The World Junior Hockey Championship begins Sunday with a four-pack of games. This tournament might not be very popular in the United States, but globally, it’s a pretty big thing. DraftKings is offering odds on the tournament winner and all four opening games, and although I am still in the early stages of handicapping the tournament, a few bets stand out.
Czech Republic vs. Canada
The Canadians are the tournament favorite (+ 140) and are listed as a -2000 favorite on the moneyline against the Czech Republic, which is + 850 on the moneyline and + 1000 to win the gold medal. It’s a mismatch, but the Czech Republic has quite a few players who were part of the team that fell 3-0 to the Canadians late in last year’s tournament. They’ll bring that experience into this year’s opening game. Canada has three returning players and more talent than every team in the tournament. However, the Czech Republic has good goaltending and looks solid on defense. The Czechs are capable of pulling off an upset, but win or lose, if their game is well structured, they’ll be able to keep this game close.
Pick: Czech Republic puck line + 3.5 (+ 105)
Sweden vs. Russia
Goaltender Jesper Wallstedt returns for Sweden after serving as a backup in last year’s tournament. He’s regarded as the highest-touted goaltending prospect the Swedes have produced since Henrik Lundqvist. On the other side, Russia looks to goalie Yaroslav Askarov to carry the team to a gold medal. He was taken by the Predators with the 11th pick in the 2020 draft and has a lot to prove in what will be his third appearance at World Juniors. He has struggled in the Kontinental Hockey League this year, but he obviously has potential.
Sweden’s depth at center is concerning, but so is Russia’s youth at forward. Both teams are set up well defensively, but I give the edge to Sweden because of its depth. Sweden will be missing a few of its top eligible players, but it has an impressive group of first-timers and might just have the most exciting group of forwards in the tournament. At a pick-’em price, Sweden is an intriguing bet to open the tournament with a win, but I’ve taken a position on them covering the alternate puck line (-1.5) at + 235.
Pick: Sweden alternate puck line -1.5 (+ 235)
Slovakia vs. USA
There will be blowouts, and this could be one of them, as the total is set at 7.5 and Team USA is carrying a price tag of -1800 on the moneyline. However, I’m not going to lay the favorite in any way, shape or form. The American roster isn’t as impressive as it has been in past years, while the Slovakian roster is filled with returnees and promising first-timers. Slovakia looks solid in goal, but it’s not necessarily an area of strength, either. Team USA should have no problem generating offense, but Slovakia looks to be well-positioned to score goals too.
Bet: Over 7.5 goals at + 110