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. Saturday, January 2nd is day eight of the tournament. The quarterfinals are here. The day begins with Germany vs Russia.
2021 World Junior Championship Predictions
The Russians won three out of their games during group play this tournament. Their lone loss came in a 2-0 shut out to the Czech Republic on day three of the tournament. Aside from that hiccup, the Russians are going to be a tough team for Germany to beat. Leading scorer Rodion Amirov, the Toronto Maple Leafs first-round pick in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft. In his four games, he’s notched two goals and four assists for six points. Amirov and his goaltender teammate, Yaroslav Askarov, have been the driving forces for this Russian team. That isn’t to say their supporting cast hasn’t been just as stellar. Vancouver Canucks ninth overall pick in 2019, Vasili Podkolsin, Yegor Afanasyev, and defenceman Shakir Mukhamadullin have been the glue that holds the lineup together. Even though he has spent his time on the fourth forward line, a guy like Vasili Ponomaryov has been creating offensive opportunities with ease. No wonder they rank in the top five in scoring efficiency and power play success amongst tournament participants.
Taking a closer look at the offence, it is deeper than what the surface shows. The team might not have the offensive success that the United States or team Canada have had, but they create high danger chances all the same. It is seldom in a game where the Russian attack doesn’t abuse every inch of ice that a team gives them and punishes them for doing so. For example, on the Russian’s first goal in their game against Team Sweden, Afanasyev crashed the backdoor that the Swedish defenceman left unmarked during a quick rush that was created off of a turnover. Crisp transition play in the offensive end, great spatial awareness, and just perfect execution. Chances like this are common for this team, taking over 26 shots each game so far.
The Russian blue line has also been as electric. Their top defence line, headed by Mukhamadullin and Semyon Chistyakov, has been locked in since opening puck drop against Team USA on night one of the tournament. Chistyakov has had two assists so far, and will likely be a key piece going into bracket play in terms of keeping the team’s backbone strong against the strong opponents they’ll likely face. Deeper into the blue line there’s top prospect in the 2021 NHL Entry Draft, Daniil Chaika. Ranked 13 by TSN’s Bob McKenzie, he has been playing a decent two-way game with limited minutes on Russia’s stacked blueline. Defensive teammate, Roman Bychkov, has been a driving force for play. In four games he’s grabbed three helpers.
The Germans are heading into this game in a better shape than they entered the tournament. They entered the 2021 World Junior Championship with not even three full lines to their lineup. Going into the quarterfinal game against Russia, however, they almost have a full team back. These additions to the roster will, surely, spread the wealth of ice time and give top players a rest. The team is lead by Tim Stuetzle, Ottawa Senators third overall pick in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft, Samuel Dube, and John-Jason Peterka. All three have been key components to any sort of offensive production the team has had all tournament. The defence, although shaky to start, have found their own during the latter half of group play helping the Germans string together two quality wins.
To every one superstar Russian, there aren’t enough superstar German forwards to match. The best of the Germans have been those that fans would expect. Stuetzle has been all he was last tournament, and more in his new leadership role with the team. Linemate JJ Peterka has been the perfect complement to his evasive style of play, but the offence doesn’t go much deeper. Dube and Florian Elias are great at the dot and they do provide flexibility for how to run an offensive rush. However, this is all that the Germans can say in terms of offence. The bottom six, or what they had of it, hasn’t shown up in relief nearly a much as they would need to be competitive. In order for the Germans to push the Russian defence, offensive depth will need to show up big time. If they don’t, it’ll be a long night for Stuetzle and company.
The defence has been very one dimensional. Aside from the absolute blowout that the Germans got handed to them at the hands of Canada, it hasn’t been all that. Mario Zimmerman notched the game-winning tally against Slovakia, but that has been his only point of the tournament. On the flip side, he’s still a sharp defensive presence. This is the case even after playing more minutes than he normally would due to the lack of players Germany had. Linemate Luca Munzenberger, a commit to the University of Vermont, has also been pretty rock-solid on the blue line. Aside from these two, however, the defensive play hasn’t been a highlight of the German game. Even in their last two games, they were letting rushes happen and giving up many high danger chances. Goaltending saved them more than what would be comfortable for most.
The battle in net between both teams is totally lopsided. On the Russian side, you have an elite, first-round prospect in Askarov. He has been playing lights out since game one against the United States. He’s put up a respectable .912 save percentage and a 2.62 goals-against average but has stopped shots in the clutch when the team needed it most. On the German side, there’s Florian Bugl. At 18 years old he plays in the Austrian Junior league, a far cry from Askarov’s KHL experience this season. Behind a shaky defence, he hasn’t helped all that much, posting a .889 save percentage a 3.39 goals-against average. This isn’t to say he’s played badly, it’s just he isn’t being given a whole lot of room to perform well behind the defensive showing Germany has put out in four games.
Russia has the clear advantage in this match. With that being said, Germany has a healthier roster and the momentum of winning two games to close out group play. It might not be close, but the Germans will make it hard for the Russians to run away with it.
Prediction: Russia 5 Germany 2