There is always something to watch for when NHL personnel―whether it's the players, prospects or coaches―engage in on-ice competition of any sort. For the followers of franchises who do not make the Stanley Cup playoffs, the IIHF World Championship is the tournament to turn to.
The 2013 World Championship culminated Sunday in a bronze medal for the United States, silver for Switzerland and gold for Sweden. For the two teams who won their final tilt on Sunday, the topmost storyline sits in the cage, where a couple of young goaltenders have elevated their stock as NHL starters in the making.
Other programs that came up short of hardware have their share of individual storylines that the fans of NHL teams should have been monitoring. Furthermore, with the next Winter Olympics approaching in nine months, participating stars in the World Championship have something to pick up on if they go to Sochi.
With summer suddenly harder to keep pushing off for the better part of the global hockey community, here are the top 10 ice chips to pick up from the World Championship and potentially revisit next season.
The 2011-12 Phoenix Coyotes might have been a one-year wonder, but goaltender Mike Smith demonstrated wide horizons with his tournament performance for Team Canada.
Granted, it was only a four-game sample, but given the competition, Smith reinforced the notion that he can play brilliantly with a decent 18-set of skaters in front of him. Part of the reason behind his statistical nosedive between 2011-12 and 2012-13 was Phoenix’s rash of key offseason losses.
In the midst of backstopping a decidedly better Canadian club―featuring Luke Schenn and P.K. Subban on defense and Claude Giroux, Taylor Hall and Steven Stamkos up front―Smith posted a 1.65 GAA and .944 save percentage.
In addition, it is fair to assert that colleague Devan Dubnyk garnered the less qualitative half of the eight-game workload. Smith answered the task of dueling with the Swiss, Czechs and Swedes (twice) and never allowed more than two regulation goals in a single game.
Although there is still no formal confirmation, the latest news is certainly encouraging as to the NHL once again sending its world-class talent to the Olympics.
Assuming that happens, the reigning gold medalists from Canada could be fielding a vastly different lineup from the squad that celebrated a title in 2010. Many prime candidates for first-time Olympic participation dazzled at the 2013 World Championship.
For starters, the aforementioned Stamkos piloted his countrymen in the scoring department with a 7-5-12 transcript in eight games. Giroux was a nominally distant second with a precise point-per-game pace (three goals, five helpers).
Andrew Ladd, a two-time Stanley Cup champion and currently the valiant captain of the Winnipeg Jets, placed third on the Canadian production leaderboard with three goals and three assists. His exemplary leadership ought to earn him meticulous consideration for a depth role on the Olympic team.
At the back-end, the hit-happy Schenn led his fellow defensemen with a plus-four rating, having been on the ice for two opposing even-strength goals in 115 minutes played. And while he saw action in only one game, Subban is a can’t-miss candidate as well.
Besides their individual output, each of those players should also bring an indispensible element of unfulfilled hunger. Not only do they have yet to play for Olympic gold, but their latest international endeavor ended in a bitter shootout loss to Sweden.
Team Russia gave Canada unenviable company among traditional hockey superpowers who faltered in the World Championship Quarterfinals. An 8-3 loss to the United States in that portion of the tournament will likely be the most recent international outing for the likes of Ilya Kovalchuk and Alex Ovechkin when and if they reconvene for the Olympics.
Specifically, it would be the 2014 Sochi Olympics, on their own ice. That is the first Olympic tournament since 2010, when they brooked a similar 7-3 quarterfinal loss at the hands of the Canadians.
In light of their medal-less World Championship run, the host Russians should carry an arguably greater motivational reference point to the next IIHF event than that of Canada.
No telling if they will all be back in Avalanche attire after the salary cap slims down to $64.3 million next season, according to capgeek.com, but there has been no shortage of headline generators currently on the Colorado roster.
Matt Duchene was named Team Canada’s player of the game three times in eight opportunities during their World Championship run. Fellow forward Peter Stastny garnered the same laurel twice on Team USA while defenseman Matt Hunwick earned it once.
Erik Johnson, Hunwick’s Team USA and Colorado blue-line colleague finished third among American defensemen in cumulative ice time. In those 179 minutes and 16 seconds, he collected four points and maintained a plus-five rating.
For the champion Swedes, Colorado captain Gabriel Landeskog chipped in three goals and an assist and accrued 18 penalty minutes. The latter is not an inherently savory statistic, but it is a sign that he has retained his competitive aggression as he moves further away from a concussion this past winter.
In tandem with the anticipation that comes with owning the first overall draft pick, all of this Avalanche-related news is proof that NHL fanbases need not let up on their following, even if their team is absent from the playoffs.
Even in the wake of that development, Sacco went forward with his international coaching duties as planned. Only he knows for sure if his dismissal from Denver percolated any extra motivation, but it definitely did not trip up him or his players.
Over the 10 combined games in the preliminary and playoff rounds, Sacco coached the Americans to six regulation wins, three regulation losses and a bronze-winning shootout triumph over Finland.
Could those results, not to mention the timing, hasten Sacco’s return to a professional bench, whether that is in the NHL or AHL and as a head or assistant skipper?
There is no reason why that should not happen. If anything, this sequence of events is a testament to Sacco's ability to respond in the face of a setback.
Embarking on his first sample of substantive action with NHL-caliber allies and adversaries, Anaheim goaltending prospect John Gibson, as outlined by his stats on Elite Prospects, left an enticing impression, to say the least.
The 19-year-old saw action in five World Championship games and retained a stat line not unlike the one he percolated in the World Junior Championship less than five months ago.
Gibson seized full control of the American crease after stamping 31 saves on 32 shots against Finland and a 30-save shutout of Germany in the preliminary round.
For the playoffs, he amassed 31 saves on 34 shots (including 7-of-8 by Ovechkin) versus Russia, 28 saves on 30 shots by the Swiss and 36 saves on 38 Finnish shots in the bronze-medal game.
Per USA Today columnist Kevin Allen, Sacco explained starting Gibson over Ben Bishop to commence the playoffs as follows:
Bishop has played well in this tournament. But when I looked back at it, I thought Finland and Germany were both big games for us that we had to win and Gibson played extremely well in those games and showed a lot of poise.
With Viktor Fasth and Jonas Hiller both committed through 2013-14, according to capgeek.com, the Ducks can at least give Gibson a few slivers of big-league play amidst next year’s 82-game slate. But otherwise, he should log more professional game experience and confidence by spending the better part of at least one season in the AHL.
More eyes should be on him during that development stint in the wake of his World Championship performance.
American forward Craig Smith, coming off his second season as a Nashville Predator, concocted a five-game production streak between May 5 and May 12. He sandwiched a hat trick against Finland with four single-assist performances for his longest streak since an identical five-game thrill ride Jan. 21-Feb. 2, 2012.
During the intervening 15 months, the 23-year-old Smith had not mustered any sets of productive outings longer than two with the Preds. After spending the lockout with KalPa and Milwaukee, he brooked a sophomore slide of 12 points in 44 ventures with Nashville in 2013.
Entering Saturday’s semifinal action in Stockholm, he had already matched that 12-point output in eight twirls with Team USA, going scoreless merely twice. By the tournament’s end, he had amassed a 4-10-14 scoring log over 10 games in 16 days.
That just might be the foundation Smith needs to justify his salary spike from $900,000 to $2 million, as shown on capgeek.com, when it takes effect next season.
He must have a bounce-back 2013-14 campaign and consistently exemplify, as it says in head coach Barry Trotz’s profile, the “aggressive system based on strong forechecking” if the Predators are to kick ice chips over a down year.
Another Predator turned in a head-turner en route to a medal for his country. Defenseman Roman Josi entered Sunday’s championship tilt having already tallied eight points and a plus-two rating in nine games for a surprising Swiss squad.
His situation in the World Championship was not much different. On a Swiss team with only four rostered players bearing NHL experience―the others being defender Raphael Diaz, goalie Martin Gerber and forward Nino Niederreiter―he logged an unsurpassed 201:25 of ice time.
With all of the NHL and IIHF experience he has amassed over the past four months, Josi should be roundly braced all the more come autumn. That can only be good news for the Nashville faithful, who should not want to settle for anything less than reckonable playoff contention.
As part of his last of several fleeting observations in an online column on Friday, Ken Campbell of The Hockey News boldly proclaimed, “Jhonas Enroth’s strong play for Sweden in the World Championship is greasing the skids for Ryan Miller’s exit from Buffalo this off-season.”
Campbell posted that musing before the 24-year-old Swedish Sabres stopper even embarked on what must have been a pressured-filled weekend, vying to backstop his country to gold in front of their home crowd.
In turn, he finished his World Championship with a 1.15 GAA, .956 save percentage and two shutouts and only eight goals-against in seven appearances.
Perhaps, this is what the folks at Elite Prospects were getting at when, as part of Enroth’s profile, they wrote, “He moves well from side to side and has a noticeable winner’s instinct.”
Enroth has now logged three full seasons as Miller’s backup in Buffalo, and, this past year, eclipsed him in both GAA and save percentage. Therein sits a difference between the implications of his World Championship brilliance and that of the less-seasoned Gibson.
If Enroth did not have a foundation to stand upon before this tournament, he should certainly have a tangible token of conviction going forward as he seeks a greater role in the NHL.
A Saturday report from the Canadian Press holds that Eric Staal will need three months to recover from a knee ailment sustained on Thursday. The Carolina Hurricanes captain endured a sprained MCL from a hit via Swedish blueliner Alexander Edler during the World Championship Quarterfinals.
Barring any changes, Staal’s recovery timetable should have him ready to start the next training camp on time.
Naturally, it would have been better had Staal been spared that preventable injury in the first place, but the prognosis could have been worse from a hockey standpoint.
On the flip side, Edler incurred a fitting penalty for his injurious action, receiving a two-game suspension that kept him out of the semifinals and finals. Because the Swedes went on to garner gold without him, this meant his egregious foul in the quarterfinal cost him the privilege of contributing to and enjoying a winning cause.
Had the Swedes fallen short, he would have been left to wonder if he could have helped them to a better result had he stayed within safer boundaries when he approached the puck-carrying Staal.
That is precisely how justice should work in a competitive tournament such as this.