2021 World Junior Championship Recap

How did the tournament go for the Preds’ prospects?

The 2021 World Junior Championship (WJC) was a thrilling affair of international competition with prospects in the Nashville organization playing every night for two weeks. Five future Predators suited up for Canada, Finland, and Russia, and, collectively, took home two medals—a silver (Canada) and a bronze (Finland).

While the WJC is largely an inadmissible exercise in scouting development due to small sample size and uneven competition, there can still be takeaways gleaned from the tournament. Throughout the 2021 WJC, I tracked each game for Nashville’s five prospects and pulled some game tape to review their performances at the U20 competition.

Philip Tomasino - Canada

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Tomasino started the WJC like he was shot out of a cannon, despite minimal playing time as Canada’s extra forward or on their fourth line. Through Canada’s first three games, where they outscored opponents 29-3, Tomasino notched all four of his goals and six points. Armchair general managers were blasting André Tourigny’s coaching decisions with regards to Tomasino’s playing time.

However, in Canada’s final four games, Tomasino went pointless when given increased ice time. At moments, especially against Russia in the semifinal and the U.S. in the championship game, he was unnoticeable.

Regardless, Tomasino excelled statistically. He finished sixth on Team Canada in scoring and was one of the tournament’s top forwards in expected primary points per 60 minutes per Mitch Brown’s tracking project.

What Stands Out: Shooting talent. All four of Tomasino’s goals and both of his assists were recorded at even strength. He was on the ice for eight five-on-five goals-for, scored half of them, and notched the primary assist on two more. In his limited role, Tomasino launched 15.62 shot attempts towards the net per 60 minutes of even-strength ice time, using his (#26) sniper-level talent to hit the scoresheet with goals like this one:

Big Takeaway: Transition play. What ultimately (somewhat) dampened an otherwise excellent showcase from Tomasino were too many instances of him not capitalizing on his transition speed. He finished the tournament with a 64.3% successful zone exit rate and a 62.5% zone entry rate—both excellent numbers, but in his final few games, I saw too many examples of unnecessary dump-ins or slowed-up zone entries.

Take this shift against Russia as an example. Tomasino breaks out of the defensive zone with a potential four-on-two odd-man rush in hand. But he slows down too much upon crossing the blue line, allowing the defender to block a path to the slot and giving time for the Russians to collapse around forwards two and three.

Shifts like this showed in my tracking: of all of Tomasino’s shot attempts, only 4.46 were from high-danger areas per 60 minutes of five-on-five play.

Yegor Afanasyev - Russia

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Conversely, Afanasyev’s tournament started on a slower note. In Russia’s first two games, he looked disengaged in a bottom-six role, recording no points and just two shots on goal. After that slight adjustment period, however, Afanasyev secured a critical top-six role and posted two goals and five points in the next three games.

Four of his five points were primary ones scored at even-strength and accounted for all four even-strength Russia goals he was on the ice for during the entire tournament. He finished second, just behind Rodion Amirov, in team scoring.

What Stands Out: Cycle to scoring chance skill. One thing Afanasyev excels at when he’s at the top of his game is converting offensive zone cycles or turnovers on the forecheck into grade-A scoring chances. He’s a quick thinker in the offensive zone and can map out his next pass or movement to open ice several steps ahead of the play—as shown on this shift where he (#23) records a primary assist:

Big Takeaway: Using his extra skating gear. Like Tomasino, Afanasyev struggled to generate high-danger scoring chances. He was firing away, recording 17.9 shot attempts per 60 minutes, but just 4.82 of them were from high-danger areas.

When he struggled, Afanasyev wasn’t hitting that extra skating gear as seen in the first zone entry attempt in the clip above. I like how he recovers to put a proper angle on the Finnish defender and pressure him into a poor stretch pass, and he does end up helping generate a solid scoring chance toward the end of the clip. But you’d like to see him take more ownership of that open ice toward the net and get in tighter to the Finnish goalie with his size and puck protection ability.

Juuso Pärssinen - Finland

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At forward, Pärssinen had the quietest tournament of Nashville’s prospects, finishing with two goals and four points—but just one of those was a primary point at even strength. Finland’s offense was almost entirely run through their top, Anton Lundell-centered line, which hogged ice time in critical scenarios (lending to Pärssinen’s -26.67% relative goals-for rate).

Despite a quiet offensive tournament, I thought Pärssinen handled his circumstances well. He skated around 17 minutes most nights and in all situations, displaying an underrated prowess on Finland’s power play.

What Stands Out: Transition play. Earlier this season, I wrote about how Pärssinen’s commitment to stellar possession play in transition would help him become a legit NHL player one day, and that was demonstrated once again at the WJC. Even while 2022 NHL Draft-eligible prospect Brad Lambert did a majority of the puck carrying when Finland’s second line was on the ice, Pärssinen (#27) was Nashville’s best transition forward at the tournament (68.4% zone exit success and 61.9% zone entry success).

As you can see, his elasticity in puck support, in all quadrants of the offensive zone, leads to quick breakouts and rushes up the ice.

Big Takeaway: NHL ceiling. Against his peers, it may have become more obvious than usual that Pärssinen doesn’t have the most potential of some prospects at the WJC. He isn’t a skater who will slot into a top-six role in Nashville, but that’s not an issue. While he may not have had the flashiest tournament, he was moving his feet on every shift, disrupting plays, forcing turnovers, and assisting on shot attempts.

Semyon Chistyakov - Russia

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At the top of the WJC, I declared that Chistyakov would make a name for himself as Russia’s top defender, and that proved to be the case. On balance, he was Nashville’s best prospect at the tournament and undoubtedly deserved player of the tournament honors for his home nation.

Chistyakov finished with just three points—none of them primary ones—and no goals on 16 shots on net. But he was a top ice-time-getter across the entire tournament and sacrificed just 1.52 even-strength goals-against per 60 minutes. He skated crucial minutes in all situations for Russia: penalty kills, against opponents’ top lines, in overtime, etc.

What Stands Out: Smart physicality. Even though he comes in below six feet, Chistyakov loves to play the body—well, too. His physicality was incredibly effective at this tournament in shutting down excellent puck carriers. At times in the KHL, he makes poor decisions pinching with his shoulder instead of focusing on the puck and, in turn, gives up high-danger scoring changes occasionally. But at the WJC, he never missed.

Below is the perfect example: Chistyakov (#6) recognizes the speed of the Czech opponent and gives up the puck play through his legs. Tons of defenders in this scenario would panic and throw up their hands to the opponent’s chest. Chistyakov, however, maintains positioning square to the play and properly blocks any path to the net with an effective hip check.

Big Takeaway: Stretch passing. Chistyakov is an underrated playmaker with the puck on his stick and was dynamite in transition at the WJC. He allowed opponents to enter the zone just 38.0% of the time with control and broke the puck out with possession 67.3% of the time.

Despite incredible stretch passes like the one shown above, I thought Chistyakov relied too much on that type of zone exit. In scouting his tournament, he executed a good number of forceful passes out of the defensive zone but also had room to skate and lead the rush. It’s a skill he’s grown more comfortable with in the KHL, and I would’ve like to see more of that end-to-end skating stride at the WJC.

Iaroslav Askarov - Russia


We could all dissect Askarov’s WJC performance until we’re blue in the face, we should all come to the same conclusion. He had some poor performances where he looked rattled and uncomfortable, but that storyline likely overshadowed any of the good performances he had too. After all, he did end with a positive-0.834 goals-saved above average mark.

Now, that’s not the number you want to see from your franchise goalie, but a seven-game tournament shouldn’t be an indictment on his NHL potential either.

What Stands Out: Athleticism. When Askarov was settled into a game, his agility and athleticism were on full display. The highlights of his skill—obvious in great performances like the bronze-medal game against Finland—are an innate ability to challenge any high-danger scoring chance and pounce on loose pucks in tight:

Big Takeaway: His glove hand. It was an obvious flaw all tournament long, and that’s no surprise; it’s the biggest flaw of his game. In bumpy performances against Canada and Sweden, he just seemed so shaky. Askarov was losing his stick constantly, he wasn’t muting plays by diving on loose pucks in the crease, and when opponents got into high-danger areas, he never seemed to get set for ensuing plays. As a result, his glove hand was all over the place: too high, too titled, too stiff, you name it, and it led to horrendous save percentages on medium-danger shots (0.895) and high-danger shots (0.851).

All statistics are courtesy of iihf.com, eliteprospects.com, or manually tracked.