This year, Flames fans will have lots to look forward to at the World Juniors. Four Flames prospects will be representing their respective countries in this year’s tournament, a big jump from just Dustin Wolf on Team USA last year.
This year, Wolf will be back with the Americans. Representing Team Canada will be 2019 first round pick Jakob Pelletier and 2020 first round pick Connor Zary. 2020 second round pick Yan Kuznetzov will suit up for Team Russia.
The tournament begins on Christmas Day, December 25th, with a marquee matchup between Team USA and Team Russia at 7:30PM MST. Team Canada starts the following day, squaring off against Team Germany at 4:00PM MST.
Each player is obviously excellent in their respective position for their age, but there are questions surrounding each prospect. We break down what to watch for at this year’s tournament.
Going into his second year at the tournament, the big question for Wolf will be whether can he wrestle the starting role away from Spencer Knight. The Flames’ seventh round pick appeared in just one game last year, picking up a 6-3 win over the host Czech Republic in the round robin. Not really a marquee matchup. The US bowed out in the quarterfinals, losing 1-0 to Finland.
Wolf will be hoping that this year is his year. While the US has not officially named a starter, they have two tune up games where Wolf may have the opportunity to prove his worth. He has not played since March, but he is hoping that the hard work he put in during the off-season will show at the tournament this year.
For the first time ever, Team Russia has selected two players from the NCAA for their squad. Kuznetsov will be joining his good friend and UConn teammate Vladislav Firstov at this year’s tournament.
This will likely be the first chance for many Flames fans to see Kuznetsov play, and the question for him will be will he be able to contain the elite offensive talents that Russia faces. The tallest and heaviest player on Team Russia’s roster, he is known to be a very steady reliable defensive defenceman. Not one for fancy plays up ice, he has been praised by his coaches for his reliable defensive game.
The tournament is known for its high flying style, and the ability for scorers to find the back of the net. Kuznetsov has been playing top pairing and shutdown minutes and as a sophomore in the NCAA, but this will be a whole new challenge. Team Russia will be facing off against the United States in game one then against team Sweden in game four. Both will be big opportunities for Kuznetsov to show why the Flames took him in the second round.
Last year, Pelletier suffered an injury just days before camp began, and was unable to attend. He was, interestingly, replaced by Connor Zary. Now both are Flames, and both have made the team.
Although they will be wearing the famed red and white, there are different questions surrounding them. For Pelletier, the big question for him will be around his role. In the first half of camp, Pelletier had two points, but was consistently praised for his play at both ends of the ice. The phrase “plays the game the right way” was tossed around by numerous people, and is likely why he made the team.
However, what he did at camp and what happens in the tournament are two separate things. As it stands now, Pelletier will be playing on the third line alongside Edmonton Oilers prospect Dylan Holloway and Colorado Avalanche prospect Alex Newhook, both NCAA players.
Holloway is a strong two-way player, who has been praised for his defensive play, and Newhook is a high scoring elite centre. Put with Pelletier, the line will likely be responsible for the majority of defensive zone starts, and for turning the play up ice.
With Newhook putting up 42 points in 35 games as a rookie for Boston College, this line has the ability to be dangerous at both ends of the ice. However it will rely on Pelletier to be able to adapt to wherever the coaches need him and his linemates to be.
Going into camp, there were not many who felt Zary would be able to crack the roster. However, he absolutely brought it in camp, putting up a goal and three assists in the first two intrasquad matches. With the ability to play centre and wing on a very deep Canadian roster, Zary brings a ton of versatility to the lineup.
The big question on Zary is can he keep it up through the tournament. Playing on the wing with The Los Angeles Kings’ Quinton Byfield and the Nashville Predator’s Philip Tomasino, this was the best line for Team Canada through training camp and the team will be relying on them to continue their strong run of form through the tournament.
A second overall pick, Byfield is a superstar in the making, and playing on his wing will only maker Zary stronger. Likely to start in the offensive zone frequently, Team Canada will be hoping that they can make the most of their chances and create offense against both powerhouse nations and smaller contenders. While all three forwards have been out of action since March, they will hope to be in top form once the tournament starts in a couple weeks
Which Flames prospect do you think will be a difference-maker in the tournament? Let us know below in the comments or on social media.