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Players To Watch For In This Year’s World Junior Ice Hockey Championships

By Todd Kortemeier | Dec. 21, 2020, 2:18 p.m. (ET)

Alex Turcotte takes part in a top prospects clinic prior to the NHL draft at Hillcrest Community Centre on June 20, 2019 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.


Add men’s hockey to the list as one of the endless number of things that didn’t proceed as normal in 2020.

College hockey wasn’t able to hold its national tournament, the Stanley Cup was awarded in September and the 2020-21 NHL season won’t even start until 2021. But the 2021 World Junior Championships are here to restore some order to the hockey universe. Sure, the players are quarantined in a bubble in Edmonton, Alberta, but the tournament featuring the top under-20 prospects from across the world is here at the end of December just like always.

Just like it did for the NHL bubble that was the site of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, Edmonton is the host of all 10 national junior teams, including Team USA. The players have been together since Dec. 7, when they first hit the ice for training at USA Hockey Arena in Plymouth, Michigan. They’ll stay together in the bubble, hopefully through the gold-medal game on Jan. 5. 

The players will no doubt get to know each other well with only each other for company.

Here’s a little about what you need to know about them as Team USA goes after its first World Junior Championships gold medal since 2017.

Experience in Goal
Goalie Spencer Knight can be considered a veteran of the World Junior Championships, now playing in the tournament for the third year in a row. After taking it all in as the U.S. won the silver medal in 2019, he played four games in 2020 and saved all but one shot in the quarterfinals against Finland, losing a 1-0 heartbreaker. Knight is a product of the USA Hockey National Team Development Program, where he set the all-time record for wins. Now a sophomore at Boston College, Knight was a first-round draft choice (13th overall) of the Florida Panthers in 2019. Knight’s backup, Dustin Wolf, also played in the 2020 tournament, starting one game.

Returning Stud Scorers
Few teams at World Juniors will be able to match the U.S. scoring prowess. Five forwards return from 2020: Bobby Brink, Cole Caufield, Arthur Kaliyev, Alex Turcotte and Trevor Zegras. Zegras was the 10th-leading scorer at the 2020 tournament, despite playing two fewer games than nearly everyone ahead of him. All five returning U.S. forwards were first or second round NHL draft choices. Caufield, a sophomore for the Wisconsin Badgers, is currently tied for the national scoring lead in college hockey.

York Anchors the Defense
One area where the U.S. does not boast many returning players is on defense. But the one who is, Cam York, is a pretty good one to have. York was taken one spot after Knight in the 2019 draft by the Philadelphia Flyers, and currently leads all University of Michigan defenders in points. York was held pointless in the 2020 tournament but is expected to be an impact player on the blue line this year.

First Round Talents
The U.S. is loaded with players expected to make an impact at the NHL level. The team boasts nine first-round draft picks in all, with only two players not yet drafted. The highest draft pick on the team is defenseman Jake Sanderson, who was chosen fifth overall by the Ottawa Senators in this year’s draft. The two players not yet drafted will be eligible in 2021: Stein, and forward Matthew Beniers, who is the youngest player on the team, just turning 18 in November.

Big Ten Ties
Fans of Big Ten hockey will see plenty of familiar faces wearing red, white and blue. Nine of the 25 players on the roster come from Big Ten schools, with Michigan and Minnesota sending the most players with three each. Boston College of Hockey East also sends three players.

Olympic Ties
Several players on the roster have family who suited up for the U.S. in some way, but two have ties to Olympians. Defenseman Ryan Johnson is the son of Craig Johnson, who played for Team USA at the Olympic Winter Games Lillehammer 1994. Craig also played on four world championship teams during a 10-year NHL career. Like his dad, Ryan plays for the University of Minnesota. 

John Farinacci belongs to the famous Donato family of American hockey. Farinacci is the cousin of current NHLer Ryan Donato, who made his Olympic debut with Team USA in 2018. Ryan’s father Ted Donato is Farinacci’s uncle. Ted played in the 1992 Olympic Winter Games in Albertville, and is also an assistant for the World Juniors team.

Todd Kortemeier

Todd Kortemeier is a sportswriter, editor and children’s book author from Minneapolis. He is a contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.