2017 World Championship: Group A Preview

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The favourites are pretty clear in Group B as there are three teams that most people would consider to be the clear favourites.

Group B will feature a great battle between the Russians, Americans and Swedes who should all have a shot at the top spot in the group.

The Russians are always a strong team with a group made up of mainly KHL players but players that always rank among the best in the world.

For Sweden, the proud tradition of winning has been lost in the last few years but they still have talent and they are always a team that can make a push for a title.

The Americans will have to prove that they are a deeper group than what many thought as they will be without some of their best young stars.

These three teams will be the focus of the entire group as everyone will be watching them to see who can come out on top.

It is sure to be the talk of the group in Germany but it won’t fully recognise the ability of the other teams in the group that could surprise.

That is the case in the hockey world the way it is right now as there are more teams than ever that are competing but the difference between the contenders and everyone else is growing bigger.

Canada and Russia are no longer the teams that dominate the sport, although they are still always the favourites.

It wasn’t so long ago that the Russians and Canadians were simply competing for the gold every year awhile everyone else fought for the other medals.

With the rise of Finland and Sweden to more consistent teams and the Americans coming into their own, there are more teams actually fighting for the title.

All of these teams have a shot at the Gold but beyond them, most other teams are ignored.

It is true that none are really looking to compete with these top teams but it doesn’t mean that there is no talent on these lower teams.

They are all in the world Championship for a reason and if they aren’t taken seriously they can sneak up on teams and get a surprising win.

The Germans have always been one of those teams and they will try to continue that tradition playing in front of a home crowd.

They are constantly in the fight and have a different style of play than most teams that can sometimes give the better teams problems.

The Danes might not be at the same level of the Germans but they can still run themselves into surprising games.hockey-sidebar

Meanwhile, Latvia and Slovakia have gained a reputation of winning a surprising game almost every year.

Latvia tends to have goaltenders that come out of nowhere to help their teams to a win over rosters that are far better.

IT seems to happen every year and this year they will hope to see the same thing and surprise plenty of teams in the group.

The Slovaks are slightly different as they bring a more North American style of play like the Germans to every tournament.

Usually, their blue line steps up and uses some big bodies that can shut down teams with plenty of talent.

All of these teams have some history of launching upsets and they will all look to launch those upsets at the best times.

There is also an unknown in this group in Italy who haven’t been a consistent team since 2002.

They found themselves near the top of division I and will make their appearance in this year’s tournament.

It could be the biggest surprise of the tournament if they can actually make some noise and compete with the other teams but stranger things have happened.

Group A is an interesting pool of teams as there are some clear favourites in the group of teams but more than those three will make it to the next round.

That is where this gets even more interesting as there are a number of teams that can launch a surprise and have proven to do that over the years.

This year with the top three teams missing out on some of their best players they could be vulnerable for surprising tournaments.

They also could come out on top and not surprise anyone as another tournament starts and those expected great teams hope to make good on their expectations.

Denmark

The Danes aren’t necessarily a powerhouse as they are a hockey nation but one that has spent the majority of their time in international tournaments trying to stay out of relegation. Last year they finally made that important step into the playoffs and didn’t have to worry about relegation for the year. Their successes didn’t go too far though as they took a loss to Finland in the quarter-finals. It was still a step though and the Danes were finally starting to compete with the teams that they need to compete with. They may not be at the level of the top teams but fighting it out with that next level is how they can get better and start to compete more consistently with better teams. Denmark will look to continue their development into something more and make the playoffs for the second year in a row. They will lean heavily on their one NHL star as Nikolaj Ehlers will once again suit up for his country. He is by far the best player on the roster and they will need him to step up in order to have a chance at the playoffs again. They have more talent than just Ehlers as players from Europe like Peter Regin and Jesper Jensen have done well this year in the KHL and in Sweden. They will need to provide some secondary offence to help Ehlers lead the team. Meanwhile, the blue-line will feature mostly players from the Denmark league making them somewhat questionable. Nicholas Jensen leads the group while Jesper B. Jensen brings experience from the KHL and Phillip Bruggisser tries to add points from the blue line. As with any team just trying to get into the playoffs, the Danes will need a good goalie and that responsibility will fall on Simon Nielsen and Sebastian Dahm. Both have international experience but Nielsen put together a better season and will likely get the chance. They are still a team that sits among the second level and they will try to make the playoffs but it is going to be a challenge with the group they are a part of even if they stay out of relegation.

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germany

The Germans will enter the 2017 tournament with a lot of pressure as they will be playing in front of their home crowd. The Germans have always been a team with talent but never team with an overwhelming amount of talent. Their system in the country is getting better though and there are better players making their way to the NHL every year. They now count among some of the top prospects in the game and some young talent in the game. The only problem with a country being this good is that eventually, their best players will find themselves on good NHL teams that play deep into the playoffs. Leon Draisaitl may make his way back home if the Edmonton Oilers can’t move to the next round but for now, he is still playing and attempting to get the Oilers back to the Stanley Cup. The longer their run goes the less likely it is that the Germans see him make an appearance. As they head into the World Championship they will need to look to a few other players to lead them and as they try to continue their momentum from a year ago. The leader for the team will be on defence where Christian Ehrhoff is the clear veteran of the team. He will return to the German team to try to help them launch a surprise again after finishing second in their group last year. He joins Dennis Seidenberg as a pretty solid top pairing for the Germans. Where they might fall off is on offence though without Draisaitl there to provide a top talent. They will lean on Tobias Rieder as their leader while they look to another young star in Frederik Tiffels who is currently playing for Western Michigan in the NCAA. Rieder will provide the experience and Tiffels will provide that youthful energy that could be missing without Draisaitl. In net, they will look to Islanders goaltender Thomas Griess who has plenty of experience in the international game and helped them to a surprising round robin last year. The Germans have a lot of pressure and although they are without their top talent they still have some. Making the playoffs is likely for them but beyond that is the challenge.

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Italy

It is an uphill battle for teams like the Italians who found their way to the top division after finishing second in Division I. It won’t be their first time in the top tier of the tournament as they have spent the last decade moving in and out of the top tier. They have never been able to remain in the top tier once they get there but they are hoping that it changes this time around. The Italians enter a new tournament playing in a tough group with a lot of good teams and they will look to surprise many of them with a roster full of unknown names. That is the fact for many of these teams that straddle the different levels of the tournament as they do not have the system available to produce stars. One of those players is Frederic Cloutier who has put together a good year in the AlpsHL. The Canadian-born goalie looks to take over the starting role but might share time with Andreas Bernard who played three games last year to help the Italians to the top tier. In front of them will be a more Italian based group as Armin Helfer and Alexander Egger are sure to play a leadership role as two of the elder statesmen. They will also be happy to have a big body in Italian-American Thomas Larkin who comes in at 6’5” and 220 lbs and played in the KHL last year. On offence, the Italians look to Canadian-born Giulio Scandella who is the top scorer on the team in his club season this year.  They might get a boost from the blue line as well with Armin Hofer putting up 39 points in the AlpsHL this year. They have scoring depth too but with most players spending their year in the AlpsHL, not much is known about how that will translate to a tournament against the best in the world. The Italians are a sneaky good team but they are in a group with teams that will overcome their best and others that will likely squeak out wins. Relegation could be the future for this team but they will fight to stay out of it and won’t go quietly.

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Latvia

The Latvians could make a case for being everyone’s second-favourite team in the world of international hockey. They seem to inspire fans from around the world every time they skate on the ice and it has everything to do with their ability to frustrate teams. They are not a big country and their hockey system is not necessarily a powerhouse with only a few NHL stars coming from the country. Still every time they step onto the ice they have a chance at surprising someone and more often than not that surprise is started in net. Last year the Latvians took three teams to overtime including Sweden and the Czech Republic, two games that they should have lost easily. Unfortunately, the surprise was entirely in them that year losing all three overtime games and only coming out with one win against Kazakhstan. It was enough to keep them in and in 2017 they will enter another tournament hoping to keep their reputations alive with a young team. They do have some experience despite the young ages and the most important person with that experience is Elvis Merzlikins returns to the team for a second year. He was the difference for so much of the success last year as the young Blue Jackets prospect was the goalie that the team needed. He will take on the majority of the load again this year with the hopes of a repeat performance. In front of him, the Latvians are getting better but they are still not a great group. Arturs Kulda and Kristaps Sotnieks will serve as leaders and the two biggest players on the blue line. Most of the bigger named talent is up front though as both Buffalo’s Zemgus Girgensons and former Ottawa Senator Kaspars Daugavins will lead the scoring push. Both have played against the best and have been successful making them two players that need to be good if the Latvians want to avoid relegation. With a team that has this type of attitude, it is hard to see them hitting relegation as they will not make the playoffs but have another surprise in them while avoiding one of the bottom two spots.

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Russia

Despite the improvement of teams from around the world, there are really only two powerhouses in international hockey. Canada and Russia have been fighting for superiority on the international stage for decades and neither seem to be ready to slow down. The Russians have had issues staying consistent though as they come into every tournament as favourites to win it all but when things don’t go right they tend to falter. They can finish anywhere from out of the playoffs to first place but it is just about their willingness to play. Last year they were on their way to a great tournament before meeting Finland in the semi-finals. The Finns took advantage of the issues they showed in their only round robin loss against the Czechs and took it to the gold medal game. Over the last decade, the Russians have changed their pattern from a quick strike skill team to a big bruiser and it has worked. That all starts from the net. They have produced some great goalies over that period and Andrei Vasilevsky is one of the latest in that long line. He will lead the Russians again and with plenty of international and NHL experience, he is not an easy netminder to beat. In front of him is an ever-increasing stable of big bodies led by international and KHL start Anton Belov, 6’4” 218 lbs. Alongside other big bodies like Alexei Bereglazov and Vladislav Gavrikov, the blue line is a formidable group that has become tough to get through. They still hold plenty of talent up front too with a lot of young guns. The leader and captain Sergei Mozyakin has the experience they need while Minnesota Wild prospect Kirill Kaprizov looks to make an impression in his first World Championship. Along with Nikita Kucherov, Artemi Panarin and Valeri Nichuskin there is plenty of scoring depth and if Evgeni Kuznetsov and Alexander Ovechkin make the trip should they be eliminated it will get even deeper. There is one expectation for the Russians and it is possible as they could win the entire tournament. They need to perform at the level they can though and if they do they will be a tough team to beat this year.

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Slovakia

The Slovaks are another team that seems to always sit in that dangerous spot of relegation or making the playoffs. They have had a bit more of a run over the last decade than in the past and they have done that with a different attitude than most European teams. Slovakia has taken on a more North American style games for a number of years but they still lack the depth of talent that can allow them to compete with top teams. As they enter the 2017 tournament they are without any NHL representatives in an off year for the team. Players like Zdeno Chara and Marian Hossa are getting too old and prefer to focus on the NHL off-season while Andrej Sekera is still in the playoffs and Marian Gaborik and Tomas Tatar are focusing on off-season surgery. It leaves a less talented group but not one entirely devoid of talent. They will look to standouts from other leagues like forwards Libor Hudacek and Jakub Suja to help them get a good start, possibly with the hopes of some reinforcements. These are good players but without their top scoring talent, they could suffer a bit of a drought. That will put pressure on a defence that has been a focus of this team for a number of years. The home of the 6’7” Chara continues to produce big bodies on the blue line. It is a young group though as only Michal Sersen is over 30 but this is the new generation. Loaded with 24-year olds like Peter Ceresnak, Rangers prospect, Martin Gernat, Edmonton prospect, and Adam Janosik, Lightning prospect, this is the World Championship for them to take over. They will look to assert their dominance and show that a new generation is coming while protecting a relatively older group in net led by veteran Jan Laco and stand-out from last year Julius Hudacek. The Slovakians are without some of the old names and the stalwarts of the past but the talent is still there. They might struggle against the best teams but fighting for a playoff spot seems reasonable for this group.

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Sweden

The Swedes are a team that has put themselves into the contender role as they have developed a great system. It wasn’t always that way but they slowly built their country into being one of the top producers of talent in the league. The last few years have been more about their program being overshadowed by their biggest rivals. The neighbouring Finns have been one of the best teams in the world over the last few years with titles at every level. Meanwhile, the Swedes have been unable to find their way to the medals for the last two years and unable to find a gold in the last three years. Sweden is a talented country when it comes to hockey and they will enter the 2017 tournament with another very talented team. This team also represents the new generation of Swedes as they will bring a young team that includes some of the more promising young stars in the NHL. A lot of that talent is up front where young stars like William Nylander, Elias Lindholm, Gabriel Landeskog and Joel Eriksson Ek. The talent that these players have makes them very dangerous and it makes the team very deep. They should be able to score with the best teams in the tournament. On the blue line the Swedes will look to some premier talent as well with Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Victor Hedman are two of the best defenceman under 30 and they will lead Sweden on the blue line. In goal, there is plenty of talent too as Eddie Lack will likely lead the way throughout the tournament and Viktor Fasth will serve as a veteran backup. This team is certainly talented with scoring depth, a great top defensive pairing and good goaltending. It seems like they have all of the tools to be successful and compete with the best but they will need to meet those expectations which they haven’t done in the last few years. They talent is there but the ability to win a medal will be up to their capability in playing up to their level.

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usa

The Americans have been striving to join Russia and Canada at the top of the heap for years and although they have only been better they still aren’t good enough to consistently compete. This year they bring a pretty young team to the tournament with some major stars but some will be missing. The biggest name that the Americans won’t see on the roster will be Auston Matthews who is a Calder Trophy finalist. After playing for the North American team in the World Cup and then becoming the top scorer for the Toronto Maple Leafs the #1 pick in 2016 says he is a little burnt out and just wants to get away from hockey for a bit. Nobody can blame him but it does take away one of the brightest young stars from the Americans. They will have plenty left though as the Americans will rely on their young stars to lead the team. That includes NHL stars like Johnny Gaudreau and Jack Eichel who will be the offensive leaders of a group that has not one player over the age of 30. They will also look to the next group of up and coming stars like the #7 pick in 2016 and current NCAA star Clayton Keller. On the blue line the Americans have kept a tradition of great defenceman alive and once again it is a young group but it is also a big group. NHL stars like Jacob Trouba and Trevor van Riemsdyk will help lead the group along with team captain Connor Murphy while 19-year-old Charlie McAvoy is sure to play a solid role as well. The real veteran on this team will be in net as Jimmy Howard is the oldest player on the team at 33-years-old. He will probably take most of the starts throughout the tournament while Connor Hellebuyck will serve in the backup role. The Americans have a lot of talent but they are still a young team and lack the experience of some of the other powers. They will compete for the group title and head into the playoffs but a medal might be just out of reach this year.

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Prediction:
Group A has some clear favourites and those clear favourites are bringing teams that can compete for medals. They will sit at the top of the group this year as the Russians, Swedes and Americans all take the top three in this group with Russia coming out as the best team in the group. That is where the battle begins as Slovakia and Germany will fight for the final playoff spot with Germany coming out on top and taking that last spot in front of their home crowd. The Latvians will surprise some teams and get enough to have a chance but they won’t be at that level yet. Another big battle may come down to one game as the Danes will beat the Italians to avoid relegation while Italy heads back to Division I.

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