2018 World Championship: Group B Preview

groupbThis year’s Group B might be the more interesting out of the groups in the tournament as there are three really good teams but all are trying to make up for falling short a year ago.

That means a lot of different things to these teams as falling short for some means getting the wrong colour medal while for others it means leaving without a medal altogether.

The Canadians, Finns and Americans all left last year’s tournament disappointed by the finish albeit for very different reasons.

Canada finished with a medal taking home the silver but like every year that is never the medal that they want to leave with, they are a gold or nothing nation when it comes to hockey.

The Finns had so much promise heading into the tournament but faltered throughout the round robin only to recover and lose the bronze medal leaving without a medal.

The Americans were on the outside looking in as they finished just outside of the medal round despite their continued build towards being a powerhouse.

For most teams, these finishes are exactly what they aim for in every tournament but for teams used to winning it is not how they wanted to end their tournaments.

All three will be looking to improve and although there is not a lot of space to improve for all of them they will all be fighting to find that small area of improvement.

Meanwhile, the fight from the bottom will involve one of the more interesting teams in this year’s tournament.

Korea will be making their debut in the top division of the tournament only a few months after hosting the Olympics.

They are far from a hockey power but the motivation to get better for their home games led them to the top division among the best in the world.

They will have a lot of work to do if they want to surprise everyone and stay in that top division for another year.

Although they won’t compete much against the best teams they will need to beat teams like Denmark, Norway, Germany and Latvia.

One win against one of those four teams could be enough but it certainly won’t be an easy task for the newest team on the block.

Group B will be a battle from every spot as the top teams all fight to be the best and the bottom teams look to launch some surprises and potentially shock everyone by remaining in the top.

It will be an interesting group and one to watch as medal contenders are prevalent throughout the group.

canada

The pressure on the Canadians is constant no matter what tournament they enter as the expectation is simply gold or nothing else. They have been the best hockey nation in the world, or at least continue to battle Russia for that title, and so they expect to win. That was why their medal drought was so alarming as from 2010 to 2014 the Canadians failed to leave the tournament with any medal. They broke that three years ago as they took gold and returned to the top the year before for the repeat. Last year they fell short but canadastill walked away with a medal and now they enter a new tournament with a scary amount of talent on the team ready to take another gold medal. This team is certainly one of the big beneficiaries of the lack of major tournaments to play in as they are a team made up of almost all NHL talent, aside from one goaltender from the OHL. Up front, they are a young but extremely talented and deep group led by the NHL’s leading scorer Connor McDavid. He will be watched closely as the point man in the attack but will have a lot of support including Calder Trophy finalist Mathew Barzal and international veterans Ryan O’Reilly, Brayden Schenn and Jordan Eberle. If on, this offence will be able to score from every line which should provide issues for other teams. On the blue line, the group has nobody over 25 but all are already NHL veterans including Aaron Ekblad, Darnell Nurse and Ryan Murray. They form a good group that has their own offensive firepower and can add o the attack. The elder statesman of the group is 34-year-old Curtis McElhinney who is likely to split time with Darcy Kuemper in net while the youngest member of the team, Michael DiPietro will sit as the third goalie. The Canadians are talented and there is little reason not to expect them to medal again. They have everything they need to take home a gold but it isn’t entirely up to them as they can be beaten by some of the other great teams in this division and in Group A. Like always though, the definition of a successful tournament for them is a gold medal and nothing else.

Denmark

The Danes are a long-standing member of the top tier in the World Championships but they have struggled to be a part of that upper level of teams. Their tournaments end more often as a team caught in the middle of being not good enough for the playoffs but too good for relegation. Last year they finished just about the middle of the pack after only getting one regulation win. The concerning part for the Danes is that their time in the top division might be directly related to the young talent in their system. With the denmarkyouth movement sweeping through the hockey world teams are utilizing their young talent as much as possible. The Danes are struggling with that prospect though as they have put together one of the older teams in the tournament. It doesn’t mean they lack talent as most of their players have plenty of international experience and are still in their prime. Still, with the game getting younger and faster, it can often be tough to keep up the pace with the younger teams. The Danes will look to do just that as they stick with their experienced team hoping to make that jump to the playoffs. One of the veteran leaders on this team is Frans Nielsen who will need to be the guy on the offence this year. His support will come from the KHL as Philip Larson and Niklas Jensen both put up over 30 points in the best league outside of the NHL. The young talent is lacking on the roster but they still have some prospects including Patrick Russell and Mathias Bau Hansen who spent their year’s in the AHL and hope to produce this tournament. On defence, the team is led by Denmark’s stalwart defenceman Daniel Nielsen who will enter his 13th World Championship. There are also signs of young talent with 22-year-old Matias Lassen looking to make an impact this year. The net is the biggest strength of the team as Frederik Andersen will take the majority of the starts after a successful year in Toronto. He is in the prime of his career and could be the difference for the Danes in this tournament. Denmark has talent but without that influx of youth, they could struggle to keep up with the younger talented teams. If they make the playoffs it will have a lot to do with Andersen.

Finland

The Finns are a team with some of the most potential in international hockey right now as the talent coming out of the country is at a level almost never seen. The last time the same amount of talent came from the country was the era when Mikko Koivu and Teemu Selanne were rising through the ranks. It has been an exciting time for Finnish hockey but in the last few years, these major tournaments have not been the greatest place for this team. Although they have risen to win some major tournaments like the World finlandJuniors and have taken medals at the World Championship they seem to have an inconsistency problem. Despite the talent, they were in danger of possibly never even playing for a medal a year ago after a shocking loss to France but were able to climb back. It was an accomplishment but still left them without a medal a year after winning silver. They are hoping to fix those issues as they enter another tournament with plenty of eyes on them to see what this new Finnish era can provide. The talent is there as they are led by some young NHL stars just coming into their own. Mikko Rantanen will lead the attack after his best season in the NHL and right alongside him is Mikael Granlund. Adding in players like Sebastian Aho, Kaspari Kapanen and Teuvo Teräväinen gives them a little more depth. All of these players are young but they form the future of Finnish hockey and as they come into their best years they are hoping to carry the team. On defence, they haven’t been as adept at developing talent as their neighbours but they are still talented. Julius Honka leads the way alongside Markus Nutivaara. The young talent on defence is coming through led by the third pick in the 2017 NHL Draft Miro Heiskanen. In goal, the Finns will look to Florida prospect Harri Säteri who took the majority of the starts a year ago. The Finns have talent and they can compete with the best teams in the world. Thre issue might just be that without the other major stars they are lacking that depth. Although the top level guys are some of the best if they struggle it could turn out bad for the team. Still, they are a playoff team and with those talented players, they have a shot at a medal.

germany

The Germans were one of the bigger surprises in 2017 as they were able to make it into the playoffs as their home crowd watched one of the best German tournaments ever. They came to play beating the Americans right out of the gate and setting the tone for a rise through the rankings. Although they still struggled against the other big teams that win against the Americans was a big one as they were able to find their way into the playoffs. It was a great tournament but it ended in the first round taking a loss and germanysitting in 8th place overall for the tournament. Although they were hoping to carry momentum through to a potential medal they couldn’t quite get there. Now they enter a new tournament hoping that the momentum can continue through the year. They are not a team with the most talent in the tournament as they only have a handful of top talent. Still, they will look to surprise many as they try to make a playoff appearance two years in a row. This team is led from the blue line with veteran defenceman Denis Seidenberg acting as the clear leader of this group. He will play alongside Korbinian Holzer in a pretty good top pairing but beyond them, the talent level drops off. It is much the same on offence where the top level talent is great but they struggle to put up points after those players. Leon Draisaitl is who they will depend on to get the majority of the points while young talent like Markus Eisenschmid, Manuel Wiederer and Frederik Tiffels all try to have an impact on the tournament. In net, the Germans are without their best talent which could end up being a problem. The responsibility will fall to Timo Pielmeier who has been with the team in the last three World Championships but only had spot starts. If he can step up they might have a chance at surprising some big teams but that is a big if to depend on. The Germans are a team still developing and with all of their talent they can be a surprising team. Without everyone though the depth really suffers and that is a problem when they face teams with two or three lines that can score. They won’t head to relegation but the playoffs don’t seem to be in the cards for the Germans this year.

Korea

They are by far the most mysterious team in the tournament as nobody has ever seen the South Koreans in a tournament with the best teams in the world. The IIHF didn’t do them a lot of favours either as they are in a group with some of the top teams making it a tough run for the Koreans to try to stay in the top division. Still, they will look to surprise everyone and take a spot in next year’s tournament and unlike so many other non-hockey nations they are doing it with a largely domestic group. Many of these teams that koreaare not necessarily strong hockey countries usually see the majority of their teams filled with Canadians who have some connection to the country and are allowed to play. The Koreans have those players but the majority of their team is homegrown and after their first Olympic Games appearance they are hoping to stay in the top division and continue to develop the game. Although the team is proudly domestic they are still reliant on some transplants to lead the team. There are no players from the NHL or KHL as all play in the Asia League but a few have roots in North America. Michael Swift was the top scorer in the Asia League this last year and will look to keep it going in the World Championships. The scoring falls off after that but Swift will need support from players like Ki Sung Kim who put up 21 points in the Asia League this year. On defence, the team is pretty small with half of the group standing under 6’0” which might give them some problems against the bigger more physical teams. They will likely look to a pair of Canadians in Alex Plante and Eric Regan to lead the way for the group. Like any team on the bubble, the goaltending will be the most important part of his team as a great performance can make all the difference. Matt Dalton looks like the starter after helping the team to promotion a year ago. If he can steal a game they could find themselves back in the top tournament in 2019. It is going to be tough though as they are taking on some very good teams and if their Olympic performance is an indication they simply don’t have the firepower to stay in the top division.

Latvia

The Latvians were always a team that had to fight for their spot in the top division regularly sitting on the bubble in major tournaments. In recent years they have begun to find their strides as they are no longer a walkover and often find themselves fighting for a playoff spot thanks to some young talent that began to arise. More than that though is the fact that for some reason Latvian goalies step up in big games during big tournaments. Legends have been made in major tournaments for the Latvians as they latviaseem to find something extra during the most important times. In almost every tournament there is one game that just captures the imagination of hockey fans everywhere and that game has led to NHL contracts before. Kristers Gudlevskis was one of those legends when he got a surprising start against the Canadians in the 2014 Sochi Olympics. In that game, Gudlevskis stopped 57 shots in one of the most unbelievable performances in Olympic history. Although he still took the loss he entered the lore of Latvian goalies who seem to find what they need at the exact right time. He will be the leader in net this time around as he has remained the top goaltending prospect from Latvia and joins his third World Championship team. He clearly has the ability to stop the best players in the world and if he can do that he can give the Latvians a chance at the playoffs this year. In front of him will be a mix of young talent like Kristians Rubins and Kristaps Zile along with veterans like Guntis Galvins and Kristaps Sotnieks. It is a group with potential but not one that will be able to put up a lot of fight against constant attacks from the deeper teams. The offence will be without their best players which could be a big hit to the team as the few NHL players from Latvia can make a big difference. Instead, they will rely on a number of KHL players like Miks Indrasis and Mikelis Redlihs. Although it is not the most formidable group they are a team full of players used to playing with each other as members of Dinamo Riga. The Latvians are beginning to become a solid team but this year they won’t have the best players available which might hurt their chances of the playoffs. If their goaltending can continue to surprise they could make a run but they are likely destined to sit in the middle again.

norway

The Norwegians might best be described as a solid team as they rarely get too low and rarely get too high but that has kept them just sitting in the middle. They aren’t a team that produces a lot of top-level talent and like a lot of teams with only a few players in the NHL, they can struggle when those players don’t play for them. Still, they have been able to keep up and remain in the top tier without having to deal with relegation. In any tournament, they could be right there though as it all depends on the opponents and who norwaycan step up at the right time. With so many other teams beginning to develop more the Norwegians might be in danger this year but they are somewhat fortunate to be in Group B. That is as long as they don’t entirely overlook the Koreans and can play their game against a team that could struggle to find a win. The Norwegians will try to get a few surprises and they do tend to play a more physical game that can allow that surprise given the right conditions. Norway will look to a host of domestic players to lead their offence as Tobias Lindstrom who is one of the top scorers in the Norway league. He will be watched to put up the points in this tournament along with Niklas Roest. They will hopefully get some extra help from one of the few players in North America, Ludvig Hoff who has spent the year in the NCAA. On defence, they have a smaller group led by Alexander Bonsaksen and Daniel Sørvik. Goaltending will be key like any of the other teams trying to avoid relegation in these tournaments. To try to steal a few games the Norwegians will lean on Lars Haugen who enters his eighth tournament. The Norwegians are like a number of other teams that tend to sit at the bottom of the standings each year. They don’t have the talent to compete with the best teams but they try to make up for that with a more physical style of play. It can lead to some surprises but they will struggle against the teams that can do both. They could be headed for relegation this year but as long as they take their game against Korea seriously they will remain in the top division.

usa

Hockey has never been the top priority in the USA but that hasn’t stopped them from continuing to produce talent at a high level. Out of all of the nations with a hockey program, there is only one that produces more top-level talent than the Americans. The number of Americans in the NHL continues to grow and their roles continue to grow as the sport continues to develop. With that, the national team is handed a certain level of expectation as the excuses for why they didn’t win are harder to come by. For years it usawas about the lack of talent on the teams with only a few very good players available in every tournament. That is no longer the case and so when they finish in 5th place outside of the medal rounds it becomes a disappointment. They are one of the few teams in the World Championship that is highlighted by multiple big names at every position and so when looking at the team it is hard to think that they can’t find their way to the medals this year. The offence is a young and deep group led by a veteran in Patrick Kane who has consistently put up big numbers in the NHL. He will be joined by some of the top young talent in the NHL including Johnny Gaudreau, Alex DeBrincat, Dylan Larkin and Cam Atkinson. The group has a lot of scorers that can put up numbers with the Americans hoping that they can rival the depth on offence of the other major teams. On defence, the Americans have always been pretty adept at developing talent. Their latest is Quinn Hughes who is expected to go in the first round of this year’s draft. He will join a group full of NHLers including Connor Murphy, Alec Martinez and Nic Jensen. They will look to provide good coverage for Scott Darling who will likely be the starter for the team throughout the tournament. The Americans area good group with a lot of talent but the big question will always be whether or not their talent can match the talent of the best teams. They are a good team but they need to beat teams like Canada and Finland in order to get that gold and it might be just too much for them.

Prediction:
The top of this group seems to be pretty obvious as there are only three teams that will be fighting for that top spot. Any could get it but the Canadians have a roster so full of talent that it is hard to think that they will fall short of the first spot. Finland will certainly give them a run for their money while the Americans won’t be able to keep up and will finish third. The bigger battle will likely be for that last spot as there are a number of teams that could find their way to the playoffs. Denmark has a key piece in their goalie though and that will put them over the top. Germany and Latvia will fall short but won’t be too concerned with their spot in the top division. Then there is the battle for the bottom and where the Koreans won’t have the firepower to beat out the Norwegians in order to stay in the top division. It is an interesting group with a lot to watch as the battles will be plenty.

groupb-prediction

 

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

  • Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

    Join 160 other followers

%d bloggers like this: