Finland has a population of only 5.5 million people, so the fact that they are now studded with Olympic gold medals and World Hockey Championship winners that same year is unbelievable. And that’s exactly what they accomplished in 2022 Sunday 4-3 OT beat Canada Final title decided.
The Finns are a proud group and also know how to party and have a good time. The whole country was partying on Sunday night, and we shouldn’t expect it to be over until at least Tuesday! It’s just the way Finland is going. Congratulations to the Finns.
With the World Championships behind schedule, we can remove some notes from the tournament, including notes about eligible draft players, some NHL player performances, and any European agents who may now be a target for NHL teams.
Here’s what we saw from the World Championships…
In 2014 I was at the NHL Combine in Toronto working for the Florida Panthers. It was Saturday and the expectations were a fitness test, a daunting process for some guys. Not all possibilities are built the same way after all. Some, in fact, are still years away from fully developing mentally and physically and have plenty of room to add weight and strength.
There was a player who stood out for me that morning. He seemed to take the day in stride and was interacting and laughing with other possibilities and some evaluators at each station.
It was like a moment out of the twilight zone for me that day, seeing David Pasternak strutting around a fitness testing facility with his long hair tucked inside a headband, bringing back the shadows of former world No. 1 tennis player Bjorn Borg. And if you don’t know who he is, I recommend looking for him.
Pasternak was smiling from one stop to the next, unfazed by the significance of the day or the moment. He had an infectious personality that lightened the mood in the room. Pastrnak has turned into an elite scorer and offensive weapon for the Boston Bruins and has benefited from his career earnings of $35 million and growing.
Which brings me to last Sunday when the Czechs faced the USA in the Bronze Medal match at the World Championships. It is not a tournament of the best because of the global commitments players have to their club teams, but it means a lot to the players who compete. For some of them, this is the highest level they will ever play and they desperately want a medal back for their country. The Czech team returned strongly in the third period against the Americans and skated to an 8-4 victory after scoring six goals (!) in the third half.
And there was Pastrnak, an NHL star who represents his country and contributes in the way the hockey world expects. A Czech hat-trick led him to his first men’s World Hockey Championship medal since 2012, and he did so with the same kind of passion and pride that I’ve come to expect of him. The celebration with his team was real. World bronze isn’t a Stanley Cup, or an Olympic gold, or even a World Championship gold, but you can see it means just as much to the group of players in Team Czechia.
And the 26-year-old Bruins star, Bjorn Borg-like led them back in 2014 on a collecting project in Toronto before his career took off. It hasn’t changed a bit over the years. It was refreshing and fun to watch.
• Juraj Slafkovsky ends his year on a positive note. He was deployed hard and on the Slovaks’ core playing unit in this event and scored three goals and six assists in eight matches. His entire game gives the impression that his best is yet to come.
Slavkowski is coping well with some of the best competitions he’s faced this year and playing up his identity. He stopped thinking about the Montreal Canadiens with his #1 pick overall. It wouldn’t surprise me in the least to hear the Habs step up to the podium on July 7 and name him first in front of their home fans. He’s not number one for me, but I can see why the team could put him at the top of their list.
For me, it’s still about Shane Wright and Logan Cooley, but someone will get a high shot at Slavkovsky. I have to wonder if the up/down trade discussions have really started.
• Simon Nemec will be named among the top five picks in this year’s NHL Draft and someone will get a great chance for the blue streak here. He also played to his Worlds ID and scored a lot of minutes for Craig Ramsay in Slovakia. There were a few hiccups on the defensive side of Nemec’s game, but nothing alarming. Playing strong on QB, Nemec has produced one goal and five assists in eight games, and it’s rare to see someone with this youngster tasked with running a PP at this level.
• Another player from Slovakia I had the pleasure of watching was Adam Sikora. In six matches he scored two goals and three points, and his gratuity against Finland was no accident in my opinion.
He’s an energetic player with offensive instincts, and although his height and weight would be a moot point, that shouldn’t be a concern (5ft-10, 172lbs). Sykora is ranked mid-pack for European prospects by NHL Central Scouting (#42) and sees him as a potential target early in the fourth round. One of the things that Scouts will discuss at year-end meetings is the fact that it is too small for this draft. His September 7 birth date falls directly below the September 15 deadline for this year’s enlistment class. At the age of seventeen, he was competing against men much older than him in the event, and for the most part he was fit. If he was born 13 days later than he was and had another whole year to impress the teams, it is very likely that he was a much more desirable player. His age must be considered.
• David Gerisch of the 6-foot-3 Czech will benefit from his experience in the world championships. he is One of the top eight potential players for the upcoming NHL draft, but he’s not in the same category as Nemec. Teams will complete due diligence regarding Jiricek’s injury history and ability to remain in the squad. His five-game World Championships in Finland produced one goal and two points. I still appreciate his IQ and ability to find open space and snowboard. In small areas he does not panic and throws the pucks away. My biggest concern remains its status. There is very little knee flexion in his stride. His upright style can lower the center of gravity and stability, which can sometimes lead to some balance issues.
• Drake Paterson is about to take his game to a new level. The 6-foot-3, 205-pound striker has scored 17 goals and 44 points in 46 games for Ottawa this year. He is a forward player in the Senate and ended up as the second highest scorer in Team Canada’s World Championship with three goals and 14 points in 10 games. He’s moving towards being a consistently dominant player in the NHL.
• It’s safe to say that the Seattle Kraken were hoping to get more than they got from goalkeeper Chris Dredger this season, but became a key player for Canada in the World Series after an injury to Logan Thompson. Driedger’s stats weren’t elite in this event either, placing fifth as best save at 0.915. Ironically, Dredger suffered an injury in the third period and had to leave the gold medal match against Finland. This is the season that Driedger wants to put behind him. Let’s hope his injury isn’t serious and he can rehab during the summer.
• Some players are more suited to the way the game is played in Europe. Mikko Leytunen won gold for Finland at the Junior World Championships, the World Championships and the Olympic Games, and led the Finns to score in this tournament with two goals and 12 points. Lehtonen stands out on the international stage at the big events, though his time in the NHL split between Toronto and Columbus resulted in just six assists in a total of 26 games. He’s a good player but his foot speed is an issue in the NHL game.
• Denis Malgin is an interesting name to come out of this tournament. Its rights are owned by Toronto and it is RFA. The teams are interested in Malgin returning to North America, especially after he finished this tournament with five goals and 12 points in just eight games for Switzerland. I don’t see it as a good fit for Leafs, but could be involved in the trade. The team that acquires it will likely have permission to discuss the contract before agreeing to a trade and determining its cost. He’s the same player he’s always been. He produces more points per game in Europe, but has found less room to move around and settle into a rhythm in the NHL. I would be very surprised if we didn’t see him on the NHL squad to start the 2022-23 season. A team that needs to score (maybe Seattle where head coach Dave Haxtol has been familiar with Malgin from his time with the Leafs) might take a chance.
• Credit to Pierre-Luc Dubois. He came to Finland and played an important role for Team Canada in the front row alongside Dylan Cousins and Drake Paterson. It was used in all situations, and he made major defensive confrontations with his strong team and contributed seven goals and 13 points in 10 games.
There are players who choose to sit outside the world when they enter a free agency and Dubois is an RFA suspended from the Winnipeg Jets. This is a difficult player to play against and he is at his best. He is 6 feet 3 and 218 pounds and isn’t afraid to lean on people and play heavy in the trenches. It should be part of the solution moving forward at the Jets. I have no idea what the conversations between player and team have been like, but I hope both sides can come to a logical agreement and the Jets can count on him as a pivotal figure in building their squad this summer.
(Note: His AAV was worth $5 million this year, but he earned $6.65 million in actual cash.)