The Tampa Bay Lightning lead all NHL teams with 12 participants at this year’s World Cup of Hockey, taking place from Sept. 17 to Oct. 1 at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto.
The tournament is being held for the first time since 2004 and with a deep playoff run for the Lightning this past postseason, some players will be entering the tournament after spending the summer rehabilitating injuries. Perhaps the most intriguing stories for Lightning players participating in the World Cup revolve around captain Steven Stamkos and starting goaltender Ben Bishop.
Stamkos missed all but one game of the Lightning’s run to the Eastern Conference Final with a blood clot, and will represent Canada after missing the 2014 Winter Olympics because of an injury. He was this summer’s most talked about player pending free agency before signing an eight-year contract extension with the Lightning on June 29.
Bishop will compete for the starting goaltender role on Team USA after spending the first half of his summer rehabilitating a high-ankle and shin sprain he suffered during the postseason. Bishop, who is just days removed from publicly acknowledging he believed he was close to being traded to the Calgary Flames earlier this offseason, will put aside rumors about his future with the Lightning to represent the United States at the World Cup.
In part one of this two-part series, we take a look at six Lightning players participating in the eight-team international tournament.
Steven Stamkos – Team Canada
After a broken leg caused him to miss the 2014 Winter Olympics (and a gold medal), Stamkos will use that as motivation when he takes the ice for Team Canada at this year’s World Cup. When Canada opened training camp on Monday, head coach Mike Babcock revealed line combinations that showed Stamkos and the New York Islanders’ John Tavares being centered by the Anaheim Ducks’ Ryan Getzlaf.
Stamkos and Tavares have a long history that goes further than just being former number one picks in their respective draft classes. The two players played on the same amateur hockey team growing up and are two of the NHL’s most dominant young stars. When you think about the power-play unit Babcock ran at Canada’s recent practice—made up of the Stamkos line with Sidney Crosby and Drew Doughty— you realize just how exciting this tournament will be.
The World Cup will give Stamkos the chance to play against some of the world’s best before returning to Tampa to join the Lightning at training camp. Stamkos has not played in game action since Mar. 31, save for less than 12 minutes during the Lightning’s Game 7 loss to the Penguins in the Eastern Conference Final – a timeframe of more than five months. If Stamkos can put together a strong World Cup tournament, he will have some momentum as the Lightning seek to take the next step in 2016-17.
Ben Bishop – Team USA
Ben Bishop enters the World Cup having not played in a game since being stretchered off the ice during Game 1 of the 2016 Eastern Conference Final. Bishop, 29, said he feels good entering the tournament and is ready to compete for the starting role. The two-time Vezina Trophy finalist last represented his country at the 2013 IIHF World Championship where he backed up John Gibson in route to a bronze medal.
Bishop joins Jonathan Quick (Los Angeles Kings) and Cory Schneider (New Jersey Devils) on Team USA, and the three players combine for one of the strongest goaltending groups in the eight-team tournament. Despite the competition and his injuries this past postseason, Bishop is arguably the favorite to win the starting role for Team USA and has the chance to backstop the United States to its first World Cup since Team USA defeated Canada in 1996. If Bishop earns the starting role at training camp, the tournament will give him a chance to fine tune his game in preparation for the start of the Lightning’s regular season.
Anton Stralman – Team Sweden
Despite emerging as one of the league’s most reliable defensemen since arriving in Tampa as a free agent in July 2014, Anton Stralman has not played in an international tournament for Sweden since the 2009 World Championships. At the 2010 and 2014 Winter Olympics, Stralman was still a relatively unknown defenseman adjusting to the NHL game and life in North America. Fast forward to today and he and teammate Victor Hedman form one of the strongest defensive pairings in the league. The decision to pair the two at the World Cup seems like a no-brainer for Sweden’s head coach, Rikard Gronborg.
After breaking his left leg on March 25, Stralman has said he feels good and is ready for game action entering the World Cup. Despite returning to the Lightning lineup for Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Final against the Penguins, Stralman did not look like he was 100 percent. This summer has been spent rehabilitating his injury and the World Cup and immediately puts Stralman into fast-paced game action.
Victor Hedman – Team Sweden
Victor Hedman was a surprising snub from Team Sweden’s roster at the 2014 Winter Olympics and will certainly use that as motivation at this year’s World Cup. Since the 2014 Olympics, Hedman has received national attention in two deep playoff runs with the Lighting the past two seasons. The smooth skating Swede is now a seven-year NHL veteran who has emerged as an offensive and defensive force for the Lightning. This summer, the Lightning rewarded him with an eight-year, $63 million contract extension.
At the international level, Hedman has represented his country at the 2007 and 2008 Under-18 World Junior Championships, the 2008 and 2009 World Junior Championships and the 2010 and 2012 World Championships. Hedman has won two silver medals and two bronze medals but is still seeking his first title as a member of Sweden’s national team. With defensemen like Hedman, Stralman, Erik Karlsson (Ottawa Senators) and Oliver Ekman-Larsson (Arizona Coyotes), Sweden boasts one of the tournament’s best stable of blueliners.
Jonathan Drouin – Team North America
Jonathan Drouin enters the World Cup on the heels of a 2015-16 postseason where he emerged as one of the Lightning’s best players. In 17 playoff games, Drouin tallied 14 points and showed a work ethic and maturity level that some believed were lacking when he was sent down to the AHL earlier on in the regular season. Drouin, 21, joins a North American team made up of the best players from the United States and Canada who are under the age of 23 as of Oct. 1. Given the amount of talent from those countries, the North American squad is built around speed and has just as good a chance as any of the tournament’s other seven teams to win the World Cup.
Drouin has previously represented Canada in four international tournaments and averaged more than a point per game in 22 contests. Team North America reunites Drouin with a friend and former junior teammate Nathan MacKinnon, who last played together for Canada at the 2013 World Junior Championships. Drouin and MacKinnon formed one of junior hockey’s best 1-2 combinations in two seasons as linemates for the Halifax Mooseheads (QMJHL), capped by winning the 2013 Memorial Cup.
Team North America’s coaching staff also includes Lightning head coach Jon Cooper who will serve as an assistant coach at the World Cup. Earlier this summer, Cooper praised Drouin’s talent level and said he believes the sky is the limit for the young forward.
Valtteri Filppula – Team Finland
Valtteri Filppula will serve as an alternate captain for Team Finland at the World Cup and could use the tournament to show he can still be effective as he enters his fourth season with the Lightning.
After arriving in Tampa Bay as a free agent before the 2013-14 season, Filppula registered 25 goals and 33 assists in 75 games but has averaged just 10 goals per season the past two years. Filppula provides veteran leadership for a young Lightning team, but a strong performance at the World Cup could be used as a bargaining tool in the event Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman seeks to trade the remaining two years of Filppula’s five-year, $25 million contract.
Filppula, 32, has represented Finland on the international stage on five previous occasions. At the 2010 Winter Olympics, he scored three goals in six games and helped Finland to a bronze medal.
On Saturday, part two of this two-part preview of the Lightning’s World Cup participants will be released, including previews on Team Russia’s Nikita Kucherov, Vladislav Namestnikov, Nikita Nesterov and Andrei Vasilevskiy and Team Czech Republic’s Ondrej Palat and Andrej Sustr.
The Hockey Writers coverage of the World Cup of Hockey 2016 is being brought to you by PrimeSport, the official Fan Travel & Hospitality Package Partner of the World Cup of Hockey 2016.
Steven is a lawyer and writer with a passion for the game of hockey. He’s the Lead Writer covering the Tampa Bay Lightning with THW. He’s also been press credentialed through the Lightning since 2016. His work has been published at The Fourth Period, LightningInsider.com, Bolt Prospects, The Sports Daily Network, U.S. College Hockey Online and College Hockey News. He’s had radio appearances on TSN 690 in Montreal, Lightning Power Play Live and multiple podcasts to give insight and analysis on the team. He can be reached on Twitter @StevenDiOssi and by email at email@example.com.