ top pick in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft, third-round pick Joni Jurmo isn’t a lock for Team Finland by any means. Finland has a strong left side on defence, with Ville Heinola likely available for his third tournament if the NHL season is further delayed, and Mikko Kokkonen and Santeri Hatakka likely to return for their second World Juniors.

That doesn’t leave much room for Jurmo to earn a spot. He’ll likely be battling with Eemil Viro, who was selected 12 picks ahead of him at the draft by the Detroit Red Wings.

Both Jurmo and Viro are playing in the Finnish Liiga, so this next month may determine which player makes the team. Viro already has the advantage, having played 29 games in the Liiga last season and earning some trust. He’s averaging over 17 minutes per game for TPS, while Jurmo has been used sparingly by JYP, averaging just 7:41 per game.

Still, Jurmo has a shot, especially if training camps for the NHL start in December at the Winnipeg Jets don’t make Heinola available for Finland. 

If Jurmo makes the team, he’ll face a tough schedule, with games on three-straight days to start the tournament.

  • Dec 25, 3:00 pm - Finland vs Germany
  • Dec 26, 3:00 pm - Finland vs Canada
  • Dec 27, 11:00 am - Finland vs Switzerland
  • Dec 30, 11:00 am - Finland vs Slovakia

Any other possibilities?

Anyone other than the above-mentioned names is a serious long shot. Perhaps Jacob Truscott, picked in the fifth round this year, could be a possibility for Team USA considering he played for the US National Team Development Program, but the US has a strong defence with a lot of returning players. He just isn’t going to crack that lineup. Maybe next year.

Fourth-round pick Jackson Kunz isn’t close for the US, but a big season in the USHL might get him on the radar for next year. 

Latvia isn’t in the tournament, so goaltender Arturs Silovs won’t be playing. It’s unclear when (or if) the Division I tournament will be held, so it’s unknown when Silovs will get a chance to lead Latvia back to the big tournament.