NHL Notebook: 20 players to watch during World Juniors; why Kucherov injury could actually benefit Lightning

(Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images)

With the 2021 IIHF World Junior Championship officially underway up in Edmonton, let's take a look at 20 names to keep tabs on during the annual tournament. Even though the Bruins only have two prospects participating in the much-anticipated showcase, there is still plenty of elite talent worth watching over the next two weeks — especially with a large contingent on Team USA boasting New England ties. 

G Yaroslav Askarov, Russia: Russia enters as one of the favorites in this tournament thanks to plenty of depth up front and some high-end skill, but their biggest strength lies in a generational talent in net in Askarov. Askarov, drafted 11th overall by Nashville in the 2020 NHL Draft, can very well carry a club to a Gold Medal based on his play alone. After dropping the ball during the 2020 World Juniors (.877 save percentage), Askarov is poised to dominate up in Edmonton. Prior to the tournament, Askarov was a force in the KHL as an 18-year-old netminder, posting a 0.96 GAA and a .962 save percentage in seven games with SKA St. Petersburg.

C/LW Tim Stutzle, Germany: With Lukas Reichel ruled out of the tournament due to COVID-19 and defenseman Moritz Seider not given the green light to play by the Red Wings, it remains to be seen just how far a team like Germany can really go in this tournament. The Germans might be lacking in depth, but Stutzle — taken third overall by Ottawa in the 2020 Draft — should be appointment viewing for any hockey fan whenever he's out on the ice. The gifted playmaker should rack up some points this tournament, especially with John-Jason Peterka skating on his line.

C Marco Rossi, Austria: Making their first WJC appearance in 11 years, Austria has little chance of going far in this tournament, but Rossi should still be a treat to watch out on the ice. Rossi was taken ninth overall by the Wild in the 2020 NHL Draft after leading the CHL in scoring last season — racking up 120 points (39 goals, 81 assists) in just 56 games with the Ottawa 67's. He might be a bit undersized (5-foot-9), but Rossi complements his great hockey sense by being relentless on the puck. Minnesota has a good one here.

F Brad Lambert, Finland: One of the three-headed monsters at the top of an absolutely loaded 2022 draft class, Lambert is a phenom on track for NHL stardom in the coming years. The skilled forward has already impressed against much older competition, recording nine points in 22 Finnish Liiga games at just 16 years old, and seems destined to make the highlight reel at some point in this tournament. Expect to see Lambert's name in the hockey sphere for the foreseeable future.

C Matt Beniers, USA: The Hingham native has seen his stock soar over the last few months, with the 18-year-old forward impressing as part of a loaded freshmen class at Michigan this season. After tallying six points through his first six games in the NCAA ranks, Beniers should establish himself as top-six regular on this USA squad by the end of the tournament. At this point, all signs are pointing to Beniers being selected with a top-10 selection in the upcoming 2021 NHL Draft.

F Trevor Zegras, USA: A dynamic offensive force who very well could find himself up in the NHL ranks later this year, Zegras stands out whenever he hops over the boards. A skilled passer with a rocket of a shot, Zegras was one of the few bright spots for Team USA during the 2020 World Juniors — recording nine assists in just five games. Don't be surprised if the Boston University product — and ninth overall pick in the 2019 NHL Draft — carves out a role with the Anaheim Ducks in the coming months.

C Quinton Byfield, Canada: Even with Canada's captain (and Blackhawks regular) Kirby Dach ruled out for the entire WJC due to injury, Canada is still regarded by many as favorites to repeat as Gold-Medal champions in the tournament thanks to a loaded roster — with Byfield expected to dominate down the middle. Byfield, taken by the Kings with the second overall pick in the 2020 NHL Draft, has both the skill and size (6-foot-4, 220 pounds) to dominate whenever he has the puck on his stick.

LW Matt Boldy, USA: After recording