The Men's World Hockey Championship is under way (Update: it's almost over) in Sweden & Finland and it's always a good chance to see some of the world's top non-NHL talent on display. Sorry I didn't get this list out earlier, had the names down since the beginning but couldn't find time to write it up. Here's a list of 13 guys that we're keeping an eye on during the tourney with visions of them one day ripping it up for our fantasy team (listed in order of how excited we are to see them (most to least)):
Antti Raanta, G, FIN - This guy is the hot Euro property right now as he won everything possible in SM-Liiga this year (MVP, Playoff MVP & League Championship) and was virtually unbeatable doing it (.943 sv% in 45 regular season games and .955 in 16 playoff games). This could be a fluke but he did have nice numbers last season as well, so this soon-to-be 24-year-old might just be the real thing. There are rumours that at least five NHL teams are after him.
Tomas Hertl, C, CZE - The Sharks 1st rounder from 2012 has taken the road less travelled by remaining in the Czech Republic and playing in the men's league as opposed to jumping to the CHL. Hertl has made the best of it as he actually plays in the Extraliga and has held his own over the last two seasons. It is expected that he'll cross the pond this fall and likely start in the AHL.
Jacob Trouba, D, USA - Has taken massive strides in my book as during his draft year I didn't see a lot of offensive upside but he really impressed with great numbers at the UofMich (12+17=29 & 88 PIMs in 37 games) and was a dominant force at the WJCs. I'm expecting him to step into the Jets lineup right away next season and so seeing him match up against men will be a good measuring stick for his fantasy potential.
Oscar Lindberg, C, SWE - The Rangers prospect really broke out this year in his 4th SEL season with 17+25=42 in 55 games. But that was just the beginning as he went on to lead Skelleftea to the title and was named playoff MVP (4+8=12 in 13 games). The Rangers have already signed him to an ELC but it would be pretty surprising if he didn't spend all of 2013/14 in the AHL.
Drew LeBlanc, C, USA - This guy has been busy lately leading St. Cloud State to the Frozen Four, winning the Hobey Baker Award, signing a deal with Chicago and making his NHL debut (two games). Now he's actually taking on a fairly big role with Team USA and I'm interested to learn more about him.
Anton Belov, D, RUS - I've never heard of this guy but he had a big season in the KHL (9+17=26 in 46 games) and made the Russian WC team for the first time. The combination of his new found offensive production and size (6'4" & 212) is quite intriguing. He may not be ready for an NHL gig yet but he's worth keeping an eye on.
Calle Jarnkrok, C, SWE - The Red Wings 2010 2nd rounder came over to Grand Rapids for a nine game spell (0+3=3) this year but Sweden wanted him back for the WCs. He led Brynas and was top 10 in the SEL in scoring this year. He has four years of experience in the SEL and will turn 22 prior to next season starting so it will be interesting to see how much AHL seasoning the Wings give him before they decide he's NHL-ready.
Jaroslav Janus, G, SVK - Left Tampa's farm system this year to prove himself in the KHL and he did just that by putting up a 2.17 & .928 in 47 games for Bratislava. There were rumours that Tampa was trying to get him to return to NA for the end of the NHL season but couldn't pull it off. He has a KHL contract for next season as well so it could be a while before we see him in these parts.
Reto Berra, G, SWI - Jay Feaster traded for, signed and anointed this guy as one of the top two goalies in Europe (along with another Flames property Karri Ramo). I make it a rule to not believe anything Uncle Feaster says, especially since he is known to wildly overvalue his own players, which may be the case here as Berra was just mediocre against Swiss league shooters this season (.906 sv% in 49 games). Regardless, Berra is worth keeping an eye on as if he's even half as good as the Flames believe he is then he could be average, I suppose.
Kirill Petrov, RW, RUS - His numbers in the KHL weren't that great (12+8=20 in 47 games) and at 23 it's about time they were if he wants to convince us that he's still a top prospect. I suppose we could give him a pass as he plays for a veteran Kazan team but I'm starting to have doubts. The Islanders have attempted to bring him over to NA a few times but he's been reluctant to this point. Not sure if the Islanders will continue to pursue him or if they've given up at this point.
Jan Kovar, LW, CZE - The Czech Extraliga is a far cry from what it once was but I'm still impressed when a 22-year-old wins league MVP (17+34=51 in 52 games) and playoff MVP (11+15=26 in 20 games) while leading Plzen to the championship. He has already signed on to play in the KHL next year so we'll be monitoring his progress as he takes a step up in level of competition.
Bernhard Starkbaum, G, AUT - Hadn't played outside of his native Austria until this season where he excelled as a 26-year-old rookie in the Swedish Elite League putting up a 2.06 & .933 over 46 games for MODO. Goalies come from all corners of the globe so you can't write off the Austrian if he can prove that this season wasn't a fluke.
Pavel Francouz, G, CZE - The Czech's have produced some pretty killer goalies over the years in guys like Hasek, Cechmanek, Vokoun, Pavelec, etc. and Francouz is a long way from that level but there are some encouraging signs. This was the 22-year-old's first full season in the Czech Extraliga and he was named the league's goaltender of the year after 2.59 & .920 in 46 games. He may just fill an understudy role at the WCs with Pavelec & Salak ahead of him.
Nick Bjugstad, C, USA - Has a great set of tools but is he going to be able to produce against the best? A late season cameo in Florida and any experience at the WCs can only help.
Joni Ortio, G, FIN - The 22-year-old Flames pick had his best season in the SM-Liiga and will likely calibrate himself in the AHL next year unless the Flames want to loan him out again.
Tomas Zaborsky, RW, SVK - Spent four seasons in NA between Jr. and the minors but has really developed over the past three seasons in the SM-Liiga & KHL into one of the top snipers in Europe.
Alexander Salak, G, CZE - One of the best goalies not in the NHL and still relatively young at 26 but he was in the wrong place at the wrong time during stints with both the Florida & Chicago organizations.
Miks Indrasis, RW, LAT - Longshot to ever be a NHLer but is one of the best players in Latvia, has size and is only 22.