A capsule look at the 10 countries competing in the 2021 world junior men's hockey championship Dec. 25 to Jan. 5 in Edmonton (ranked in order of 2020 finish).
Half a dozen players return from the team that won gold in Ostrava, Czech Republic, in dramatic fashion. Trailing by two in the third period, Canada scored three to beat Russia. Tournament MVP Alexis Lafreniere was eligible to play again for Canada, but the New York Rangers didn't release the No. 1 pick in this year's NHL draft. Devon Levi was slated to start in goal for Canada's lone pre-tournament game against Russia on Wednesday, but the three goalies haven't got much time to separate themselves prior to the tournament.
Player to watch: Centre Quinton Byfield, the No. 2 pick behind Lafrenière by the Los Angeles Kings.
Three-time Stanley Cup winner and Hockey Hall of Famer Igor Larionov is coaching Russia in Edmonton. He was an assistant in Ostrava. Another decorated former NHLer, Nikolai Khabibulin, is the goalie coach. The trio of returning players includes goaltender Yaroslav Askarov, although he wasn't Russia's starter in the final against Canada. The No. 11 pick by the Nashville Predators is among five first-round draft picks on Russia's roster.
Player to watch: Vancouver Canucks prospect Vasili Podkolzin, a forward, appears in his third straight world junior tournament, winning bronze and silver so far.
The Swedes arrived with an overhauled coaching staff and minus players because of positive COVID-19 tests before leaving Sundsvall. Joel Ronnmark replaced Tomas Monten as head coach. Edmonton Oilers assistant video coach Jason Pietrzykowski is helping the Swedes out. Rangers draft pick Karl Henriksson would have been a top-line forward in the tournament, but he was among four players removed from the camp roster. Sweden won gold the last time Alberta hosted the tournament in 2012.
Player to watch: Forward Lucas Raymond, the No. 4 pick in the 2020 draft by the Detroit Red Wings.
Anton Lundell, Juuso Parssinen, Henri Nikkannen and Samuel Helenius (son of former NHLer Sami Helenius) give the Finns depth at centre. Team captain Lundell assisted on the gold-medal goal for Finland two years ago in Vancouver. Four players return from the 2020 squad that lost the bronze-medal game to Sweden in Ostrava, including Arizona Coyotes draft pick Aku Raty. He's joined on the roster by brother and highly-touted prospect Atu.
Player to watch: Defenceman Ville Heinola, a first-round pick of the Winnipeg Jets, is a third-year player in the tournament.
The Swiss feature a pair of B.C. junior hockey league forwards: Stefano Bottini (Penticton Vees) and Raymond Fust (Chilliwack Chiefs). Four players are back from the team that lost a quarterfinal to Russia in Ostrava. Switzerland was fourth in Vancouver in 2019, which was the country's best result in a decade. Not one Swiss player was taken in the 2020 NHL draft and the lone player in 2019 went 207th overall.
Player to watch: Goaltender Noah Patenaude is carrying a 4-3-3 record with the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League's Saint John Sea Dogs.
Solid in goal with returning netminders Spencer Knight and Dustin Wolf, the U.S. last claimed gold in Montreal in 2017 and chases a fifth medal in the last six years of the tournament. Eight return from the 2020 squad that fell 1-0 to the Finns in a quarterfinal in Ostrava. The New Jersey Devils didn't release Jack Hughes, the first overall pick in the 2019 NHL draft, to the Americans.
Player to watch: Forward Cole Caufield, a first-round draft pick of the Montreal Canadiens.
Nine players return from a Czech side that was thumped 5-0 by the Swedes in a quarterfinal in Ostrava, but opened the preliminary round with a 4-3 upset of Russia. The Czechs have depth in goal with second-year netminder Nick Malik and Los Angeles Kings draft pick Lukas Parik. The Czechs haven't finished in the medals since a bronze in 2005 and last won the tournament in 2001 in Moscow.
Player to watch: Centre Jan Mysak, Montreal's second-round pick this year.
Former Hartford Whalers centre Robert Petrovicky coaches the Slovaks a second straight year in the tournament. Five players, including three defencemen, are back from the team that was thumped 6-1 by Canada in a 2020 quarterfinal. Slovakia's last medal was a bronze in 2015 in Toronto.
Player to watch: Six-foot-four goalie Samuel Hlavaj of the QMJHL's Sherbrooke Phoenix makes his third straight appearance for Slovakia.
The Germans endured an extended quarantine in Edmonton because eight players tested positive upon arrival. The team has no pre-tournament games and just a couple of full practices scheduled before facing defending champion Canada on Dec. 26. Forward Lucas Reichel, a first-round pick of the Chicago Blackhawks, was taken off the roster because of a positive test before departing Germany.
Player to watch: Forward Tim Stuetzle, chosen third overall by the Ottawa Senators in October's draft, will play despite breaking his hand in October.
Austria was last promoted to the top-tier world under-20 championship in 2010 in Regina and Saskatoon. The Austrians have the luxury of knowing they can't be relegated this year because the COVID-19 pandemic forced the cancellation of the Division 1 tournament. Roger Bader, who coaches the Austrian men's national side, will be behind the bench in Edmonton.
Player to watch: Marco Rossi, the Minnesota Wild's first-round draft pick this year, scored 39 goals for the Ontario Hockey League's Ottawa 67's last season.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 23, 2020.
Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press