The lack of superstars at this year’s World Championship has made it one of the most balanced tournaments in years. In a normal year, you might have players like Anže Kopitar, Logan Couture, Jack Eichel or Miro Heiskanen but due to the COVID-19 pandemic and shortened offseason, most NHL players have chosen to stay home. This has caused major upsets throughout the first few days of the tournament and may even result in a top nation missing the playoff rounds.
One major theme through the first three days of this tournament has been a country beating another country for the first time. So far, this has occurred on five occasions, including when Latvia beat Canada and Kazakhstan beat Finland. Although some may consider these losses embarrassing, they are actually a positive. They show the growth and development of hockey programs around the world. They also introduce us to new heroes like Kazakhstan’s Nikita Boyarkin, Great Britan’s Liam Kirk or Italy’s Daniel Frank, who all are players that are known in their own countries but may be overshadowed by the competition they are playing against.
It is not just first-time victories that have been shocking so far this tournament. Games that have traditionally been blowouts in the past have been a lot closer than expected this year. The 14th-ranked Great Britain team fought hard but lost 2-1 against the ninth-ranked Slovaks; seventh-place Switzerland barely got past 12th place Denmark 1-0; and that same Swiss team was able to beat the fourth ranked Czechs 5-2. This level of competition makes the tournament exciting and every game a must-watch. You never know when an upset happen or a special first-ever victory may occur.
Former NHLers and Young Stars Making a Difference
There are a lot of former NHLers in this tournament that are making a difference. You have former Bruins forward Peter Cehlárik who is lighting it up for Slovakia, former Vancouver Canuck Nicklas Jensen who had a hat trick for Denmark versus Sweden and former LA King Danny Taylor of Belarus who shut out Sweden. It has been an opportunity for fans to relieve these players’ glory days, while also discussing what would have happened if these players had stayed in North America.
You also have the next wave of talent on display at the World Championships. Players like USA’s Jason Robertson, Germany’s Lukas Reichel, Latvia’s Matiss Kivlenieks and Finland’s Anton Lundell are all players playing important roles for their teams. With the lack of superstars available this year, it has allowed these players to step up into key roles for their countries. Not only do fans get a blast from the past, but they also get a glimpse into the future.
Could Be a Disappointing Year for Canada
The tournament is relatively young but those who expected medals out of Canada may be left disappointed at the end. They just are not deep enough this year. Canada’s top point-getter in the NHL was Connor Brown with 35 points. The only other player to crack 30 points in the NHL this year was Maxime Comtois. They have young players like Cole Perfetti, Liam Foudy, Braden Schneider and Owen Power who can make a difference, but these are guys who have never played in tournaments like this. Depth is going to be a real problem for this team.
One other question mark is the goaltending. You have Darcey Kuemper, Adin Hill and Mikey DiPietro with only Kuemper having experience with the senior team. He was the starter in 2018 when Canada won silver, but that was mostly due to Connor McDavid registering 17 points in 10 games. DiPietro was also part of that 2018 team, but never played. This is a very young and inexperienced defensive group – only Sean Walker, Troy Stetcher and Colin Miller have over 150 games of experience in the NHL so the goaltending will need to be sharp. If not, it could mean crashing out of the quarterfinals or potentially missing the playoff stage altogether.
Must Watch Hockey
Despite the fact that teams like Canada and the USA are struggling, almost every game this tournament has been exciting. We have seen stunning performances and emotional victories. Despite the early start time and occasional conflict with the NHL playoffs, hockey fans should be tuning in regardless of if your country is playing or not.
Adam is excited to be joining The Hockey Writers as part of the Seattle Kraken and Vancouver Canucks team. His work can also be found at area51sportsnet.com where he covers the Vancouver Giants of the Western Hockey League.