2021 World Junior Championship Predictions: Sweden vs Russia

2021 World Junior Championship
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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. Wednesday, December 30th is day six of the tournament and will conclude with Sweden vs Russia.

2021 World Junior Championship Predictions

Sweden vs Russia

This matchup will put pressure on both sides, as Russia will look to snag at least a second place in the group, and Sweden will look to defend their multi-year round-robin win streak. However, with a win against Sweden, Russia has a chance to secure the top spot in Group B. Sweden with a win can finish no lower than second in Group B because of tiebreakers. This will be Russi’s final game of round-robin play. Sweden will have one more round-robin game against the United States on New Year’s Eve. Russia currently sits with a 2-1 record, while Sweden leads group B with a 2-0 record. This game will be Sweden’s first true challenge at the 2021 World Junior Championship against one of the “big five” as they have only faced Austria and the Czech Republic so far.

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Team Sweden

After their 4-0 shutout victory against Austria, Sweden has extended their World Junior Championship round-robin win streak to 54 games. They will look to make it 55 after facing off against a skilled Russian team. Sweden’s offence is led by the duo known as the “terror-twins,” Lucas Raymond and Alexander Holtz. The two wingers started off the tournament a bit quiet but then started to hit their stride in the Austria game. Raymond scored an assist and a goal, which happened to be set up by Holtz.

Two more wingers have emerged as offensive weapons for Team Sweden. They are New York Islanders 2019 first-round pick Simon Holmstrom, and Carolina Hurricanes 2020 second-round pick Noel Gunler. Gunler, a sniper, has shown off his scoring abilities thus far, with three goals in two games. Holmstrom has four assists through two games as well.

While Sweden has some very talented wingers, the biggest strength on their roster is the defence. Led by captain Philip Broberg, the team has only allowed one goal so far. They have a group full of first-round picks, including Broberg, Tobias Bjornfot, and Victor Soderstrom. While their D-core can shut teams down, they have also been a significant source of Sweden’s offence. Broberg has three assists through one game, and Soderstrom has four assists through two games.

Another big reason for Sweden having only given up one goal so far is their goaltending. Tampa Bay Lightning prospect Hugo Alnefelt has been lights out for the Swedes, stopping 30 of 31 shots so far through the tournament. If Alnefelt happens to falter, Sweden has a very talented and reliable option backing him up in draft-eligible Jesper Wallstedt.

Team Russia

Coming off of their dominant 7-1 win against Austria, Russia will look to win their first set of consecutive games this tournament. Team Russia is likely still upset about being shutout by the Czech Republic, so they will look to continue the offensive outburst they displayed against Austria.

For starters, one of the main reasons the Russians had been somewhat struggling early on was their top line. Head coach Igor Larionov has gone with the strategy to stack Russia’s top line with all of their best players, similar to a powerplay unit, rather than spreading them out. The line is centred by Marat Khusnutdinov, flanked by 2019 first-round pick Vasili Podkolzin and 2020 first-round pick Rodion Amirov.

Prior to the Austria game, the trio had a combined three points, which is much less than ideal. After the Austria game, however, the star0studded line had a bit of a coming-out party. Podkolzin scored two goals and one assist, Khusnutdinov had one goal and one assist, and Amirov scored on a penalty shot and had one assist.

Arguably the most important part of Russia’s team is their offence. They are not going to be able to compete for the gold medal if they don’t get contributions from up and down the lineup. Players like Yegor Chniakov and Egor Afanasyev are going to need to start producing more constantly, along with the team’s top line.

The backbone of this Russian team, however, is its superstar goaltender Yaroslav Askarov. Picked 11th overall by the Nashville Predators in the 2020 NHL draft, is one of, if not the best goalie in this year’s tournament. Any team that has him in the net will always have a chance to win the game. If Yaroslav Askarov gets hot, there can be no stopping this Russian team, especially if he has the offence to support him.

Overall, Russia plays hard and fast and forechecks aggressively. They will try and make Sweden as uncomfortable as they can in their own zone, and make it as hard as possible for them to enter the offensive zone.

Prediction

Although Russia has a strong team, Sweden’s speed and defensive depth should be able to match up well with them. The game will be close, however, as any team with Yaroslav Askarov in net will always have a fighting chance. With Sweden’s offence beginning to spark up at the right time, we could see them ride the momentum into a 55th straight round-robin victory.

Prediction: Sweden wins 4-3.

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