No Big Surprises As Of Yet In IIHF World Championships


The IIHF Men’s World Hockey Championships are well underway over in Kosice and Bratislava, Slovakia with the 16-team event winding up on May 26th. There are numerous NHL players involved as usual with several team rosters being bolstered by players who didn’t make the playoffs or who were eliminated in the early rounds.

As far as the teams go, there have been a couple of mild surprises or upsets as of May 15th with host nation Slovakia downing the USA 4-1 and the Czech Republic beating reigning gold medalists Sweden 5-2. Also, Great Britain hung tough against the USA by losing just 6-3.

In general, the scores have been quite predictable with non-traditional hockey nations such as Great Britain and Italy having a hard time of it and finding goals hard to come by. The Italians have been outscored 30-0 in their first four outings with a 9-0 loss to Switzerland followed by an 8-0 defeat to Sweden, a 3-0 beating by Latvia and a 10-thrashing by Russia. The Brits have fared slightly better by being outscored 26-4 with a 3-1 loss to Germany followed by 8-0 and 9-0 defeats to Canada and Denmark and the 6-3 loss to the USA.

Perhaps the biggest surprises so far have been the individual performances by players such as William Nylander of the Toronto Maple Leafs leading the scoring race for a couple of days with two goals and six assists after three games and Washington Capitals superstar Alex Ovechkin going without a point in his first three outings. Ovechkin led the NHL in goals this season with 51 and snapped his slump in his fourth game with a goal and assist in a 10-0 win over Italy while Nylander slipped to a second-place tie in the scoring parade after that one-sided score for Russia.

NHL Art Ross Trophy winner Nikita Kucherov has been pulling his weight with three goals and seven assists after four games games to take over first place scoring at the tournament. However, his teammate Evgeni Malkin has yet to score with three assists to his name after four games even though his team has scored 23 times. Meanwhile, 18-year-old Kakko Kaapo of Finland who’s expected to go second in this year’s NHL Draft behind American Jack Hughes, has five goals after three contests.

And speaking of Hughes, he just celebrated his 18th birthday on May 14th, but hasn’t has much of a chance to celebrate as of yet with no points after his first three games and In fact, several other NHL stars haven’t made much of an impact in the tournament as of yet and there are far too many to mention. So let’s take the opposite route here and give a tip of the hat to those who have started the tournament in fine form.

Anthony Mantha of Canada and the Detroit Red Wings’ had three goals and four assists after three games. The top-scoring non NHL player was Anton Lander of Sweden with three goals and three helpers after three games. The 28-year-old was drafted 40th overall by the Edmonton Oilers in 2009 and played 215 games in the NHL before heading back to Europe. He racked up just 10 goals and 35 points in Edmonton and now plays for Ak Bars Kazan of the Kontinental Hockey League and notched 30 points in 39 games this season.

To be honest, the scoring race typically alters drastically each day as players often pad their stats when playing the tournament’s weak sisters. For instance, the 23-year-old Nylander scored five of his eight points with a goal and four assists against Norway in a 9-1 victory and Kucherov picked up four points in the 10-0 win over Italy. This comes after Nylander managed three points in seven playoff contests against the Boston Bruins this season. It’s hard to blame the player for performing well against inferior opposition though.

As most fans may remember, Nylander didn’t begin his NHL season with the Leafs until December after he couldn’t come to terms on a new contract until then. Perhaps predictably, he didn’t have the greatest of seasons as he posted just 27 points in 54 games on seven goals and 20 helpers following two campaigns of 61 points each. In addition, he should be given a bit of credit for realizing he needs to pick his game up and showing up to play in the World Championships. He placed fourth in scoring in the event in 2017 with seven goals and seven assists in 10 games and helped Sweden beat Canada in the gold medal game.

Nylander shouldn’t be tired at the moment after missing the first two months of the NHL season and he’s determined to silence his critics next year. He’s taken a lot of heat in the Toronto market after signing a six-year deal worth an average of $6.9 million per year against the salary cap. Many fans voiced their disapproval of the deal and Nylander’s play this year and feel he should be traded to make salary cap room for free agents such as Mitch Marner, Kasperi Kapanen and Andreas Johnsson.

He’s now hoping to regain his scoring touch and confidence during the World championships and so far it’s been working. There are many others who play in the World Championships to fine tune their games and gain confidence such as Nylander’s Toronto teammate Nikita Zaitsev of Russia, but it can actually backfire for some players. It’s not unusual for several players to show up in Europe for the tournament and fail to produce at the same level they have done in the NHL.

The level of competition at the tournament can be quite high even though there are several weak teams in the mix every year. Players who have no pro experience are often taken aback at the skill level and sometimes struggle. It’s interesting to note that Jack Hughes has been struggling with the USA with no points at all on his team’s 17 goals while Kaapo Kakko leads the tournament with five goals even though Finland has scored just nine times in their three games.

As mentioned earlier, Hughes is likely to be selected first overall by the New Jersey Devils in this summer’s draft with Kakko being his chief competition. However, will the scouts have second thoughts if Kakko runs amok at the World Championships and Hughes continues to struggle? It’s possible that Hughes may slip down the rankings in some people’s eyes if the current trend continues.

There’s still a long way to go in the tournament though so we’ll check back in a dew days to update the proceedings.

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