The World Cup of Hockey will be taking place this September, serving as an appetizer for a full slate of NHL games. The final rosters for the World Cup teams were announced today, leaving months for speculation about the best linemate fits and who should start in net for each respective team.
In almost every international tournament the superstars come out to play, but there are always players that use the stage to jolt forward into the crux of the NHL scene. In the 2014 Olympics, Mikael Granlund finished second in points to bolster his standing in the eyes of NHL scouts. Carey Price won the gold medal, taking him from “strong talent” status to being one of the elite goaltenders in the NHL. There is a lot to be gained individually, and each team has a player that could take the opportunity of the World Cup to advance their reputation.
Team Finland won the World Junior Championships before finishing second at the World Championships, bolstering their case as one of the elite hockey countries. Being selected for team Finland means being selected by a power that was already strong, but is rising to new heights at the same time. Finland’s strength may be at the back end, where Rasmus Ristolainen will help lead the charge.
Ristolainen has played internationally for Finland in six different tournaments, but failed to make the cut for the 2014 Olympic team. Playing for the Buffalo Sabres in the NHL, Ristolainen quietly broke out offensively in the 2015-16 campaign, scoring 41 points in 82 games for the developing Sabres. He led the Sabres in ice time by over three minutes, serving as a clear-cut No. 1 defenseman for his team.
Still, when considering the top young defensemen in the NHL, his name is not one often brought up. Ristolainen’s play for a non-playoff team in consecutive seasons was impressive, but the lack of attention surrounding the organization led to an unwarranted lack of attention surrounding the player. A strong performance in the World Cup could plant Ristolainen’s name firmly among the top defensemen in the league.
Team Czech Republic has only one player that has never played an NHL game on their roster: Michal Kempny. Kempny will be relied on for important minutes against some of the brightest talent in the NHL, giving the defenseman an opportunity to showcase his talent to NHL teams. Kempny recently signed his first NHL deal with the Chicago Blackhawks, who have been known in recent years to stockpile European talent and pick and choose which sticks in the NHL.
An outstanding performance from Kempny on the national stage would be a message to the Blackhawks that Kempny could handle playing against top talent, while also announcing he is coming to the NHL with momentum.
Team Russia has a mixture of NHL and KHL talent on their roster for the World Cup. The Cup could be an opportunity for the KHL talent to catch the eyes of NHL scouts, but the focus here is on a player that has already signed with an NHL team. Nikita Zaitsev was once the fourth overall selection in the KHL Draft, and he did not disappoint after joining the league.
He was a regular offensive force for a defenseman after coming into his own in his third season in the KHL. Defensively, Zaitsev was tasked with shutting down opposing offenses for CSKA Moscow, who won the Continental Cup. Zaitsev led the defense of the Cup Champions, and now he is hoping to help carry the load for a World Cup Champion team. As for where he stands in the NHL, Zaitsev recently inked an NHL deal with the Toronto Maple Leafs, whom he should start the 2016-17 NHL season with. NHL teams will likely know what they are up against following the World Cup.
Team Sweden has made some bold and some questionable roster decisions over the past few international tournaments, including leaving John Klingberg off of the 2016 World Cup roster. Klinberg’s exclusion means he will not be able to play with Jakob Silfverberg, a controversial selection by the Swedish brass.
Silfverberg was considered one of the headliners in the Bobby Ryan trade, but has not yet panned out for the Anaheim Ducks. Due to his being a regular in the NHL at a young age, it is easy to forget that Silfverberg is only 25 and still developing his offensive game. When explaining the selection of Silfverberg, coach Rikard Gronberg described the Ducks forwards as “(a) great penalty killer who scored 20 goals.”
He was selected over the likes of Mika Zibanejad and Rickard Rakell among others, so he will have to perform to the best of his ability and then some to show that his inclusion was not a misstep by Swedish management. Look for Silfverberg to be given every opportunity to succeed, playing in all types of roles. The ball is in his court, or should we say the puck is on his ice.