It’s semifinal day at the 2021 World Junior Championship and we have a couple of dandy matchups on tap.
The margin for error in the quarterfinal round was slim. Both Canada and the United States won their respective matchups with the Czech Republic and Slovakia, but that was as wide as the margins would get as the other two quarterfinal contests finished as one-goal affairs.
It’s a whole new ball game in the medal round, and that will remain the case as the four remaining clubs (Finland, U.S., Canada and Russia) all are worthy competitors.
Of course, the major underdog Finns find themselves back in the quarters despite being written off by many before the tournament began. The U.S. brings a crop of high-end talent to the table, but it was just one year ago that the Finns upset the American by a 1-0 margin in the quarterfinal, sending the States to a disappointing sixth-place finish.
So, we have a rematch of Finland vs. USA in what should be an electric semifinal tilt from the Edmonton bubble!
Finland vs. USA Betting Odds
- Finland (+240)
- USA (-300)
- Finland +1.5 (-120)
- USA -1.5 (+100)
- Over 5.5 (+115)
- Under 5.5 (-140)
Finland vs. USA World Junior Pick Breakdown
The Finns never enter the tournament as a favorite. Usually, they’re slotted in fifth behind Canada, Russia, the U.S. and Sweden. That was the case again this time around as Finland wasn’t views as one of the more serious contenders to win gold.
However, three of the last seven World Junior Championship gold medals have gone to Finland. It’s the only three times they’ve earned a medal in that span, but hey, might as well win it all if you’re going to get into the semis, right?
Their year’s Finnish squad is built from the blueline out. Ville Heinola is enhancing his prospect stock at this event, controlling the puck with slick hands and smooth feet, and could appear on the blueline of the Winnipeg Jets sooner than later, a blueline that desperately needs his help despite being just 19 years of age. Heinola had an eight-game cup of coffee with the Jets last season.
That said, it’s Toronto Maple Leafs 2020 third-round pick Topi Niemela that leads the Finnish blueline with seven points in five games and also shares the team lead with captain Anton Lundell, a Florida Panthers 2020 first-rounder.
— IIHF (@IIHFHockey) January 2, 2021
As good as the blueline has been, the attack up front has been largely created by the top line of Lundell, Kasper Simontaival and Roni Hirvonen, the former an L.A. Kings third-rounder and the latter a Maple Leafs 2020 second-rounder.
Sixteen-year-old Brad Lambert is a projected top pick for the 2022 draft and he’s certainly impressed at this tournament and should be a beast at next year’s event, even at just 17 years old.
It would appear the Finns would need some secondary scoring from their bottom nine to move any further in this tournament, but their back end – defense and goaltending combined – has been stellar to this point.
We knew the Americans boasted plenty of firepower up front in this one, but it’s largely been a one-man wrecking crew to this point.
The States boast some elite NHL prospects up front in the form of Cole Caufield, Alex Turcotte and Matthew Boldy, but no American has even been close to as good as Trevor Zegras, the Anaheim Ducks’ 2019 first-round pick.
After posting nine points — all assists — in five games at last year’s event, Zegras enters this one sporting a tournament-leading 15 points in five games, two points up on Canada’ Dylan Cozens. He’s shooting far more at this year’s tournament, and his six goals ranks second to Cozens’ seven to this point.
— Charlie Roumeliotis (@CRoumeliotis) December 27, 2020
That’s not to say there isn’t depth among this U.S. forward group. Aside from the names mentioned above, John Farinacci (Coyotes) and Bobby Brink (Flyers) have been noticeable contributors while L.A. Kings prospect Arthur Kaliyev remains one of the top goal-scorers in the tournament despite having just two to his credit so far.
The blueline is led by a pair of elite NHL prospects in Cam York (Flyers) and Jake Sanderson (Senators). York is the superior offensive blueline and perhaps the best offensive defenseman in the tournament with his five points in five games trailing only the aforementioned Niemela and his seven points.
While the offense and defense both contain future NHL stars, the same can be said in goal as Spencer Knight rounds out the deepest roster coming out of Group B.
From top to bottom, the United States is about as well-rounded a team as you’ll see in this tournament. It doesn’t guarantee success by any means, but it puts them in a fantastic position to advance to the goal medal game after last doing so as recently as 2019 when they lost to… Finland.
Finland vs. USA World Junior Pick
It was wise not to count out the Finns at the outset of the tournament. Given the unique events leading up to the tournament and some teams having to keep players home before travelling to the Edmonton bubble, it was a good bet that Canada, Russia and the United States would be in these semis.
What we didn’t know is who would come out on top between Sweden and Finland, and of course, they met in the quarters. Sweden grabbed the 2-0 lead, but Finland tied it midway through the third and won it on a Hirvonen wrap-around tally with 23 seconds left to win in dramatic fashion.
Now, they get an opportunity to deliver another blow to the U.S. for the third tournament in a row. It was the gold medal game in 2019 and while it was in the quarters in 2020, it doesn’t ease the pain the U.S. felt in that 1-0 defeat.
All that said, I don’t think it happens for a third time.
This U.S. team just looks different. It’s built with serious pillars up front, on the blueline and in goal, and after their tournament-opening defeat against Russia, they’ve pretty much dominated their way to these semis.
Having the far superior group of forwards and goaltender helps. Piiroinen has been very good against fairly weak competition, but Knight is arguably the top-ranked goaltender in this tournament and the U.S. attack is going to give Heinola, Niemela and the remainder of the Finland blueline fits in this one.
The States’ 30 goals in this tournament ranks second to Canada’s 36, but their 211 shots on goal ranks first. They also rank first with a 42.11% clip on the power play and second behind Russia with an 87.5% clip on the penalty kill. Special teams can matter big-time in this one.
I think the U.S. just overwhelms the Finns in this one. Upset watch is always a thing when Finland is involved, but I think it’s the Americans that get this one done, and I am loving their puckline (-1.5) odds as a result.