The 2021 IIHF World Junior Championship is scheduled for Dec. 25-Jan. 5 at Rogers Place in Edmonton. Today, we look at the top five goalies to watch in the tournament.
Spencer Knight doesn’t concern himself with personal statistics or comparisons to other players, past or present, at his position.
The 19-year-old, who is the No. 1 goalie for the United States in the 2021 IIHF World Junior Championship, is only focused on one thing.
“It’s more just wins and losses for me,” said Knight, who was selected by the Florida Panthers with the No. 13 pick in the 2019 NHL Draft. “”I stopped looking at my numbers. … I don’t look at my save percentage and I don’t really care how many shots I face in the game anymore. I’m not too caught up on if I give up a lot of goals anymore, either.
“I think taking that approach ultimately makes the season more enjoyable and it also makes it more about the team, which I think is so important.”
Knight’s approach has paid off so far at Boston College. As a freshman last season, he was a finalist for the Mike Richter Award, given to the top NCAA goalie, after finishing 23-8-2 with a 1.97 goals-against average (ninth in NCAA), .931 save percentage (tied for ninth) and five shutouts (tied for third). He’s off to an even better start as a sophomore, going 4-0-0 with a 1.50 GAA, .955 save percentage and two shutouts in his first four starts.
“My priority isn’t to be the top goalie of the World Junior Championship, but to give the players on my team the best chance to win a game,” Knight said. “I know it sounds cliché, but I’ve really become so focused on just writing my own story and just doing my own thing, what’s best for me and not worrying about who’s in the other net.”
Knight will play a big part for the United States as it looks to rebound at the 2021 WJC. He had a 2.49 GAA and .913 save percentage in four games at the 2020 WJC, when the United States finished sixth, its worst finish since 2012 (seventh).
“[Knight] is just so good, so calm back there,” United States forward Cole Caufield (Montreal Canadiens) said. “He’s the last line of defense and is always going to bail us out, in my opinion. He’s in his third year at the world juniors, so he knows what’s at stake. I think going into it, he’ll have a lot of confidence and be a lot more comfortable.”
Here are four other goaltenders to watch at the 2021 WJC:
Hugo Alnefelt, Sweden
The 19-year-old, who was selected by the Tampa Bay Lightning in the third round (No. 71) of the 2019 draft, was 5-1-0 with a 2.12 GAA, .924 save percentage and one shutout in six games to help Sweden finish third at the 2020 WJC. Alnefelt will split goaltending duties with Jesper Wallstedt, but he has the experience in big games and Sweden’s defense should be one of the best of the tournament.
“It’s always special to represent your country at this tournament,” Alnefelt said. “I’ve been playing with this group for four years now and at the 2019 World Under-18 Championship, we won gold, so we know the capability of the group. It’ll be really fun.”
Iaroslav Askarov, Russia
The 18-year-old became the highest-drafted Russia-born goalie in NHL history when he was selected by the Nashville Predators with the No. 11 pick in the 2020 NHL Draft. Askarov is 4-3-0 with a 0.96 GAA and .962 save percentage in seven games for St. Petersburg in the Kontinental Hockey League this season, and he will look to rebound after going 2-1-0 with a 2.71 GAA and .876 save percentage in five games at the 2020 WJC (pulled in two of four starts).
“It’s not a secret everyone is talking about Askarov,” Russia coach Igor Larionov said. “Obviously, [it isn’t often] you have a young talent like this and looking back on [the 2020 WJC], when he had so much pressure, he was kind of a little off his game. This time around we hope it’s going to be his tournament.”
Joel Blomqvist, Finland
Blomqvist, who will turn 19 on Jan. 10, was selected by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the second round (No. 52) in the 2020 draft. He’ll make his WJC debut after going 2-0-0 with a 1.50 GAA and .914 save percentage in two games for Karpat in Liiga, Finland’s top professional league. Blomqvist was also 3-3-3 with a 2.56 GAA and .908 save percentage in nine games on loan with Hermes of Mestis, Finland’s second tier.
“I think he’s a highly talented goaltender,” Penguins goalie development coach Andy Chiodo said. “He moves incredibly well. That effortless movement allows him to gain positioning and manage the game.”
Jesper Wallstedt, Sweden
Wallstedt, who received an A rating on NHL Central Scouting’s preliminary players to watch list for the 2021 NHL Draft, could become the first Sweden-born goaltender to be selected in the first round of the NHL Draft. The 18-year-old is 6-3-0 with a 2.06 GAA, .920 save percentage and one shutout in nine games for Lulea of the Swedish Hockey League, but he’ll likely begin the tournament as the backup to Alnefelt
“[Wallstedt] was always a difference-maker,” said Dan Marr, director of NHL Central Scouting. “He’s got the skills and attributes with his athleticism, reflexes, and mental toughness. Just like Askarov had his following prior to the 2020 draft, Wallstedt does as well this season.”