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American stars and a Russian dream team: Why this year’s hockey World Championship will be one to watch

Source: Meduza
Naina Helen Jama / EPA / Scanpix / LETA

On May 10, the 2019 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship kicked off in Slovakia. The tournament began a week later than it usually would, landing after the second round of the NHL playoffs. Because most of that tournament’s favorites dropped out of the playoffs unexpectedly early, a late start to the World Championship means the competition will be packed with an unprecedented number of strong players. Their presence should make this tournament the most interesting international competition in a long while.

Russia has a real dream team

The Russian national team probably goes into this tournament as the main favorite for the gold. Just listing the achievements of this year’s team members should be enough to prove that fact: Nikita Kucherov scored 128 points in the NHL regular season (a huge record for Russians in the NHL) and will almost certainly be named this season’s MVP. His Tampa teammate Andrei Vasilevskiy earned 39 wins and was likely this season’s best goalie. Nikita Gusev and Kirill Kaprizov both earned leading scorer awards from the KHL, and Alexander Ovechkin won the NHL snipers’ competition for the eighth time in his career.

Highlights from Nikita Kucherov’s 2018/2019 season
Connor Matthews

The team also boasts a series of players who need no introduction: Evgeni Malkin, Ovechkin’s teammate Evgeny Kuznetsov, Florida Panthers star Evgenii Dadonov, and Ilya Kovalchuk, who was named captain of the Los Angeles Kings despite an unsuccessful season there and will probably be of some use to the team, at least in the locker room.

Given that the NHL decided not to run the World Cup in 2020 and the fact that it may not allow its players to compete in the 2022 Olympics, it could be the case that this World Championship will be our only chance to see what Kucherov, Ovechkin, Malkin, Kuznetsov, and Vasilevskiy can do when they’re all on the same team.

Canada doesn’t have Crosby or McDavid, but it’s still Canada

Canada’s two main stars, Connor McDavid and Sidney Crosby, didn’t join the national team this year: one was injured in the last match of the NHL regular season (which, by the way, didn’t count for anything), and the other decided that he preferred a vacation to the World Championship. Nonetheless, Canada has so many high-class players that even the absence of its leaders won’t do much to hurt the offensive power of the team. The Canadians’ main offensive star in this tournament was set to be John Tavares of the Toronto Maple Leafs, but he suffered an oblique injury during training and will not compete. However, Canada will have Mark Stone, Jonathan Marchessault, and Sean Couturie.

Highlights from John Tavares’s 2018/2019 season
Matthew Joseph

Team Canada’s weak spot is defense, and it will have no superstars to speak of in that respect this year. That said, the team has one of the best sets of goalies in the championship: veteran Matt Murray, who won the Stanley Cup twice with the Pittsburgh Penguins, and the younger Carter Hart, who has had a very strong season with the Flyers.

The U.S. has its strongest lineup in history, including the likely number one draft pick

The United States, which used to send younger players to the World Championships more readily than most teams, has changed its approach to the tournament recently and seems to come up with a stronger team than ever with each passing year. The U.S. seems to have brought the best players it possibly could have to Slovakia, including recognized superstars Patrick Kane, Jack Eichel, and Johnny Gaudreau, as well as two breakout team leaders from this NHL season: Dylan Larkin and Alex DeBrincat.

Also among the Americans is 17-year-old Jack Hughes, who will likely be chosen first in this July’s NHL draft. This will be Hughes’s third world championship this season: he has already managed to compete for the U.S. in the youth championship and the junior championship. In the latter, he scored 20 points in seven matches, breaking Ovechkin’s seemingly unbreakable record.

Jack Hughes escapes three opponents to score a goal
Hockey Prospects Center

And don’t forget about Sweden!

Against the star-studded Russian and American rosters and Canada’s default strength, the Swedish team might seem relatively weak if you just look at the names. Many of the country’s best players didn’t make it to this year’s championship, including Nicklas Bäckström, Victor Hedman, Filip Forsberg, and Mika Zibanejad.

Nonetheless, the Swedes will still be in the running for the title: first of all, they’ve got SHL Rookie of the Year Elias Pettersson playing forward, top defenders Mattias Ekholm and Oliver Ekman-Larsson, and the great goalie Henrik Lundqvist. Second of all, Sweden managed to win the 2017 and 2018 World Championships despite less-than-optimal lineups.

Henrik Lundqvist’s best saves of the year
Battle of New York

Bonus! Check out Team Russia’s schedule

May 10, 5:15 PM Moscow Standard Time: Russia vs. Norway

May 12, 1:15 PM: Russia vs. Austria

May 13, 5:15 PM: Russia vs. the Czech Republic

May 15, 9:15 PM: Russia vs. Italy

May 18, 1:15 PM: Russia vs. Latvia

May 19, 9:15 PM: Russia vs. Switzerland

May 21, 9:15 PM: Russia vs. Sweden

May 23 (almost certainly): Quarterfinals

May 25 (probably): Semifinals

May 26 (we hope!): Finals

Grigory Levchenko

Translation by Hilah Kohen