Red Wings Prospects Impress at 2021 World Juniors

Elmer Soderblom keeps the puck away from Eemil Viro at 2021 World Juniors
By Jeff Watters

January 6, 2021

With the 2021 World Juniors concluding yesterday, it’s time to recap the performances of the 7 Red Wings prospects who represented their countries at this year’s tournament. Although just one Red Wing will be taking home a medal, it was a strong showing from Detroit’s recent draft picks.

Let’s jump right into it, starting with the Swedes:

Sweden 

The Swedes got off to a strong start with wins against the Czech Republic (7-1) and Austria (4-0). 

From there, their schedule got a bit tougher.

Sweden was defeated 4-3  in overtime by Russia and was then shut out by the Americans the following day by a score of 4-0. 

The OT loss to the Russians put an end to Sweden’s illustrious World Juniors record of 54 consecutive wins in the round-robin portion of the tournament (Sweden’s previous loss had come against the U.S. way back in 2006). An impressive streak to be sure, but one that likely didn’t matter much to the Swedes as they’ve taken home gold just once (2012) in the past 40 (FORTY!) years. 

It was certainly a mixed bag type of tournament for Sweden, unfortunately, resulting in yet another early exit in the quarter-finals vs. Finland. After a dominant 1st period led to a 2-0 lead for the Swedes, they were outplayed and outhustled by a hungry Finnish squad led by captain Anton Lundell (FLA). Finland controlled play during the final 2 periods and scored with just 25 seconds remaining in regulation to eliminate the Swedes.

Theodor Niederbach, Elmer Soderblom, and Lucas Raymond celebrate a goal at the 2021 World Juniors
Theodor Niederbach, Elmer Soderblom, and Lucas Raymond celebrate a goal against the Czech Republic. | Photo: Codie McLachlan/Getty Images

The Swedes simply lacked the scoring depth to compete with the top teams in the tournament. Additionally, they received lackluster performances from their top defenders and some inconsistent goaltending from Hugo Alnefelt (TB).

A disappointing end for Lucas Raymond and company, but for Red Wings fans it wasn’t all bad. Let’s take a look at the performances (with grades) of the 5 Red Wings on Sweden’s roster:

Lucas Raymond, LW (1st round, 2020)
5GP, 2G, 3A, 5 PTS

Lucas Raymond is…good. He’s very, very good. The Red Wings’ first pick in the 2020 draft may not have lit up the score sheet, but make no mistake — he was excellent.

(He also could’ve easily had 10-12 points with some lucky bounces).

In Sweden’s first two round-robin games against the Czechs and Austrians, Raymond drove possession and truly stood out as a dominant force for the Swedes. His competitiveness was front and centre against the Czech Republic as the more the Swedes scored, the hungrier Raymond became. It was evident he was frustrated that he couldn’t contribute more than one assist in the game.

Raymond also showed off his 200-foot game with a brilliant backchecking effort in the 3rd period — a great sign for a player who was clearly giving it his all in the offensive zone with his team already up big.

Lucas Raymond and Alexander Holtz celebrate a goal for Sweden
Raymond and Alexander Holtz (NJD) celebrate a goal. | Photo: nord.news

Against the Austrians, Raymond was in the middle of the action all game. While Austria mustered just 6 shots as a team, Raymond had 10 himself. Had it not been for goaltender Sebastian Wraneschitz standing on his head, Raymond could have easily scored 4-5 goals. He effortlessly drove to the net, made a few highlight-reel passes, and was the best player on the ice.

Raymond did give us a scare midway through the 2nd period when he braced for a hit and went awkwardly into the boards as the Austrian defender pulled up. Luckily, he returned for the third period and Red Wings nation collectively exhaled.

Raymond continued to display his confidence and creativity with the puck all tournament as he waited out opposing defenders to give him that little bit of extra space to make a play. In Sweden’s loss to Russia, Raymond calmly navigated the offensive zone at 5v5 and on the power play. There was no panic in his game as time seemed to slow down for him as he assessed his options. 

Against the tougher competition (Russia, United States, Finland) Raymond showed why he was the 4th overall pick in last year’s draft. He performed at an elite level throughout the tournament. He was evasive, a threat when given any ice to work with, and generated plenty of scoring chances, His second goal sums this up nicely.


Simply put, Lucas Raymond had an excellent tournament and Red Wings fans should still be elated to have him in the system. Grade: A

Elmer Soderblom, LW (6th round, 2019)
5 GP, 2 G, 1 A, 3 PTS

Soderblom was another standout for the Swedes, and among the most pleasant surprises of the tournament. 

We knew he was big. We knew he could skate. We also knew he had good hands.

But no one expected big Elmer to put on a show quite like he did in Edmonton.

In Sweden’s win over the Czechs, Soderblom pulled a Marek Malik on Nick Malik (Marek’s son) for one of the best goals of the tournament. After taking a pass from Lucas Raymond, Soderblom quickly put the puck between his legs and deposited it into the top corner over the right shoulder of the Czech netminder.


What. A. Goal.

The size, reach, hands, and confidence were all on display as Soderblom provided some foreshadowing as to how he would perform in Sweden’s remaining games. Perhaps the most impressive aspect of this goal was the exit velocity. Talk about finishing with conviction. Again, what a goal.

In fact, Soderblom liked this move so much, he decided to pull it off again against the Finns.

Incredible.

The TSN broadcast of the World Juniors consistently referred to Soderblom as checking in at 6’6” but the big man is listed as 6’8” and 238 lbs. 

The *6’8”* winger has very good hands. 

Not “good hands for his size.” 

Very good hands — period. Now, I’m not talking about Patrick Kane-level hands. Soderblom will never be an elite puck-handler. However, he is very skilled.

Soderblom showed off these hands by routinely driving to the outside with a quick backhand between his legs while entering the offensive zone. He took advantage of his insane reach and held off defenders with one arm while manoeuvering the puck with his lower hand. The big Swede didn’t force plays and remained composed; this resulted in a number of quality scoring chances throughout the tournament. 

Soderblom still looks awkward at times when accelerating with and without the puck, but this in no way should limit his play. As he continues to get stronger and develops his core strength and “man strength” this should improve and he should look a bit more sure-footed out there. He’s still a deceptively good skater whose long strides help him drive past defenders on the outside or cut to the middle of the ice and beat them with a quick toe drag.

The reach is just such an asset, and the entire package of skill and physical attributes is so, so intriguing.

Soderblom was all over the ice and had one helluva tournament. While a strong showing at the World Juniors is a very small sample size, it was very encouraging to see Elmer’s skill on display on such a big stage. Currently ranked as Pipeline’s 17th ranked prospect, Soderblom is on the rise. Grade: A

Theodor Niederbach, C (2nd round, 2020)
5 GP, 2 G, 0 A, 2 PTS

Niederbach, the third Red Wing forward on Team Sweden, impressed as well.

Niederbach started the tournament on Sweden’s 3rd line between Soderblom and Florida Panthers’ prospect Emil Heineman. He had some excellent chemistry with Soderblom in the Swede’s first few games, but after the team was shut out by the United States Niederbach was bumped up to 1st line duty.

He wasn’t as effective in games 3 through 5 against the stronger teams in the tournament, but he was still very solid and made some very impressive plays. There were a handful of occasions where Niederbach pulled off a quick deke and took a few powerful strides before dishing to a teammate or firing a shot on net that made me say “Wow,” out loud.


He didn’t really show his ability to slow the play down or be a line-driver (that would’ve been Elmer on his line), but his quick flashes were impressive and effective. The puck isn’t on his stick long as he quickly identifies the right play and makes it. Niederbach did show off his hockey sense in that regard. 

Niederbach will need to improve his overall quickness, however. There were times when defenders would swarm him and his size limited his ability to protect the puck and/or make a play. You may chalk this up to the smaller North American ice, but it’s an area of his game he’ll need to improve as he’s not going to be able to rely on his smarts at the next level.

One of the big questions coming out of the 2020 draft was Niederbach’s skating and pace. After knee surgery kept him out the entire 2018-19 season, those lower on Niederbach felt he wouldn’t regain the strength needed to develop into an NHLer.

Well, while I agree he needs to work on his quickness, Niederbach’s skating looked fine. 

He’ll never be a burner. He’s not going to be an elite skater. Niederbach moves very well, however, and his skating shouldn’t hold him back.

Overall, Niederbach was very composed and had a strong first showing at the World Juniors. He showed off his heady playmaking and puck-handling skills and had an impressive 64.37 FO% (face-off percentage).

While Niederbach didn’t stand out as much as Raymond and Soderblom, he was very good. I’m looking forward to following his progression and catching him at next year’s World Juniors. Grade: B+

Albert Johansson, D (2nd round, 2019)
5 GP, 0 G, 3 A, 3 PTS

The Red Wings 5th ranked prospect was paired with Coyotes prospect Victor Soderstrom on Sweden’s second defensive pairing. Johansson had a bit of an up and down tournament.

First, the positives:

I love Johansson’s aggressiveness. For a smaller defenseman, he doesn’t shy away from bigger forwards and also doesn’t hesitate to step up and take out opposing players entering his zone with the puck. He’s also aggressive with the puck and showed the confidence to create rather than to “play it safe.”

This aggressiveness almost cost Johansson dearly, unfortunately. In the second period of Sweden’s game vs. Russia, he attempted to engage with a much bigger Vasili Podkolzin (VAN) in open ice. After an awkward collision that saw Podkolzin pull what you may call a reverse slew-foot, Johansson landed awkwardly and headed to the bench. Luckily, he returned the following period. His willingness to stand his ground against bigger, stronger players is something I am a big fan of.

Johansson’s skating is also something to behold. He had a couple of end-to-end rushes that led to scoring chances as he took advantage of some open ice and effortlessly glided through all three zones. Johansson has been more and more confident using his offensive prowess and this was evident with his rushes and confidence to call his own number.


Now, the not-so-good:

I found that as the tournament progressed Johansson started to become a bit too cute with the puck. He forced some passes at both ends of the ice and showed some indecision when exiting the defensive zone. Oftentimes a simpler, shorter pass would have sufficed, but he took a few extra seconds to try to wait out a forechecker and pull off an extra deke or take an extra, unnecessary stride.

This happened a handful of times — enough to notice the blunders. This is a very small sample size, of course, and I wouldn’t worry about his play whatsoever. I would much rather Johansson try to be creative than to sit back, defer to others, and be a guy who chips the puck off the glass on zone exits. 

Overall, Johansson had an ok tournament. He played big minutes in Sweden’s top 4, made some good plays, and it’s still very clear why the Red Wings are so high on him. Grade: B-

Gustav Berglund, D (6th round, 2019)
1 GP, 0 G, 1 A, 1 PT

Many felt Helge Grans (LAK) should have been selected over Berglund, and there’s certainly a case to be made for that. The rationale here would be that a player like Grans offers much more offensively and could step in if one of Sweden’s top 4 defensemen were to go down with an injury at any point in the tournament. 

I mean, it’s not like Philip Broberg was banged up and could’ve used a day off, right?

Nevertheless, Berglund, a 6th round pick in 2019, cracked the team. He made just one appearance for the Swedes (vs. Austria) but played reasonably well. Berglund is a very good skater with some decent hands, and he showed this against the Austrians.

He jumped up into the play a few times while showing confidence with the puck, and made some good passes. All in all, he had 4 shots on goal, picked up an assist, and didn’t look out of place at all.  Grade: B-


Finland

Finland celebrates bronze at 2021 world junior championship
Red Wings prospect Eemil Viro celebrates bronze with Team Finland. | Photo: Andy Devlin, Bildbyran

Every year, you know what you’re going to get from the Finns. The whole always seems to be greater than the sum of its parts.

The 2021 World Juniors were no different with Finland ousting Nordic rival, Sweden, in the quarters before eventually knocking off the Russians to win bronze. The Finns were without a few notable prospects, including Antti Tuomisto, but have to be pleased with this result.

With the absence of Tuomisto, the Red Wings had just one prospect on Team Finland — 2020 3rd round pick Eemil Viro.

Eemil Viro, D (3rd round, 2020)
7 GP, 0 G, 2 A, 2 PTS

Viro was the only Red Wings prospect to medal at the 2021 World Juniors. 

He slotted in on Finland’s 3rd defensive pairing and played the role of “shutdown defender” to a tee. He had a steady, albeit unspectacular tournament, but did finish with the highest +/- of any non-North American player. He was also somehow able to contain fellow Wings prospect Elmer Soderblom when lining up against Sweden’s third line. 

The speedy defender’s best game came against the Swedes in the quarter-finals. He was all over the ice and showed a lot of confidence with the puck; confidence we didn’t see from him in previous games. While speed and sound defense are Viro’s calling cards, his puck movement and offensive instincts stood out against Sweden. 

Viro was snapping the puck around with conviction while relying on his excellent skating to get him into a position to make plays. He activated in the offensive zone a couple of times, and his end-to-end rush was one of the highlights of the quarter-finals.

Watch as Viro recognizes the open ice out of the defensive zone; cruises through the neutral zone; dishes to Brad Lambert (2022) for a quick give and go; pulls the puck into his body; and slides a perfect pass from his backhand to Henri Nikkanen (WPG) who gets Finland on the board.


If Viro can do anything close to this with any sort of consistency, Red Wings fans should be thrilled. Seeing Viro pull off a skill play like this should only raise the bar for him. It’ll now be up to the Red Wings development team to nurture this part of his game.

One game does not a prospect make, however. We’ll need to see a lot more of this from the Finn in the future.

Good, solid tournament from Viro with one excellent game and the game-winning primary assist in the bronze medal game. Grade: B

Czech Republic

Jan Bednar, G (4th round, 2020)
Did Not Play

Not much to write here, unfortunately. Nick Malik (2021) and Lukáš Pařík (LAK) shared goaltending duties for the Czechs. Grade: None

Final Thoughts

Despite the early exit for a Swedish team filled with Red Wings prospects, the World Juniors went about as well as we could’ve hoped. Given Sweden’s situation this year, it’s not surprising they were bounced in the quarter-finals. That being said, it still would’ve been nice to watch the four Red Wings regulars competing for a medal on Tuesday. 

The World Juniors are always one of the most exciting international events of the year; even more so when your favorite NHL team’s prospects are in action and contributing at a high level. 

Lucas Raymond did what he was supposed to do. The counting stats weren’t there, but if you watched the games it was easy to appreciate just how good Raymond was.

Elmer Soderblom was fantastic. His performance was the absolute best-case scenario and he was so fun to watch. Detroit may have something here.

elmer soderblom goes between the legs to score at the 2021 world juniors
Let’s just take a look at this one more time. | Photo: Codie McLachlan/Getty Images

Theodor Niederbach is a long way from the NHL — and that’s ok. He needs to get quicker and he needs to get stronger. But he is so, so skilled and such a smart hockey player. I’m excited about this kid.

When Albert Johansson calls his own number he’s a really exciting player. There are some things he needs to clean up defensively, but his overall risk-assessment, skating, and puck skills just scream NHLer. He’s going to be a good one.

Eemil Viro leaves me wanting more, and this tournament only strengthened this belief. He’s fast, smart, and skilled, but tends to make safe plays that don’t drive possession or generate offense. If he didn’t have this ability it’s not something you would dwell on — that would just be who he is. I think there is more there and I hope he and the Red Wings work hard to bring it out of him.

In addition to Raymond, Niederbach, Viro, and Bednar, the Wings will also have William Wallinder, Donovan Sebrango, Cross Hanas, and a slew of 2021 draft picks eligible for next year’s tournament. Once again, a strong contingent of Red Wings prospects will make their way to Edmonton and Red Deer, Alberta for the 2022 World Juniors. 

Next year’s tournament will be here in no time. 

Featured Image: detroitredwings.com

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