The World Junior Championship is unquestionably losing some of its luster this year, although I can hardly blame either the participants or the International Ice Hockey Federation given the circumstances.
The big news last week of course was that young stars Alexis Lafreniere and Jack Hughes had both pulled out of the tournament, with their teams in the National Hockey League preferring to keep them close at hand in the event that a start date for NHL training camps is announced. It was a big disappointment for fans who were looking to see two young NHL stars of the future compete against some of the best young players in the world, but unfortunately it was only the beginning of the bads news.
Since then we've had several reports of players dropping out and unsurprisingly many of them appear to be related to positive tests of COVID-19. It was announced over the weekend that William Eklund would not be joining Sweden at the World Juniors after it was revealed that the young Swede has tested positive for the virus. Eklund was having what was in many ways a breakout season in the Swedish Elite league and again many were hoping to see him compete at the upcoming international tournament.
Sweden will not be the only team impacted by the virus however, with reports today that forward Robert Mastrosimone, defenseman Alex Vlasic, and goaltender Drew Commesso, all of whom play for Boston University, have all pulled out of Team USA's training camp for the World Juniors as a result of reasons related to COVID. It is unclear if these players tested positive or if they merely came into contact with others who could have potentially been infected, but either way they are out as well.
Lightning prospect Maxime Cajkovic has also dropped out of the tournament, he was slated to potentially captain Slovakia's team at the tournament, but in his case the situation is much more concerning. Cajkovic was reportedly kicked off the team, this despite scoring twice in a scrimmage, because of repeated cheap shots delivered to his own teammates.
Unfortunately I suspect that we may hear more news in this vein over the coming days. It may turn out to have been a wise decision to keep Hughes and Lafreniere out of this tournament.