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World Championship - Players to Watch

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Granlund's a kid everyone should be keeping a close eye on... as he's coming soon to an NHL rink near you
Granlund's a kid everyone should be keeping a close eye on... as he's coming soon to an NHL rink near you

The Men's World Championship is under way in Slovakia (see Puck Worlds for coverage) and it's always a good chance to see some of the world's non-NHL talent on display.  Here's a list of a few of the guys that we'll be keeping an eye on during the tourney (listed in order of how excited we are to see them (most to least)):

Mikael Granlund, C, FIN - That this 19-year-old made the Finnish team wasn't really a surprise but not sure why two other young prospects also didn't make it as Teemu Pulkkinen (update: deemed not ready) was 5th in SM-Liiga scoring and Sami Vatanen (update: injured) was 4th amongst dmen in the SM-Liiga in scoring this year.  Granlund had another fine season in Finland as he would have been top 10 in the league in scoring (8+28=36 in 39 gms) if it wasn't for a concussion that kept him sidelined for a while.  He put on a show during the playoffs as he led HIFK to the championship while finishing tied for the playoff scoring lead with 5+11=16 in 15 gms.  I'm really big on this kid's upside and am hoping that the Wild bring him over to Minnesota for next season.

David Rundblad, D, SWE - Hasn't played yet or been officially added to the roster (I haven't been able to confirm why not yet) but we're hoping to get a few viewings during the tournament as he had a monster season in the SEL this year finishing 3rd in scoring overall (11+39=50 in 55 games), tops amongst dmen and was named the league's best dman.  It is assumed that he'll make his way to Ottawa this fall and could be in their lineup immediately.

Vladimir Tarasenko, RW, RUS - His KHL numbers slipped a little this year (9+10=19 in 42 games) and he was upstaged at the WJCs by Evgeny Kuznetsov but the Blues 2010 1st rounder has the looks of a bigtime fantasy asset.  He's seeing limited minutes at the WCs but just the fact that he's on the national team (and Kuznetsov isn't (update: injured)) is a huge endorsement of this kid's potential.  The speculation is that the Blues will try to lure him to North America for next season.

Roman Cervenka, C, CZE - There was a lot of hype about him heading into the Olympics a year ago as he led the Czech Extraliga in points last season but he disappointed in Vancouver and opted for the KHL this season.  He's continued his scoring ways in Russia as he led the KHL in goals and was 3rd in points (31+30=61 in 51 gms) this season playing with his buddy Jaromir Jagr in Omsk.  He's still fairly young (25) and will likely get an NHL shot one of these years. 

Petri Vehanen, G, FIN - You might get some debate but based on the past few seasons, I'd call Vehanen the best goalie in Europe right now.  He's put up good numbers in the SM-Liiga and after moving to the KHL last year he's been the best goalie in that league for the past two seasons as evidenced by his stellar regular season numbers (25-12-6, 2.10 & .927 this year) and even better playoff numbers (5-4-0, 1.32 & .957).  I have no idea if an NHL team has ever tried to get him to North American or if he had the desire but at age 33, that boat has likely sailed... shame.

Alexander Radulov, RW, RUS - He is the current holder of the "Best Player Outside the NHL" title belt as he's winning scoring titles and MVP awards in the KHL on a regular basis but reportedly signed a two-year extension to his original three-year KHL contract last summer and so fantasy GMs will have to be very patient if they're hoping for him to return to the NHL someday.

Stephane Da Costa, C, FRA- Signed with Ottawa in March and was in their lineup for four games to finish the season.  He's displayed a lot of upside during his two seasons playing NCAA hockey but will likely be in tough to show too much at the WCs playing on an overmatched France side.

Jakob Silfverberg, LW, SWE - Another Swede drafted by the Sens (2009 2nd round), he put up 18+16=34 in 53 SEL games this season which is a very nice total for a kid who is just 20-years-old.

Jakub Stepanek, G, CZE - The 24-year-old goalie has put up good numbers for whatever team he's played for and made a smooth transition from the Czech Extraliga to the KHL where he put up 16-8-5, 2.05 & .923 in 32 games this year as the starter for a solid team in St.Petersburg.  He'll likely be the backup to Ondrej Pavelec at the WCs but I'd love to see him against the world's best.

Chris Kreider, RW, USA - He's coming off another season where his production at Boston College has disappointed (11+13=24 in 32 gms) but he's looked good at the WJCs (4+2=6 in six gms) and has earned another invite to join the WC team.  He has great wheels and some skills but I don't see huge fantasy upside here.

Leonardo Genoni, G, SUI - The 23-year-old keeper led the Swiss league with a 1.92 gaa & .939 sv% (in 50 games) this year and improved on those numbers (1.54 & .957 in 14 games) in the playoffs while leading Davos to the NLA championship.  He's the Swiss #2 in this tournament (to Tobias Stephan) but I'd like to see what he can do facing some world-class competition (made 57 saves on 61 shots against Canada).

Evander Kane, LW, CAN - Have to throw someone from Canada on here and with lots of great young players on the roster, there's a chance that Kane flies under the radar a little but we'll be keeping a keen eye on him as we like his chances to have a breakout season in 2011/12.

Craig Smith, W, USA - He's a 4th round pick of Nashville from 2009 that just finished his soph. season at UofWisconsin so it's a bit of a surprise that he's on the US team (the team USA GM is a current Nashville Asst GM... so that's why) but he's picked up a few goals so far and hasn't looked out of place.  I'd project him as more of a banger once he reaches the NHL.

Dennis Endras, G, GER - He was a revelation in last year's tournament as he led the German's to the semi-finals on the back of a 1.15 gaa & .961 sv% and was named tournament MVP.  That performance led to him being signed by Minnesota last summer but he was left in the DEL to develop for another season.  But said development didn't really seem to happen this year as he put up poor numbers (3.14 & .900 in 46 gms) but the Wild still plan to bring him over to North American to play in the minors next season.  He looks like a project.

Roberts Bukarts, LW, LAT - You may recall the name as he's been one of Latvia's better players at the WJC the past two years (10+3=13 in 12 gms) andso it's worth watching how the 20-year-old handles competing against men with a plucky Latvian squad.

Frederik Andersen, G, DEN - He came to our attention last year as he was the Danish League MVP and made the WC team as a 20-year-old.  That also caught the attention of the Carolina Hurricanes as they made him a 7th round pick in last summer's draft. He's followed that up with another great season in Denmark but we need to see him tested against some better competition and so it's encouraging that he'll make the move to Frolunda next year to try his luck in the SEL. 

Martin Thornberg, LW, SWE - The 27-year-old has been one of the top goal scorers in the SEL for the past few years and finished 3rd in the league in goals this season (25+19=44 in 52 gms).  There has been some talk that NHL teams are checking him out. 

Lauris Darzins, LW, LAT - Likely nothing to get excited about here but the 26-year-old Darzins had a nice year in the KHL with 21+23=44 in 45 games to finish top 20 in league scoring and this former Nashville draft pick could be drawing some interest from NHL teams.

Alexei Morozov, C, RUS - Widely regarded as one of the top five players outside the NHL and someone that fans of every NHL team are always hoping will decide to join them as a FA.  Here's a news flash... he ain't going anywhere.  He makes a babushkaload of money in the KHL and has shown no interest in returning to the NHL since leaving Pittsburgh prior to the lockout.