Today the IIHF World Championship begins in Slovakia. Team USA beings at 2:15 EDT against the host country. All USA games can be seen on NHL Network, and the full schedule of games can be found here.
We’re used to seeing a large number of Blue Jackets participate, with standout performances last year from Cam Atkinson (USA) and Markus Nutivaara (Finland). There are not as many this year, however, as a longer playoff run left more players tired and/or injured. Some of the less-used Jackets have made the trip, however:
Alexander Wennberg, C, Sweden
It was a disappointing season in Columbus for Wennberg, who was a healthy scratch for six of the ten playoff games. He played in the senior World Championship once previously, in 2016, where he notched eight points (1G, 7A) in eight games. That led to his most productive season with the Jackets. Would be nice to see him end the season on a positive note, with the two-time defending champions.
Alexandre Texier, F, France
Texier made quite a splash in his North American debut, scoring five goals in seven games in Cleveland, one goal in two regular season games for Columbus, plus two more goals in the clinching victory over Tampa Bay. “Martel” had three assists for France in his WC debut last summer, at the age of 18.
Vladislav Gavrikov, D, Russia
Vlad the Backchecker is no stranger to international play, having won a gold medal in last year’s Olympics with the Olympic Athletes from Russia. He has also played a total of 17 games in the previous two World Championships. Expect him to play big minutes again, and show the ability we got glimpses of in two playoff games here.
Elvis Merzlikins, G, Latvia
Elvis is the King of the World Championships. Two years ago, he had a 1.98 GAA and .937 save percentage in six games. In six games last year, that improved to a 1.50 GAA and .940 save percentage. He didn’t get to see game action with the Blue Jackets after signing his contract, but we’ll see if all the practice reps kept him sharp.
Veini Vehvilainen, G, Finland
Vehvilainen was the Blue Jackets’ sixth round pick in last summer’s draft. This is his WC debut. After winning the championship last season, his team Karpat lost in the finals, despite having the league’s best record in the regular season. They had 28 more standings points than second place, while leading the league in goals for by 8 and goals allowed by 46 (in a 60 game season). The latter stat is thanks to Vehvilainen’s league-leading 1.58 GAA and .933 save percentage. The Jackets signed Merzlikins and Daniil Tarasov to entry level contracts this spring, but keep an eye out for this guy as well. Even with the departure of Sergei Bobrovsky, there is much goaltending depth in the pipeline.
There are some former Jackets playing in Slovakia, including Jonthan “JAM” Marchessault (Canada), Marko Dano (Slovakia), and Jakub Voracek (Czech Republic).
For anyone following along, please feel free to post updates in the comments!