If Canada isn’t a favorite heading into the IIHF World Championships in Denmark, then we don’t know handicapping.
Connor McDavid heads a superior Canadian club into the two-week tournament and will be capably supported by stars like Aaron Ekblad, Brayden Schenn, Mathew Barzal, Ryan O’Reilly and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, among others.
The U.S., Russia and Sweden will be no slouches either. The Americans will hit the ice with Patrick Kane as captain and sniper Johnny Gaudreau in tow, while Russia features old pro Pavel Datsyuk and Sweden relies on Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Rickard Rakell.
There are 16 teams in two groups involved in the round robin tournament that starts May 4 and concludes May 20. Team South Korea is a newer entrant and will get a good lesson in hockey in Group B, which includes Canada, the U.S. and Finland.
The rosters are mostly finalized and we have taken the time to separate 20 younger players — i.e. not necessarily the Connor McDavid’s of the world — who will not only be fun to watch as the tournament progresses, but also under the microscope of scouts if they are undrafted or free agents.
20. F Dominic Zwerger – Austria
Depending on how he plays, Austrian winger Dominic Zwerger has the size and North American experience to catch the eye of a scout or two. He played four years in the Western Hockey League, three with the Spokane Chiefs and one with the Everett Silvertips. His ever-improving stats in junior and the fact he is still just 21 suggests that the Dornbirn native could be a late bloomer. In 189 games with Spokane, Zwerger scored 60 goals and added 106 assists in the regular season and had another seven points in 16 playoff games. The move to Everett seemed to elevate his game, as he tallied 75 points (28 goals) in 67 games and was +20. In the 2017 WHL playoffs he recorded 15 points in 10 games. Zwerger went back to Switzerland this season to play with Ambri-Piotta and did not look out of place skating on a line with former NHLers Cory Emmerton and Matt D’Agostini. He scored 40 points in 50 regular season games and five points in five playoff contests.
19. F Tyson Jost – Canada
Yes, Connor McDavid is only 21 and will definitely be front and center in Denmark. But, everyone knows who he is, so we’re not including him here. Jost, on the other hand, was taken a year later than McDavid, 10th overall in 2016. The St. Albert, Alberta born Jost has taken a little more time to percolate at the NHL level, but should be a great second line wing/center for years to come in Colorado. After being drafted, Jost went to the University of North Dakota and put up 35 points in 33 games. He earned a late-season promotion to Colorado and scored a goal in six games. This past season he played five games in the AHL with San Antonio and 65 with the big club, scoring 12 goals (five on the powerplay) and adding 10 assists. Jost has considerable international experience and recorded four points in seven games for the silver medal winning Canadian team at the 2017 world junior championships.
18. G Igor Shestyorkin – Russia
The Russians have the luxury of not one, but two great young goaltenders heading into the worlds. We might argue they have the best goaltending tandem. Shestyorkin is one of two great goaltenders (the other is Finland’s Mikko Koskinen) with the powerful St. Petersburg SKA squad that lost out to CSKA Moscow in the KHL playoffs this spring. Shestyorkin has played four seasons with SKA since being drafted in the fourth round, 118th overall, by the New York Rangers in 2014. This past season he was 20-4-4 with St. Petersburg and recorded seven shutouts, a 1.69 goals against average and .933 save percentage. Shestyorkin, 22, has a good body of work on the international side, having competed with Russian U18, U20 and Olympic team, who he won a gold medal with this year at the Pyeongchang Olympics. Fans of the New York Rangers may see him in the NHL soon, considering Henrik Lundqvist is 36 and on the down slope of his career.
17. D Yohann Auvitu – France
The road to the NHL was a long and winding one for Frenchman Auvitu, who cracked the New Jersey Devils line-up in 2016-17 after eight years playing in France and Finland. His last stop in the Finnish Liiga was with HIFK Helsinki before he signed a free agent deal with the Devils. The Finnish league’s top defenceman in 2016 split time with New Jersey and AHL Albany in 2016-17 and signed with Edmonton last summer. On an Edmonton team that struggled Auvitu was a fairly steady, but often a healthy scratch, appearing in 33 games as a third-pair defender and registering three goals, six assists and a +4. His future, then, is uncertain in the NHL, but he is currently the lone NHLer listed on a Team France squad that will be in tough in Group A (Russia, Czech Republic, Slovakia etc.). He’ll log a lot of minutes, for sure.
16. D Will Butcher – USA
Not many people saw coming the rookie season Will Butcher just had. The young rearguard out of the University of Denver who was a fifth round pick back in 2013, put himself in Calder Trophy contention by scoring 44 points in 81 games with the New Jersey Devils. The native of Sun Prairie, WI also added four points in the Devils five-game playoff series against Tampa Bay. An up-and-comer with the U.S. National Development team in 2013, Butcher was picked 123rd overall by Colorado, but the Avalanche didn’t sign him during his outstanding four-year tenure with Denver, where he won the Hobey Baker and a NCAA title in 2017. In international play, Butcher was a fixture on U.S. U17, U18 and U20 teams, winning a silver and a gold medal with the U18 club.
15. F Lias Andersson – Sweden
Just like his Dad Niklas and Uncle Mikael, Lias Andersson fulfilled his NHL dream this past season with the New York Rangers, albeit briefly. The 19-year-old first round pick (7th overall) in 2017 split his 2017-18 season between the Frolunda Indians of the Swedish League (14 points in 22 games), the Hartford Wolf Pack of the AHL (14 points in 25 games) and finally the Rangers (two points in seven games). He made an immediate impression on his Rangers bosses, scoring his first ever NHL goal in his first game, a 4-2 late season loss to Washington on Mar. 26. Andersson is a dynamic two-way player who has also lit it up with Team Sweden in international play. He was an offensive catalyst during Sweden’s march to a silver medal at the 2018 World Juniors, scoring six goals and an assist in seven games.
14. D Christian Jaros – Slovakia
Christian Jaros isn’t likely to wow anyone with upper tier offensive skills, but for a big guy he is a good skater and not afraid to throw his bulk around. A 22-year-old veteran of the Swedish League, Jaros was selected 139th overall by the Ottawa Senators in 2015 and this past season saw action in two early season games, registering four hits in minimal ice time. Otherwise, the Kosice born blueliner spent the rest of the season with Ottawa’s AHL affiliate in Belleville, where had 16 points in 44 games. Jaros does have a significant international resume and was part of the surprise Slovakian squad at the 2015 World Juniors that won bronze by beating Sweden. He has played at the IIHF world championships, too, in 2016, scoring two goals in five games.
13. F Leon Draisaitl – Germany
Yes, Draisaitl is more than well known in NHL circles. However, he will be key to any success that surprise Olympic silver medalist Germany has in Group B, which includes powerhouses Canada (with Oilers teammate Connor McDavid), Finland and the USA. The 22-year-old Edmonton Oilers budding superstar is coming off a 70-point season and will captain a team with just two other NHLers, Dennis Seidenberg and Korbinian Holzer. The Cologne born sniper is competing in his fourth world championships, though we think he’d rather be skating alongside McDavid in the NHL playoffs right now. In 18 world championship contests Draisaitl has two goals and eight assists. He and the German side play host Denmark on opening day Friday and on May 15 Draisaitl will face off against McDavid and the Canadians in the round robin closer.
12. D Kristians Rubins – Latvia
Let’s face it, the lower tier of teams in Group B, those being Latvia, South Korea and Norway, will be pretty much round robin fodder in advance of the world championships playoffs. Yet, for the Latvians, especially the younger ones, it represents an opportunity to showcase their skills in front of pro scouts. Team Latvia does have a smattering of NHL drafted players, including New York Islanders minor league goalie Kristers Gudlevskis and Washington Capitals prospect D Kristofers Bindulis. Like Bindulis, who signed as a free agent with the Capitals, 20-year-old Riga native Kristians Rubins might be looking to impress in Denmark after playing two seasons with Medicine Hat of the WHL. Rubins is big (6’4″, 216 lbs.) and was a good puck mover for the Tigers, tallying 62 points in 126 total junior games.
11. F Martin Necas – Czech Republic
If and when a hole opens up down the middle with the Carolina Hurricanes, speedy Czech Martin Necas will ably fill it. Taken 12th overall by the ‘Canes in 2017, the Nove Mesto na Morave born Necas spent the bulk of the 2017-18 season with Brno Kometa of the Czech league, scoring 17 points in 24 games. Those may not seem like eye-opening numbers, but consider he started the season as an 18-year-old playing with seasoned vets like 36-year-old former NHLer Martin Erat and 40-year-old Czech league warhorse Leos Cermak. In the Czech League playoffs, Necas added to his growing resume with nine points in 14 games. He sizzled at the 2018 World Juniors, tallying 11 points in seven games, making his bosses in Carolina look good in the process. The big club did give him a one-game preview against Edmonton in October and if he has a premier performance at the worlds, who knows what will happen next year.
10. F Noah Rod – Switzerland
The Swiss are one of those middle-of-the-pack teams with the capability to either shock clubs with more NHL talent on them, or alternately stink the joint out. This year’s world championship team has established NHLers such as Nino Niederreiter, Mirco Muller and Sven Andrighetto and then a whole lot of unknowns. One of them is 21-year-old winger Noah Rod, who started playing in the Swiss A League with Geneve Servette as a 17-year-old in 2013. The San Jose Sharks drafted him in the second round, 53rd overall in 2014, but he has yet to play for the big club. He’s never been a big scorer in the regular season with Geneve, notching 46 points in 162 career games. However, he has been more prolific in playoffs, scoring six goals and eight assists in 35 games. He has gotten into AHL action with the San Jose Barracuda (11 games, five points) and was loaned to Switzerland in time to play in his first worlds.
9. G Ilya Sorokin – Russia
We did mention above that Team Russia has an embarrassment of young netminding riches. And it is complete with 22-year-old Sorokin, a third round pick of the New York Islanders in 2014. His CSKA Moscow team beat out Team Russia teammate Igor Shestyorkin’s St. Petersburg SKA on the way to the KHL championships. Unfortunately, CSKA lost to Ak Bars in six games. Sorokin capped a great regular season (27 wins, 10 shutouts, 1.51 goals against average) by posting the most shutouts in the KHL post-season with five. It’s been an all around great season for Sorokin, who won a gold medal with Russia at the Olympics and two KHL Goaltender of the Month awards. In five games at two world championships, Sorokin didn’t surrender a goal. The Islanders goaltending is in a state of flux and we don’t think it will be long before Sorokin comes over.
8. G Frederik Andersen – Denmark
He isn’t young, but as the goalie for the host nation and coming off a pretty stellar year with the Toronto Maple Leafs, all eyes will be on Frederik Andersen. He is easily the biggest name on a Danish side that will have the home crowd firmly behind it, but will be in tough in Group B with Canada, Finland and the United State. The Herning native, though, when on top of his game has the potential to steal a big win for the Danes. Hopefully the 28-year-old has enough left in the tank, having played in 66 regular season games for the second year in a row and then another seven grueling playoff games against Boston. In the regular season, Andersen won a career high 38 games and had a 2.81 goals against average and .918 save percentage with five shutouts. In the playoffs, he was great in Toronto’s three wins, stopping 114 of 120 shots, but he wasn’t as sharp in the four losses, allowing 17 goals on 101 shots. Still, one guy to keep an eye on.
7. F Elias Petterson – Sweden
One team, for sure, will have their bird dogs out watching Team Sweden intently. That would be the Vancouver Canucks, which drafted crafty Swedish center Elias Pettersson fifth overall in 2017. With the Sedin twins retiring and the Canucks bound to make other player personnel changes after a down year, Petterson is pretty much a lock to make it next year. Why? Because this kid is good. Good enough to be named Swedish League Rookie of the Year, Forward of the Year and League MVP. He dominated a man’s league, scoring a league best 56 points in 44 games (league best +27) and then recording 19 points in 13 playoff games. Besides winning a championship with the Vaxjo Lakers, too, Petterson had a great run at the 2018 world juniors, scoring five goals and two assists in seven games as Sweden one silver. He is going to be a great one in Vancouver.
6. D Quinn Hughes – USA
One skater for the Americans is going to get a trial by fire, that’s for sure. University of Michigan phenom Quinn Hughes, who is ranked the no. 6 North American skater by NHL Central Scouting for this year’s draft, was named to Team USA recently. He is the only amateur on Team USA and the youngest player competing by 22 months at 18 years of age. A native of Orlando, FLA, Hughes scored 29 points in 37 games in his freshman season with the Wolverines and was named to the Big 10 All Rookie and Second All-Star teams. His whirlwind year also included a bronze medal with Team USA at the world juniors, where he collected three assists in seven games. Just about every pro scout ranking system has him as a top 10 selection in the upcoming draft and we couldn’t agree more.
5. G Filip Gustavsson – Sweden
The fact the Ottawa Senators missed the playoffs after going to the Eastern Conference finals in 2017 had a lot to do with goaltending — or lack of it. Veteran Craig Anderson and back-up Mike Condon both underwhelmed, leading to much speculation about the two going forward (both are signed for two more seasons). If the Sens stay with Anderson/Condon for the time being, it won’t be long before 19-year-old minor leaguer and Swedish League netminder Filip Gustavsson gets a good shot. Gustavsson shone in 22 games with Lulea of the Swedish League, posting a .918 save percentage, 2.07 goals against and three shutouts. The former second round pick of the Pittsburgh Penguins was a stone wall at the world juniors too for silver medal winning Sweden, recording a .924 save percentage and 1.81 goals against in six games.
4. F Marc Michaelis – Germany
While much of the world championships viewing world will be glued to the exploits of Leon Draisaitl, Germany is also showcasing a few fuzzy-faced youngsters many haven’t heard about. One guy is undrafted Minnesota State University at Mankato forward Marc Michaelis. The Mannheim born left shooting Michaelis had two great years with the Mavericks, leading them in scoring with 36 points in 39 games during the 2016-17 season and then finishing third this past year with 40 points in 36 games. He was named the WCHA Rookie of the Year in his freshman year and was a WCHA First Team All-Star this year. He doesn’t have a ton of international experience, having played in 11 world junior U18 and U20 games, but his youthful zeal should be welcome.
3. D Miro Heiskanen – Finland
Just as Vancouver fans are waiting with bated breath for Elias Pettersson to show up on the scene, Dallas Stars fans have to be licking their chops at having another elite defenceman like John Klingberg coming along from Europe. The Stars drafted Finnish rearguard Heiskanen third overall in 2017 and he built nicely on a good debut season with HIFK Helsinki in 2016-17. This year, Espoo born Heiskanen scored 11 goals and 12 assists in 30 games for HIFK. He added another three goals and six assists in 14 playoff games. The smooth skating two-way defenceman averaged the most ice time of any defender in the league, too, at over 25 minutes per game and was named the SM Liiga’s top defenceman. Stars General Manager Jim Nill said recently that Dallas will be promoting promising young players faster, which means Heiskanen is likely to see action in 2018-19 in Big D.
2. G Michael DiPietro
Partly out of necessity and partly because he was one of the best goalies in Canadian junior hockey this year, Michael DiPietro is a surprise addition as the third-string netminder to Team Canada. Whether he plays a game ahead of goalies Darcy Kuemper or Curtis McElhinney remains to be seen, but, given that neither are “elite” anything can happen. DiPietro was a third round pick of the Vancouver Canucks in the 2017 draft and won’t be 19 until June. He’s played the last three seasons with the Windsor Spitfires, who he won a Memorial Cup with in 2017. He’s been pretty much a tireless workhorse for the Spits the last two years, playing in 107 games, winning 59 and recording 13 shutouts. If anything, the experience in Denmark will be good for DiPietro, who was a late cut for last year’s world junior gold medal winning team and who has one year of eligibility left to play in the 2019 tourney.
1. F Martin Kaut – Czech Republic
Not many teenagers are going to be competing in this year’s world championship, which makes it a solid gold opportunity for the Czech team’s Martin Kaut to make a final and lasting impression on scouts. Projected to go anywhere from the middle of the first round to the end of it, Kaut has been competing with the big boys of the Czech League instead of junior in North America. In 38 games with Pardubice, Kaut scored nine goals and added 7 assists and was +5. This was a far cry from the lone point and -5 he had in 26 games during his rookie season. He also struck for another three goals and two assists in seven playoff contests with Pardubice. Kaut,18, competed for the Czech Republic at the World Juniors for the first time at the 2018 event, finishing with two goals and five assists in seven games.
trong showing at this World Championship can’t have anything but a positive impression on his draft stock.