The World Hockey Championships aren’t exactly the biggest deal in North America to say the least. With the Stanley Cup playoffs on, most fans are still cheering on their favourite teams/players or casually watching just for fun. For NHLers, the WHC means their team missed the playoffs or was eliminated in round one but still want to continue their season playing for their country. Results at the WHC have not been pretty in recent years for Team Canada but with the offensive firepower this year’s team has, there are no excuses for Canada not to be in the running for gold.
Up front, Canada has a murderer’s row of offensive weapons. The team is led by captain Sidney Crosby, who is making his first WHC appearance since 2006 where he dominated as an 18-year-old and despite recent criticisms of his play dropping off and lack of playoff success, he is still one of, if not the best player in the world.
After Crosby, Claude Giroux, Tyler Seguin, Matt Duchene, Nathan MacKinnon, Taylor Hall and Jason Spezza can all do damage on the scoresheet and the speed the players bring is tantalizing. Even some of the other players like Ryan O’Reilly, Sean Couturier, Jordan Eberle and Tyler Ennis do a lot of the heavy lifting for their respective NHL clubs and still produce points.
The defence corps doesn’t have a lot of big names but is underrated in some ways. Dan Hamhuis is the lone Olympian on the roster but a lot of the defencemen on the team play big minutes in the NHL. Brent Burns has played at the WHC three times previously. Aaron Ekblad is a Calder Trophy nominee after having an excellent rookie year with Florida. Tyson Barrie is arguably Colorado’s best defenceman while Jake Muzzin doesn’t get the headlines playing for a deep Los Angeles squad.
Canada’s biggest weakness in terms of depth would be goaltending. Mike Smith struggled mightily this season playing behind a rebuilding Arizona Coyotes squad. Smith hasn’t looked like the same goalie since his outstanding 2011-12 year. In the backup role is Martin Jones, who played only 15 games this season for Los Angeles. He has a Stanley Cup ring albeit as a backup to Jonathan Quick.
The squad is coached by Todd McLellan who despite a rough season in San Jose, is still a very good coach. The biggest challenge for Canada will be not to buy into their own hype and play responsible hockey. Despite the multitude of scoring options, the team can’t simply score their way to a gold medal.
The World Hockey Championships may not seem like a big deal but to the people involved, they have a lot of implications. The tournament can affect a player’s chances for the Olympics while players from other countries use the WHC as a showcase if they have NHL aspirations. Tournament results dictate qualification and seeding for next year’s competition in addition to the 2018 Olympics.
Canada has an excellent chance to make a statement at this year’s WHC. Canada has dominated the Olympics the last two years while the national junior team claimed their first gold in five years this past January. Adding a WHC gold would improve Canada’s place in the world hockey rankings and highlight underrated players away from their NHL teams.