As we look back at a very exciting World Championships in the Czech Republic, where Canada came out victorious and Team USA grabbed the bronze, it’s time for us to select our All-Star team. Myself and Cat Silverman decided which players made the cut.
Goaltender: Connor Hellebuyck
Cat Silverman: A lot of people defend Pekka Rinne’s nomination by the IIHF Board as the top goaltender at the tournament because of his 237:05-minute shutout streak, but I think the streak only makes Connor Hellebuyck’s tournament numbers that much more impressive.
As a 21-year-old netminder with neither a single game of NHL experience nor any prior international play to his name, Hellebuyck was both the picture of confidence and consistency. He allowed only 11 goals against on 211 shots taken over eight games played, shut out the quietly impressive Czech Republic national team and did it all behind a roster with little more experience than himself.
Not only did his play exceed the expectations many had for him going into the tournament, he did it while outplaying goaltenders with years of experience on him. Hard for me to justify anyone beating him out as the best goaltender to show up for the tournament this year.
Sebastian Noren: Hellebuyck has showed great potential during his two years at University of Massachusetts at Lowell, and he had a solid first season in the AHL with the St. John’s IceCaps, posting a 28-22-5 record. Did I see him as the obvious choice as the starting goalie for Team USA? No.
There are several good American goaltenders in the NHL including Jonathan Quick and Cory Schneider, but it’s common for Team USA to give a lot of youngsters and unestablished players the chance at the World Championships. Hellebuyck made most of the opportunity given to him and was stellar throughout the tournament.
Pekka Rinne was given the award as the best goalie of the tournament, but we both agree that Hellebuyck’s young age and inexperience at the big stage coming into the tournament made his performance all that more impressive.
1. Oliver Ekman-Larsson
CS: It’s really scary to think that Oliver Ekman-Larsson is only 23. He was easily one of the best defensemen in the NHL to get passed over for the Norris Trophy, and he proved that wasn’t a fluke at the Worlds by recording tournament-leading stats in nearly every category.
Logging some of Sweden’s heaviest minutes throughout the tournament, OEL was pitted against top competition in every game and still walked away as the tournament’s leading scorer amongst defenseman, the tournament’s assists leader and the sixth highest scorer among all skaters. Factor in that he played two fewer games than the majority of everyone else on the leaderboard — making him the highest points-per-game player over the entire tournament — and it’s easy to see why he’s such a highly coveted player for the Arizona Coyotes.
SN: Ekman-Larsson had a breakthrough year, and he has now opened up the eyes of hockey fans worldwide now with an excellent display at the World Championships. Leading all defensemen in scoring along with playing heavy minutes against the top players of the other nations.
There’s no doubt that OEL will be a Norris Trophy contender in the near future. If it wasn’t for the Arizona Coyotes having such a terrible season, OEL might have been in the discussion this season. He keeps growing as a leader on the ice, and although he’s not the most vocal guy in the locker room, his efforts on the ice is something for younger players to take note of.
It’s nice to see that he’s finally starting to get the attention that he deserves, and there’s no doubt that Sweden has found a new leader on the blue line.
2. Brent Burns
CS: Putting aside the argument of whether Brent Burns is better utilized as a forward or a defenseman, it’s hard to deny that he’s a top level player. He was second in scoring among defenseman only to the aforementioned Oliver Ekman-Larsson, and took a whopping 35 shots on goal over 10 games played.
Not many defensemen can average three and a half shots per game — Burns is one of the few who can. He’s a consistent skater, and the gold medal performance out of him and Team Canada was a nice way to shake off any lingering ill will carried over from the less-than-stellar season San Jose had.
SN: I personally think Burns is better used as a winger on the Sharks, but there’s no doubt that the guy is a great defenseman. He’s very good at utilizing his big frame, but he’s also a very good skater for a player his size. And like Cat stated above, he has a knack for getting his shots on target. Burns can look back at a good tournament that ended with a gold medal around his neck and a second place in scoring amongst defensemen.
Although the Sharks didn’t have a very good season, Burns could leave the Bay Area with his head held high, and the World Championship gold medal must be a nice little band-aid.
1. Filip Forsberg
CS: Destined to forever be snubbed for every award, Filip Forsberg was left off the IIHF’s All-Star Team just weeks after failing to get a nod as a Calder Trophy finalist at the NHL level. Forsberg was a scoring machine for Sweden; his eight goals were just one shy of the tournament goal scoring leader, Team Canada’s Tyler Seguin.
Like Ekman-Larsson, he did that with two fewer games played. He was dynamic and noticeable nearly every time he had the puck and it paid off.
SN: After a somewhat lackluster first game for Team Sweden, Forsberg caught fire and scored eight goals to end up second in scoring behind Seguin, including a hat trick against Austria. Forsberg was another player that has a very good reputation in North America and among hardcore NHL fans, but many average Swedes hadn’t seen too much of Forsberg and what he’s capable of. And that argument can be said about OEL as well.
Forsberg’s success at the tournament was another slap in the face on the Washington Capitals as that trade is just looking worse and worse. He had a excellent rookie year in the NHL and he should have been nominated for the Calder Trophy.
2. Jaromir Jagr
CS: Six goals and three assists in 10 games played is hard enough for a player in his prime to achieve, and Jagr did it at 43. He’s retiring from international competition again, but this was a nice victory lap for the NHL’s longest tenured active skater and he managed to become the oldest goal scorer in World Championships history in the process.
With a pro hockey career spanning nearly three decades, Jagr’s accolades are impressive both in relation to his age and in relation to how easily he outplayed everyone else on the ice, despite having been in the NHL longer than many of the other tournament skaters have been alive.
SN: Jagr is a playing legend. He’s been such a prolific player for such a long time that I can’t imagine the hockey world without Jagr. Doing what he does at his age makes it even more impressive, and six goals and three assists in 10 games is good for any player. It’s a shame that this was his last hurrah with the Czech national team, but at least we will see more of him in the NHL.
The magical mullet isn’t there anymore and he has lost some speed, but Jagr is still an elite player in his best moments and he showed us that once again.
3. Brock Nelson
CS: Quite possibly the most underrated player for Team USA, Brock Nelson was second only to Hellebuyck in terms of value en route to an unexpected bronze medal performance from the Americans. Coming over directly from a grueling seven-game elimination series with the New York Islanders, you could barely tell Nelson had just battled it out in the playoffs.
He was a smart skater, and served as one of the best chemistry pieces on a U.S. roster made up of a mish-mash of NCAA stars and NHL depth players. The team could have easily been the joke of the tournament, and Nelson was a huge part of the reason they looked impressive instead.
SN: Nelson has been impressive for the Islanders, and it’s even more impressive that he was able to rebound and focus after the Isles got knocked out in the playoffs. That shows great mental toughness and a competitive streak that is so crucial in a short tournament like the World Championships.
Looking at the Team USA roster on opening night, I didn’t think that they would be able to go all the way to the medal rounds, but they proved me wrong with some excellent goalkeeping and strong overall play. Several of these players can hopefully take the experience from the tournament and take the next step in their development.