We didn’t learn much from the Isles’ two prospects in the WJC.
With only two players in the tournament, the New York Islanders didn’t have great representation in the 2020-21 World Junior Hockey Championship. With only two teams to watch, were fans pleased and/or excited watching two potential future Islanders at the WJC?
Let’s take a closer look at how New York’s youngsters fared.
Simon Holmström (RW, Sweden)
Drafted: 2019; Round 1, Pick 23
The Islanders surprised many when the club used its first-round pick of the 2019 draft on Simon Holmström. Holmström was considered a reach at the time, but with intriguing upside.
Now 18 months closer – in theory – to being ready for the NHL, how did he look in the World Juniors?
The short answer: average.
Holmström played in all five of Sweden’s games in the tournament as a middle-six forward and recorded five assists while serving two penalty minutes. He was clearly an important contributor on team Sweden, but he wasn’t an attention-grabber by any means.
Even so, let’s take a closer look at Holmström’s best moments in the World Juniors.
Holmström’s first assist came in Sweden’s first game of the tournament, a 7-1 victory against the Czech Republic. This assist was the first example of average play from Holmström.
In the second period, Sweden was on a power play and upon receiving the puck, Holmström took a shot that missed badly, but his teammate, Albin Sundsvik, was able to get the rebound and put it in the back of the net.
Holmström would go on to have two more assists in Sweden’s next game, a 4-0 shutout against Austria. His first assist was a secondary one on Sweden’s first goal of the game. This assist came on another power play. Again, nothing special here.
— TSN (@TSN_Sports) December 28, 2020
He recorded a primary assist on Sweden’s third goal of the game. The play he made here was a smart one, dropping the puck off to Noel Gunler once he bumped into some traffic in front of him. This was his best play of the tournament.
— TSN (@TSN_Sports) December 29, 2020
Holmström had another assist, a secondary one, in Sweden’s 4-3 overtime loss to Russia. Holmström did a nice job of getting the puck and then quickly getting it to Gunler. It was efficient play for him but, again, nothing special.
Sweden gets it right back and we're tied up at 1! pic.twitter.com/LDeiSMyi1A
— TSN (@TSN_Sports) December 31, 2020
Holmström evidently made some tangible contributions that turned into goals for Sweden. However, the fact that he didn’t score any goals himself isn’t ideal.
He had a grand total of three shots on goal, all coming in Sweden’s first game against the Czech Republic.
He’s had some time to develop since being drafted and the fact that he doesn’t seem to have gained much confidence in terms of taking shots isn’t encouraging.
However, numbers are numbers. The fact is that Holmström was one of Sweden’s top scorers in the tournament, even though he didn’t score any goals. His creativity and playmaking skills were obvious, and his teammates benefited from them greatly.
Holmström did have a good tournament, but it’s evident that he’s going to need a significant amount of time to develop before potentially making the leap to the NHL. Working on scoring goals surely has to be number one on the 19-year-old’s to-do list.
Matias Rajaniemi (LHD, Finland)
Drafted: 2020; Round 6, Pick 183
Matias Rajaniemi went home with a bronze medal, but there honestly isn’t much to be said about him. On the younger side, as he was when he was drafted, Rajaniemi is just 18 years old and will be eligible to participate in the tournament again next year.
This year, however, Rajaniemi was used primarily as Finland’s seventh defenseman. He played in six games for Finland, recording zero points, but played a total of just 37:32 minutes.
Rajaniemi is big: standing at 6’4”, 205 lbs. This is something team Finland’s coaching staff has spoken positively about. We can expect Rajaniemi to have a much more prominent role with Finland next year.
The Islanders organization and fanbase weren’t really able to learn much from their prospects participating in the WJC. Holmström was good, not great, and Rajaniemi barely played.
However, these are definitely two players that are worth paying attention to down the line. Holmström deserves attention just for being a first-round pick and Rajaniemi’s size and stature make him worth keeping an eye on.