While the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs rages on in North America, it’s easy to overlook the World Championship tournament playing out in Belarus right now. (Easy if you’re not a Canadian still hiding your head in shame after Friday’s loss to Cristobal Huet and Team France.) But the World Championship tournament is an odd one in that it often produces incredible performances from players you wouldn’t expect.
Just look at France’s 3-2 victory over Canada on Friday. Who would have thought Huet would outduel James Reimer? Who even knew Huet was still playing?
And who could have expected Binghamton Senator Stephane Da Costa to carry the offensive load for the French?
Like I said, it’s an odd tournament, and it produces some oddly spectacular performances.
Here are five players who put on impressive showings at last year’s tournament. They’re all coming back this year, and they just might surprise you for a second time.
5. Craig Smith, F, United States
It’s easy to overlook Craig Smith. He doesn’t get a lot of attention playing in Nashville and he’s only 24 years old, but the guy put up some very respectable numbers in the NHL this year with 24 goals and 52 points. And that success traces directly back to last year’s Worlds, where he had a breakout tournament and was third in overall scoring with four goals and 14 points. The World Championship tournament is the perfect place for guys like Smith to make a name for themselves.
4. Evgeny Medvedev, D, Russia
Evgeny Medvedev doesn’t need your NHL, thank you very much. He’s perfectly happy playing for Ak-Bars Kazan in the Russian Kontinental League and waving the white, blue and red Russian flag at whatever international hockey tournament you’ve got. Medvedev was one of the KHLers representing Russia at Sochi earlier this year, and before that, the 31-year-old defender anchored the Russian blueline at the 2013 World Championship. With two goals and seven points, he was second in scoring among defenders despite two fewer games played than the top guy (more on that later).
3. Reto Berra, G, Switzerland
Martin Gerber carried most of the goaltending load for the Swiss in 2013, but Reto Berra still got a decent four games under his belt. And he didn’t disappoint, posting a 1.00 goals-against average, .967 save percentage and a shutout to win all four games. It’s little wonder Berra got a shot in goal with the Calgary Flames the following season. Berra, now a backup for the Colorado Avalanche, will look to make a name for himself again as the returning vet in goal for the Swiss at this year’s tournament.
2. Roman Josi, D, Switzerland
Like I said before, the World Championship tournament is a weird one. It often makes international stars out of everyday NHL players, and Nashville Predators defenceman Roman Josi is just the latest example. With four goals and nine points to lead all defenders last year, Josi was named tournament MVP and helped his Swiss team to a 9-1 record and a silver medal.
1. Petri Kontiola, F, Finland
If Josi was a breakout star last year, then Petri Kontiola was a super nova. The 29-year-old has never been a huge scorer – he had 12 goals and 31 points in 44 Kontinental League games before last year’s tournament – but he totally exploded at the World Championship. Kontiola outscored the likes of Paul Stastny, Steven Stamkos and Ilya Kovalchuk, notching eight goals and 16 assists in 10 games to lead the entire pack. He’ll be back this year to represent Suomi.