Hughes, Lafreniere wont play at 2021 World Junior Championship

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Jack Hughes and Alexis Lafreniere will not play in the 2021 IIHF World Junior Championship.

The forwards were the No. 1 picks in the past two NHL Drafts (Hughes in the 2019 NHL Draft by the New Jersey Devils, Lafreniere in the 2020 NHL Draft by the New York Rangers).

“We need Jack to concentrate on the Devils,” New Jersey general manager Tom Fitzgerald said Thursday. “The silver lining for Jack [and all of our young players] during this pandemic was a lengthy opportunity to gain strength and weight to compete in the NHL when we start.”

The 19-year-old from the United States scored 21 points (seven goals, 14 assists) while averaging 15:52 of ice time in 61 games as a rookie last season.

“Jack put in a ton of work and commitment to his craft (in the offseason),” Fitzgerald said. “Our No. 1 priority for Jack is to have him ready, physically and mentally, and healthy for the start of the 2020-21 season, whenever that day is.”

The NHL has targeted Jan. 1, 2021, for the start of this season.

Lafreniere helped Canada win the 2020 WJC, when he scored 10 points (four goals, six assists) in five games and was named the tournament’s most valuable player. He scored one goal in five games at the 2019 WJC.

The 19-year-old signed a three-year, entry-level contract with the Rangers on Oct. 12 and is expected to play a top-nine role for New York this season.

“After ongoing discussions with the New York Rangers, Hockey Canada has been informed that Alexis Lafreniere will not be released to represent Canada at the 2021 IIHF World Junior Championship in Edmonton,” Hockey Canada said in a statement. “Although we are disappointed Alexis will not be able to join our team for World Juniors, we understand and respect the decision made by the Rangers.”

Activities at Canada selection camp in Red Deer, Alberta, were paused Nov. 23 after two players tested positive for the coronavirus. All players and staff members are going through a 14-day isolation period.

The United States will hold its selection camp at USA Hockey Arena in Plymouth, Michigan, from Dec. 6-13. 

The 2021 WJC is scheduled to be held Dec. 25 to Jan. 5 at Rogers Place in Edmonton, with no fans in the building and in a secure zone similar to what the NHL used for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Teams are scheduled to arrive in Edmonton on Dec. 13.

Hughes last played for the United States at the 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship in Vancouver, British Columbia. At that tournament, he had four assists in four games, missing three games because of injury, to help the United States finish second. Last season, Hughes was not loaned by the Devils to participate in the 2020 WJC in the Czech Republic.

“[Hughes] has had a good offseason. It was extended, so it allowed him to dig in more on the physiological side,” Devils assistant general manager Dan MacKinnon said. “We were fortunate our field strength and conditioning coach, Mike Kadar, is based out of the Plymouth, Michigan, where Jack and his family live and spend the offseason. [Hughes] added some lean muscle mass and all his numbers went in the right direction, regarding speed and explosiveness.

“You’ve got to get that first year under your belt, especially as a highly skilled offensive player. We’re confident his second year is going to be better, and his third year will be another step, so we’re looking for good things.”

The 2021 WJC will be televised by NHL Network.

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