Canada takes on the Czech Republic today in Paris to begin defence of their 2016 IIHF world championship title. The Canadians won in 2015 as well and are hoping for a three-peat.
There are 16 teams competing in the annual tournament, with games split between the City of Light and Cologne, Germany. Canada will also tangle with Slovakia, Belarus, France, Switzerland, Norway and Finland in preliminary games.
Coach Jon Cooper has some pretty good talent at his disposal, including veteran defencemen Jason Demers and Marc-Edouard Vlasic, as well as forwards Mitch Marner, Matt Duchene, Claude Giroux, Nathan MacKinnon, Mark Scheifele and Ryan O’Reilly. Duchene had a good tournament for the defending champs last year, coming in second in Team Canada scoring with five goals and five assists in 10 games.
Of course, Canadian players aren’t the only ones to enjoy success at the annual shinny-fest.
There have been some remarkable performances in the last 10 tournaments. Here are 15, in no particular order.
15. F Ilya Kovalchuk – Multiple Years
We are giving the former NHL scoring wizard an overall best-of nod here, as he’s been a fixture on two IIHF golds and two silvers in the last 10 years. Kovalchuk has been in seven IIHF worlds since 2007 and has scored 24 goals and 43 assists in 62 games. His best individual tournaments were 2013 and 2010. In 2010, Kovalchuk led all scorers with 12 points in nine games as the Russians captured silver. In 2013, Kovalchuk tied for the lead in goals scored with eight (in just eight games) and was fourth in scoring with 13 points. In all, Kovalchuk has taken part in 84 IIHF games and currently has 34 goals and 47 assists. Included in his lofty totals are nine game-winners, five powerplay markers and one shorthanded goal.
14. D Oliver Ekman-Larsson – 2015
It’s rare for a defenceman to lead his team in scoring at a IIHF event, but that is exactly what Swedish star rearguard Oliver Ekman-Larsson did in 2015. His two goals and 10 assists in eight games was tops on Tre Kronor and tied with three other players for third overall in the ’15 tourney. Ekman-Larsson is a veteran of seven seasons in the NHL with the Arizona Coyotes and has been a regular on Team Sweden rosters at not just the worlds, but the world juniors, the Olympics and the World Cup of Hockey. He has 19 points in 24 total IIHF games, including a game-winning goal. Ekman-Larsson is on Team Sweden for this year’s event, as well.
13. G Tomas Vokoun – 2010
In 2010, the Czechs stunned the defending champion Russians (they won in 2008 and 2009) by beating them 2-1 in the final. The man who willed it to them was goaltender Tomas Vokoun. The veteran NHLer stopped 35 of 36 shots, his shutout broken with just over 30 seconds to play in the game. He was stellar throughout the tournament, which would be his last international event for the Czech Republic, winning seven of eight starts and posting a 1.57 goals against average (GAA) and .944 save percentage. He was equally brilliant in just about every other IIHF tournament he played in and finished his career with 29 total games played, posting a 19-3 record with five shutouts, a .942 save percentage and 1.47 GAA.
12. F Jason Spezza – 2015
When his country has called, Jason Spezza has typically answered the bell. The longtime NHL veteran has taken part in four world championships in the last 10 years and at the ripe old age of 31 led all scorers with 14 points as Canada claimed gold for the first time in eight years in 2015. Spezza fired six goals and eight assists as part of a very strong Canadian contigent that included Sidney Crosby, Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall, Brent Burns and Tyler Seguin. In addition to his IIHF gold medal, Spezza also owns two silvers from 2008 and 2009. In 35 tournament games overall, Spezza has scored 18 goals (two for game winners) and added 17 assists.
11. G Connor Hellebuyck – 2015
We picked Connor Hellebuyck’s performance at the 2015 tournament due to a couple of factors. The first was his tender age, 21 and the second being the fact he was coming off just his first season as a pro with the St. John’s IceCaps. Most goalies who do well at this tournament usually have a combination of international and NHL experience. In his first taste of international hockey of any kind, the Michigan native backstopped Team USA to seven wins against just one loss in his eight starts. He had two shutouts and posted a .948 save percentage and 1.37 GAA. One of his shutouts came in the bronze medal game against the Czechs, where he stopped all 39 shots he faced. It was a rare medal for the U.S. in this event, as they have won just once (in 1933).
10. F Patrick Thoresen – 2012
For years, Norway was a Group ‘B’ club fighting it out with second tier clubs. Their best finish was a fourth in 1951. In the last nine years, Team Norway has maintained standing among the top 16 nations in hockey and the best finish was a sixth in 2011. In 2012, the Norwegians would finish eighth, but got one of the better individual efforts in the last 10 tournaments from veteran Patrick Thoresen. One of few Norwegians with NHL experience (106 games with Edmonton and Philadelphia), Thoresen fired seven goals and added 11 assists in eight games for Team Norway, coming second only to Russia’s Evgeni Malkin. In the process, he became the first Norwegian to make a tournament all-star team. He is on the Team Norway roster this year, too.
9. F Jarkko Immonen – 2011
Jarkko Immonen would be one of those hockey players you don’t notice much, until they break out in a big way. Drafted by Toronto in 2002 (eighth round, 254th overall) the Finnish forward played just 20 games with the New York Rangers in the NHL, but has been a long time warrior in the Finnish Liiga, KHL and late with the Zug EV of the Swiss A-League. In 2011, the Finns were looking for just their second IIHF world championship gold, the first and only coming in 1995. Immonen provided the spark, scoring the most goals (9) and the most points (12) in nine games to lead the Finns to a rare gold. Overall, Immonen has competed in six world championships, scoring 19 goals (12 on the powerplay and five game-winners) and 13 assists.
8. G Semyon Varlamov – 2012
In just about all instances of high level hockey, goaltending wins championships. Rarely is it a team that just plain outscores anyone anymore to capture a gold medal or Stanley Cup. Russia entered the 2012 tournament having missed the podium in 2011 and were looking to get back on it. Goalie Semyon Varlamov was coming off his first full season as a starter in Colorado (a pretty good one) and was Russia’s starter ahead of Konstantin Barulin. He was superb in just his second go around for the senior team, winning all eight games he played and posting a 1.77 GAA, .939 save percentage and a shutout.
7. D Shea Weber – 2009
Canada has been fairly dominant in the last 10 IIHF world championships, winning three gold and two silvers. The reason they have been very good, using NHLers who miss the playoffs primarily, has been the fact they get very balanced production. In 2009, Canada came into the tournament on the heels of a silver from 2008. Shea Weber, who won a gold with Canada in 2007, was a horse in ’09, scoring four goals (all on the powerplay) and eight assists to lead all defencemen in scoring and tie for third overall in tournament scoring. Canada would lose to Russia again in the gold medal game, 2-1, but Weber was voted to the tournament all-star team and named best defenceman, too.
6. G Pekka Rinne – 2014
The Nashville Predators are where they are in the 2017 playoffs, due mainly to the play of hot, hot goaltender Pekka Rinne. The 34-year-old Finn has lost but once in these playoffs and has helped take the Preds to the cusp of their first Western Conference final appearance ever. He has two shutouts and a league leading 1.33 goals against and .953 save percentage. Rinne comes by his outstanding play in big situations honestly, having nearly stolen a gold medal for Finland at the 2014 world championships. He was named to the All-Star team and was the tournament’s MVP after posting a 5-3 record with three shutouts, a .928 save percentage and 1.88 goals against.
5. F Patrik Laine – 2016
For a couple of weeks at least, Patrik Laine was the top NHL prospect on the planet. Just prior to the NHL draft in 2016, where he was selected no. 2 by Winnipeg, Laine had a virtuoso performance at the world championships. The Finnish sniper tied Sweden’s Gustav Nyquist for most goals in the tournament with seven and finished fourth overall in scoring with 12 points. He outscored and outpointed 2016 no. 1 pick Auston Matthews, who had six goals and nine points in 10 games. He was the youngest player ever to suit up for the national team and would be named to the tournament all-star team as well as being MVP. Alas, though, Laine and the Finns would fall 2-0 to a determined Team Canada in the final.
4. F Vadim Shipachyov- 2016
The North American hockey world is going to find out just how good free agent forward Vadim Shipachyov really is. The 30-year-old veteran of nine seasons in the KHL just signed a two-year deal with the expansion Vegas Golden Knights to bring his considerable playmaking talent to the NHL. The Cherepovets native broke out in a big way this past season after being the leading scorer at the 2016 world championships, scoring six times and adding 12 assists for the bronze medal winning Team Russia. That performance earned him a two-game stint at the prestigious World Cup of Hockey and he followed that up with his best ever pro season with SKA St. Petersburg, recording 76 points in 50 league games (followed by 19 points in 17 playoff tilts).
3. G Cam Talbot – 2016
Cam Talbot has to be enjoying the ride in the playoffs right now, despite a couple of setbacks to the Anaheim Ducks. Like Pekka Rinne, the Oilers are where they are because of the man between the pipes. He has two shutouts in 10 games so far and has absolutely stolen a few games with his play alone. The former New York Rangers back-up got the ball rolling on being a standout netminder by having a good season with the non-playoff bound Oilers in 2015-16, following it up by being nearly unbeatable at the worlds. He tied a record for most shutouts in the tourney with four, while posting a minute GAA of 1.25 and save percentage of .940. It was just his second ever taste of international hockey and he came away with a well-deserved gold medal.
2. F Evgeni Malkin – 2012
Geno has a way of rising to the occasion like few players can in hockey. He’s won two Stanley Cups, two world championships (six medals total) and two U20 Junior silver medals in his lengthy hockey career. And Malkin wasn’t just a passenger in any success for the Pittsburgh Penguins or Team Russia. In the NHL playoffs, Malkin has 145 points in 133 games (including a team high 36 for the 2009 championship team) and at the worlds he has 62 points in 53 games. Malkin was key to Team Russia’s last gold medal at the IIHF event in 2012, scoring a tournament high 11 goals and adding eight assists for 19 points. He scored at least one point in each of the 10 games he played and was named the tournament’s MVP.
1. F Dany Heatley – 2008
No one has scored more points in a single world championship in the last 10 years than former NHL sniper Dany Heatley in 2008. He fired a tournament high 12 goals and 20 points to lead Canada to a silver medal finish. A veteran of many international competitions, including the world juniors (silver and bronze), Olympics (gold medal in 2010) and world cup (champion in 2014), Heatley’s 20-point effort in 2008 and subsequent point totals in international competitions put him in the top 5 for Team Canada. Heatley easily made the 2008 tournament all-star team, as well as being named best forward and MVP. He had 62 points in 52 career IIHF world championship games and owns two gold medals and three silvers, lifetime.