New York Islanders fans have at least two good reasons to watch the 2021 World Junior Championships (WJC) tournament over Christmas.
Two Islander draft picks are in the tournament, which will be played in the bubble in Edmonton, and you can bet Islanders general manager Lou Lamoriello will be watching closely to see how these players perform when they are tested against the best under-20 players in the world.
Forward Simon Holmstrom, who is 19, has been named to Sweden’s roster and defenseman Matias Rajaniemi, who is only 18, has made Finland’s roster.
Holmstrom was a first-round pick, 23rd overall, in the 2019 NHL draft, while Rajaniemi was selected by the Islanders in the sixth round, No. 183 overall, in the 2020 draft.
This is their first time suiting up for the WJC Under-20 tournament. The two played for their respective countries in 2019 at the Under-18 tournament.
Rajaniemi must be considered a long shot to make the Islanders because of his draft position. But it’s not unheard of for a six-rounder to earn a starring role on the NHL club. Captain Anders Lee, of course, was a sixth-round pick in 2009.
Everything about his draft day far exceeded his expectations! 🔹🏒🔸 pic.twitter.com/kmtr6bVbik
— New York Islanders (@NYIslanders) June 22, 2019
Holmstrom is a 6-foot, 185-pound winger who played 46 games in the AHL for the Islanders’ affiliate, the Bridgeport Sound Tigers in 2019-20, scoring eight goals and contributing seven assists in 46 games. He then was loaned to Sweden before he was recently returned to North America.
It’s expected that Holmstrom might be slotted on Sweden’s third line behind Detroit Red Wings prospect Lucas Raymond and Carolina Hurricanes prospect Noel Gunler. Last year, Holmstrom scored six points over eight games to help Sweden win gold in the world under-18 hockey championship.
Rajaniemi, a 6-foot-4 blueliner, has impressive size and is one of the biggest players in the Islanders system. But because he is only 18 and still raw, it’s not known how much playing time he will get for Finland at puck drop. He is one of eight defensemen listed on the roster.
Holmstrom has been described as a good skater who is highly competitive. He has good hands and is an impressive puck-handler. He has a good wrist shot and is an underrated two-play player, according to Elite Prospects.
Holmstrom was signed to a three-year, entry-level contract with the Islanders on July 15, 2019 after attending development camp.
This past August, he was returned to Sweden to join HC Vita Hasten of the Allsvenskan on loan until the North American season resumed. In November, Holmstrom left Sweden to return to North America.
Drafted players per team at the #WorldJuniors
— Eliteprospects (@eliteprospects) December 16, 2020
Rajaniemi has been playing for the club team, Lahden Pelicans, based in the town of Lahti, Finland, in the Liiga, the Finnish elite league.
Rajaniemi is getting more ice time and he can be trusted to quarterback a team’s top power-play unit, according to scouting reports on Elite Prospects. He’s also a “tough customer” along the boards where he uses his 6-foot-4, 205-pound frame to his advantage.
Rajaniemi makes simple passes and can utilize a heavy shot from time to time. Rajaniemi has recorded two assists and eight penalty minutes in 18 games for the Pelicans this season.
The WJC is a 10-team tournament divided into two pools. Finland is in a “A” pool with Canada, Switzerland, Slovakia and Germany. Sweden is in a “B” pool with Russia, the Czech Republic, the United States and Austria.
Finland and Sweden are traditionally two of the favorites in the world junior tournament, which begins on Dec. 25 and concludes with the gold-medal game on Jan. 6.
Finland has won the gold medal five times, the last one coming in 2019. That country has also won four silver medals. Sweden has won the tournament only twice, but has come second on 10 occasions.
Canada, the defending champion, has won the tournament 18 times, which is the most for any country.