Auston Matthews’ heroics sets up semifinal between United States and Canada at World Championship

Ian Denomme
Auston Matthews.

The No. 1 overall draft pick from 2015 will go head-to-head with the (almost certain) No. 1 pick in 2016 on Saturday. Auston Matthews helped the U.S. upset the Czech Republic on Thursday and setup a North American showdown with Connor McDavid and Team Canada.

Matthews was the hero for the U.S., scoring in regulation to tie the game, then scoring the only goal in the shootout in their 2-1 quarterfinal win. Both goals showed off his quick hands and slick moves. Here’s the shootout winner, a sneaky filthy move where he fakes the goalie then deftly goes five-hole.

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Super teen Patrik Laine hobbled in World Championship by ‘garbage play’

Patrik Laine.

To these eyes, it was difficult to determine exactly what Corey Perry’s level of intent was when he clipped Patrik Laine of Finland with his left leg when he was coming off for a line change in today’s World Championship game.

So I will defer to the observations of two former NHL players who have more than 2,000 games between them. And the fact that both Ray Ferraro and Bob Errey are analysts for the Canada-centric TSN broadcasts and lambasted Perry for his skullduggery provide further perspective on the situation.

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Prospect of the Year: meet the best for all 30 NHL teams

Ryan Kennedy
Brock Boeser (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

It’s about that time, folks. The Memorial Cup field has been set, the AHL is into the conference finals and the NCAA champs were crowned long ago. So which players repped their franchises the best? The following list is made up of the prospects I believe had the best seasons for their parent franchises.

These are not necessarily the most NHL-ready players or the top prospects in the organizational pecking order, but these guys had the most success overall (but yeah, a lot of the top guys are here anyway). Factors include individual stats and growth, plus team success – so don’t be surprised to find some North Dakota Fighting Hawks and Brandon Wheat Kings on the list. One more note: any player who is Calder-eligible for the current NHL season does not count – that means no Frankie Vatrano for Boston or Connor Hellebuyck for Winnipeg, as examples.

Let’s get to it:

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Fifteen players who are making great cases for the World Cup of Hockey

Logan Couture (left) and Brent Burns  (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)

The final rosters for The World Cash Grab of Hockey™ are due two weeks from today. They were originally supposed to be submitted June 1, but the league and the NHL Players’ Association decided they didn’t want the World Cup extras to overshadow the Stanley Cup final. The announcement would coincide with Game 7 of the Western Conference final if there is one, but both sides were willing to take that risk.

So for some players, the auditions for the final spots continue through the conference final and World Championship. And there’s no doubt that some players have used those platforms to either cement their spots or make for some very difficult decisions.

Here are players from each team that have willed their way into the World Cup conversation:

CANADA
Brent Burns: Biggest no-brainer of the whole tournament. In fact, I had to go back to make sure he wasn’t on Canada’s roster already. That’s because Burns might not only be the best Canadian defenseman at the moment, he might be the best in the world. Adding Burns to a right defense corps that already has Drew Doughty and Shea Weber would be frightening.

Kris Letang: Canada plans to go with just four right-handed defensemen and already has two in Weber and Doughty, which leaves the other two spots for Burns and one of P.K. Subban or Letang. This is where the Canadian brain trust is going to have a very, very difficult decision to make.

Logan Couture: It shouldn’t matter that Canada already has nine natural centermen and just two wingers on its roster at the moment. Couture has been one of the best two-way players in these playoffs and despite getting fewer minutes than San Jose’s big guns, scored 11 points in the second round.

Taylor Hall/Matt Duchene: Both are playing well for Canada at the World Championship and if you’re going to get players to go to that tournament to audition for events such as the World Cup, you’d better be prepared to offer them spots when they produce.

USA
Phil Kessel: The Americans might want to bring Nick Bonino along if they choose Kessel, but Kessel has proved he belongs with the best players in the world. The Americans are already well stocked at right wing with the likes of Patrick Kane, Blake Wheeler and T.J. Oshie, but there has to be room for a player who has performed as well as Kessel has.

Tyler Johnson: Ask yourself one question. If the World Cup team were being picked at this time last year, would Johnson have been included? You bet he would have. Well, right now he’s playing every bit as well as he did in last year’s playoffs. He deserves to at least grab the spot as the 13th forward.

NORTH AMERICA
Robby Fabbri: He’s been a winner and an impact player at every level he’s played and he’s proving to be a huge factor in the Blues’ run to the Western Conference final. He would give this team the speed and grit that will drive its opponents bonkers in the fall.

Jonathan Drouin: He has answered every character question people had of him. The talent has always been there, but there’s a jam to his game that is coming to the forefront. He’s an elite playmaker and is showing it.

Colton Parayko: The St. Louis Blues defenseman is playing 20 minutes a game and seems unfazed by the elevation in competition. And at 6-foot-5 and 214 pounds, he’ll give the kids some much-needed size.

Auston Matthews: The consensus No. 1 pick was “in tough” to make the team in the words of team management, but what more can he do to prove he belongs? He has been a beast at the worlds.

RUSSIA
Nikita Nesterov: The 23-year-old has been in and out of the Tampa Bay lineup and has not seen a lot of ice time when he has played, but in limited viewing has displayed an ability to move the puck and create offensive opportunities.

SWEDEN
Carl Hagelin: After being traded twice in less seven months, Hagelin has found a home in Pittsburgh playing on a line with Bonino and Kessel. One thing we’ve seen in these playoff is that speed kills and Hagelin has all sorts of it.

CZECH REPUBLIC
Radek Faksa: Of course Jaromir Jagr gets a spot if he wants it. But if this team is going to have any success at all in this tournament, it’s going to have to come from their young guys and Faksa did a good job with the Dallas Stars playing with a lot of energy and a competitive edge.

FINLAND
Patrik Laine: The Finns are tied for first in their division at the World Championship and Laine is leading them in scoring. Come on, Finland, make it happen. At the very least, it would give the country’s next big offensive star a taste of what it’s like to play against the best players in the world.

EUROPE
Tom Kuhnhackl: He’s getting a ton of big-game experience playing on Pittsburgh’s fourth line and despite playing only 12 minutes a game, has five points in these playoffs. His shorthanded goal in Game 1 of the first round basically buried the New York Rangers in that game and helped set the tone for the series.

Swiss goaltender Berra allows what could be worst goal of the year at World Championship

Reto Berra (via YouTube)

Colorado Avalanche goaltender Reto Berra had a tough time at the World Championship in 2015, but his start to the 2016 tournament may be even worse.

At last year’s competition, Berra started five games for the Swiss, but his play was largely forgettable. He finished with a .876 save percentage, the worst of any netminder to suit up for at least five games, had an unsightly 3.48 goals-against average and he lost every single one of his games. Again, it wasn’t the best tournament of his life. Yet, there was hope his 2016 World Championship could be better.

Well, if that’s going to be the case, he’s going to have to turn things around in a hurry, because in Switzerland’s tournament-opening game against Kazakhstan, Berra allowed what could be the worst goal of the year on a long-distance shot that came from the far blueline. Check it out: Read more

World Championship 101: Everything you need to know before the 2016 tournament begins

Ian Denomme
Team Canada (Martin Rose/Getty Images)

As far as international hockey tournaments go, the world championships isn’t very high on the excitement meter. It’s a big deal to many European players, but in North America, holding a tournament in the middle of the Stanley Cup playoffs is not a good way to generate hype.

We know that it’s not truly a best-on-best event, that will happen in September during the World Cup. But there are some interesting aspects to the tournament. One of which is that it’s a 16-team event. It makes for a long tournament, but it also means you get to see hockey minnows such as Hungary and France take on Canada and the United States. Blowouts can be fun.

The event, being held in Moscow and St. Petersburgh, starts with a bang on Friday with the U.S. facing Canada (9:15 a.m. ET, TSN). Here are some fun facts and reasons to keep an eye on the tournament.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Auston Matthews, U.S.: Have you heard of this kid? Probably going to go No. 1 overall in the draft to the Maple Leafs. Kind of a big deal.

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Prospect Need to Know: Wade Allison is burning up the draft charts

Wade Allison (Photo courtesy of the Tri-City Storm)

As the season begins to wind down, we’re starting to see some hardware handed out in the prospect ranks. Toronto Maple Leafs hopeful Mitch Marner, for example, just won the OHL’s Red Tilson Trophy as the league’s most outstanding player for his work with the London Knights. Another OHL award-winner is featured below in my weekly wrap-up. Elsewhere in the hockey world, the USHL is in the middle of its two-stage draft. During Phase 1 (for 2000 birthdays), Sioux Falls landed competitive center Gavin Hain with the No. 1 pick. Phase 2 (for 1999s and earlier) happened today. And speaking of the USHL, let’s get to this week’s round-up:

 

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Toronto Maple Leafs sign Nikita Zaitsev, but what impact should be expected?

Ryan Kennedy
Nikita Zaitsev (Photo by Karina Hessland/Bongarts/Getty Images)

The Toronto Maple Leafs continued to pick up bodies for their rebuild today, signing KHL defenseman Nikita Zaitsev to a one-year deal. This move has been long-rumored, but now that it’s official, the question becomes one of expectation.

Sure, Zaitsev was a top blueliner in the KHL, but does that mean anything for his NHL potential?

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