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Photo Credit: John E. Sokolowski - USA Today

Leafs prospects looking to shine at the World Juniors this Christmas

It looks like Edmonton will be back for Hub City 2: Electric Boogaloo.

A Hockey Canada press release announces the tournament will get underway on Christmas Day, a day early than the usual Boxing Day start:

For the first time since 2005, the IIHF World Junior Championship, a holiday hockey tradition, will get underway on Christmas Day. Three games highlight the opening-day schedule before Canada’s National Junior Team begins defence of its gold medal against Germany on Boxing Day.

Hockey Canada and the host committee, on behalf of the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF), unveiled the full tournament schedule Monday. All 28 games will be played at Rogers Place in Edmonton, Alta., from Dec. 25, 2020 to Jan. 5, 2021.

While most Leafs fans will default to cheering for Canada, there’s little doubt that our eyes should be elsewhere as well. The Leafs representation in the tournament is going to be decidedly Finnish and Russian, and while Nick Robertson could be the big focal point, Bob McKenzie is hinting that he might not be attending…

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So, Robertson being in Toronto and prioritizing being ready for the Leafs season sounds much better to me anyway, but given the Leafs depth, he might not necessarily be bound for the Leafs roster and playing in the World Juniors might be the highest level Robertson gets for a while.

Russian Finland United States Canada
Locks Mikhail Abramov Mikko Kokkonen Nick Robertson
Rodion Amirov Roni Hirvonen
Maybes Artur Akhtiamov Topi Niemela Michael Koster
Veeti Miettinen
Kalle Loponen
Don’t count on it Dmitri Ovchinnikov John Fusco William Villeneuve
Joe Miller Ryan Tverberg
Wyatt Schingoethe

Possibly more shocking than the lack of Canadians for the Leafs is the lack of Swedes this year. No Sandin. No Liljegren. Whatcha gonna do?

As for the Leafs and Canadians, in a draft year where there was no certainty that we’d see much in the way CHL action this year, this isn’t a big surprise, though it doesn’t mean we can’t fall in love with whatever 2021 draft eligible makes the team.

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Some games of note:

December 25th- Russia vs. US

Rodion Amirov vs. Nick Robertson isn’t a bad start to the tournament for Leafs fans, assuming Robertson goes. If not we can still hold out hope that Abramov and Amirov are on the same line together.

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December 30- Russia vs. Sweden

Probably the next biggest test for Russia after their opening night against the US. Russia is clearly in the group of death this year, and if they struggled against the US, they’ll need this to have a decent seeding in the elimination rounds.

December 31- Canada vs. Finland

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No Russia, Sweden, or the United States in the group means that Canada’s marquee New Year’s Eve game will be played against Finland this year. If you haven’t checked out Finland against Germany, Switzerland or Slovakia, this is your chance to see Leafs prospects and likely against the best competition they’ve seen so far this tournament. It wouldn’t be a stretch to have Canada and Finland both head into this game undefeated.

January 2- Elimination Rounds

The playoffs start and things start getting real.

January 5- Medal Games

I’m willing to bet that at least one Leafs prospect or Canada is still playing at this point, so that will be nice.

With no set date for the return of the NHL, just a lot of wishful thinking about 2021, this will be the next meaningful hockey that many of us get to watch. The fact that the Leafs should be well represented by the prospects certainly adds to the fun.