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. Tuesday, December 29th is Day Five of the tournament and will start off with the Czech Republic vs the United States. Check out the predictions for other games today such as Switzerland vs Canada and Russia vs Austria.
2021 World Junior Championship Predictions
Czech Republic vs United States
With round-robin play coming to an end, both the Czech Republic and the United States will only have one game left after facing off with each other today. This will be one of each team’s last opportunities to solidify their spots in the standings of a strong Group B. Currently, Sweden is the only undefeated team in the group, meaning the rest of the top four could shake out in any order. This will be a massively important game for both teams to try and secure at least the third spot.
Team Czech Republic
The Czech Republic will be coming off of a one-day break after upsetting Russia in a 2-0 shutout. Led by Los Angeles Kings goaltending prospect Lukas Parik, the team was able to fend off Russia’s high powered offence and relentless forecheck. So far through the tournament, the Czechs have seen production up and down their lineup. They have had a fairly even point distribution throughout, and have seen some role players step up at big moments.
While the team has not seen an offensive star emerge yet, it does not mean that they lack some higher-end offensive players. They will look to their captain, Jan Mysak, to lead the way. Playing along Mysak has been Michal Teply, another player that the Czechs will be relying on to lead the charge.
On the back end, 2021 draft-eligible Stanislav Svozil has been making a name for himself. He will look to continue to be one of their best defencemen and raise his draft stock. Another notable name the team has patrolling the blue-line is Washington Capitals prospect Hugo Has. The two of them along with Michael Krutil will be leading the charge defensively.
As far as goaltending goes, the Czechs have a very reliable tandem. Nick Malik had started their first game and looked pretty solid. They then went on to try Lukas Parik, who recorded a 30 save shutout against the favoured Team Russia. If the Czechs want to win this game, they will need another stellar defensive performance, and one of their goalies to stand on his head once again.
Team United States
The U.S. will be coming off of a two-day break at the 2021 World Junior Championship after their dominating win against Austria. The Austrians never really stood a chance, losing 11-0 and being outshot 73-10. This game will be the United States’ first real challenge since their loss to Russia on the tournament’s opening day. The USA had a slow start in the Russia game and made several errors. They began to pick up and look like the team they were more expected to be towards the third period. Since then, they have looked dominant. But then again, their only opponent has been Austria.
So far, Anaheim Ducks prospect Trevor Zegras has been the United States best player. He’s scored five points through just two games and has a controlled pace. Known as more of a passer, Zegras has shown off his shot, scoring some impressive goals for the Americans. He looks like he could be an early MVP candidate in this tournament. Team USA’s talent and offence isn’t coming from just Zegras however. Matthew Boldy and Alex Turcotte have been other standouts on the team along with Cam York on the back end. Similarly, head coach Nate Leaman has praised the play of defenceman Brock Faber. He said he expects him to play a bigger role for the team than initially anticipated.
While the U.S. has several of their star players shinning thus far, there are still more who are leaving much to be desired. If the team wants to contend for the gold medal, they’re going to need everyone to do their part. For starters, goaltender Spencer Knight had a rough game against the Russians letting in four goals on just 12 shots. While we cannot judge Knight by just one bad game, he does need to be better to give the U.S. a chance.
Likewise, both Cole Caufield and Arthur Kaliyev, the two best pure goal scorers on Team USA. But they have yet to find the back of the net. Caufield, in particular, has looked solid, but just has not been getting a ton of puck luck. In Kaliyev’s case, he was able to rack up two assists in the Austria game but hasn’t been too noticeable. He has seen some scoring chances and it’s just a matter of time before one goes his way. A good place for him to start might be on the powerplay, where he can be a lethal one-time threat on the right side. The US struggled to establish zone-time on the powerplay against Russia’s strong forecheck, so playing against the Czechs could give both Kaliyev and Caufield more of an opportunity.
While the Czech Republic has a strong team, the United States has a stronger one. After getting outplayed by Russia, the U.S. had a lot they needed to improve. They will definitely have had a confidence boost after annihilating Austria and will look to ride it into their game against the Czechs. Although the US has a better team, the Czechs will still put up a fight. Don’t expect this one to be a blowout, but Team USA should come out on top in a relatively close game.
Prediction: Team USA 3-1 over the Czech Republic
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