IIHF world championship round-robin takeaways: Kaprizov turning heads

Russia's-Kirill-Kaprizov-celebrates-his-goal-against-the-United-States-during-first-period-semifinal-IIHF-World-Junior-Championship-hockey-action-in-2017.

Russia's Kirill Kaprizov celebrates his goal against the United States during first period semifinal IIHF World Junior Championship hockey action in 2017. (Paul Chiasson/CP)

The 2018 IIHF world championship, as it does every year, has given hockey fans something to talk about besides the ongoing Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The quarterfinals feature two intriguing matchups (Canada versus Russia, the United States versus the Czech Republic) and two perceived mismatches (Sweden versus Latvia, Finland versus Switzerland), but before they get underway Thursday, we decided to look back on some highlights from the round robin.

Extra star power

There’s always a modicum of star power at the IIHF world championship but this year has felt a bit different. Perhaps it’s because there were no NHLers at the Olympics. Or, maybe, it’s as simple as having a pair of bona fide superstars in Connor McDavid and Patrick Kane participating. Their presence has been a boon to the tournament — especially considering how they’re playing.

McDavid has been puck-on-a-string brilliant for Canada, while Kane is setting records for Team USA.

Aho’s star continues to shine

Sebastian Aho is the centrepiece of the Carolina Hurricanes franchise, progressing nicely through his first two NHL seasons, and he shone for Finland in the round robin. Aho always seems to show up and take his game to another level at international tournaments, so his results are not entirely surprising. He was one-third of that dominant Finnish trio that lit up the 2016 world juniors when he, Patrik Laine and Jesse Puljujarvi combined for a remarkable 17 goals and 44 points in seven (seven!) games en route to a gold medal. Still, no one would’ve anticipated the 20-year-old setting a new Finnish record for most points at the tournament with 17, including a tournament-leading nine goals.

Kaprizov turning heads for Russia

The Detroit Red Wings found a late-round Russian gem in the form of Pavel Datsyuk two decades ago and the Minnesota Wild may have done the same with Kirill Kaprizov.

The 21-year-old scored six goals in seven round-robin games at the worlds. This performance follows a breakout Pyeongchang 2018 where he scored the golden goal for the Olympic Athletes From Russia, finished with nine points in five games and established himself as one of the most talented forwards not currently signed to an NHL contract.

The Wild own his NHL rights after selecting him in the fifth round (135th overall) in 2015 but NHL fans won’t see him on North American ice until 2020. He’s under contract with CSKA Moscow through the 2019-2020 campaign.

Demark takes positive steps as host

The Danes are no hockey powerhouse, but that day might soon arrive if the program continues to develop at the rate it has been. Denmark put forth an admirable effort as the host nation, finishing just two points shy of a place in the quarterfinals.

Goalie Frederik Andersen made some highlight-reel saves as one of three NHLers on the team — Frans Nielsen and Oliver Bjorkstrand were the others. Denmark’s relative success becomes even more impressive considering skilled NHL forwards like Nikolaj Ehlers, Lars Eller, Mikkel Boedker and Jannik Hansen were not at the tournament because their respective teams were in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

“It’s been incredible and we’re proud of where we are today,” Nielsen said.

By all accounts, the tournament has been a success and Bjorkstrand wants it to have a positive long-term impact on Danish hockey.

“I hope it spreads awareness of hockey in Denmark for a lot of families and hopefully they’ll try to get their kids to play hockey,” Bjorkstrand said. “Hopefully it gets more hockey kids involved and more media attention on hockey, of course. It’s something we’re hoping for at this tournament.”

France coach gets lovely send-off

Dave Henderson has been coach of France’s national team for the past 14 years but is heading into retirement after coaching his 346th game behind the French bench. Henderson has seen the game make significant strides in France during his time with the program.

“French hockey has come from being like kitchen hockey, I guess you’d call it, to something much more professional,” Henderson said. “We have more preparation, more games, more intensity and more organization. It’s going in the right direction and it will keep going that way under the direction of our Federation.”

Henderson and his longtime assistant coach Pierre Pousse, who’s also leaving the program, received a nice ovation from players following France’s final game.

Korea’s wild 2018 continues

It has been quite the year for Korean hockey. Pyeongchang, South Korea, hosted the Olympics in February, which gave the nation a rare chance to compete against the top-tier hockey countries. The Koreans didn’t fare well at that tournament and were completely outmatched at the worlds too, getting outscored 48-4 in seven games, including double-digit losses to both Canada and the United States, before being relegated.

This play from captain Woo-Sang Park personified what Team Korea is all about. They weren’t simply going to lay down despite being at a massive disadvantage in terms of talent.

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