The 2021-22 World Junior Hockey Championships are underway.
The annual tournament for the International Ice Hockey Federation’s U20 world championship begins on Boxing Day each year. Running through January 5, it’s the world’s premier annual best-on-best hockey tournament.
For collectors, it is also the best opportunity to catch a glimpse of the players who will be on the hottest NHL rookie cards of tomorrow.
The Upper Deck Company has played a role in the tournament for collectors since they entered the hockey card market 30 years ago. This year is no exception, as earlier this month, Upper Deck released its 2021-22 Team Canada Juniors Hockey product. The new edition was a sellout before it was released. There are a number of factors contributing to the anticipation and popularity of this year’s set.
The player selection is the obvious driver, as it includes two young stars who are expected to become generational talents in the NHL. Shane Wright, expected to be the first pick in the 2022 NHL Draft, and 16-year-old Connor Bedard, expected to be selected first overall in 2023. Both players are included in the set and have signed cards inserted into random packs.
But there is more to it than the two highly touted young stars.
Add in the fact that the hobby remains red hot, and that the popularity of players from Team Canada’s women’s program continues to grow, this set is becoming to hockey collectors what Bowman Chrome is for baseball collectors.
The other factor is the growing popularity of the tournament itself. TSN has held the rights to broadcast the tournament for the past 30 years. With every game televised, it gives fans and collectors a chance to watch the game’s top young stars. Most payers have been drafted by the time they make it to the tournament, so fans and collectors already recognize some of the big names. Last year, for example, Quinton Byfield of the Los Angeles Kings played for Canada and Tim Stutzle of the Ottawa Senators played for Germany. They were selected second and third overall in the 2020 NHL Draft, and both are hot commodities in the hobby.
Baseball, football and basketball have no events that compare to hockey’s World Juniors, especially for collectors who want to get a chance to watch top draft picks in action in meaningful, high-pressure games.
The Upper Deck Team Canada offering is a 100-card base set that includes 69 regular cards and 31 short prints. Cards 101-140 are Canada Program of Excellence cards, which are inserted sat a rate of a little better than one per three packs. The set was in production months before the roster for Canada’s U20 team was picked for the World Juniors, but the Upper Deck license also includes players from Canada’s U18 team. Many players on the Canadian U20 roster are graduates of the U18 program. There are also players from the Canadian women’s team.
On average, each box has four insert hits. One of the hits is an autographed card or autographed patch card. Parallels for the base set include Exclusives (#/250), High Gloss (#/25) and Finite (#/1). Program of Excellence parallels are Exclusives (#/165), High Gloss (#/15) and Finite (#/1). There are also autographed variations of selected players in the Program of Excellence set, inserted one in every 100 packs.
There are also game-used memorabilia and autographed versions of the base set. They include Team Canada Jersey (1:6 packs), Team Canada Auto Patch (#/199 or #/125) and Black Autographs (#/5). The shortprinted cards have Team Canada Jersey (#/50), Auto Patch (#/25) and Black Autographs #/1).
A new insert set for this year’s Team Canada Juniors product is Prospectus Momentous, which puts the spotlight on NHL draft picks and top prospects, as well as the elite players from the Canadian women’s team. Momentous cards are inserted 1:10 packs with additional parallels available in Electric Red (#/275) and Electric Blue (#/49). Autographed versions of the Momentous cards are inserted 1:150 packs.
Star Power, Even Without Power
There are nine members of Team Canada’s 2022 World Junior team in the Upper Deck set, but 2021 NHL first overall draft pick Owen Power of the Buffalo Sabres is not one of them. In the tournament’s opening game Dec. 26 between Canada and the Czech Republic, Power became the first defenseman in tournament history to record a hat trick.
But even if Power was included in the set, he would be overshadowed by the two young stars who are driving it. Wright, who turns 18 on Jan. 5, entered the tournament with 11 goals and 19 assists for 30 points in 22 games with the Ontario Hockey League’s Kingston Frontenacs. As a rookie last year, Wright had 66 points in 58 games in Kingston.
Bedard, 16, is in his second season of Junior hockey with the Western Hockey’s Regina Pats. As a 15-year-old playing against players who were mostly 17-19, the 5’9”, 181-pound center had 28 points in 15 games. This season, through 24 games, Bedard has 14 goals and 10 assists for 24 points.
While they may be hockey’s answer to what Wander Franco and Trevor Lawrence have been in the hobby in 2021, they are not the only stars for collectors to watch.
Cole Perfetti is another prolific offensive centerman who put up big numbers as a Junior. Drafted tenth overall by the Winnipeg Jets in 2020, Perfetti spent two seasons in the Ontario Hockey League with the Saginaw Spirit. He scored 37 goals both seasons and totaled 185 points in 124 games. The gifted playmaker had three assists in Canada’s win over Czechia – yes, the Czech Republic is now commonly referred to as Czechia.
Perfetti, who is playing in the AHL with the Manitoba Moose, played in two games for the Jets this year. Because he has played in the NHL, he is now eligible to be included in Upper Deck’s Young Guns rookie subset and as a rookie in other sets released later this year.
Mason McTavish, who had a goal and an assist against Czechia, also began the year in the NHL. The rugged power forward was selected third overall by the Anaheim Ducks in 2021, and he played nine games in the NHL to begin the season. Like Perfetti, he is in the Upper Deck Team Canada Juniors will be eligible to be in Upper Deck’s NHL cards this year. After returning to the OHL’s Peterborough Petes, he had five goals in four games before heading to Team Canada’s camp.
Anaheim’s second pick in the 2021 draft, Olen Zellweger, had a power play goal in Canada’s 6-3 win Sunday. Zellweger, also in the Team Canada Juniors set, is undersized for a defenseman by NHL standards. But so were Drew Doughty and Erik Karlsson when they entered the NHL. In his third year of Junior hockey, the 5’9”, 175-pound Zellweger has seven goals and 20 assists for 27 points in 20 games for the WHL’s Everett Silvertips.
Canadian goalie Dylan Garand got off to a shaky start, allowing three first period goals Sunday night. But he was lights out after that, as Canada overcame a 3-1 lead in their 6-3 win. Garand, drafted by the New York Rangers in 2020 is in his fifth year of Junior hockey with the Kamloops Blazers. He is having a career year, with a 15-4-0 record, a .932 save percentage and a goals against average of 1.85. Garand is still likely two or three years from making his NHL debut and being on Upper Deck NHL cards, but collectors can find him in this year’s Team Canada Juniors set.
The other Team Canada members who are in the Team Canada Juniors set are Montreal Canadiens’ 2020 first round pick Kaiden Guhle, and Arizona Coyotes’ 2021 first round draft pick Dylan Guenther. Guhle is in his fifth year as a defenseman in the Western Hockey League and was traded from the Prince Albert Raiders to the Edmonton Oil Kings earlier this season. He joins Guenther on the Oil Kings’ roster. The talented right winger has 16 goals and 16 assists for 32 points in 25 games in the WHL this season.
You can check out cards from the 2021-22 Team Canada Juniors set on eBay here.
While the set is obviously Canada-centric, there are other cards of other players who are on the ice now and some will undoubtedly raise their hobby profile during the vent.