Russia's Kirill Kaprizov (left) fights off a check. Image by: Alexander Demianchuk\TASS via Getty Images
The 2018 World Championship is still in its early stages, but there have already been some standout performances that could bode well for the future of a few NHL franchises.
Through the early portion of the 2018 World Championship, those expected to stand out most certainly have. For Canada, Connor McDavid and Mathew Barzal have been tough to stop. Team USA’s Patrick Kane and Cam Atkinson have been a handful for opposing defenders. Sweden’s Rickard Rakell has provided a ton of offense, too, while Leon Draisaitl is powering Germany and Russia’s Pavel Datsyuk is showing he still has some magic left as his 40th birthday quickly approaches.
But there are some underrated, overlooked or yet-to-arrive players with NHL ties who have or should be turning some heads with their performance through the opening stages of the tournament. Here are five to keep an eye on as the tournament continues:
KIRILL KAPRIZOV, RUSSIA
This has to be torture for Minnesota Wild fans at this point. Kaprizov has already proven he can be a consistent threat in the KHL, where he has 50 goals and 117 points in 179 career games, and the 21-year-old continues to produce on the world stage. He captained the Russian team at the 2017 world juniors and put up nine goals and 12 points in seven games, then scored five goals and nine points in six games on the gold medal-winning Russian squad at the 2017 worlds. Now he has another four goals and six points through three games at the 2018 worlds. Everything Kaprizov does gives him the air of a young player who’s ready to come to the NHL and start taking over in the world’s best league.
Unfortunately, Minnesota’s 2015 fifth-round selection, who was ranked as the 11th-best NHL prospect by a panel of scouts in THN’s Future Watch 2018, remains under contract in the KHL for the 2018-19 and 2019-20 campaigns. That means it’s going to be at least two more seasons before he heads over to the Wild. The upside is that gives him even more time to develop into an offensive threat overseas. The downside is that, well, it sure would be nice for the Wild if they could have a young, lethal, playmaking, goal-scoring winger in the lineup tomorrow.
MATTIAS JANMARK, SWEDEN
There aren’t many young NHL players who have had to deal with as much injury-related adversity as Janmark at this stage of their careers. Acquired by the Stars at the 2015 trade deadline, Janmark, 25, was developing well as a promising prospect and made his full-time debut with the club in 2015-16 and produced 15 goals and 29 points in 73 games. But an off-season injury ahead of his sophomore campaign cost Janmark the entirety of 2016-17. He recovered well and put up a solid 19 goals and 34 points this past season, but his production thus far at the Worlds has to have the Stars believing he has oodles of potential.
Through four games at the worlds, Janmark has scored three times and chipped in eight points, and he’s right in the thick of things when it comes to the tournament scoring lead. True, Sweden has only played one top-tier opponent thus far, but in that game against the Czech Republic, Janmark assisted on the game’s opening goal by Rakell and scored himself only minutes later. If he continues to be given the opportunity to skate top-six minutes in Dallas under new bench boss Jim Montgomery, the Stars could benefit from a breakout season from Janmark.
IGOR SHESTERKIN, RUSSIA
Shesterkin has a winning pedigree and experience at the international level, so maybe we shouldn’t be all that surprised by his performance in the early going at the worlds. At the U18s in 2013, he was among the tournament’s top goaltenders. At the U20s in 2015, he backstopped Russia to a silver medal with arguably the best performance of any netminder. And this time around, at his third World Championship but first in which he’s seen playing time, Shesterkin has been literally perfect, albeit across 80 minutes of work.
That said, New York is going to need to find an heir to King Henrik’s throne on Broadway at some point. And Shesterkin, a fourth-round, 118th overall selection of the Rangers in 2014, certainly looks like he’ll be ready to step in and take over by the time Lundqvist’s contract is up in three years. While he went from the No. 1A in the SKA St. Petersburg crease to splitting time with Mikko Koskinen this past season, Shesterkin’s overall numbers speak for themselves. He’s posted a .935 save percentage across his past two pro years and he’s showing again that he’s rock-solid on the world stage.
SEBASTIAN AHO AND TEUVO TERAVAINEN, FINLAND
The Carolina Hurricanes are bound to land an impact player at the draft after securing the second overall pick by way of the lottery. Now, whether that’s Andrei Svechnikov or Filip Zadina, the consensus second- and third-best prospects in the draft, is entirely up to the Hurricanes’ scouting staff, which will be led in part by new GM Don Waddell. The good news, though, is it appears Carolina won’t need to go ahead and shoehorn whoever they select with the second pick into the lineup just to add some scoring, because it appears Aho and Teravainen are turning into an even more dynamite duo with each passing game.
There was evidence of this during the regular season, of course, as Aho and Teravainen, who played nearly 1,000 minutes together on the Hurricanes’ top unit, finished one-two in scoring, respectively. Aho was the primary triggerman, scoring 29 goals and 65 points, while Teravainen was just one point back with 23 goals and 64 points of his own as the duo combined on 36 different scoring plays. They’ve taken it to another level through the early part of the Worlds, however.
In four games thus far, Aho and Teravainen are back in their places as one-two in scoring for Finland, but their respective 12 and 11 point totals also put the duo first and second in tournament scoring. Furthermore, the duo has combined in one way or another on eight of Finland’s 25 goals through four games — nearly one-third of the team’s offense — and Finland has only scored 10 goals without either Aho or Teravainen factoring in. Carolina may have had the league’s ninth-worst offense, but if new Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour really lets his Finnish tandem loose, they could be an even more dominant force come the 2018-19 campaign and ensure the rest of the league sees what wowed fans in Carolina this past season.