The training camps for the 8 World Cup of Hockey teams have commenced. Pretournament games begin on Thursday, while the official tournament gets under way on September 17th. Yeah, the tournament has a strange cast of teams and is by no means an adequate replacement for the Olympics, but competitive hockey is starting up right away and it will make for interesting viewing to say the least. A few of the Flames are representing their countries (or continents…) in this tournament. While the team announced last week that Sean Monahan is going to have to miss the tournament due to a minor back injury and Team Canada’s interesting selection process chose Jay Bouwmeester over Mark Giordano, there are still a few Flames you can keep an eye on in the weeks to come.
Team North America
#13 Johnny Gaudreau: If the great “country” of North America is to succeed, Johnny Gaudreau will have to be a major part of the team’s success. Gaudreau finished 6th in NHL scoring this past season with 78 points, the next closest NA teammate would have been Sean Monahan at 63 points, 28th in the league. Connor McDavid likely would have been right around Gaudreau had he not missed nearly half the season, but after that there is a drop off. Team North America will need Gaudreau to bring his best; he will be counted on to provide scoring at 5-on-5 and on the powerplay. While he opened camp practicing on a line with fellow Americans Jack Eichel and Brandon Saad, it seems inevitable that we will see Gaudreau spend some time with Connor McDavid and that should be a very interesting thing to watch. There is also the matter that as of right now, Gaudreau is playing this tournament while waiting to sign a major contract with the Flames. If you are feeling indifferent to this tournament, watching Gaudreau and Team North America should make for the most compelling viewing.
#11 Mikael Backlund: Hilariously ignored by his own country in favour of Marcus Krueger (0G, 4A in 41 games), Backlund (21G, 26A, in 82 games, much better possession stats) finally got added to the team last week as a replacement for the injured Henrik Zetterberg. If logic prevails, he should get an opportunity to contribute to the team as a shutdown centre. However, in opening practices Backlund was the spare forward. While undoubtedly better than Kruger and arguably Carl Soderberg, we will have to see whether Backlund is given the chance to help the team. It would probably be in their best interest to give Backlund ice, but we shall see.
#2 Jyrki Jokipakka: While his status for playing in the tournament was in question for most of the summer due to an offseason hip surgery, Jokipakka was present at the start of Finnish camp, placed on the second pairing alongside Anaheim’s Sami Vatanen. With the Finns possessing limited depth on the blue line, this is a good opportunity for Jokipakka to log some serious minutes against quality competition.
Team Czech Republic
#67 Michael Frolik: Michael Frolik is going to get a chance to play in this tournament. The Czech team knows what it has in Frolik: a reliable, smart player that can contribute in all situations. While he is not a high-level scorer, Frolik will be useful in generating secondary scoring. Frolik’s real value is as a defensive player, he is consistently able to push play to the attacking zone and offers strong penalty killing skills. On a Czech team that was not immensely deep to begin with and has recently been ravaged by injuries, Frolik will be leaned on.
#33 Jakub Nakladal? We still do not know what is happening with Jakub Nakladal, but for as long as he remains unsigned, we have to assume that the door is still open for a return to Calgary, no matter how unlikely that seems. This tournament will be huge for Nak, he has the chance to showcase his skills for the other 29 teams who may be looking for an affordable depth pick up on the blueline.