Future NHL superstars and top prospects are preparing for the global stage, and hockey fans should take notice.
Get ready NHL fans because some of the league’s hottest young things are set for a huge role on the biggest platform.
The International Ice Hockey Federation’s annual World Junior Championships (WJCs) are currently set to take place in Edmonton beginning on Christmas Day, and ending on Jan. 5, 2021.
This schedule is still on track for now, despite multiple teams having positive COVID-19 tests. All current positive individuals are scheduled to be cleared from their quarantine before the beginning of gameplay.
Assuming that, first, everyone is safe, and second, the logistics supporting the event are unaffected, hockey fans are in for a treat. Hockey’s best young prospects (under 20 years of age) will be competing against one another in a ten-team tournament. The traditional hockey powers are receiving their usual respect as far as predictions go.
However, Team Canada is by far and away the current favorite to win gold at the 2021 WJCs. Look no further than their newly announced team Captains and you can see why Canada is such a heavy favorite. All three that earned a letter on their chest were drafted in the top ten picks of the 2019 NHL Entry Draft.
Kirby Dach (Chicago Blackhawks)
Team Canada’s Captain for the 2021 WJCs will be Kirby Dach. Dach was drafted third overall by the Chicago Blackhawks in 2019. As an 18-year-old, Dach made the Blackhawks roster and scored 23 points (8 G, 15 A) while playing in 64 regular-season games. Dach received more notoriety during the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs when he scored 6 points (1 G, 5 A) in 9 games.
What was most impressive about the young power forward’s postseason performance, however, was the four points in his first four games when Chicago eliminated the heavily favored Connor McDavid led Edmonton Oilers. Dach is not yet at a point where he can carry an NHL team, and playing with Patrick Kane in Chicago he does not have to.
After Chicago’s strange offseason which included trading away Brandon Saad and management eventually admitting to being in rebuild mode, Dach is a huge building block moving forward from the historic Kane/Jonathan Toews Stanley Cup era.
Dach will play on Team Canada’s first line in the tournament. Whenever the NHL season eventually kicks off, Dach will no doubt be back in Chicago’s top-six forward core.
Bowen Byram (Colorado Avalanche)
The first alternate Captain, alphabetically speaking, was given to Bowen Byram. Byram was taken fourth overall by the Colorado Avalanche in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft, one pick after Kirby Dach. Byram has yet to make his NHL debut and, perhaps due to the abundance of depth in Colorado, it could be another year before he is a consistent NHL player.
The biggest reason Byram could see time in the NHL is the current status of his junior hockey league the WHL in Canada. The WHL has postponed the start of its season due to issues concerning the pandemic. Colorado does not want him just sitting around, and it is likely that the NHL will have expanded rosters of some type.
That type of plan would have Byram practicing with a very competitive NHL team. It also makes older Colorado defensemen like Erik Johnson and Ian Cole more expendable. Cole has one more year on his deal and Johnson is a prime buyout candidate before the Seattle Kraken 2021 NHL Expansion Draft.
Byram is templated to be on Team Canada’s top defensive pairing alongside Jaimie Drysdale, who was selected sixth overall in the 2020 Draft by Anaheim. After being drafted, Byram scored 52 points (14 G, 38 A) in 50 games in the WHL for the Vancouver Giants.
Dylan Cozens (Buffalo Sabres)
Dylan Cozens was selected seventh overall in 2019 by the Buffalo Sabres. Cozens, like Byram, plays in the WHL and scored 85 points (38 G, 47 A) in just 51 regular-season games in 2019-20. Those numbers put Cozens at seventh overall in scoring in the WHL. Cozens will most likely play center on Canada’s first line with Dach, a tantalizing prospect indeed.
Cozens and Byram are in very similar situations when it comes to depth charts and the NHL. Buffalo has some decent center depth that could keep Cozens from making the NHL roster for another season. But, with an aging Eric Staal and an unhappy Jack Eichel, Cozens could see some playing time given the unknown roster situation for the upcoming season.
Buffalo is in a curious situation going into this season. They have Eichel now playing with Taylor Hall, but only for one season. On the blue line, Rasmus Dahlin is a part of the new era of great NHL defenders along with Colorado’s Cale Makar and Dallas’ Miro Heiskanen.
Yet the Sabres have not made the Playoffs since 2011, and lack the depth typical of the more consistent postseason performing teams. While we should be excited to see Cozens make his debut, it should not be under the circumstances of a desperate move by Buffalo management. Easing Cozens into the league in a bottom-six forward role might be the way to go.
Regardless of the future of these top NHL prospects, they are going to put on a show against the best of their peers around the globe. Team Canada’s Captains are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to future NHL talent in the WJCs. Hundreds of NHL superstars made their first steps towards stardom in the annual tournament, and we can’t wait to see what the next generation do this year.