The time has come.
Those who follow the annual World Junior Championship, follow with intensity. For many, the tournament is the most highly anticipated hockey event on the calendar, some going as far as preferring the action over the NHL’s Stanley Cup Playoffs.
In short, the tournament fails to disappoint. Every. Single. Year.
Chock-full of drama, intensity, heartbreak and elation, the World Juniors is everything you want in a sporting event, and the action gets underway on Christmas Day, 2020.
Of course, this year’s tournament in Edmonton, Alberta is going to be unique and without fans. Hockey fans are mostly used to this from the NHL postseason a couple months back, and Edmonton’s Rogers Place has experience in hosting fan-less hockey after forming one of the two NHL-used bubbles for the playoffs.
Nonetheless, Bovada has provided us the opportunity to cash in on the tournament. With that in mind, we will break down each country’s team and their odds to win the tournament. We’ll follow that up by making predictions on all of the bets and props offered at Bovada, including the tournament winner, group round-robin winners and more!
Also, make sure to check back throughout the tournament as I’ll be making game picks on a daily basis, although your best bet to avoid missing out on that action if by following me on Twitter @BKemp17.
Ready? Buckle up enjoy your all-encompassing 2021 World Junior Hockey Championship Betting Preview with odds and predictions galore!
2021 World Junior Championship Team Breakdowns
The defending champions, Canada once again brings a star-studded lineup to the tournament, led by captain Kirby Dach who played 64 games for the Chicago Blackhawks last season, tallying 23 points in the process.
Kirby Dach’s second career goal looks a little prettier than his first 😂
Stream: https://t.co/KGsXVw56Us pic.twitter.com/LvDuaRMWK5
— Blackhawks Talk (@NBCSBlackhawks) November 11, 2019
The Canadians’ greatest strength is their deep stable of elite-level forwards, a group that returns four players from last year’s tournament. Alongside Dach will not only be 2020 second overall pick Quintin Byfield – who played a small supporting role as a 17-year-old last year – but fellow NHL first-round draft picks such as Dylan Cozens, Connor McMichael, Cole Perfetti, Alex Newhook and Jack Quinn help Canada form a powerhouse offense.
Canada will lean heavily on the Bowen Byram/Jamie Drysdale top pair on defense, both of whom are also first-round NHL draft picks. The team also has a shutdown pairing in Thomas Harley and Braden Schneider underneath as this foursome could be the best the tournament has to offer.
Where Canada doesn’t stack up well against some opponents this year is in goal. The team will carry the trio of Taylor Gauthier, Dylan Garand and Devon Levi into the tournament, none are as highly rated as goaltenders from rival countries while head coach Andre Tourigny and his staff will have to decided – at some point – who their go-to netminder will be, or perhaps a “hot-hand” situation comes into play.
Nonetheless, Canada’s goaltending doesn’t usually need to excel, but simply be good enough in support of the elite offense and usually stout defense.
There’s little doubt the Russian’s are a tournament underdog compared to Canada, but there’s ways in which they can bully their way through the tournament and pull off the upset.
A common theme over the years in Russian hockey is the fact that many of its players have played together in the past, and that’s again the case this season as most of the Russian teenagers played alongside one another at the Karjala Cup where they went undefeated over the Czech Republic, Finland and Sweden.
The Russian top line will need to do significant damage to keep up with some other offensively-talented teams in the tournament. The top-line trio of Marat Khusnutdinov, Vasily Podkolzin and Rodion Amirov all played together in the aforementioned Karjala Cup and dominated in the process. Podkolzin notched five points in three games while Amirov – a 2020 Toronto Maple Leafs first-rounder – was named forward of the tournament. After that trio, however, it’s unclear who can provide the secondary scoring amongst a group largely lacking star power.
The Russians have plenty of familiarity on defense as well as Kirill Kirsanov and Danill Chayka logged big minutes at the Karjala Cup, and Artemi Knyazev and Yan Kuznetsov are two notable addition to the World Junior roster that did not make the Karjala Cup squad.
SUPERSTAR IN GOAL
Where the Russians pose the biggest threat is in goal. The jury is out on how his defense will fair in front of him, but Yaroslav Askarov – a Nashville Predators 2020 first-round pick – is legit. Askarov struggled to an .877 Sv% in five games at last year’s tournament, but has been unbelievable in working to an eye-popping 0.96 GAA and .962 Sv% in seven games with SKA St. Petersburg of the KHL, somehow going just 4-3-0 in the process.
With the superstar goaltender and high-end top line, along with the vast familiarity within, there’s ways in which this Russian squad can surprise in this year’s tournament.
— IIHF (@IIHFHockey) January 2, 2020
The Americans will be looking for redemption in this year’s tournament after finishing sixth in last year’s tournament in the Czech Republic, breaking a four-year medal streak in the process.
Laced with some high-end NHL prospects, the States boast significant talent in all three groups of their roster.
Their forward group will look for Cole Caufield to lead the way. The Montreal Canadiens first-rounder was the tournament’s biggest disappointment last year, notching just one goal and two points in five games. The University of Wisconsin star scored 19 goals and 36 points in as many games as a Freshman and is off to a similar start this season with six goals and 12 points in 10 games.
— Phylippe Bernard (@PhylBernard) October 18, 2020
Trevor Zegras was probably the Americans’ best forward last year as the play-making wizard notched nine assists in five games as the 2019 Anaheim Ducks first-rounder is one of the favorites to pace this tournament in points.
Alex Turcotte and Arthur Kaliyev are two Los Angeles Kings prospect that help form an elite group of American forwards.
Defensively, the U.S. is led by 2020 fifth-overall pick Jake Sanderson, an elite shutdown defender who may not be flashy but is a defenseman of the tournament favorite. Cameron York is another name to watch after a hot start with the University of Michigan this season while Henry Thrun and Drew Helleson will see notable roles as well.
ANOTHER SUPERSTAR IN GOAL
Like the Russians, however, the United States’ biggest asset is in goal in the form of Spencer Knights. The Florida Panthers prospect is once again dominating the NCAA’s Hockey East Division, working to a 1.50 GAA and .955 Sv% in four games, one year after he finished with a 1.97 GAA and .931 Sv% across 33 contests as a Freshman.
Knight posted a solid 2.49 GAA and .913 Sv% at last year’s tournament, but at the age of 19 this time around, he is primed to provide the American with some elite-level goaltending that could carry them through this tournament.
The Swedes enter the 2021 World Junior Championship coming off a semifinal loss to the Russian last year, but captured the bronze medal nonetheless.
If Sweden is going to enjoy success in this year’s tournament, they’ll do so with many new faces as they lost impact players such as Rasmus Sandin, Samuel Fagemo, Nils Hoglander, Jonatan Berggren, Nils Lundkvit and Mattias Norlinder from last year’s group.
Victor Soderstrom is the name to keep in mind when it comes to the Sweden blueline while Philip Broberg and Tobias Bjornfot also return from last year’s blueline.
— Ahmed Mayta (@AhmedMayta) July 11, 2020
The Swedes have some talent within their forward group. Lucas Raymond moved up to fourth overall to the Detroit Red Wings in the 2020 draft and fellow first-rounder Alexander Holtz went three picks later to the New Jersey Devils at No.7. That duo will be relied upon to do the bulk of the team’s scoring. Simon Holmstrom, Noel Gunler, Oskar Olausson and Zion Nybeck are other names to keep an eye on for secondary scoring.
The knock on Sweden’s forward group is a lack of depth down the middle as they were forced to leave some talented centers behind due to illness, most notably projected top-line center Karl Kendriksson.
The Swedes have some talent between the pipes as well, most notably Hugo Alnefelt who posted a stout 2.12 GAA and .924 Sv% at last year’s tournament, although he’s scuffled to a 3.13 GAA and .901 Sv% while going 4-7-0 in 11 Swedish Hockey League games with HV71.
The Swedes were hurt by some illnesses back home and they lost some key contributors from last year’s club, but they are often competitive in this tournament as they will carry a 13-year round-robin undefeated streak into this year’s event, so don’t sleep on the Swedes.
One of the sneakier teams in this tournament on an annual basis, Finland has captured three of the last seven gold medals despite seemingly not entering the tournament has a gold-medal threat.
They didn’t medal at last year’s tournament, but could surprise at this one.
The blueline is led by the elite Ville Heinola who has appeared in eight NHL games with the Winnipeg Jets and is a candidate to win defenseman of the tournament.
Inside the Finnish roster is also 16-year-old Brad Lambert who may not make much noise this year, but is someone to watch as one of the top NHL draft prospects for 2022.
One thing working in their favor is experience in men’s league games within SM-Liiga. Finland has 959 games of Liiga experience on its roster, including a forward group that is loaded with men’s league experience.
There’s not a name among the forward group that we could compare to the likes of Sebastian Aho, Patrik Laine and Kaapo Kakko in tournament’s past, however there’s plenty of experience and depth in this group.
Santeri Hatakka returns from last year’s team and is likely to skate alongside Heinola on the top pair while Mikko Kokkonen will play a big role on the second pairing in his return to the tournament.
The Fins will also return a goaltender in Kari Piiroinen who has worked to a 2.26 GAA and .924 Sv% in 14 games with Mestis this season. Piiroinen likely has the inside edge to start, but like Canada, there is a fair bit of uncertainty between the pipes with all three netminders candidates to start games.
If the heavy underdog Czech Republic are to make any noise in this tournament, it will be via their group on the blueline.
One player to specifically keep an eye out for is Stanislav Svozil, the 2021 draft-eligible prospect who figures to earn top-four minutes in this tournament and could prove to be the Czech’s best left-handed blueliner when it’s all said and done.
Martis Has is a Washington Capitals prospect and along with Michael Krutil (Blackhawks), form the two defensemen on this team that have been drafted by NHL teams with the remaining defensemen draft-eligible in 2021 or 2022. The 2022 draft-eligible defenseman is David Jiricek, a player who could contribute on the power play given his offensive ability from the back end.
Jan Mysak, the Montreal Canadiens second-round pick from 2020 is probably the top forward the Czech Republic will bring to the table in this tournament after impressing at last year’s tournament.
In goal, it should be L.A. Kings prospect and Spokane Chiefs goaltender Lukas Parik getting the nod. Nick Malik and Jan Bednar will fight for the backup role, but it’s possible any of the three could emerge as the team’s starter in what is a difficult Group B for a Czech nation that hasn’t medaled at this event since taking home bronze in 2005.
A nation that has been known to put a scare into some favorites on occasion, it might be a tough year for this version of Team Switzerland.
The first thing to note on the surface is that this Swiss roster does not feature an NHL-drafted player. Returning forward Simon Knak is a candidate to lead his team in scoring after notching 34 points in 49 games last season with the WHL’s Portland Winterhawks while scoring two goals in last year’s World Junior Championships. He should be joined by the likes of Joel Salzgeber and Gaetan Jobin on the club’s top line.
A forward to watch, however, is Lorenzo Canonica who starred in a game against Germany in the team’s Under-20 development camp and is the most likely of Swiss players to be drafted in the 2021 NHL Entry Draft.
Two defenders from last year’s team return in Bastian Guggenheim and Rocco Pezzullo, although it will be three new goaltenders for the Swiss in the form of Thibault Fatton and Andri Henauer who both play in the Swiss Junior league while Noah Patenaude suits up for Saint John of the QMJHL.
At this point, it’s uncertain on how the games will be divided between the three Swiss netminders, but it appears we could have the weakest Switzerland squad in recent memory taking the ice in Edmonton.
The Germans returned to the World Junior Championships last year and even knocked off the heavily favored Czech Republic in their own turf.
By far the most notorious name on this German roster is Tim Stuetzle, the third overall pick from the 2020 NHL Entry Draft by the Ottawa Senators. It one point it appeared he could upset Canada’s Quintin Byfield for that honor, but the Senators are no less thrilled to have him in their prospect pool.
Tim Stützle (#2020NHLDraft) doing Tim Stützle things.
Great control around the O-zone and then finds Peterka out front for the goal. Great job of Peterka (2020) fading into space to create room and a passing lane.
Hockey being back is pretty cool to see. pic.twitter.com/osHgXj7D3K
— Tony Ferrari (@theTonyFerrari) July 20, 2020
John-Jason Peterka went 34th overall to the Buffalo Sabres in the October draft and has tallied 16 points in 12 games with EC Salzbueg in Austria’s top league. Both players return and will form Germany’s 1-2 punch in this one.
The team’s defense doesn’t contain any NHL-drafted players and is likely to be the team’s biggest weakness entering the tournament with a cast of unknowns looking to band together.
In goal, the team was once again hurt by illness as Tobias Ancicka will be unavailable for the tournament while Florian Bugl, Arno Tiefensee and Johan Gahr will be the trip competing for games moving forward.
Add in the absence of their No. 1 defenseman Mortiz Sieder and the German’s look awfully vulnerable on the back end.
Slovakia will be in tough to be sure, but you wonder if they can steal a game or two on the back of netminder Samuel Hlavaj.
The netminder was pounded for a ghastly 5.37 GAA and .851 Sv% at last year’s World Junior Championships, however also worked to a stellar 2.25 GAA and .915 Sv% with Sherbrooke Phoenix of the QMJHL. This marks his third tour of duty in this tournament.
Slovakia returns four defenseman from last year’s team, meaning they should be better fit to defend this time around. Samuel Knazko is a Columbus Blue Jackets third-rounder that should be in for top-pair minutes.
Martin Chromiak, an L.A. Kings pick, is likely to be the team’s offensive leader and fared well while talling 23 points in 28 games with the OHL’s Kingston Frontenacs last season.
The team also has a couple of 2022 draft-eligible players in Juraj Slafkovsky and Filip Mesar that are highly-touted. While there are some solid individual names here, it’s difficult to see them pulling off a miracle to medal as they did in the 2015 tournament in Toronto and Montreal.
The heaviest underdog to win the tournament, Austria was promoted to this year’s tournament thanks to qualifying upset victories over the likes of Denmark, Latvia, Norway and Slovenia.
Benjamin Baumgartner led the way in the Division 1A tournament, but this version of Austria is going to be led by Minnesota Wild ninth overall pick Marco Rossi who lit up the OHL with the Ottawa 67’s, tallying a whopping 120 points in 56 games, leading the league in scoring and becoming the first European to ever do so.
Just for fun 🎉
— OntarioHockeyLeague (@OHLHockey) May 31, 2020
Seena Peeters, Leon Wallner, Lucas Thaler and Tim Harnish are four others forwards to watch for this team while Marco Kasper is a 2022 draft-eligible player worth watching.
While one of the top players in North American junior hockey will suit up for the Austrians, the success of getting into this tournament is as far as they’ll go.
2021 World Junior Championship Odds & Predictions
- North America (-190)
- Europe (+145)
Both Canada and the United States bring fantastic rosters into the tournament. Canada seemingly sports the deeper group of forwards, and their top four defenseman are probably the best in the tournament and will see plenty of ice time as a result. For their part, the United States probably have the second-best all-round roster in the tournament, boasting high-end talent up front, on the back end and in goal.
The remainder of the field resides in Europe, although it would take a notable upset for the European side to hit here. Russia is the top-ranked European club with +385 odds to win it all, but after that we have Sweden at +750, followed by Finland at +1200.
While I won’t suggest there is a ton of value in the odds, I’m on either Canada or the U.S. to win this tournament.
Group A Winner
- Canada (-270)
- Finland (+275)
- Germany (+2500)
- Switzerland (+2500)
- Slovakia (+4000)
The weaker of the two groupings, it would be an utter shock if the Canadians didn’t come out of Group A at the top. You have to write off Germany, Switzerland and Slovakia from the get go, leaving Finland as the one upset hopeful in a group where the Canadians should run roughshod.
In all likelihood, the winner of this division will be decided when Canada and Finland meet on New Year’s Eve. Bovada certainly agrees on that front as Finland’s +275 odds for that matchup are identical to these Group A odds. It’s a lot of juice to lay, and it’s a bet worth avoiding, but I don’t see the Finns pulling off the upset this year.
Group B Winner
- Russia (+180)
- USA (+190)
- Sweden (+225)
- Czech Republic (+1400)
- Austria (+25000)
Much of the round-robin battle will be in Group B where it appears Russia, the United States and Sweden could all have a shot at taking this group down.
With the top two goaltenders in the tournament – in whatever order you’d like to place them – it’s not a surprise to see Russia and the U.S. at the top. Unfortunately, Sweden was hit by illness and was forced to leave home key contributors, including head coach Tomas Monten.
The blows will prove to be too big for Sweden, and this group will be left to the favorites. In a slight upset, however, I view the American team as a deeper team in both the forward and defense aspects to their roster, and I’ll take the U.S. here as a result.
Top 3 Finishers
- Canada (-400)
- Russia (-275)
- USA (-135)
- Sweden (+105)
- Finland (+175)
- Czech Republic (+750)
- Switzerland (+2000)
- Germany (+2200)
- Slovakia (+3300)
- Austria (+20000)
In other words, who medals?
The great thing about this event is its unpredictability. Every year we are surprised by someone and disappointed by another. Almost without fail.
However, with underdogs Sweden and Germany missing big pieces in a unique year, it’s sucked much of the sleeper watch out of the 2021 tournament. I would suggest Finland as the biggest upset possibility here at +175 if I had to choose, but to me it’s the top three teams here that medal.
That said, rather than suggest betting all three, I see the most value here with the Americans at -135, and that’s the best I would make in this prop.
- Canada (+105)
- Russia (+385)
- USA (+450)
- Sweden (+750)
- Finland (+1200)
- Czech Republic (+2800)
- Switzerland (+8000)
- Germany (+15000)
- Slovakia (+15000)
- Austria (+50000)
Onto the one that matters most.
Just because a team wins its group doesn’t mean it wins the tournament. Winning your group gives you a higher seed and an ‘easier’ theoretical path to the final, but it does not guarantee success in the medal rounds.
While they will play the round robin in the more difficult Group B, I am on the U.S. to win their first gold medal at the World Juniors since 2017 when they upset Canada in a shootout to win it all. Anaheim Ducks prospect Troy Terry and Calgary Flames goaltending prospect Tyler Parson played hero in that one.
When it comes to overall depth, the edge would go to the favorite Canada. The main issue with the Canadians this year is in goal where there isn’t a star-caliber netminder set in stone to carry the load throughout the tournament. They won last year’s version with an uncertain picture in goal, but they also narrowly edged both the Americans (in the round robin) and Russians (in the final) on last-minute, goal-ahead goals. It’s a new tournament, but that’s a perfect example of how narrow the margins can become despite pre-tournament odds.
Like the U.S., Russia has a stud in between the pipes in the first-rounder Askarov, but offensive depth is a concern after their powerful top line. I would also give the defensive advantage to the Americans when comparing the two groups.
For their part, the States bring an awfully enticing group of forwards to the table with Caufield, Turcotte, Kaliyev, Zegras and Brendan Bisson all having the first-round NHL draft pick label. Bobby Brink is another name to keep on eye on in that group while the U.S. also has three second-rounders and a pair of third-round picks among their forward group.
Among the nine defensemen listed on their roster, three are first-round picks in Sanderson, York and Ryan Johnson. Add in another four second-rounders and that’s another stacked group.
And then there’s Knight. His numbers from last year’s tournament aren’t eye-popping, but his collegiate numbers over the last two seasons certainly have been and their 1-0 elimination loss to Finland at the 2020 tournament certainly isn’t on him.
As far as talent and polish go, Knight is the best goaltender in the tournament. That’s an awfully good start for the U.S., but when you factor in the highly-touted firepower up front and a tough group of defenders behind them, significant value begins to rear its head at +450.
Both loaded with talent and value, the United States are my pick to win the 2021 World Junior Championship.