While uncertainty still clouds the North American hockey landscape, Monday evening’s announcement of the schedule for the 2021 World Junior Hockey Championship gives us some clarity as to when we will see some top prospects back on the ice. Like the NHL playoffs, this year’s World Juniors are going to be played in a bubble in Edmonton and will begin on Christmas Day. With major junior and NCAA hockey schedules in flux, the World Juniors will be the first chance for a number of prospects to get back into meaningful game action since their seasons were cut short last March. That includes a few Colorado Avalanche prospects.
Team Canada alone could see three future Avs in their lineup.
Bowen Byram is one of six returning players for Team Canada. He will be the anchor of the Canadian blueline and will play a role similar to those filled by Avalanche defenders Cale Makar and Conor Timmins back in 2018. Byram has the potential to be the best defenseman int he tournament and will be the key to any success Team Canada will have.
Along with Byram, many expect fellow 2019 first round pick Alex Newhook to be a key part of Canada’s roster this year. After being a late cut last December, Newhook has turned into one of the best prospects in all of hockey. He would bring a professional level of speed an offensive talent to a lineup that could be one of the best we’ve seen at the tournament in a long time. Newhook’s ability to shift to the wing will give him a leg up on some of the other players who are hoping to crack Canada’s top-9. He could end up being Canada’s 2LW behind Alexis Lafreniere.
Nothing has been announced yet but Bob McKenzie is speculating that Team Canada will spend most part of November and most of December in their own bubble running a training camp,. This would be a great way for both Byram and Newhook to train with top competition after being out of game action since last March.
The third Avalanche prospect that could be in Edmonton with Team Canada is 2020 first round pick Justin Barron. Though the QMJHL has already started their season, Barron still hasn’t been medically cleared to play. That is likely to change sometime in the next few weeks as the 18-year old is expected to make his return to the Halifax lineup soon.
If Barron is able to show he’s healthy - and is able to get back to where he was before the health issues - there is a very good chance he will be invited to Canada’s camp. Once there, Barron could easily play his way onto the team. A healthy Justin Barron has the potential to be Canada’s second best right-shooting defender. He will be competing with guys like Braden Schneider and Kaedan Korczak for a spot on the right side of the blueline behind Jamie Drysdale.
Barron has been a key part of Hockey Canada’s program in the past - including a point-per-game effort at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup. If he is able to get back into the lineup for the Halifax Moosheads and prove that he’s back to where he was before the blood clots, Barron will almost certainly crack the Canadian lineup.
Three Avalanche prospect on Team Canada would give fans in Denver some issues if they were to meet Team USA in the medal round.
The upcoming evaluation camp, as well as the subsequent WJC Tournament would give the Avalanche front office an extra look at their youngsters before the 2021 season. Barron would be on his way back to Halifax after the World Juniors but the status of Byram and Newhook will be up in the air as we don’t know how or when their regular seasons will get underway.
Though Hockey East hasn’t announced their plan to return to the ice, Newhook is expected to be back with the Boston College Eagles for at least one more season. As for Byram, many fans believed that he was going to be a part of the Avalanche lineup this coming seasons - though that sentiment doesn’t necessarily look realistic right now. After the draft, general manager Joe Sakic mentioned that Byram would be at Avs training camp but implied that he would have an uphill battle if he is going to make the NHL this season. Add to that the addition of Devon Toews to the left side and it’s hard to envision a scenario where Byram is able to crack the top-6 for the Avalanche.
In addition to the three Canadians, Drew Helleson is likely to play a big role for team USA at this year’s World Juniors. Evaluation camp and the tournament would be huge for his development as well, since he is in the same situation as Newhook when it comes to waiting on Hockey East to figure out how they will play their next season.
Here is the announced schedule for the 2021 IIHF World Juniors:
Dec. 20: United States v Switzerland, 4 p.m.
Dec. 20: Finland v Czech Republic, 7:30 p.m.
Dec. 21: Austria v Germany, 12 p.m.
Dec. 21: Sweden v Canada, 4 p.m.
Dec. 21: Russia v Slovakia, 7:30 p.m.
Dec. 22: Finland v United States, 4 p.m.
Dec. 22: Switzerland v Sweden, 7:30 p.m.
Dec. 23: Slovakia v Austria, 12 p.m.
Dec. 23: Canada v Russia, 4 p.m.
Dec. 23: Czech Republic v Germany, 7:30 p.m.
Dec. 25: Switzerland v Slovakia, 12 p.m.
Dec. 25: Germany v Finland, 4 p.m.
Dec. 25: Russia v United States, 7:30 p.m.
Dec. 26: Sweden v Czech Republic, 12 p.m.
Dec. 26: Germany v Canada, 4 p.m.
Dec. 26: United States v Austria, 7:30 p.m.
Dec. 27: Finland v Switzerland, 12 p.m.
Dec. 27: Slovakia v Canada, 4 p.m.
Dec. 27: Czech Republic v Russia, 7:30 p.m.
Dec. 28: Austria v Sweden, 4 p.m.
Dec. 28: Slovakia v Germany, 7:30 p.m.
Dec. 29: United States v Czech Republic, 12 p.m.
Dec. 29: Canada v Switzerland, 4 p.m.
Dec. 29: Austria v Russia, 7:30 p.m.
Dec. 30: Finland v Slovakia, 7:30 p.m.
Dec. 30: Switzerland v Germany, 12 p.m.
Dec. 30: Russia v Sweden, 7:30 p.m.
Dec. 31: Czech Republic v Austria, 12 p.m.
Dec. 31: Canada v Finland, 4 p.m.
Dec. 31: Sweden v United States, 7:30 p.m.
Jan. 2: Quarterfinals, 10 a.m.
Jan. 2: Quarterfinals, 1:30 p.m.
Jan. 2: Quarterfinals, 5 p.m.
Jan. 2: Quarterfinals, 8:30 p.m.
Jan. 3: Semifinals, 4 p.m.
Jan. 3: Semifinals, 7:30 p.m.
Jan. 5: Bronze-medal game, 3:30 p.m.
Jan. 5: Gold-medal game, 7:30 p.m.
(All times MST)