2021 World Junior Championship Prediction: United States vs Russia

2021 World Junior Championships

Welcome to the 2021 World Junior Championship predictions. Each day, Last Word on Hockey will take a look at each game and give our predictions of the results. Friday, December 25th is Day One of the tournament and finishes with the United States and Russia. Switzerland and Slovakia and Germany and Finland played earlier in the day.

2021 World Junior Championship Predictions

The United States vs. Russia

The most anticipated game of Day One of the 2021 World Junior Championship is the United States vs Russia. It is a battle of powerhouse teams in Group B, or as the experts like to call it, the “Group of Death”, with the United States, Russia and Sweden at the top. This game will go a long way in determining which team will be the top seed coming out of Group B. Having to avoid Finland or Canada is the goal in the crossover quarterfinals. This is a barn burner of a game on Christmas Day. There is a lot of history between these two teams recently at the World Juniors. It seems like almost every year they are matched up in group play and eventually meet in the medal round. While the names have changed, the goal is still the same win.

The United States

Heading into the 2021 World Junior Championship the United States has a lot to prove after a disappointing 2020 World Junior tournament. Team USA finished sixth last year and had their streak of winning a medal stopped at four. Even though they are without Nick Roberston, John Beecher, and Jack Hughes, the United States still boasts a good team. Nate Leaman’s group will be led by Montreal Canadiens prospect Cole CaufieldLos Angeles Kings prospects Alex Turcotte and Arthur Kaliyev, and Anaheim Ducks prospect Trevor Zegras.

While all these players have something to prove this year, it is Caufield who has the most to gain. He had a disappointing 2020 tournament. And this year through one exhibition looks like the goal scorer from the U18 tournament. After the World Juniors is a 19-yeard old tournament. Leeman can only hope Caufield can have the same production he did in the 2021 World Junior Championship as he did in the U18 tournament.

While the offence is a strength of the United States, the same thing can be said about their goaltending. The United States has the best goaltending duo in Spencer Knight and Dustin Wolf. Both saw game action in their pre-tournament game against Finland. Knight appears to have won the job to start out as he was able to get some games in at Boston College. However, things can change very quickly in such a short tournament. Both will need to be on their games especially against a high-powered Russian team to start the tournament.

On defence, the Americans are led by Jake Sanderson and Cam York. These two will be the anchors of the United States defensive corps. However, if there is a player to watch on the blueline it is Ryan Johnson the Buffalo Sabres prospect. He is so calm and collective back there. He knows how to move the puck really well and uses his edgework to his advantage.

The big concern for the United States will be their special teams. It took several chances for the United States to score in their pre-tournament game. Coach Leeman had his group working on that on the off days. Not to mention, they need to stay out of the box against a strong Russian power play. The United States surrounded two power-play goals against Finland on Tuesday. They can’t take stupid penalties.


On the other hand, Russia is coming off a disappointing loss to Canada in the gold medal game of the 2020 World Juniors. They will be looking to get back to that game this year. And why not they boast the best goaltender in the tournament in Yaroslav Askarov. Through seven games this season in the KHL, Askarov has a 0.96 goals-against average and .962 save percentage. Askarov is showing why he got drafted as high as he did in October. He gives the Russians the best chance to win and is as advertised. During the pre-tournament game against Canda, he stopped every shot he faced before being pulled in the second period. The Americans have a high powered offence, so he will be tested early and often.

One thing you will notice coming into the 2021 World Junior Championship is a familiar face behind the bench. Igor Larionov is the head of Team Russia this year. He has been showing them the video of the Russian Five so they can play a more wide-open game. The attention will be on Vasili Podkolzin for Russia. This is his third year playing in this tournament and Larionov expects a lot out of him. He will be playing alongside Rodion Amirov and Marat Khusnutdinov. The Russians will need to score especially on the power play. The weapons are there but getting them to click is key.

Usually one of the big questions for Russia is their defence. However, after only giving up one goal to Canada in the exhibition game on Tuesday, that is their strong suit along with goaltending. Shakir Mukhamadullin and Daniil Chayka. Mukhamadullin is a New Jersey Devils prospect and is proving to be a force on the blueline staying at 6’4″. Chayka is eligible for the 2021 NHL Draft and is projected to be a late first-round pick. The defence is young, but having Askarov in between the pipes definitely helps.


You always want to start out with a victory. But in the 2021 World Junior Championship in this group, a victory is of the utmost importance. Both teams need to get off to a fast start. Russia is known for working their way into the tournament, but that is not ideal this season. The United States needs to get off to a good start especially with playing back to back games to open the tournament. This will be a very close game and goaltending will determine this one.

Prediction: The United States wins 3-2. 

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