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IIHF World Championships 2019 Preview - What the tournament means for the Flyers and more

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We are now less than a week away from puck drop in Slovakia

World Cup Of Hockey 2016 - United States v Czech Republic Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

As round two of the NHL playoffs continues, those select players that weren’t a part of the tournament, or who have already been eliminated, prepare for the 2019 IIHF World Championships.

The tournament serves as an object of criticism for many North American hockey fans, who point to its purpose being unimportant. This is a complaint levied heavily when players get injured in the tournament. However, for hockey fans in Europe such as myself, the tournament gives us a rare opportunity to see NHL talent compete, and in general serves as a showcase for lesser known nations to the hockey world stage. There is no greater example of this than team Great Britain, who thrillingly secured a point against Hungary to win promotion from IIHF Division 1 and earn a spot at this year’s World Championships.

The structure of the tournament consists of two groups of eight teams each. Each team plays every other team in their group once, totaling seven games per team. The top four teams from each group qualify to the knockout stages, which are olympic style “winner takes all” contests. The two bottom teams in each group are relegated to IIHF Division 1.

So without further ado, here are my previews for each of the groups. I’ll be looking overall at the tournament first, and then examining what this can mean for the Flyers specifically.

Group A:

Canada, USA, Finland, Germany, Slovakia (Host), Denmark, France, United Kingdom

To nobody’s surprise, the favorites to top Group A are the Canada and the United States. They have the deepest rosters, and are stocked to the brim with NHL talent. Canada will be led by Sean Couturier and John Tavares, and will be coached by Alain Vigneault. This gives more than enough reason for Flyers fans to be rooting for Team Canada. They’ll almost certainly top the group.

Jack Hughes, Johnny Gaudreau, and Patrick Kane will put up a fight with Canada for the USA, but I think Canada’s goaltending will secure them first place. Cory Schneider, Thatcher Demko, and Cayden Primeau are the USA’s rostered netminders, and I’d take Carter Hart over all three of them. Finland also have a strong roster, and while I don’t see them challenging for a top two spot, they’ll almost certainly make the knockout round. Their roster features quite a lot of players from Finnish teams, as well as NHLers Henri Jokiharju and Juho Lammikko.

The bottom spot will go to either the U.K. or France. As sad as I am to admit it (I am biased as I will openly be rooting for the U.K.) the British roster only features two players who don’t play in the British EIHL and they won’t really have a chance against the top teams. If Coyotes prospect Liam Kirk and veteran forwards Colin Shields and Robert Dowd can overachieve, then perhaps they will avoid the drop. The French roster contains some names who play in Europe’s top leagues, so it will be quite the challenge for Great Britain, though in the end, I don’t think they will come out from it on top.

Predicted standings:

  1. Canada
  2. United States
  3. Finland
  4. Slovakia
  5. Denmark
  6. Germany
  7. France
  8. Great Britain

Group B:

Sweden, Russia, Czech Republic, Switzerland, Norway, Latvia, Austria, Italy

The race for the top in Group B is between Russia, Sweden, and the Czechs. Russia will be bolstered by the additions of Capitals players Evgeny Kuznetsov, Alex Ovechkin and Dmitry Orlov. However, for me the deepest roster is Sweden. Elias Lindholm, William Nylander, Oskar Lindblom and Elias Pettersson will all benefit from the decrease in physicality present in IIHF play, and they will thrive off of that. Expect them to tear up this tournament. The Czech Republic will also sport NHL talent in Jakub Voracek and Filip Chytil, but overall I think their roster is not as deep as Russia or Sweden, especially in regards to goaltending. Russia will have Andrei Vasilevskiy and Sweden will have Henrik Lundqvist. The Czech netminder will likely be Jakub Kovář, who plays in the KHL.

A potential dark horse in this group is Switzerland. Led by Nico Hischier, Kevin Fiala, and Roman Josi, they could cause an upset if those three play well. It would be wise for opponents to make note of Hischier, who played exceptionally well at the world juniors and has generally exceeded in international play. Austria will feature Michael Raffl, but nobody else of note. The bottom spot will most likely go to Italy, but if Norway underperform, then they could very well be headed for relegation. The Italians play with a lot of heart, but I don’t think it will be enough to propel them further than 8th place.

Predicted standings:

  1. Sweden
  2. Russia
  3. Switzerland
  4. Czech Republic
  5. Austria
  6. Latvia
  7. Norway
  8. Italy

Knockout stages:

Round 1:

A1 Canada v B4 Czech Rep.

Canada’s roster is far too deep for most teams in the tournament to handle, and that will be the case against the Czech Republic. The only way I can see the Czechs winning is if Jakub Voracek plays like we know he can, though it would have to be a sublime performance to best Canada. Alternatively, if David Pastrnak and David Krejci join the team if the Bruins are eliminated, that will greatly boost their chances, but I’m still doubtful.

B2 Russia v A3 Finland

I’m going for a bit of an upset, and choosing Finland over Russia. I think Russia’s key players will be tired from their seven game series loss against Carolina, and that could be telling later on in the tournament. The Finnish season has already ended, and therefore they will be better rested. It will be close, but Finland edge out a victory.

B1 Sweden v A4 Slovakia

A basically all NHL roster will outclass Slovakia easily. Sweden will be keen to defend their title, and new coach Rikard Gronborg will be looking to prove himself as NHL brass look on.

A2 United States v B3 Switzerland

This game will be closer than one might imagine. The USA will have a lot to handle in containing Hischier and Josi, but their depth and offensive talent will propel them forward.

Round 2:

Canada vs Finland

Finland may have the energy to beat Russia, but they won’t be able to handle Canada’s depth, especially since key players for Canada have had rest due to their NHL clubs not making the playoffs.

Sweden vs United States

I simply think that Sweden have better players overall than the United States, especially players who are used to the larger ice space and non-physical play style. Patrick Kane will always put up a challenge, but I think the Americans’ goaltending lets them down here. The likes of Pettersson and Nylander will thrive off of a weaker American defense. Noah Hanifin and Ryan Suter look to be the top two defencemen, but other than them, I don’t see anybody else (maybe Quinn Hughes) who can shut down Sweden’s potent attack.

Final:

Canada v Sweden

In what will surely be a tightly contested affair, I think Canada will have momentum, enough so to win the tournament. I like Canada’s upper echelon talent (Tavares, Couturier, Chabot) just a little bit more than Sweden’s (Nylander, Pettersson, Lundqvist). Couturier is one of the best defensive forwards in all of hockey, and Sweden don’t really have a shut-down center like Coots. Therefore, advantage Canada.

So, what does this mean for the Flyers?

I think there are definite reasons to pay attention to the World Championships with regards to the Flyers. First, and possibly the most important, is that Alain Vigneault will be coaching Team Canada. Not only does this mean he will be coaching Sean Couturier and Carter Hart, but we will get the first look at how Vigneault handles these two. Of course, what Vigneault does with Team Canada may be completely different from what he does with the Flyers, but being able to adjust and properly coach a team you have not a lot of experience with is an important skill, and one I will be looking for from AV.

Secondly, for key players to work on their fitness and improve. Of course, this all depends on the level of competition, as I’m sure James Van Riemsdyk won’t improve by scoring 6 goals against France. But, regardless, in more marquee games, seeing Flyers players step up and look good can’t possibly be considered a bad thing. In particular, I’m looking forward to seeing what Carter Hart and Ivan Provorov do. Hart playing well in net for Canada (if he plays over Matt Murray) would be a welcome sign that the young goalie is progressing, and I’m looking for Provorov to return to his old ways of being a legitimate first pair defenseman.

Though some of the Flyers’ biggest names like Claude Giroux won’t be there, the World Championships are certainly worth paying attention to, especially if Carter Hart makes a last minute save to win Gold for Canada. I’m already daydreaming...

UPDATE:

Alain Vigneualt has said that Matt Murray will be Canada’s #1 goalie, and that Carter Hart will back him up. The article has been updated accordingly. This doesn’t necessarily mean Hart won’t get game time, but Vigneualt outright stated that Murray would be the #1 goaltender. I don’t think this was unexpected, but I was thinking that perhaps Vigneualt might want to become more acquainted with Hart by starting him. Though, in complete fairness Murray has a longer track record, and Stanley Cups. I can’t say I blame AV.

P.S.

Lastly, tell me: do you think the World Championships are a waste of time, or do you think they are a positive event as I do? Let me know in the poll below. I’m curious to see your thoughts on this!

Poll

Do you like the World Championships?

This poll is closed

  • 83%
    Yes
    (276 votes)
  • 16%
    No
    (55 votes)
331 votes total Vote Now