The Columbus Blue Jackets could have as many as three prospects dress for their respective country in the upcoming World Junior Championship, which being on Christmas Day.
The tournament, which pits the top U20 players in the world against each other, will be held in Edmonton and Red Deer, Alberta.
As we've mentioned in this outlet, the Blue Jackets prospect pool is relatively bare, as several of their top young players (Alexandre Texier, Emil Bemstrom) have graduated to full-time NHL status. Others, like Liam Foudy and Kirill Marchenko, are too old to compete in the tournament. That, coupled with the lack of draft picks in recent years, means the Blue Jackets don't have a ton to look forward to at the upcoming World Junior Championship.
On the bright side, three players selected by the Blue Jackets in the 2020 NHL Draft have recently been named to their country's preliminary roster, and it's plausible that all three could make their team.
Yegor Chinakhov, Russia
Chinakhov, the club's most recent first-round pick, is the most likely of the three prospects to make their team. A 19-year old, Chinakhov is off to a nice start in his first KHL season, posting 8-7-15 in 27 games. He was one of 15 forwards named to the selection camp roster.
Last month, he added 2-1-3 in three games in the Karjala Cup, where a U20 Russia squad beat men's teams from Sweden, Finland, and the Czech Republic.
Team Russia, who finished runner-up to Canada in the 2020 World Junior Championship, could find themselves once again competing for a medal. Chinakhov could go a long way in determining their fate.
Knazko recently played in Team Slovakia's Blue/White scrimmage, where he was listed as a first-pairing defenseman.
Here are the lineups:— Matej Deraj (@MatoDeraj) December 5, 2020
BIELI / TEAM WHITE
- Maxim ajkovi (#Bolts) played on the first line before being kicked out of the camp.
Names to watch:
G Samuel Hlavaj #Yotes
D Samuel Kako #CBJ
D Marko Stacha #2021NHLDraft
F Martin Chromiak #LAKings
F Filip Mer #2022NHLDraft pic.twitter.com/zUFJcClwQO
Knazko, who turned 18 in August, is second among defensemen in points, posting 4-9-13 in 22 games with his U20 Finnish team, TPS. If the former third-round draft pick makes the team, he may have his work cut out for him. Slovakia is in a very strong Group A, alongside Canada, Finland, Switzerland, and Germany.
Pytthiä, a forward who was taken in the fourth round in 2020, is the final Blue Jackets' prospect who could be playing in Alberta later this month. On Friday, he was named to Finland's preliminary roster.
Finland has announced its preliminary roster for the #2021WorldJuniors. Absent:— Scott Wheeler (@scottcwheeler) December 4, 2020
- Returnee Patrik Puistola (CAR)
- Returnee Aatu Raty (2021)
- Veeti Miettinen (TOR)
- Tuukka Tieksola (CAR)
- Joni Jurmo (VAN) pic.twitter.com/J4kLztgybB
Playing on the same junior team as Knazko, the soon-to-be 19-year old Pytthiä is averaging over a point a game with TPS U20, with 9-10-19 in 16 games. He recently was promoted to TPS' top team in Liiga, Finland's top league, where he's been held scoreless in two games.
If he makes the team, Pytthiä would be joining a strong team that could compete for a medal. Notably, he was not included in The Athletic's Scott Wheeler's roster projection.
Also of note is the omission of Blue Jackets' defense prospect Eric Hjorth from Team Sweden's preliminary roster.
We'll continue to provide updates as it relates to these prospects as the tournament gets underway later this month.