2020 IIHF WJC: Semi-Final Preview – Sweden vs Russia

Adam Girard

Sweden rolled over the Czech Republic with a score of 5-0 as they eliminated the host nation and moved on to the semi-finals with ease. The Swedes are now 5-0-0-0 at the 2020 World Juniors but are about to take on their toughest matchup yet.

Team Russia has been a bit of a wildcard in this tournament. They exploded for a 6-0 win over Team Canada, shocking the hockey world. Yet they also imploded in a 4-3 loss to the Czech Republic and were faced to fight for their lives in a game against Germany to avoid being relegated from the tournament.

The question will be which team will show up in a semi-final matchup against Sweden. The Russians have a wealth of elite offensive weapons, lead by team captain and Florida Panthers prospect Grigori Denisenko. This list also includes Colombus Blue Jackets prospects Dmitri Voronkov and Kirill Marchenko, Minnesota Wild prospect Alexander Khvanov, St.Louis Blues prospect Nikita Alexandrov, and of course Vancouver Canucks 2019 first-round pick Vasili Podkolzin. 

It’s safe to say this will be the first real test for Sweden’s defense core, and we’ll soon find out if they truly are the best group of defensemen at the 2020 World Juniors.

While the Russians don’t have the defensive depth that the Swedes have, they possess some studs on the backend. Among them is Montreal Canadiens’ second-round pick in 2018 Alexander Romanov, who many could make a strong case for him being the best defencemen at the tournament, and is likely to join the NHL ranks sooner rather than later. In five games Romanov has put up five points and has been one of the Russian’s most reliable players in all situations. He is truly a catalyst for their success in all aspects of the game.

A wild-card will be goaltender Yaroslav Askarov, who received the start in the Russian’s 3-1 quarter-final win over Team Switzerland. Askarov stood tall in the contest, but only faced 15 shots. The 17-year-old is one of the top goalie prospects we’ve seen in the past decade entering the 2020 NHL Draft, but whether he can shut the door against the top u20 talent in the world is a question we’ll soon have answered at the World Juniors Championship.

We already know the key to Swedens success at this tournament. They have to keep doing exactly what they have been doing. Like we’ve said many times before: if Samuel Fagemo and Nils Hoglander can continue to carry the offensive load, depth players continue to provide timely goals, the special teams remain lethal, and Hugo Alnefelt stands tall… this is a team that will win a gold medal at the 2020 World Juniors Championship.

Common sense says that the Semi-Finals will lead to a Team Sweden vs. Team Canada gold medal matchup. However, as we know, the World Juniors have a way of writing a different script that is contrary to the expected. We’ll find out how it all shakes up when the puck drops at  7:00 AM MST / 9:00 AM on Saturday in the Czech Republic.

Stay tuned on Twitter to 12 OZ Sports (@12ozSports), and myself (adamgirard7) to get all your updates from the 2020 World Juniors Championship Semi-Finals.

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