With the opening days of the IIHF men’s World Championship in the books in Finland and Latvia, the pecking order is beginning to show. Predictably, Canada, USA, Sweden, and Switzerland are off to strong starts.
With only four NHL teams remaining in the Stanley Cup playoffs, the final wave of recruits is making their way to the tournament in time to bolster lineups as the tournament inches toward the quarterfinals.
Following each team’s first three games heading into Wednesday, here’s a power ranking of where each team stands.
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Canada is finding contributions from almost everywhere right now, and if their sleeping giants like Lawson Crouse, Peyton Krebs, and Cody Glass start filling the net, this will be a difficult team to beat. In net, Samuel Montembeault and Devon Levi are providing stellar stability to the Canadians who can take a few extra chances knowing they have support between the pipes. While it took a shootout to beat a pesky Slovakian team, it was more about a spectacular performance by Slovakia’s netminder than a poor showing by Canada. They remain the team to beat.
With so much excitement focused on the American youth headed into the tournament, it has been the veterans leading the charge. Alex Tuch picked up where he left off in the NHL this season, while players like Nick Bonino and Rocco Grimaldi are contributing in meaningful ways offensively. Alongside the veterans up front, USA’s depth has been a key to their success early.
Not allowing a goal through three games is beyond impressive. Veteran Leonardo Genoni has two of those shutouts for the Swiss, who recently beefed up their roster with a trio of NHL additions. So far, however, Switzerland has only faced the bottom three teams in their group, going untested against stronger competition. That’s about to change however as the Swiss are slated to take on Slovakia, Canada, Czechia, and Latvia next. Up front, Nino Niederreiter has three goals in three games, and Denis Malgin has two goals and four points in that span. The NHL pair has looked good.
Similar to the Swiss, Sweden has been stingy defensively. They’ve allowed only a single goal in three games, winning all three, including a shootout thriller over Finland. So far, several of Sweden’s top offensive weapons, including Lucas Raymond, have yet to score. That means this team, which has scored by committee thus far, could have more in store for their opponents. Sweden’s already strong blueline got a boost as the team added Timothy Liljegren after the Toronto Maple Leafs were eliminated. He’ll be reunited with former teammate Rasmus Sandin on the back end. William Nylander is also on the way.
In their first three games, Detroit Red Wings forward Dominik Kubalik looks like a man on a mission. He has six points in that span. Running alongside Kubalik is Lukas Sedlak who played 27 games in the NHL this season before returning to Europe. Sedlak has provided timely offense for the Czechs, who decidedly lack the NHL depth of other nations. Czechia’s lone blemish to this point is an overtime upset at the hands of Latvia.
The Danes should look into building a statue for Nikolaj Ehlers, with a side plaque for Nicklas Jensen. Without the duo, Denmark’s tournament could already be lost. Instead, Denmark is challenging for a quarterfinal position in the tournament. Yes, they’ve had an easy schedule to start, but they’re winning the games they need to. Frederik Dichow has looked sharp in net, and with a timely performance, one upset could get them into the playoffs.
Coming off a gold medal win last year and playing on home soil, expectations were high for the Finns. They’ve missed those expectations and then some to open the 2023 World Championship. Through their first three games, only one of Finland’s five NHL players this year, Joel Armia, had scored a goal. For Finland to again play for a medal, they will need much bigger contributions from Mikko Rantanen, Kaapo Kakko and Kasperi Kapanen. There’s still time to salvage their tournament, but the start has been dreadful for the defending champs.
If you look at the standings, Germany sits winless at 0-3, but the portion of their schedule they need to, and can win, is still to come. Germany lost three one-goal games to Sweden, Finland, and USA to open their tournament. They showed they can hang with the best teams in their division, and now, they just need to beat the other half. What Germany really needs is a star of the tournament to step forward. They’ve been scoring by committee, and it’s time for a player like J.J. Peterka to take center stage and lead.
Scoring has been a major issue for Slovakia to open the tournament. In their first three games, the Slovaks managed only five goals. Former Boston Bruins forward Peter Cehlarik factored into three of those goals. Getting Simon Nemec following his season with the AHL’s Utica Comets is a boost, but even if Slovakia gets into the quarterfinals, their medal hopes look grim.
It’s almost become the Latvian’s calling card to upset bigger nations on the international stage. Coming off the stick of Oskars Batna, Latvia got their first upset of the tournament, beating Czechia 4-3 in overtime. That overtime win could be enough for Latvia to sneak into the quarterfinals if they can beat Group B’s bottom feeders in regulation time and keep it close against the Swiss.
To open their tournament, Norway beat Slovenia and fell in a shootout to Kazakhstan. The points are likely enough to help Norway avoid the relegation round but won’t be enough to propel them into the medal round. As predicted, their goaltending tandem of Henrik Haukeland and Jonas Arntzen has been solid enough to keep them in games. Facing tougher competition moving forward, however, could mean things get ugly for the Norwegians. They also dropped Wednesday’s game to Latvia 2-1.
Getting a shootout win over Norway might be as good as it gets for Kazakhstan. They still have games against Slovenia and Latvia to come, so Kazakhstan could conceivably climb further out of the Group B basement to avoid relegation, but they just don’t have the skill of other nations.
After beating Austria in overtime and falling to Denmark in overtime, it looked like France was finally going to get their first regulation win facing Hungary. Instead, the French played their third consecutive overtime game, losing a heartbreaker to the Hungarians, who were promoted from Div. I-A this year. Louis Boudon, who got into a handful of AHL and ECHL games to close out the season after finishing his NCAA career with Lake Superior State, has shown his skill and creativity for France. Their schedule gets markedly more difficult in the coming days.
Losing to France and getting pummeled by Denmark, Austria stands a real chance of finishing last in Group A. It will all come down to their matchup against Hungary, which on paper, Austria should win. Austria’s goaltending has looked awful to open the tournament, and their top player, Marco Rossi, doesn’t look like he can foot the load alone. The lone bright spot thus far for Austria has been their ageless leader Thomas Raffl, who had two of Austria’s first three goals. He added another in Wednesday’s 4-1 loss to the USA.
A miracle must occur for the Hungarians to avoid relegation back to Div. I-A. They may have got that miracle by beating France in overtime, but they’ll also need to beat Austria to avoid an invitation back to Div. I-A.
Scoring a pair against Canada was a boost to their confidence, but the 1-0 loss Slovenia suffered to Norway puts them at serious risk of relegation. They’ll need to beat Kazakhstan and Latvia, or at least one and salvage a point against the other, to avoid heading back to Div. I-A.