16 Must-Watch Players at the 2022 IIHF World Championship

Nikolaj Ehlers, Team Denmark and Winnipeg Jets (Image: Karl Denham)
Nikolaj Ehlers, Team Denmark and Winnipeg Jets (Image: Karl Denham)

Finally, it’s time for the 2022 IIHF World Championship: the action begins today [13 May], with France taking on Slovakia in the tournament’s opening game.

Although many of the world’s top players are still participating in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and therefore won’t feature in this year’s World Championship, there are plenty of star names heading to Finland to represent their national teams.

16 Players to Watch at the 2022 IIHF World Championship

Before pucks start to fly in Helsinki and Tampere, the tournament’s host cities, let’s identify one player per team you should be watching closely this month.

Players listed in order of IIHF World Rankings, correct as of 12/05/22.

Mikael Granlund, Finland and Nashville Predators

Team Finland’s hopes of improving on their silver-medal performance from 2021 rests firmly on the shoulders of Nashville Predators forward Mikael Granlund.

The 30-year-old is just one of four active NHLers on Jukka Jalonen’s roster, including Harri Säteri – who made six appearances for the Arizona Coyotes after being claimed on the waiver wire at the trade deadline.

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Anyway, back to Granlund. He’s a skilful centreman, capable of making high-end plays under pressure. He potted 64 points (11 goals, 53 assists) in 80 regular-season appearances this year, contributing three assists in four playoff games for the Preds.

An associate captain at club level, Granlund will be expected to play a leading role for Team Finland on home ice.

Matt Barzal, Canada and New York Islanders

Following a disappointing season with the New York Islanders, Matt Barzal lands in Finland hoping to make an impact for Team Canada. The 24-year-old notched 59 points (15 goals, 44 assists) in 73 games for Barry Trotz’s goal-shy Islanders this term, an underwhelming tally for a centreman of such high quality.

(This is the kind of play he’s capable of:)

“I don’t think frustration is the right word,” Barzal said during his post-season exit interview. “Just disappointed, maybe, that things didn’t click as quickly as I wanted to with guys going down with COVID and guys getting hurt and (going) in and out of the line-up. It was tough to find that chemistry. I pride myself on being a centerman that can play with anyone. Just unfortunate that we didn’t put more pucks in the back of the net.”

With the Canadians hoping to retain their gold medal from last year, Barzal has a significant role to play.

Seth Jones, USA and Chicago Blackhawks

Chicago Blackhawks defenceman Seth Jones is a veteran on the international stage: he’s already played in five IIHF events, with the 2022 World Championship set to be his sixth.

As a result, it should be no surprise that Jones was handed the “C” by Team USA head coach David Quinn, who appointed Arizona Coyotes forward Alex Galchenyuk and Winnipeg Jets defenceman Nate Schmidt as associate captains.

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“We’re very fortunate,” said Quinn, “[they’re] three guys who have an awful lot of respect throughout the NHL, guys that have really embraced the leadership role before we named them captains. We really feel like our leadership group’s in good hands.”

Jones, who joined the Blackhawks on a bumper contract as an unrestricted free agent last summer, registered 51 points (five goals, 46 assists) in 78 appearances for Chicago in 2021-22. He’s a smooth-skating, puck-moving defender with a powerful slap shot. In other words, the 27-year-old will be fun to watch at the Worlds.

Rasmus Dahlin, Sweden and Buffalo Sabres

A former first overall pick, Rasmus Dahlin is starting to come into his own with the Buffalo Sabres. He played some tremendous hockey this season, putting up 53 points (13 goals, 30 assists) in 80 appearances. Still only 22, he’s a smart, two-way defenceman who is comfortable joining the rush or dictating play from the blueline.

Dahlin also has the comfort of being named on a strong Team Sweden roster. Johan Garpenlöv has an interesting mix of youth and experience at his disposal, including promising 20-year-old forward Elmer Söderblom.

Nico Hischier, Switzerland and New Jersey Devils

Always a solid performer for Team Switzerland, Nico Hischier arrives in Finland off the back of a career-high 60-point showing in the NHL. He’s made significant progress over the last year, playing a key role for the rebuilding New Jersey Devils. The 1999-born centreman is yet to win a playoff game with Switzerland: will his knockout drought end at this month’s World Championship?

Tomas Hertl, Czechia and San Jose Sharks

Following endless speculation about where he would be playing next season, Czech superstar Tomas Hertl signed a contract extension with the San Jose Sharks through 2029-30 this spring.

The 28-year-old enjoyed a successful campaign with the Sharks this time out, registering 64 points (30 goals, 34 assists) on a non-playoff team. At 6-foot-3, he’s a physical presence on the ice and a constant scoring threat thanks to the quality of his release.

Hertl last appeared in a World Championship in 2015, when he notched three points in eight appearances for Team Czechia. He’ll be hoping to make a larger impact this time around.

Juraj Slafkovsky, Slovakia and TPS (2022 NHL Entry Draft)

It’s incredibly rare for a 17-year-old to rock up at the Winter Olympics, score bucketloads of goals (seven in seven games), and lead their nation to a record-breaking bronze-medal performance. But that’s exactly what Juraj Slafkovsky did at Beijing 2022.

Related: Men’s Olympic Ice Hockey: Top Prospects, Schedule, Players to Watch

Slafkovsky, who celebrated his 18th birthday in March, is poised to be selected in the top five of this year’s NHL Entry Draft and has the swagger befitting of a prospect with his potential. He’s 6-foot-4, has an electric shot, and possesses a high hockey IQ.

“A rise up the draft boards is bound to happen and his performance has been very promising,” draft analyst Tony Ferrari said of the Slovak’s booming form. “While he once looked like a possible top-10 pick, Slafkovsky has used the Olympics to push into the conversation in the top-five and could very well entice a team to take him top-three.”

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If you like watching prospects, look no further than Winter Olympic MVP Slafkovsky at the 2022 World Championship.

Moritz Seider, Germany and Detroit Red Wings

Since bursting onto the scene with the Detroit Red Wings at the start of 2021-22, towering defenceman Moritz Seider has made quite the impression. The 21-year-old, a product of Adler Mannheim’s ever-improving development programme, spent last season in the Swedish Hockey League before making the jump to the NHL this term.

He was a constant figure on the Red Wings’ blueline, registering 50 points (seven goals, 43 assists) in 82 appearances during his rookie season. His exceptional play at both ends of the ice quickly propelled him into the Calder Trophy discussion – which he was formally nominated for earlier this week.

Even without his impressive points tally, Seider is a remarkable prospect. He views defensive work as an art form, using his stick like a master craftsman and his body like a tank.

If you enjoy watching hard-hitting defencemen who can back up their physicality with skill: Seider is your player to watch at this year’s World Championship.

Nikolaj Ehlers, Denmark and Winnipeg Jets

If you watched either of Team GB’s exhibition fixtures against Denmark, you’ll already be familiar with Winnipeg Jets creator Nikolaj Ehlers. He was on top form last week, bamboozling the Brits with a fistful of power play assists at the Motorpoint Arena.

- Nikolaj Ehlers starred for Denmark as they defeated Team GB at Motorpoint Arena (Image: Karl Denham)
Nikolaj Ehlers starred for Denmark as they defeated Team GB 8-0 in preparation for the 2022 IIHF World Championship (Image: Karl Denham)

The 26-year-old is paid a sweet $6,000,000/year to strut his stuff in the NHL, which is a worthy investment considering he notched 55 points (28 goals, 27 assists) in 62 games for the non-playoff Jets this season.

Elvis Merzlinkins, Latvia and Columbus Blue Jackets

Following the tragic death of Matīss Kivlenieks last summer, Elvis Merzlinkins is on a mission to put his friend’s jersey in the rafters and will adopt the No. 80 in his honour.

The 28-year-old is an athletic butterfly goaltender, albeit one who sometimes struggles with rebound control. However, he’s always a positive influence on the international stage and heads into the 2022 World Championship hoping to repeat Kivlenieks’ heroic performance from Latvia’s win over Canada last season.

Max Krogdahl, Norway and Västerviks IK

If you watched the Elite Series, you’ll be familiar with Max Krogdahl – the hard-hitting defenceman from Norway. He suited up for the Coventry Blaze last year, registering four assists in 14 appearances under Danny Stewart’s direction.

2022 IIHF World Championship- Max Krogdahl featured for the Coventry Blaze during the Elite Series (Image: Scott Wiggins)
Max Krogdahl featured for the Coventry Blaze during the Elite Series and will suit up for Norway at the World Championship (Image: Scott Wiggins)

Krogdahl has been an ever-present figure in Norway’s national squad since making his senior debut in 2019 and will participate in his second Men’s World Championship this month. He registered 15 points (one goal, 14 assists) in 49 second division appearances in Sweden in 2021-22 and is expected to play a sizeable role for his nation.

Alexandre Texier, France and Columbus Blue Jackets

Alexandre Texier, France’s only active NHLer, endured a strange season with the Columbus Blue Jackets. He started the campaign strongly, registering 20 points (11 goals, nine assists) in 36 games, but suffered an injury at the turn of the year and hasn’t played since.

The 22-year-old, a former second-round pick, was granted a leave of absence by the Blue Jackets in March, allowing him to spend time with his family during his recovery. Although his match sharpness remains an open question, Texier is always a key player for France and they’ll need him to step up again at the World Championship.

Nikita Mikhailis, Kazakhstan and Barys Nur-Sultan

Still only 26, Kazakhstan’s Nikita Mikhailis has already built up an impressive CV. He’s registered 167 points (80 goals, 87 assists) in 316 appearances in the KHL for Barys, while becoming a key player on the international stage for his nation.

Tommaso Traversa, Italy and Sheffield Steelers

Despite making only 31 appearances for the Sheffield Steelers, Tommaso Traversa quickly emerged as a fan favourite at Utilita Arena this season.

2022 IIHF World Championship- Tommaso Traversa spent the second half of 2021-22 with the Sheffield Steelers (Image: Dean Woolley)
Tommaso Traversa spent the second half of 2021-22 with the Sheffield Steelers (Image: Scott Wiggins)

He’s a frequent flier for the Italian national team, making 65 appearances and notching 14 points since making his senior debut in 2010. As a result, the diminutive 31-year-old will be hoping to make his mark in Finland.

Marco Kasper, Austria and Rögle BK (2022 NHL Entry Draft)

After plugging away in Sweden for the last few seasons, Marco Kasper has started to find success in the senior ranks. The 18-year-old’s game is premised on his work rate and skating ability, making him an effective two-way player.

Kasper is likely to get a shot in Austria’s top-six, offering him the chance to improve his stock before this year’s draft. It’s worth keeping an eye on him ahead of Team GB’s must-win clash versus Austria later this month.

Ben Bowns, Great Britain and Dukla Tencin

Liam Kirk’s unavailability is a major issue for Team GB: they’ll inevitably struggle to light the lamp at the World Championship with their star forward on the injury list. As a result, Pete Russell’s squad is likely to turn to netminder Ben Bowns for inspiration.

2022 IIHF World Championship
Ben Bowns robbed first overall pick Jack Hughes at the 2019 IIHF World Championship (Image: Dean Woolley)

Bowns was excellent in last year’s tournament, playing a key role in Team GB’s win over Belarus, and enjoyed a solid season in Slovakia with Dukla Trencin. He ended 2021-22 with a .909 save percentage through 25 appearances, which is a positive sign considering he’s likely to face a high volume of shots in Tampere.

Which players are you excited to watch at the 2022 IIHF World Championship? Join the conversation by tweeting @BritIceHockey.

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