The World Championship isn’t just an event for those seeking a second chance at a championship this spring: it’s also a good event for teams to get their young prospects further accumulated to the pro game.
In recent years, we’ve seen NHL teams allow some of their rising young stars to represent their countries on the world stage. For a lot of players, it’s the first crack at playing against men on a consistent basis, giving their clubs a look at what they’re capable of. Players like Nikita Gusev and Philipp Kurashev have taken the experience in full stride, while others have been stuck deeper down in the lineup, learning the ropes while giving a good look to the veterans in front of them.
This tournament has no shortage of good young talent. Let’s take a look at how some of the top NHL prospects are looking with the medal round underway:
Dante Fabbro, D, Canada (Nashville Predators)
Fabbro has mainly been stuffed down the lineup for Canada but, given he’s the least experienced player on the team, that’s understandable. Still, Fabbro managed to record a goal and an assist before taking a puck to the face against Slovakia last week, knocking him out of action for a game. Fabbro has always been good in international events, but this has served as a great starting point for his pro career as he prepares to make the full-time jump to the Predators next summer.
Thatcher Demko, G, USA (Vancouver Canucks)
Demko only played two games for the United States, but he did exactly what he needed to do: he won both his starts. Demko had a nice showing against France early in the tournament and turned away a determined British team in his only other start. Yes, beating the two teams that battled for 2020 tournament existence isn’t a major achievement if you’re the United States, but Demko’s wins were far from easy.
Quinn Hughes, D, USA (Vancouver Canucks)
Has Hughes been the best defenseman for the United States? Depending on your viewpoint, it’s easy to argue so. The Canucks rookie has impressed throughout the tournament, forming a nice shutdown duo with Adam Fox in Hughes’ second crack at the tournament. Hughes was capable of some mind-blowing offensive plays in college, but his focus at the World Championship has been working on his defensive coverage and playing a smart, safe game on big ice. He’s done everything right so far.
Adam Fox, D, USA (New York Rangers)
Speaking of Fox, he’s had a quieter tournament than Hughes with just one point but a good one nonetheless. Traded by Carolina to the Rangers just prior to the tournament, Fox has adjusted well to pro competition and has shown flashes of brilliance with the puck, but he’s been overshadowed by the play of Hughes. Fox could be a fixture on New York’s blueline next season, and Rangers fans should be happy with the way he’s played thus far.
Nikita Gusev, LW, Russia (Vegas Golden Knights)
When it comes to international tournaments, Gusev doesn’t make things fair. With 12 points in the preliminary round and another three in the quarterfinal, Gusev has been a top-five forward in the tournament while producing at an incredible rate with Nikita Kucherov. Gusev has a point in every game for the Russians in what has been one of the best tournaments of his career. Vegas signed Gusev during the Stanley Cup playoffs, but the team’s early exit meant Gusev’s focus would shift to the World Championship. He’ll be a big contender to make the Golden Knights’ top six next season.
Philipp Kurashev, C, Switzerland (Chicago Blackhawks)
For a lot of Blackhawks fans, Kurashev did wonders to his stock in the team’s farm system. After finishing as Switzerland’s best player at the world juniors a few months back with six goals and seven points, Kurashev has followed it up with four points through seven games in his first men’s international tournament. Chicago signed Kurashev back in March after drafting him in 2018 (120th overall), and he’ll likely play in the AHL next season, but Blackhawks fans have to be excited about his international play this year.
Henri Jokiharju, D Finland (Chicago Blackhawks)
Jokiharju typically is one of the best offensive defensemen on any team he’s on but, with just two assists at his first World Championship, he’s been quiet on the scoresheet. But don’t mistake that with him having a tough tournament: Jokiharju has put a big focus on refining his defensive game, and he’s one of the biggest reasons why Finland entered the quarterfinal as one of the best defensive teams in the tournament. Jokiharju proved he could hang with the best in Chicago this year and will fight for a top-four spot before you know it.
Kirill Kaprizov, LW, Russia (Minnesota Wild)
Will Kaprizov ever come over? That’s the question Wild fans have wondered for years, but they’ve been rather quiet about his World Championship performance thus far. With just two points through seven games, Kaprizov, 22, has struggled to perform at his usual high-scoring pace. He’s had a tough tournament, but all signs still point towards him being an impact player for the Wild in the future.
Liam Kirk, C, Great Britain (Arizona Coyotes)
Great Britain is staying up at the top World Championship tournament for the second consecutive year, something it hasn’t done since the early 1950s. And while Kirk has received tons of hype in his career, he’s still searching for his first point in IIHF men’s competition after failing to get his name on the scoresheet for GB while playing a depth role, even sitting out a game as a healthy scratch. Kirk is considered to be the future of the British national team, and while making the NHL will be a challenge for him, Kirk, 19, did show some flash at points.
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