Wth the recent announcements coming from the provincial government, Canadians are likely to have even more time on their hands this holiday season than usual. Many will be confined to their homes for extended periods of time, making the exploits of a bunch of teenagers, chasing a piece of vulcanized rubber around, the can’t miss TV event of the season. Luckily for Sens fans, there’ll be no shortage of intriguing storylines to follow at the 2021 IIHF World Junior hockey tournament.
Four Sens prospects made the cuts for their respective countries at this year’s event. And though none will be donning the Red and White of Team Canada, it gives the casual viewer a reason to tune in to games not featuring the home team for a change. While it would be blasphemous to cheer for any team not from the Great White North, you’ll be excused this year to have a vested interest in any of the skaters below.
Tim Stuetzle (Germany)
We’re likely to see the return of the Umlauts over the “u” in Tim’s surname as he dons the colours of his native country for this year’s tournament. Phonetics aside, Sens fans will be excited to see the crown jewel of Ottawa’s prospect pool in action after a lengthy layoff following a fractured hand. Youtube videos and highlight packages are nice, but nothing compares to seeing a player in live game action. And Senators fans will not be disappointed when they see Tim and his much improved German team take the ice.
Making his 2nd appearance at the WJC, Tim and his returning linemates Lukas Reichel (selected by the Chicago Blackhawks at #17 overall this year) and John Peterka (taken by Buffalo at #34 the same year) will be looking to build off impressive debuts as 17 year olds last year. Stuetzle (who paced the German squad with 5 assists in 2020) leads a suddenly frisky German national team that has been quietly churning out high level NHL talent for the better part of the last decade. Once considered the doormats of the tournament, Germany will likely hang around some games this year and may even surprise a team or two. Will they win the tournament? Don’t hold your breath, but anything in the Quarter Finals onwards would be considered a win for a country used to playing in the relegation round.
Individually, if Stuetzle winds up even close to as good as fellow countryman (and reigning Hart/Lindsay/Art Ross holder) Leon Draisaitl, Sens fans will likely be giddy with joy. Temper expectations though, coming off a long layoff will probably result in some rust. Don’t be shocked if Tim struggles a bit out of the gates. Ultimately though, he has too much skill to be held in check for long. If he’s able to get his feel for the game back, flash some of the playmaking ability that made him a top 3 pick, and show up healthy for training camp then that will be a result most Ottawa fans will be happy with.
Jake Sanderson (USA)
Sanderson will be rocking the stars and stripes at the WJC for the first time in his career at the WJC. The North Dakota (aka the Sens 2nd farm team) product should see his fair share of ice time in this year’s event and in a variety of situations. Jake should get both penalty kill and power play minutes on a strong US squad that has as good a shot as any to hoist the trophy in 2021. The one thing that may hinder the Americans is their unfortunate placement in Pool B with the Russians and the Swedes. Sprinkle in a Czech squad that will have the dreaded “nobody believes in us” mantra going for them, and Pool B has all the makings of a cage fight. That being said, if the US is able to come out at the top of the table, they will likely have an easier path to the Gold Medal game than whoever comes out of the easier (on paper at least) Pool A, owing to the cross over format for playoffs.
Fans can expect to see a fairly polished product on the blue line when Sanderson takes the ice in Edmonton. A smooth skater, with good instincts and passing ability, Jake should have his fair share of “wow” moments in the tournament. After watching him for a few games, the Sens faithful will likely understand what management saw in him, and why he was one of the fastest risers in the 2020 NHL entry draft. A fun contrast will be to compare his style of play with Canadian defenceman Jamie Drysdale (taken immediately after Sanderson at #6 overall by Anaheim). Scouts seemed to be split 50/50 on who they liked better heading into the draft, with the only consensus being that Sanderson/Drysdale were 1A/1B then a fairly steep drop off before the next highest rated blue liner. Time will tell, but this will be a great first glimpse at that head to head matchup.
Tyler Kleven (USA)
Where Sanderson was almost a lock to be on the US roster, even the most die hard Kleven supporter wouldn’t have said the same for Tyler. His late invitation to camp was a bit of a shock to some, let alone the fact that he made the final roster. But that is more a reflection of how deep the US team is, than a knock on his skills.
Kleven is another North Dakota player (shocking I know), whose game is more about doing all the little things right (clearing the front of the net, laying punishing hits, and providing a solid defensive zone presence) than about making flashy plays. More pickup truck than Ferrari, Kleven may see limited minutes early on in the tournament, but be leaned on later to provide some grit to the American lineup. His two biggest impact games may be against the Austrians & Czechs (Dec 26 & 29th respectively) as he may be expected to provide a more physical presence in games where the other two teams may have “nothing to lose” by taking some liberties with bigger hits. Regardless of what role he plays though, the fact that he’ll be getting this international experience is a huge win for the organization, and can only help his prospects of cracking an NHL roster in the future.
Roby Jarventie (Finland)
Finland is a true wild card this year. Normally a lock to threaten for a medal, the Fins lost several key players to this nasty thing called “aging” and will have a less experienced squad than they normally field (they’ll have 8 players still draft eligible compared to Canada’s 1 and USA’s 2). That being said, Finland can regularly count on being well coached, and strong defensively/in goal. And in a single game elimination format like the quarterfinals onwards, that means anything can happen. So all of that is a roundabout way of saying, Finland could lose in the quarters or bring home some hardware. If I knew for sure, I’d have moved to Vegas a long time ago.
We won’t know for sure until their first game at 4pm on Christmas Day (against Stuetzle and his German squad), but Sens fans should be holding out hope that Roby gets top line pairing with Florida Panthers prospect Anton Lundell. Lundell was once considered to be a prospect on par with Lafreniere, so any experience Jarventie can get running shotgun with him on power plays or in other big situations would be a boon to his development. Roby will be making his 1st appearance at the WJC, and will be hoping to build off his impressive start (7G, 7A in 19 games with Ilves Tampere in SM Liiga against grown men). If he continues on this trajectory he may wind up being a steal in the 2nd round for Ottawa.
On a lighter note, if anyone is looking to find out what passes for team logos over in Finland, I’ll leave this crudely drawn Cat/Haunted Sunflower that is apparently Ilves Tampere’s ACTUAL LOGO to haunt your dreams for a few moments:
They may not be the holiday activities we were hoping for (though for some it may be exactly what they’d be doing pandemic or not), but at least we can take solace in knowing that the rest of the province will be doing the same thing Sens fans. Better days are coming in 2021 for Ontario. And lucky for the Senators, the same can be said for the on ice product as well.
By Kyle Skinner
Sens Nation Journal