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. Thursday, December 30th is day six of the tournament. The second game of the day will Finland vs Canada.
2021 World Junior Championship Predictions
Finland vs Canada
The final, and most anticipated of the 2021 World Junior Championship in Group A matchup is finally here. The 3-0 Team Finland will face off against the 3-0 Team Canada to determine the winner of group A. Being in the weaker of the two groups, this will be each team’s first true challenge. They have each won all of their games fairly easily for the most part, so this game should be good preparation for the medal round. It will be an intense and high paced matchup where we see what both teams are really made of.
After shutting out Team Slovakia 6-0, Finland will look to ride their momentum into the big Canada game. Earlier in the tournament, Canada had only beaten Slovakia 3-1 in a game that was a little closer than they had probably liked. This could give the Finnish players a mental edge, knowing they beat the Slovaks much more decisively.
So far, Finland’s top line has led the charge for them offensively. The line is centred by Florida Panthers 12th Overall pick Anton Lundell. Lundell, the team captain, has led them on the score sheet as well. Through three games, he has three goals and three assists for 6 points. On his left side is Toronto Maple Leafs pick Roni Hirvonen. Through three games, Hirvonen has four assists. The other winger on the line is Los Angeles Kings prospect Kasper Simontaival. Simontaival has two goals and three assists for five points through three games as well.
Outside of their top line, Finland’s forwards have not produced too much. Aku Raty has been fairly solid offensively, sitting at a point per game pace. Additionally, even though it has not shown up on the score sheet, 2022 draft-eligible Brad Lambert has been one of Finland’s top forwards.
On the defensive side of the puck, the Fins have a pretty deep group. They are led by 2019 first-rounder Ville Heinola, who’s production has been fairly quiet to this point. Somewhat surprisingly, Leafs prospect Topi Niemela has emerged as one of their best offensive producers. Through the three games, Niemela has two goals and four assists for six points. This ties Anton Lundell for the team lead.
As far as goaltending goes, Finland’s Kari Piiroinen has been solid for them in the net. He’s posting a save percentage of .912 and a goals-against-average of 1.50 through two games.
Canada will be coming off of a 10-0 victory against Switzerland, where Kings prospect Quinton Byfield proved exactly why he was selected second overall in the 2020 draft. He scored two goals and four assists for a total of six points in just 11:03 of ice-time. This was good enough to skyrocket him into second on the team in scoring with seven points in just three games played.
So far, the story of Canada’s success has been the offence. In just three games, they have outscored opponents 29-3 and outshot opponents 119-48. Their top scorer through the first three games is Buffalo Sabres prospect Dylan Cozens, with four goals and five assists for nine total points. Philip Tomasino, Canada’s third-highest scorer, has as many points as Finland’s two-way tie top scorers Anton Lundell and Topi Niemela. When talking about team Canada’s offence, it really does not matter who leads the way. The entire forward core is made up entirely of first-round draft picks, compared to Finland’s two (Heinola and Lundell) on the entire roster.
If Canada’s regular producers such as Cozens, Tomasino, Alex Newhook, and Connor McMichael can continue to produce the way they have been; When you factor Quinton Byfield, who had a quiet start before his coming out party, into that equation, this offence can become unstoppable.
On the defensive side of the Ice, Canada is also riddled with first-rounders. Leading the way are 2019 fourth-overall pick Bowen Byram and 2020 sixth-overall pick Jamie Drysdale. early on, Canada’s powerplay had struggled a bit, and one of the fixes they made was switching in Drysdale for 2019 first-rounder Thomas Harley. Either way, Canada has so many talented defencemen, they can’t really go wrong with who they deploy.
On the goaltending side of things, despite it being considered Canada’s weak spot, their starter, Devon Levi, has been fantastic. Through three games, Levi has a goals-against-average of 0.75, and a save percentage of .952. If we were guessing which Florida Panthers prospect would put up these kinds of numbers, most would probably guess Spencer Knight, but Levi has been outstanding.
Both Canada and Finland have cruised through a pretty weak group A. When they face off for the first time, it will be each of their first real challenges. Although Finland has been good, this Canadian team is just too much to handle. They entered the tournament as the favourites and should come out on top of group A. With the team they are icing this year, it’s pretty much championship or bust, and that starts with winning their first really competitive game.
Prediction: Canada wins 5-2
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