The Emergence of Unlikely Suspects in the 2020 World Junior Hockey Championships

2020 World Junior Hockey Championships

The 2020 World Junior Hockey Championships contains some of the best talents in the history of the tournament. Players like Alexis Lafreniere, Spencer Knight, and Nils Hoglander headlined the group and stole away most of the attention. Yet, it has not been their play that’s shined. Instead, most of the theatrics have come from fairly downplayed names. Two players, in specific, have taken full advantage of the chance to showcase their skill and have quickly shot their way up their respective prospect system, giving them a tremendous ability to affect their NHL club’s future and NHL betting odds as a whole.

Surprising Outbursts in the 2020 World Junior Hockey Championships

Shane Pinto (United States)

Five Games Played: Four Goals, Three Assists

Shane Pinto was, by far, on of the most outstanding players in the tournament. He lead all players in scoring through the first three days of tournament play, with a strong six points in two games, and would go on to tally an impressive seven points in five games. He got off to his high-scoring start almost immediately, netting the first goal of the ‘United States vs Canada’ Opening Day matchup only three minutes into the game. Pinto would go on to tally one more goal and an assist in that game, earning him ‘United States Player of the Game’ honors despite their 5-4 loss.

Some skeptics held their praise back, saying that Pinto’s dominance was simply a one-off. He proved them wrong in the American’s next game, though. Facing off against Germany, Pinto tallied a goal and two assists, including the sole assist in Oliver Wahlstrom’s goal.

While Pinto’s scoring totals aren’t jaw-dropping by any means, his play was a true testament to his skill. It was a bit of a surprise coming from Pinto, though. While he has always been a ‘pretty good’ player, doing enough to be picked in the second round of the 2019 NHL Draft, he has never shown such brilliance. He netted an impressive, but modest, 59 points in 56 USHL games over his two-year career there before being drafted and has netted 14 points in 17 games for the University of North Dakota this season. While these are, again, strong stats, they don’t scream “best in the world”. Yet, statistically, that’s what Pinto is yelling out at the 2020 World Junior Hockey Championship.

Justus Annunen (Finland)

Seven Games Played: 0.916 Save Percentage, 2.12 Goals-Against-Average

Unlike Pinto, Justus Annunen isn’t radically outperforming his usual self. Instead, he’s simply keeping what’s been an absolutely dominant 2019-20 season alive in the 2020 World Junior Hockey Championship. Annunen has come into his own this year, playing in Finland’s top league, the SM Liiga. With Karpat, he has appeared in 13 games and has yet to lose in regulation. He has a record of 11-0-5 on the season, with a dazzling .940 save percentage and 1.26 goals-against-average. These are truly tremendous numbers and the best save percentage and goals-against-average in the league by a long shot, with the next highest goals-against-average being a 1.60 and the next-best save percentage a .933.

So it is no surprise to see Annunen performing so well in the 2020 World Junior Hockey Championship. He has been a standout among the goalie class. It has truly dropped the jaws of all North American fans who haven’t been exposed to his brilliance yet. He did, however, lose the regulation win streak that he boasted all season, ultimately losing one game during the tourney.

Finland’s team struggled to accurately live up to expectations in this year’s tourney but Annunen has effectively exceeded them. Fans tuned into to Finland’s games from across the world simply to watch Annunen perform, and for good reason. He stopped 174 of the 190 shots that have been thrown at him through seven games and was the catalyst behind Finland’s team.

While this play is in line with his performance this season, it certainly surpasses his track record. Annunen has never shined in the Liiga prior to this season. He has instead been confined to minor league play, including last year where he played in the ‘Mestis’ league, one step below the SM-Liiga. In that minor league last season, Annunen played fairly poorly. He tallied a .891 save percentage and 2.77 goals-against-average. The 2019-20 season has been a truly dominant breakout for Annunen. The 2020 World Junior Hockey Championship put that breakout in the spotlight for the world to see.

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