The most important position on a team is the goaltender, in the words of Alain Vigneault “If my goaler is better than your goaler, I win, if your goaler is better than my goaler, you win.”
You can expect to see some pretty amazing goaltending performances in this year’s world juniors. Last year’s media winner goalie Ukko Pekka Luukkonen was dominant the entire tournament and backstopped Finland to yet another gold medal. This year has many top tier goalies and we’re pretty excited about it
United States – Spencer Knight
You had to know this would be coming. Knight is one of the most highly touted goalie prospects of the last few years, it was proven when he was taken in the first round in last year’s draft. A product of the USNDTP and now Boston College goalie, Knight has torn up wherever he plays. With the late addition of Oliver Wahlstrom, expect the US to be the favourite going into the tournament. Knight’s calm cool collected demeanor in the net and technical prowess will make him extremely hard to beat.
Canada – Olivier Rodrigue
He’s not the forgone #1 but has been penciled in that role since the summer. The Oilers 2nd round pick in 2018 has been playing just okay in the Q, but having over a .920 sv% in the Q is a difficult task. Rodrique isn’t the biggest goalie at 6’1 but still fills out the net well. Technically sound, similar to Knight but has extremely quick feet making his movements explosive when he needs to get there. Don’t be surprised though if Joel Hofer comes in and takes the starting role, as he is neck and neck with Dustin Wolf stat wise in the WHL. OR Nico Daws. Realistically Canada hasn’t given much of an indication of who they will be going with so your guess is as good as ours!
Russia – Yaroslav Askarov
The Russian generational goaltender that we’ve heard so much about. Craig Button called him a potential first overall pick (I’m not so sure about that) but he is a surefire 1st rounder. The Russian team has been hesitant to play their draft eligible players previously, especially goalies, but Askarov has dominated literally every international level he is played, so why not play him? The last player they did that with just won a Vezina, so it couldn’t hurt! He has one of the best glove hands I’ve ever seen and moves so quickly. They’ll still have several years of him (unless he’s playing in the NHL).
Finland – Justus Annunen
Finland never ceases to produce quality goaltenders and Annunen doesn’t seem to be an exception to that. Coming in at 6’4, he is definitely one of the larger goaltenders and he uses it well. He stands tall in his butterfly and is able to track the play well not relying on his size to bail him out. He takes up a lot of the bottom half of the net so you have to beat him high or on the move. Consider Finland another favourite in the tourney and if Annunen plays to his potential, they could be scary.
Czech Republic – Lukas Dostal
The Czech netminder had a lights out tournament last year at the world juniors, putting up a .957 sv%. This year he will be the bonafide #1 so let’s see how he fairs. The Czech’s will have less fire power this year without some of their drafted stars, but if Dostal remains as dominant as he did last year with his explosive movements and highlight reel saves, you can bet they’ll have a chance in most games.
Sweden – Hugo Alnefelt
Sweden has produced some extremely solid goalies for these tournaments, one most recently being Filip Gustavsson. Alnefelt is a 6’3 goaltender who uses his size well and stays consistently square in the net but when caught out of position has the speed to get to the areas and make those key desperation saves. He has also had an extremely good year as an 18 year old playing in Sweden’s pro league against men. Alnefelt could be a serious difference maker in the net for Tre Kronor.
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Photo Credit – Rena Laverty