The road to the 2021 IIHF World Junior Championship in Edmonton has not been an easy one. With plenty of positive COVID-19 tests during the training camp process -- some of which were later found to be false positives -- some questioned whether the tournament would even, or should even, happen.
It will happen, however, as the IIHF and Hockey Canada have worked hand-in-hand with local health officials in Alberta. They will follow the example of the NHL, which held a successful bubble in Edmonton once before. Several teams have lost significant pieces to their roster due to the pre-tournament COVID-19 testing protocol, and many NHL teams held onto prospects rather than let them play. But the talent level remains remarkably high.
Assuming all goes as planned, the tournament is expected to begin with a pair of games on Christmas Day, with the tournament running until Jan. 6. To get you ready for the highly-anticipated 2021 World Juniors, here's a preview of expectations for all 10 teams and a look at key prospects to watch for each.
On paper, no other team is as deep, as fast or as skilled as Team Canada. The Canadians have four lines that can absolutely bury the opposition and a defensive corps that is mobile and can produce points from the back end. Led by a host of returnees from last year's gold-medal team, they will have the capability of skating teams right out of the building. Twenty of the 25 players on the roster are first-round NHL draft picks.
If there is a weakness, it's in net. Canada is better than every other team in all other positions except goaltending, an area that can loom large when the tournament gets down to single-elimination. A trio of Devon Levi, Taylor Gauthier and Dylan Garand will be charged with backstopping the favorites. Given the team in front of them, they just have to manage the game more than anything.