2021 Draft-Eligibles to Watch at World Juniors

Matthew Beniers Team USA 2021 draft-eligible forward
By Jeff Watters

December 21, 2020

In addition to the 7 Red Wings prospects that will be in action at this week’s World Juniors, some talented 2021 draft- eligibles will be looking to open some eyes in Edmonton as well. Today, we’ll look at 5 players at the World Juniors the Wings could target in the 2021 NHL draft.

The World Junior Hockey Championship has long been a tournament dominated by nineteen-year-olds. With (most of) the best players in the tournament already drafted by NHL teams, the number of draft-eligible players is few and far between. With the Detroit Red Wings likely to have early picks on day 1 and day 2 of the 2021 draft, there will be a handful of players at the 2021 World Juniors that should be of interest.

Here are two players the Wings may consider with their 1st round pick and three skaters who could be available early on day 2. 

Round 1

Matthew Beniers, C, USA

Beniers is looking like the best two-way forward in the 2021 draft. He played at a point-per-game pace for 16 games with the US National Team Development Program in 2019-20 and has had a strong start as a freshman with the University of Michigan this season. He has 3 goals and 6 points in 6 games and has been every bit as impressive as draft-eligible teammates Owen Power and Kent Johnson.

Beniers truly burst onto the scene in 2018-19 with the USNTDP. As a 16-year-old he played with 2019 draftees Jack Hughes, Trevor Zegras, Cole Caufield, and…well, I could go on (hell of a year for the Americans in the 1st round). That season, Beniers had 11 goals and 31 points in 33 games. 

Of all the draft-eligible forwards heading to Edmonton, Matthew Beniers is the guy to watch for Red Wings fans. He’s an excellent skater, tenacious forechecker, and has great vision and offensive instincts. He doesn’t have that truly elite skill you look for early in the 1st round, but he’s as well-rounded as they come. 

Watch one Matty Beniers shift and you’ll become an instant fan. He’ll be a top 10 pick this summer and be among a handful of players the Red Wings will be watching closely. 

Jesper Wallstedt, G, Sweden

Wallstedt is set to be the third goalie in three years to go in the top half of the first round. As highly touted as Spencer Knight (FLA, 2019) and Yaroslav Askarov (NAS, 2020) were leading up to their respective drafts, Wallstedt may be the best of the bunch.

Jesper Wallstedt Lulea 2021 draft-eligible goalie
Jesper Wallstedt could be the first goaltender to be drafted inside the top 10 since Carey Price went 5th overall in 2005 | Photo: Simon Eliasson

The 6-3, 214 lb netminder has been lights out so far in 2020-21 putting up a 2.06 GAA and .920 GAA in 9 games for Luleå of the SHL. Last March, Wallstedt became the youngest goalie to ever start a game in the SHL at 17 years, 3 months, and 26 days old.

Wallstedt is a very technically sound goaltender. He moves efficiently and is rarely out of position. Remember Petr Mrazek? Well, he’s nothing like him. Wallstedt isn’t the most athletic or flashy netminder — it’s his technique and body control that puts him head and shoulders above the rest of the  2021 goaltender class.

I wouldn’t normally advocate taking a goalie in the first round, especially with the Red Wings likely to pick in the top 5 or 6 again in 2021. However, this draft is as wide open as any in recent memory. With no elite goaltenders in the Red Wings system, perhaps this is the year to grab that future #1 starter.

I’m still not quite there, but there’s no doubt that Wallstedt would be an excellent addition to the Wings’ system.

With Lightning prospect Hugo Alnefelt returning between the pipes for Sweden, it’ll be interesting to see how the Swede’s divvy up starting duties.

Round 2

Daniil Chayka, D, Russia

At this time, Chayka is probably too good to be a realistic option for the Red Wings in the second round and not good enough to be considered with their first-round selection. A projectable blueliner with an already solid defensive game, Chayka is likely to go off the board in the middle of the 1st round. Still, with the draft many months away, things could definitely change.

Chayka will be one of the older defensemen in the 2021 draft. He’s a tall, rangy, mobile defender who’s spent the past two seasons with the Guelph Storm of the OHL. Chayka has been loaned to three different Russian teams this season, spending half of the season in the KHL and the other half in the VHL (2nd tier league) and MHL (junior league). 

Chayka is a well-rounded rearguard who excels in all three zones. At 6’3” and 185lbs, there is some definite projection. As he matures and learns how to use his size to his advantage, Chayka could round into form as a top 4 defenseman.

In a typical, covid-less season, Chayka would be getting more looks in the OHL, producing more offense, and likely be higher on some draft boards.  At this point, I still think it’s doubtful he falls to Detroit in the 2nd round, but stranger things have happened *cough” Joe Veleno *cough*.

Oskar Olausson, RW, Sweden

Olausson dominated at the J20 Nationell level early this season before making his SHL debut with HV71 and signing his first pro contract earlier this month. Heading into the World Juniors break, Olausson has 3 goals and 4 points in 11 SHL games. This came on the heels of a 14 goal, 27 point performance in the J20 Nationell.

The big winger is a great skater who loves to shoot the puck. He has decent hands but has a lot of confidence in them. He’s also shown good offensive instincts as he has the ability to find ways to get open and into a good shooting position. Olausson has been known to try to do a little too much on his own and fail to utilize his teammates at times, but there’s no denying his skill.

As things stand now, we should expect to see Olausson slot in on Sweden’s third line. He’ll be a guy to keep an eye on as a potential second-round pick for Detroit, though it’s just as likely he’s a day 1 selection.

Stanislav Svozil, D, Czech Republic

Svozil was the rookie of the year in the Czech Extraliga last season. Impressive for a player who turned 17 mid-way through the campaign.

Svozil looks the part of a reliable top 4 defenseman. He has elite vision and anticipates play in both the offensive and defensive zones. He’s a great skater as well. His strong 2-way game has allowed him to play against older competition throughout his junior career in the Czech Republic.

So far in 2020-21, Svozil has been held off the scoresheet in 10 games with HC Kometa Brno. He has put up good offensive numbers against his peers but has yet to produce against men. Again, he’s still just 17. The Czech defender has not had the exposure of a Daniil Chayka, who has been playing in Canada since he was 15, but he has always performed well internationally.  With an impressive World Juniors and a strong finish to his season back in the Czech league, he could definitely creep up draft boards.

Current draft projections have him going in the late first round, so he could be a guy for the Wings to look at with their second-round pick or a first-rounder they could potentially acquire via trade. 

Final Thoughts

The 2021 NHL Entry Draft will (tentatively) be held on July 23-24 — seven months after the 2021 World Juniors commence in Edmonton later this week. While a lot can change in those seven months, the tournament has long been a platform for draft eligibles to establish themselves against the best junior competition in the world. 

In 2018 it was Filip Zadina showing off his lethal wrister. Last year, Lucas Raymond displayed his elite playmaking ability. 

Obviously, chances are the Red Wings draft none of the players profiled above. But it’s still fun to try to project which players at this year’s tournament may be in play when Detroit makes their first picks on day 1 and 2. 

It is important to remember the World Juniors is just one tournament in the early careers of these prospects. Teams don’t disregard everything that came before and will come after. That might be especially relevant in a year where, for a number of players, these will be the first games they’ve played. 

On the other hand, it’s been much more difficult to lay eyes on this year’s draft eligibles and this will be an opportunity for many to see what the likes of Beniers and Olausson can do on the big stage. If they have big tournaments, could it permanently bump them up draft boards and leave lasting impressions on scouts who have yet to see other top prospects skate this season?

We’ll have to wait and see. For now, let’s sit back and enjoy the show. We deserve this.

Featured Image: Rena Laverty

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