The International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) World Championships have often been considered a consolation postseason for non-playoff players. However, coming off a shortened season, the 2021 tournament had a different feel to it. With fewer NHL players available, there were more opportunities for young players to gain valuable experience at the International level and this experience will go a long way in boosting the success of the Detroit Red Wings’ rebuild.
Troy Stecher — Golden Growth
When Stecher was signed in October 2020, he was expected to play on a stopgap contract and likely be selected by the Seattle Kraken in the expansion draft this summer. While often slated in the bottom-six, Stecher finished the season tied for third in scoring among Red Wings defensemen with 11 points in 44 games. Unfortunately, he only played 12:02 on the power play, which limited his chance to contribute offensively.
Stecher was used a lot more often by Team Canada head coach Gerard Gallant. He led all Canadians in total shifts and minutes played with 294 and 221:37, respectively. Although his time on the power play was not recorded, Stecher was often relied on during important moments late in games and was named one of the team’s alternate captains.
This will go a long way in helping his development and his confidence. Gallant also showed a lot of trust in him by pairing him with Owen Power, the likely first overall pick in this year’s draft. The 27-year-old Stecher has gone from undrafted free agent to mentor in only five NHL seasons.
Filip Hronek, Filip Zadina & Jakub Vrana — Czech Mates
Not surprisingly, Hronek led the way as the chief minute-eater for the Czech Republic. As the only player to average more than 20:00 per game on his team (behind him, forward Jan Kovar averaged exactly 20:00 per game), Hronek played a full period more than Kovar while averaging 23:15 in eight games. Hronek and his defensive partner, David Musil, were also the only players to log more than 190 shifts for the Czechs during the tournament with 223 and 211 shifts, respectively.
Perhaps more importantly, Zadina and Vrana continued to build on the chemistry they’ve formed in Detroit and looked comfortable on a line together.
Zadina and Vrana each posted two goals and two assists — including a power-play tally each — while Zadina registered more total minutes and shifts of the two. The experience from international competition will be great for their chemistry as they will likely play on a line together next season. Whether they are on the top line centered by Dylan Larkin, or if they slot in somewhere in the middle six, having Vrana and Zadina together will bring back memories of watching the “Euro Twins.”
Moritz Seider — Defensive Dominance
Thanks to Seider, Detroit’s sixth-overall pick in the 2019 Draft, Red Wings fans had a special interest in Germany’s success at the tournament. Seider, who is considered the Red Wings’ top prospect, garnered a lot of attention after being named the SHL Junior Player of the Year and Best Defenseman in the league this season while on loan to Rögle BK.
Not only did the 20-year-old live up to expectations, but his maturity on the blue line also helped lead Germany to their best result since 2010. His five assists, along with four points and plus-6 rating from his teammate Korbinian Holzer earned both players a selection to the All-Star Team. Given the media attention on Team Canada’s Owen Power, it was even more impressive that Seider took home the award for Best Defenseman.
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While the World Championships is not the same as playing a full season in the NHL, it is promising how much growth these players showed during a short tournament. In just 17 days, Red Wings fans saw a junior player develop into a professional, watched as players built chemistry with teammates, and witnessed a captain navigate through adversity.
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Born and raised in Michigan, Kyle Knopp started playing hockey when he was 3 years old. Knopp has played, coached, or worked at every level of ice hockey — including three seasons in the Ontario Hockey League and two seasons with the Detroit Red Wings where he was part of the Stanley Cup Championship team in 2008. He covers the Detroit Red Wings, hosts The Grind Line and THW Podcasts, and is the editor of THW’s Morning Skate newsletter. You can follow him on Twitter @THW_Knopp.