Given there was just a proper best-on-best tournament in September, perhaps there isn’t much appetite for another international hockey event at the moment. But the World Championship begins on Friday, and if you missed watching the hockey minnows that were grouped together into Team Europe at the World Cup, this is the tournament for you.
Like just about every year, the tournament will be overshadowed by the NHL playoffs, in North America at least. But with Canada gunning for a three peat, and some exciting young players taking part, there’s still some intrigue.
The tournament is being shared by Cologne, Germany, and Paris, France. There are certainly worse places to go watch hockey. And France is hosting the tournament for the first time since 1951.
The event begins on Friday with four games, including Canada vs. the Czech Republic and the United States vs. Germany. Here are some fun facts and reasons to watch the tournament.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Clayton Keller, U.S.: Still just 18, Keller is the youngest player in the tournament, and was the No. 1 ranked prospect in THN’s Future Watch. The Arizona Coyotes draft pick tore up the NCAA with Boston University this season, and helped the U.S. to a gold medal at the world juniors.
Jesse Puljujarvi, Finland: The second youngest player in the tournament, and No. 2 in Future Watch. Puljujarvi struggled in his 28 NHL games with the Oilers but hit his stride once he was sent to the AHL. It will be interesting to see what kind of minutes he gets with the veteran Finnish team.
Nikita Kucherov, Russia: Kucherov, somewhat quietly, had a monster year for the Lightning. He put up 85 points and finished second to Sidney Crosby with 40 goals. Russia had to settle for bronze last year and Kucherov will be heavily relied on to get them back on top of the podium. The Russian team is young and doesn’t have as much high-end NHL talent as usual — at least until Alex Ovechkin joins them next week. Hey-O!
Latvia is the kind of hockey country that made Team Europe a necessity at the World Cup. They’ve produced some NHLers and had some moderate international success, but nothing sustainable. In fact, Latvia was promoted to the top level of the worlds in 1997 and has been there every year since. But they’ve been saved in relegation five times, and have never finished higher than seventh. Bob Hartley is coaching this team that finished 13th a year ago.
SLOVAKIA IN DECLINE
Outside of newly promoted Italy, the team at this tournament with the players with the fewest games of NHL experience is Slovakia. There are only six NHL games among the entire roster, and they all belong to Mario Bliznak, who had a cup of tea with the Canucks in 2010. Yes, it is missing established NHLers like Tomas Tatar, Marian Hossa, and Zdeno Chara, but the rumors of Slovakia’s hockey decline appear to be true.
Matt Duchene has probably seen just about all of Europe by now. The Colorado Avalanche star is playing at the worlds for the third year in a row, and sixth time in his career. He has already played 42 career games at the worlds. It takes exactly 10 games to get to the gold-medal game, so if Canada does so this year, and assuming Duchene plays in each one, he will tie Dany Heatley for second on Canada’s all-time games played list with 52. Ryan Smyth’s 61 would be well within reach in 2018. And let’s face it, he’ll be there.
The U.S. has the youngest team in the tournament at just 22.61 years. That’s remarkably young — consider the youngest team in the NHL this season was the Blue Jackets at 26. The world championship team often includes a number of NCAA players, and this year is no different with the likes of Keller, Charlie McAvoy, and Jordan Greenway. It’s a nice perk and a great development tool for the players, though it hasn’t led to much on-ice success. The U.S. hasn’t won gold at the worlds since 1960, and has brought home just two bronze medals in the past 10 years.
2017 WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP:
All stats courtesy of the wonderful EliteProspects.com.