The puck drops on the World Cup of Hockey in a couple weeks and the San Jose Sharks will have as much impact in it as any NHL team…
As CBS Sports put it to open their World Cup of Hockey goalie rankings Thursday, Sept. 1: “We’ve officially made it to a month when real, honest-to-goodness hockey is going to be played.” There will be eight San Jose Sharks in the tournament after Logan Couture was added to Team Canada August 23.
The normally excellent coverage by CBS was wrong on this ranking. There is no way Team USA does not have the best unit. However, that is not our focus since no current San Jose goalie is on any World Cup team. (Former backup Thomas Greiss is on Team Europe.)
Rather, we stick to the eight Sharks taking part. The team’s four solo representatives on their respective World Cup rosters are examined below in order of their expected impact.
Team USA: Joe Pavelski
No San Jose player will stand out as much as its captain. CSN Bay Area Insider Kevin Kurz was one of many to report Pavelski is expected to captain Team USA, as well. It will also help the team’s fans that he plays for the team they are likely rooting for.
The change in who wears the “C” is surprising given the American captain of the 2014 Sochi Olympics remains on the team. Zach Parise was also an alternate captain while playing a major role winning silver in 2010.
However, Pavelski is coming off successfully leading the Sharks through a difficult period. The team took on his identity and changed its postseason narrative.
More importantly, he is a better player right now. Without considering letters worn on a team that has plenty of leadership, Pavelski is probably the most important American forward.
Patrick Kane is coming off winning the Hart Trophy as the best player in the NHL for a reason. He is a dynamic offensive player and a very good defender.
Still, Pavelski has more goals than anyone but Alex Ovechkin over the last five-plus seasons. He is also as good a defensive forward as there is.
Furthermore, Pavelski is more versatile. The natural center has been an elite winger and even plays the point on the power play. Kane is a winger only, unquestionably the two least important positions on the ice.
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Expect Pavelski to lead American forwards in ice time. He will get even-strength time at crucial moments, taking many of his team’s biggest faceoffs (a particular strength of his). He will also play on the power play and penalty kill. How is that for impact?
Team Czech Republic: Tomas Hertl
The Czech Republic won a gold medal in the 1998 Nagano Olympics, but has just one bronze in the big tournament since. This team is still considered in the “Big Six” internationally but has been lodged at the bottom of that group for at least a decade.
One could argue that Hertl is more important for his team than Pavelski would be even as Captain America because the Czechs have substantially less support. That is why there is no question the 16th pick of the 2012 NHL Entry Draft is going to play on a scoring line.
Hertl was one of San Jose’s best forwards late in the 2016 Stanley Cup playoffs. He has the size to be effective near the net and skating ability to be effective in open ice.
The biggest obstacle he will face in making an impact on the World Cup of Hockey will be the likelihood he plays in just three games. The Czech Republic would have to finish ahead of either Canada or the United States in its group just to make the semifinal.
Hertl is unlikely to lead his nation’s forwards in ice time, but could easily lead in scoring. He is crucial enough that if he has one bad game, it probably ends any Czech chances of medalling.
Note: Roman Polak was acquired by the Sharks at last March’s trade deadline and is also on Team Czech Republic. While he returned to the Toronto Maple Leafs in the summer, he was important in the franchise’s first-ever Western Conference championship. Based on its blue-line deficiencies, he should also play a significant defensive role for his nation.
Team Europe: Mikkel Boedker
Another new multi-national team created for the World Cup of Hockey is Team Europe. Germany’s Boedker is on that squad.
Boedker has yet to play a game for the Sharks, but his speed they coveted this offseason will serve him even better in the international game. His offensive skill will easily put him on a scoring line.
However, he will still have the same problem Hertl will. While either Team Europe or the Czech Republic could slip into a semifinal, that would require at least one upset. A medal would require two upsets. They are easily two of the three worst teams in the World Cup of Hockey.
That disparity of talent will mean Boedker plays a bigger role for his team than most of his new San Jose teammates. He should be one of Team Europe’s best scorers, albeit for three or four games.
Team Finland: Joonas Donskoi
Having Donskoi at the bottom of the list of impact Sharks for the World Cup of Hockey is not an indictment of their rookie of the year’s play. It has more to do with the talent he has around him.
Team Finland is especially deep at forward. Donskoi’s ability on both ends of the ice and in open ice could lead to heavy minutes. It also could put him on the third line.
Finland should get great goaltending and forward play. Its blue-line deficiencies—possibly better than only the Czech Republic among World Cup of Hockey rosters —may prevent this team from earning its customary silver or bronze in international play, but do not be surprised it it plays for a medal. That is made more likely if Donskoi has a big performance in a big game during group play.