It’s hard not to get caught up in all the action and excitement when the world’s top hockey prospects compete for gold. Not only are you cheering on your country, you’re witnessing the next generation of NHL stars before they make it.
So it is easy to forget during this two-week tournament that what a player ends up doing on the ice later in his career often can’t be projected here; you have to follow what they’re doing with their club teams to get a better handle on that. The tournament is a great place to see prospects play at the highest level, but it’s a bad idea to base all your projections on what you see here.
While NHL stars such as Sidney Crosby, Mike Richards, Ryan Kesler, Henrik Lundqvist and more enjoyed success at this annual event, there are many others who stood out, only to fade down the line.
Do you remember the WJC performances of…
The third of four goalies selected in the first round of the 2004 NHL draft, Schwarz once looked like the strong, stable future in St. Louis’ net. Despite a 4-1 loss to the Russians in the preliminary round, the Czech was the best goalie in the 2005 tournament. His dazzling acrobatics earned him a 2.15 GAA, which was second to only Jeff Glass – who had Canada’s best all-time WJC team in front of him – and Schwarz’s .925 save percentage topped the charts.
He was named the tournament’s all-star goalie and by holding Canada to just three goals in the semifinal, was the only netminder to keep the Red and White to fewer than six goals in a single game. (Of note, the other players named all-stars at this tournament were: Dion Phaneuf, Ryan Suter, Alex Ovechkin, Patrice Bergeron and Jeff Carter.)
Schwarz finished the season with the Western League’s Vancouver Giants before heading back to Europe to play for Sparta Praha in 2005-06. He came back to North America for three years to try and make it as an NHLer, but ultimately played only six games in the league. Last we saw of Schwarz, he played 15 games between the American League’s Peoria Rivermen and the ECHL’s Alaska Aces. He is currently playing in the Czech League with NHL hopes all but dashed.
What? A Red Wings second-rounder who didn’t pan out? Grigorenko was supposed to be an NHL scorer and showed many signs of that early on. Not only did he finish second in scoring at the 2003 under-18 championship, but he was also the leading scorer on his Russian Super League team in 2002-03, an impressive feat for a youngster.
Grigorenko was part of the last Russian team to win WJC gold in 2003 and finished tied for the tournament’s scoring title with six goals and 10 points in six games. The Russians beat Canada 3-2 in the final, where Grigorenko was named the game’s MVP.
Unfortunately, Grigorenko was involved in a car accident in the summer of 2003. He sustained a broken thighbone and suffered other complications that left his return to hockey in question. He missed the entire 2003-04 season and most of the 2004-05 campaign and stayed in Russia until 2007-08.
After showing up to Red Wings camp in poor shape, Grigorenko played five games in the American League with Grand Rapids, but when it became apparent he wasn’t going to hang with the big club, he opted to use an out-clause in his deal and return to Russia rather than play the season in the AHL. Grigorenko currently has 17 goals and 29 points in 33 games for Ufa of the KHL and has no NHL future.
If you remember Blunden at the 2006 WJC you’ll recall his aggressive, big-body game that has made so many Canadian teams successful. Blunden had two goals and five points in six games en route to the gold and it looked as though the Chicago second-rounder was going to be a big hit in the NHL (think Milan Lucic). In his last year in junior, Blunden scored 46 goals and 84 points in 60 games.
But since then, Blunden has struggled to find his game at the professional level. He sustained a shoulder injury in 2006-07, then bounced back with a 37-point season with AHL Rockford in 2007-08. Over those two seasons he saw NHL action in 10 games, but failed to score a point.
The Columbus Blue Jackets traded for him in 2009 and he played 40 games for them in 2009-10, but again struggled offensively with just four points. Blunden is still noticeable on the ice, but if he’s going to make it, it’ll be as a third line player or a checker. He has 20 points in 33 games for Springfield this year and is beginning to look like a career AHLer.
Rory Boylen is TheHockeyNews.com’s web editor. His blog appears Tuesdays only on THN.com.
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