Will Kings prospects play in World Juniors Championship?

A late NHL season start could see some unexpected faces return to Junior hockey.

Yesterday, the IIHF released the schedule for the upcoming World Juniors Championship, to be held bubble-style in Edmonton this December. This year has been scaled back to include just the top-tier competition, due to the coronavirus pandemic limiting both travel and gatherings.

The tournament will begin with a preliminary round on Christmas Day (Dec. 25, 2020) through Dec. 31. The quarterfinals will be on Jan. 2, 2021, followed by the semifinals on Jan. 4. The Bronze and Gold Medal games will be held on Tuesday, Jan. 5.

Here’s the full schedule (per the IIHF):

Originally scheduled to be held between Edmonton and Red Deer, the cities will now host the tournament in 2022, assuming fans will be allowed to return by then. Sweden, who was scheduled to host the tournament in 2022, has been bumped to 2024. This is the third time Edmonton will have hosted the tournament and the first time it has started on Christmas Day since 2005.

The NHL, meanwhile, has announced an intention to return on Jan. 1, though by necessity, that date is fluid. TSN’s Bob McKenzie noted on Twitter that the league could be looking at a late January or February start as a possibility.

That leaves juniors eligible NHL players in a unique position to play in the World Juniors Championship without disrupting their NHL season. With the start date a potentially moving target, there is still the possibility that NHL teams will be hosting training camps during that same timeframe, in which case players like Jack Hughes and and Alexis Lafreniere wouldn’t make a return to junior hockey.

Team Canada may also be looking at holding a bubble-style camp in Red Deer mid-November, as many of their CHL players haven’t gotten significant time on the ice since March. Only the QMJHL has resumed play so far, but the league has already seen play paused due to coronavirus outbreaks. In order to hold the camp, however, players currently in the United States would have to quarantine for two weeks upon entry into Canada before they would be allowed to participate in camp, so a decision will need to come down soon.

Quinton Byfield, the Kings’ second-overall pick in the 2020 NHL Draft, was not a major player in last year’s Gold Medal-winning Team Canada. Still, depending on the timing of NHL camps, he’ll be available to return and with slightly expanded rosters (two extra skaters are allowed due to the bubble constraints), it seems doubtful he’ll lose his roster spot.

The US team held an evaluation camp in Michigan last week. Kings prospects Arthur Kaliyev and Alex Turcotte did not attend, though they’re expected to be available. Kaliyev stayed in LA to train, while Turcotte is in Germany on loan to the Eisbären Berlin of the DEL. In the 2020 World Juniors, Kaliyev notched four goals and two assists, while Turcotte added two assists of his own over five games.