We would all rather be watching our Habs players play in the playoffs right now, but we can get a look at a few of them over the next couple of weeks in the World Championships. Although if the Habs were to lose a game in triple overtime like the Caps did last night I may have had a heart attack. The Canadiens will be sending four players over to Finland and Sweden for this 16 team tournament starting tomorrow (May 4).
The way the tournament works is different, and much simpler than in past years. There are two divisions of eight teams and every team will play seven round robin games, one against each team in its division. The top four teams from each division then advance to the QuarterFinals.
Tomas Plekanec will be wearing the captain’s C for his hometown Czech Republic and will likely be counted on to bring most of the offense along with Boston’s David Krejci, Ottawa’s Milan Michalek and Edmonton’s Ales Hemsky. Watching Plekanec in this tournament last year when he and Jaromir Jagr were dynamite offensively shows what he can really do when given big minutes and good wingers to work with. Which reminds me of watching Saku Koivu play these tournaments with Teemu Selanne on his wing and being among the scoring leaders at the Olympics. No offense to Gionta and Bourque and the rotating door of wingers that Plekanec sees with the habs ( Okay, no offense to Gionta) but I would be willing to bet if Pleks plays this tournament with Michalek and Hemsky as his wingers he would be among the points leaders when the medals are handed out.
The Czech’s don’t have a single NHLer among their D or goalies and not much offense after the aforementioned four. Overall, I see them as a dark horse to even medal.
Alexei Emelin will join Nikita Nikitin as the only 2 NHL Defenceman on the Russian roster. He should play lots of minutes for this team and likely play a shutdown and penalty killing role. It was at this tournament last year where Pierre Gauthier finally convinced Emelin to sign with the Habs, and he also picked up Raphael Diaz during that time. This team is loaded with offense led by Pavel Datsyuk and Evgeni Malkin and also features former Hab first round pick and Russian defector Alexander Perezhogin.
The Russians only real competition on paper for first in their division is a stacked Sweden team. The Russians should make the semifinals without much difficulty and be a serious contender for a gold medal.
Lars Eller joins a Denmark team short on talent that will just be looking to avoid relegation to next years tier 2 tournament. He joins Frans Nielsen of the Islanders, Jannik Hansen of the Canucks and Philip Larsen of the Stars as the only NHLers on the squad. Eller will play a huge role in any success this team will have and it will be interesting to watch him play such an inflated role against teams such as Russia and Sweden. Eller had four assists in three exhibition games and will need to keep up that kind of production.
This team will be right in the mix with Germany, Latvia, Norway and Italy. One of these teams will finish last and thus be relegated, however one of these teams has to finish fourth and participate in the Quarterfinals.
The final Hab taking part in the tournament is fan favorite Max Pacioretty. He will suit up for an underwhelming United States team. No slight against the Americans there but this team played a pre tournament game with its full roster and had a second line of Jim Slater, Kyle Okposo and Ryan Lasch who plays for a team called the Pelicans in the Finnish Elite League. The top line of Pacioretty with Colorado’s Paul Stastny and Anaheim’s Bobby Ryan has the potential to do some major damage in this tournament. After missing the playoffs this year and being hurt during last years playoffs it will be fun to watch Pacioretty on a grand stage playing a prominent role as we expect him to do so for many years with the Habs.
I expect this American team to do well in the round robin portion of the tournament but they will be hard pressed to knock one of Canada, Sweden or Russia off the podium.
P.K. Subban was picked to play for Canada in this tournament which would have been a great test for him to show his stuff to Hockey Canada before the 2014 Olympics. However he was felled by a knee injury in an exhibition game and has returned to Canada. The injury was reported as everything from Markovian to a bruise, but the reality is he needs about two or three weeks off and will be 100%.