The 2021 IIHF men’s World Hockey Championship won’t be remembered for having an influx of high-end talent. No Alex Ovechkin, no Connor McDavid, no William Nylander.
But what it will be remembered for is the overall competitiveness the tournament should produce. With no clear No. 1 favorite, the potential for blowouts are lower than usual, giving even the smaller teams a chance at winning a few games here and there.
It’s also the final time for some NHL draft prospects to showcase what they can do to scouts in an unusual year. Not that University of Michigan teammates Owen Power and Matty Beniers need to do anything to bolster their profile, other than continuing to make a case for the No. 1 spot. But we typically don’t get two potential top picks in the same tournament, let alone playing for contending teams.
Power and Beniers are the clear top prospects playing in Riga, Latvia over the next two weeks, but they aren’t the only 2021 draft eligibles taking part. Here’s a look at 10 players that could get selected this summer that will represent their country this month:
Owen Power, D (CAN)
He didn’t get to represent his country at the World Junior Championship over the winter, but Power now gets the chance to throw on the Canadian colors for the second time in his career – first with the men’s team. The favorite to go first overall this summer, Power had a huge NCAA rookie season with Michigan, posting a 16-point run in 26 games on one of the most talented lineups in the league. If you’ve followed along over the past year, we’ve pointed out Power’s strengths as a prospect, and now we’re going to see how he handles men’s competition for the first time in his career. Not sure about you, but that’s exciting.
Matty Beniers, C (USA)
If Power doesn’t go first overall in 2021, Beniers could most definitely challenge for that spot. Beniers finished his freshman year at Michigan with a point-per-game in 24 outings and helped USA win gold with a valiant performance at the World Junior Championship a few months back. Beniers’ lack of high-end scoring depth could play out in Beniers’ favor, allowing him to showcase his skills as a Jonathan Toews-like center. His teammates love him, scouts love him and goalies can’t stand him. He’s the best forward for the 2021 draft for a reason. “Find me a shift where you didn’t notice him. He plays the same way at Michigan – he’s got that motor,” a scout told Ryan Kennedy following the World Junior Championship. “We’ve known Beniers for a couple years and sometimes that can work against a player because you get fatigue, but I don’t think anyone has that with Matty.”
Janis Moser, D (SUI)
One of the top overage (and in his case, a double-overage) prospects right now, Moser already has experience with Switzerland’s men’s team from the 2019 tournament but he’ll be more useful this time around. Since his first draft go-around, Moser’s skating has taken big leaps, specifically in how much quicker he is off of his first stride and he wastes little effort getting back into his zone to retrieve a puck. He’s more offensively minded, too, and his coaches continue to give him opportunities to move the puck without any real restraints. His defensive awareness, specifically how he gets himself to break up passing lanes, has always been a nice trait of his. Moser is currently signed until 2023-24, but Biel GM Martin Steinegger believes he won’t return next year and move to North America instead.
Martin Fasko-Rudas, D (SVK)
If the name sounds familiar, it’s because he represented Slovakia at the World Junior Championship back in 2020 – or because it’s similar to Radko Gudas. Fasko-Rudas made his pro hockey debut in the Slovak league this past season after three years in the WHL and had a big 38-point campaign in 48 games as a rookie. He’s set to join Bili Tygri Liberec for 2021-22 in the Czech league and while he’s been passed over a few times now as a 20-year-old, there’s definitely some interest in the winger. He should start the tournament as a bottom-six forward but should get some power-play time after skating on the second unit in practice.
Emil Lilleberg, D (NOR)
Lilleberg has always been a hit with Norway at the junior level and now, he gets the chance to showcase what he can do at the men’s stage. The big, 6-foot-2, 207-pound blueliner signed with Oskarshamn in the Swedish league for 2021 after a good year in his native land, a good sign that he’s a valued youngster despite getting passed over at the 2020 draft. Lilleberg isn’t afraid to get physical and even when he doesn’t grab many points, he finds a way to stay effective – he won the top player on Norway at the 2020 World Junior Championship for a reason. Lilleberg should line up on the top pairing with Jonas Holos.
Danila Klimovich, LW (BLR)
Klimovich became a sensation at the U-18 World Championship earlier this month after posting six goals for Belarus. He didn’t pot a goal at 5-on-5, and it’s unlikely he’ll get much, if any, playing time at the men’s level this year, but his conclusion is notable. Klimovich previously took part in Belarus’ junior development program, playing with the U-17, U-18 and U-20 teams in various Belarusian leagues. The U-18 World Championship was the first official tournament for Klimovich outside of a three-game Four Nations event in 2019. This is his first time with the men’s team, so it’ll be interesting to see what role the team gives him.
Alexei Kolosov, G (BLR)
Kolosov is an overager that many scouts have quickly taken a liking to this year. Kolosov was originally set to make his North American debut in the OHL with Erie this season, but with that season never getting underway, he has remained in Europe for the time being. Kolosov made a name for himself with Belarus at the 2020 Division IA World Junior Championship en route to bronze, but his adjustment to life in the KHL was impressive for a 19-year-old. His 3-5-1 record was nothing special, but he tied top prospect Yaroslav Askarov in terms of starts from a U-20 netminder. It’ll be interesting to see how many starts Kolosov gets over veteran Danny Taylor. Taylor is a first-year Belarusian goaltender after previously representing Canada in international play after a couple of stints in the NHL, he has made a name for himself in Europe. He’s had a rough season with Dinamo Minsk, but he’s a 35-year-old veteran with a strong resume.
Konstantin Shostak, G (BLR)
Keeping things in Belarus, Shostak will battle for the backup spot after getting a bit of KHL action with Severstal Cherepovets this past season. Shostak saw some action with Belarus in exhibition play recently, putting up a nice performance against Russia’s second team in late April. In both of his KHL starts this season, Shostak made at least 35 stops and put in a handful of memorable performances for a weak Molot-Prikamie Perm team in the second Russian league. Stylistically, Shostak is an athletic goaltender that moves well post-to-post and his glove hand is quite quick. Shostak could be with the national team for quite a long time moving forward.
Davide Fadani, G (ITA)
There isn’t much, if any, real draft hype for Fadani, who lost all seven starts for Ticino in the second top Swiss league. But with Andreas Bernard, the team’s top goaltender, out of action due to COVID-19, the Italians will need someone to step up. Former OHLer Justin Fazio is the top guy right now, but Fadani could sneak a few starts in his first year with the men’s national tea, after three years as a starter with the U-18 and U-20 teams. More than anything, this is a national team tryout, but worth knowing for scouting purposes. Damian Clara, a 16-year-old goaltender that’s eligible for the 2023 draft, could get a start or two, too.
Martin Bucko, D (SVK)
Bucko has represented Slovakia at various levels, but like many others on this list, this is his first notable time with the men’s national team. A triple-overage prospect, Bucko projects to be an additional defenseman and likely won’t play much unless the team has an injury. Bucko, 21, spent the past year splitting time in the top two Czech leagues but should get full-time treatment in the top division with a slightly bigger role with Pardubice next season. Still, if scouts didn’t like him over the past three years, it’s unlikely they’ll target him this year, but you never know.