We'd be curious to see this guy in the NHL someday
The overdue finale (better late than never, right?) of our observations from the 2012 World Championship. For this last group I'll look at the players that caught my eye or impressed me in some way. (Links: Part 1 & Part 2)
Petri Vehanen, G, FIN - I've been on this guy's bandwagon for a while, calling him the best goalie in Europe and saying that an NHL team that needs help in goal should be on the phone with his agent. Now, at 34 years-old, it could be tricky to get him to move at this point but there are rumours that teams like Tampa & Boston are sniffing around. He had another solid season in the KHL (2.35 & .916 in 42 games) but really elevated his play in the playoffs (1.85 & .943). He started the WC behind Kari Lehtonen but he was outplaying the NHLer even before Lehtonen went down with an injury. Overall he finished with a pedestrian 2.13 & .907 in seven games for the tournament but remove the semi-final against Russia (17/23) and he put up a 1.37 & .940 in his other six games.
Ilya Nikulin, D, RUS - Much like Vehanen, we've been waiting for years for this guy to make his way to the NHL. He was a 2nd round pick of ATL way back in 2000 and there were suggestions over the years that he had some interest in coming over but now that he is over 30, it is probably unlikely. Damn shame as the guy can play, he is coming off a down season in the KHL (9+15=24 in 51 games) but was team captain for Russia and led the team's dmen in scoring with 2+5=7 in 10 games.
Libor Hudacek, LW, SVK - The 21-year-old, 5'9" sparkplug caught my eye as he looked like he belonged playing with a bunch of current & former NHLers on a veteran Slovakian squad. He'll be stepping up with Bratislava into the KHL next season so we'll be watching to see how he adapts to a much tougher league.
Mikko Maenpaa, D, FIN - I had never heard of this guy until this season as he finished 2nd in the KHL in scoring amongst dmen (14+23=37 in 51 games) and then played a major role for the Finns (1+4=5 & 18:54/gm in 10 games). He looks like he knows his way around a PP but given his age (29) and size (5'10") it's probably unlikely that we see him on this side of the pond.
Marcus Kruger, C, SWE - I half expected the NHL rookie to take a lesser role (like Silfverberg & Jarnkrok) on the veteran Swedish team but he wasn't havin' it as he forced his way into a top six role playing 15:27/gm. Like in the NHL, the production isn't there yet (3+2=5 in eight games) but I like the smarts that this kid shows and think he has a lot more to give... definitely a breakout candidate in the next few years.
Vitali Koval, G, BLR - I didn't know much about this 32-year-old veteran until he led the KHL in gaa (1.75) & sv% (.930) this past season. He was obviously at a disadvantage playing for a weak Belorussian squad as he faced 36.7 shots/gm but he held up very well posting a 2.93 & .920 in five games. He is now on my radar but given his age and track record, we're not likely to see him in the NHL ever.
Miks Indrasis, C, LAT - Nothing spectacular here but it's noteworthy when a 21-year-old who barely has any experience in a major European circuit can lead his national team in scoring at the WC (3+2=5 in seven games). Most of Indrasis experience has been in the Russian junior league (MHL) but the kid seems to have the size (6'3" & 196) to play at a higher level. If you like Latvians & longshots, then keep an eye on this kid.
Andrej Sekera, D, SVK - Sekera flashed the offensive potential that he possesses but is often MIA for Buffalo. At the WC he was tied for 2nd in scoring amongst dmen (2+7=9 in 10 games) and behind only Chara in TOI (19:52/gm) on a surprising Slovakian team that captured the Bronze. In the NHL he is overshadowed by guys like Ehrhoff & Myers but he seems capable of taking on a bigger role if needed.
Justin Faulk, D, USA - This kid just keeps upping the ante, after a surprising rookie season he stepped onto the full international stage and led the US dmen in scoring (4+4=8 & plus-9 in eight games) while logging the third most ice-time (20:13/gm) on the team.
Semyon Varlamov, G, RUS - Not really a surprise as he is coming off a solid NHL season (2.59 & .913) and was playing behind the most dominant team in the tournament but have to give Varlamov a mention for being the best goalie at the WC (8W, 1.77 & .939 in eight games).
Jakub Kovar & Jakub Stepanek, G, CZE - The Czech goalies formed a dymanic duo as they were 2nd (Stepanek - .939) and 3rd (Kovar - .928) amongst all goalies in sv% and platooned well enough to lead the Czech's to the semi-final. In the past two seasons the 25-year-old Stepanek has been a starter in the KHL for St. Petersburg. The 23-year-old Kovar spent a season in the OHL when he was younger and was a draft pick of the Flyers back in 2006. Both look like candidates to try their luck in the NHL someday but it's not likely to be next season.