The IIHF Men’s Hockey World Championships are ranked fairly low in importance by North Americans, especially when compared to other international tournaments. The Worlds rank ahead of the Spengler Cup, but firmly behind the World Cup, the Olympics, and even the World Juniors. However, one often overlooked aspect of the Worlds that add to its importance is the notion that players can use the tournament to play their way onto national rosters for more prestigious tournaments. This aspect will be front and center at the 2016 World Championships, as many players will see it as their last chance to cement a spot on a roster for the World Cup later this summer.
With that in mind, here are the players that could boost their odds of making a national team the most with their participation in the Worlds. To keep things simple, I’ve (mostly) focused on NHL players only, and, as the Worlds take place during the playoffs, I’ve only looked at players that have a chance at missing the playoffs. The 2016 Worlds will take place in Russia on May 6th-22nd, and are televised on Sportsnet.
Matt Duchene, C, Colorado Avalanche: Duchene has improved marginally on a disappointing 2014-15 campaign, but it may not be enough to make Canada’s stacked roster. Despite having Olympic experience already, a strong showing at the Worlds could solidify a spot for Duchene.
Ryan O’Reilly, C, Buffalo Sabres: A troubling off-season and a move to cellar-dweller Buffalo had many worried about O’Reilly’s production, but he is having what would have been a career season if not for some injuries. O’Reilly has been praised for his leadership with the Sabres’ young roster, and his defensive acumen may make him a fit on Team Canada.
Taylor Hall, LW, Edmonton Oilers: As a natural winger, Hall may have an inside edge, as Canada is heavy on centers that will have to convert to wing. Hall has performed well at the Worlds before. Hall had a better season than last year, but was still not at his previous heights.
Claude Giroux, C, Philadelphia Flyers: The Flyers may make the playoffs, and many feel that Giroux doesn’t have anything more to prove anyway. However, Team Canada continues to turn a blind eye towards him. It is notable that this is Giroux’s worst statistical season since his sophomore year. A dominant performance at the Worlds would, at the very least, make Canada look bad if they keep snubbing him.
Brad Marchand, LW, Boston Bruins: Like Hall, Marchand may benefit from being a natural winger. The two are very much in competition for a spot. After a breakout season, Marchand may be the Canadian player who could benefit the most from the Worlds. His Bruins look likely to make the playoffs, but even if they exit early Marchand should book a flight immediately. He can use the Worlds to address two concerns about him; that he’s a one-hit wonder, and his well-earned reputation as the most hated man in hockey.
PK Subban, D, Montreal Canadiens: Subban was a shoe-in on the Canadian roster for many, and some were surprised that Marc-Edouard Vlasic was named ahead of him. Subban will likely have to hope that he has already solidified his spot, as some late season injuries will probably preclude him from participating in the Worlds.
TJ Brodie, D, Calgary Flames: The lesser-known name of the two Flames defensemen in contention for a spot, Brodie may actually have the better odds. He is short on international experience and could benefit from the spotlight of the Worlds.
Mark Giordano, D, Calgary Flames: Brodie’s teammate had a terrible start to the season, but has really turned it on of late. Giordano made it onto Canada’s radar with a breakout season last year, and if he can continue his late streak of play into a top role at the Worlds, he would seem to be a lock for Canada.
Brandon Dubinsky, C, Columbus Blue Jackets: Dubinsky may be worth bringing just for his ability to get under the skin of Canadian captain Sidney Crosby. With the World Cup being played with NHL rules, a tough grinder-type like Dubinsky is under more consideration than he would be for an Olympic tournament.
Bobby Ryan, RW, Ottawa Senators: Ryan, who was infamously accused of an inability to spell “intense,” is still on the outside looking in. The Senators’ season floundered, but Ryan performed well. Gaining more international experience at the Worlds might make him hard to continue ignoring.
Nick Foligno, LW, Columbus Blue Jackets: Foligno was the breakout player of the year last year, and his stats predictably plummeted this season. With only 34 points, Foligno probably needs a great performance at the Worlds to get a shot at Team USA. Like Dubinsky, the NHL style of the World Cup gives him a bit of an edge.
Kyle Palmieri, RW, New Jersey Devils: Palmieri is perhaps this season’s version of Foligno. After being exiled by the Ducks, Palmieri joined the Devils and broke out in a big way, as his current 54 points are almost double his previous career totals. However, Palmieri has all the markings of a one-hit wonder, and could use a boost to his credibility at the Worlds.
Erik Johnson, D, Colorado Avalanche: One of the more low-key 1st overall draft picks in recent memory has been a frequent member of USA teams, but will struggle to make the World Cup roster. This is less about Johnson’s play falling off and more about other defensemen surpassing him.
Justin Faulk, D, Carolina Hurricanes: Really, Faulk should have nothing to prove. There is no real reason why he isn’t already on the USA roster, and it would be shocking if he were left off entirely. He does not have much more he can prove at the Worlds.
Alexei Emelin, D, Montreal Canadiens: With the aforementioned NHL rules at play in the World Cup, Emelin’s gritty style and hard hitting may be welcome on Russia’s blueline. However, a poor season in Montreal may have the Russians looking at KHL options. Emelin could benefit greatly from a strong showing at the Worlds.
Alex Burmistrov, C, Winnipeg Jets: Burmistrov returned to the NHL this season, and did not exactly set the world on fire. He actually peformed worse that his rookie and sophomore NHL seasons. With lots of forward talent in the KHL, Burmistrov needs to use the Worlds to show some offensive talent.
Mikhail Grigorenko, C, Colorado Avalanche: A trade from Buffalo to Colorado and former coach Patrick Roy was thought to mean a great opportunity for Grigorenko, but that never really materialized. With mediocre results despite being given a decent chance, Grigorenko could also use the Worlds to show his offensive acumen.
Nail Yakupov, RW, Edmonton Oilers: A true enigma, and one of only three 1st overall pick available to the Russians (along with Alex Ovechkin and Ilya Kovalchuk). Yakupov turned in his worst performance yet in 2015-16, despite getting ample time with Connor McDavid. Yakupov would need a strong showing at the Worlds to get a shot.
Carl Soderberg, C, Colorado Avalanche: Soderberg just cracked the 50 point mark, and should be a near shoe-in for Sweden. He is a bit short on international experience, only playing at the Junior level, and so a run at the Worlds may be in his best interest.
Mika Zibanejad, C, Ottawa Senators: Zibanejad will also likely hit 50 points, and should be a useful player for Sweden. Also like Soderberg, Zibanejad is short on international play, and should probably take the opportunity to shine at the Worlds.
Robin Lehner, G, Buffalo Sabres: The famously combative goalie has the inside track for Sweden’s number three spot, but he has some competition in the likes of Jhonas Enroth, so a starring role at the Worlds wouldn’t hurt.
Gustav Nyquist, RW, Detroit Red Wings: Nyquist isn’t having a horrible season, but certainly a disappointing one after his previous highs. A year ago, he would have been a lock for Sweden. Now he may have to play his way onto the team.
Elias Lindholm, C, Carolina Hurricanes: The 22-year-old may be held back by his age and the fact that he has yet to really breakout at the NHL level. If he could have some sort of breakout role at the Worlds, Sweden may have to take a look at him.
Jykri Jokipakka, D, Calgary Flames: Traded at the deadline in a package for Kris Russell, Jokipakka has performed well as a Flame. Finland isn’t exactly deep on the blueline, so Jokipakka is definitely in contention. Great hockey name.
Teemu Pulkkinen, RW, Detroit Red Wings: Injuries and a lack of playing time have prevented Pulkkinen from breaking out, despite a starring role in the AHL last year. If the Red Wings make the playoffs, he won’t get the chance to add to his resume at the Worlds and probably won’t see much ice time with the Wings.
Markus Granlund, C, Vancouver Canucks: Part of a controversial trade for Hunter Shinkaruk, Granlund has not stood out at the NHL level like his brother, Mikael. He is still in contention for a spot due to Finland’s lack of depth, so a good offensive showing at the Worlds would help.
Tuomo Ruutu, RW, New Jersey Devils: Ruutu has literally 0 points this NHL season, and is not playing regularly for the Devils. The Ruutus have been a staple of Team Finland, but Tuomo is now a longshot to make the World Cup team. He may not even receive an invite to the Worlds!
Joel Armia, RW, Winnipeg Jets: After a long stay on many top prospects lists, Armia finally stuck in the NHL this season. It was not a breakout year by any means, but he should definitely be in consideration for Team Finland as a depth winger.
Team Czech Republic:
Pavel Zacha, LW, Sarnia Sting (New Jersey Devils): We’re cheating a bit here, as Zacha is not yet an NHL player. However, the Czechs are hurting for talent. Zacha is only available for the Worlds is his Sarnia Sting are eliminated from the OHL playoffs.
Radim Vrbata, RW, Vancouver Canucks: Vrbata had an awful season with the Canucks, and played himself out of contention for a roster spot at the World Cup. Unfortunately, with some late season injuries and UFA status, Vrbata probably won’t take the risk of participating at the Worlds.
Zbynek Michalek, D, Arizona Coyotes: Michalek is a steady, stay-at-home defenseman who is in contention for a spot due to the Czechs’ lack of depth. This long-time veteran will probably not see the need to participate in the Worlds, and instead will rest the season’s bumps and bruises.
Jakub Nakladal, D, Calgary Flames: Nakladal somewhat established himself as an NHL player this season, and that may be all that is needed to make the Czech roster. A good showing at the Worlds couldn’t hurt.
Team North America (Under-23):
Alex Galchenyuk, C, Montreal Canadiens: Despite the horrors of the Canadiens’ season, Galchenyuk managed to somewhat quietly breakout. His late season play may have already sealed his spot, but performing well at the Worlds would cinch it for sure.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, C, Edmonton Oilers: Nugent-Hopkins was snubbed by his own GM, Peter Chiarelli. He is probably hungry to prove himself, but late-season injuries will probably prevent him from doing that.
Max Domi, C, Arizona Coyotes: Domi’s great rookie season was overshadowed by a fantastic rookie class, but he is very much in the running for Team North America. Domi is likely chomping at the bit to show off at the Worlds.
Bo Horvat, C, Vancouver Canucks: Horvat seemed poised for a breakout season, but was held back by the Canucks’ awful year. He is very much a longshot for the North Americans, but his international experience might get him a Worlds invite, at least.
Boone Jenner, C, Columbus Blue Jackets: Jenner really broke out this season, and his gritty style makes him perfect for the World Cup. Sean Couturier, a similar player, already being named is the only thing that hurts Jenner’s chances.
Sam Reinhart, C, Buffalo Sabres: After disappointment at the NHL level last year, Reinhart returned with a vengeance in 2015-16 and cracked 40 points. He has begun to close the gap a bit between himself and Aaron Ekblad, who is already on the team.\
Mark Schiefele, C, Winnipeg Jets: Similar to Galchenyuk, Schiefele has entered the conversation after a late-season surge. Look for him to build on that at the Worlds.
Cody Ceci, D, Ottawa Senators: With so many talented young defensemen, Ceci may not even get a Worlds invite. He would really need to shine to get a look at North America’s roster.
Dougie Hamilton, D, Calgary Flames: A year ago, Hamilton would have been among the four defensemen named to the preliminary roster. Despite recovering from his intial terrible play in Calgary, Hamilton has yet to regain his quality of play from his Bruins days. He needs to play his way onto the roster.
Jacob Trouba, D, Winnipeg Jets: Many might think Trouba is a guarantee, but the glut of defensive talent available to Team North America puts his spot in jeopardy. He needs to keep ahead by dominating at the Worlds.
Darnell Nurse, D, Edmonton Oilers: Team Canada would be smart to invite Nurse to the Worlds, as he will almost certainly be a mainstay on Canada’s top roster. Nurse didn’t really break out at the NHL level this year, but it is hard to do that as an Oiler. The Worlds give him an opportunity to show what he can do with better teammates.
Shayne Gostisbehere, D, Philadelphia Flyers: Affectionately known as Ghostbear, Gostisbehere came out of nowhere to break the record for consecutive gains with a point by a rookie defenseman. He will likely be nominated for the Calder along with Artemi Panarin and McDavid, and that alone should qualify him for North America’s squad.
Michael Raffl, LW, Philadelphia Flyers: One of many bubble wingers for Europe, Raffl will almost certainly compete for Austria if the Flyers do not make the playoffs. Unfortunately, he will have to do so in the B division, as Austria was relegated.
Nikolaj Ehlers, LW, Winnipeg Jets: The Danish winger had a great rookie season with the Jets, and should shine as a top offensive threat for Denmark at the Worlds. Offers more pure offensive skill than many other wingers in contention for a spot.
Luca Sbisa, D, Vancouver Canucks: A late-season injury probably keeps Sbisa out of the lineup for the Worlds, but he will likely make the World Cup roster anyway. Team Europe lacks defensive depth, and Sbisa’s hardhitting style is unique on their roster.
Lars Eller, C, Montreal Canadiens: A fairly unexciting career for this Dane could still yield a spot on Team Europe as a defensive center. He is in direct competition with the player below.
Zemgus Girgensons, C, Buffalo Sabres: Last year’s NHL All-Star is fighting for playing time in Buffalo with the addition of Reinhart and Jack Eichel. Unlike the Austrian forwards, Girgensons will be able to show his stuff in the A division with Latvia.
Michael Grabner, RW, Toronto Maple Leafs: A healthy but disappointing season has likely precluded Grabner from Team Europe. He will have a tough time playing his way onto the team from the B division with Austria.
Jonas Hiller, G, Calgary Flames: Hiller had a tire fire of a season, and was the worst goalie in the NHL by far. If he has any hope of making Team Europe, he needs to absolutely shine for Switzerland at the Worlds. Even then, they’re likely better off going with a younger option.