Dream of the triple. Who might play 2018 WJC, Olympics and Worlds?
01.01.2018. iihf.com. Lucas Aykroyd
Nonetheless, in an Olympic season, it’s irresistible to speculate about who might suit up at the 2018 IIHF World Junior Championship in Buffalo, the 2018 Olympics in Korea, and the 2018 IIHF World Championship in Denmark.
In our history, only six players have pulled off this remarkable triple: Darius Kasparaitis (CIS/RUS, 1992), Alexei Kovalyov (CIS/RUS, 1992), Alexei Zhitnik (CIS/RUS, 1992), Kenny Jonsson (SWE, 1994), Saku Koivu (FIN, 1994), and Yevgeni Malkin (RUS, 2006).
This season, the NHL’s decision not to participate in PyeongChang creates a special opportunity for young players to claim Olympic roster spots. But they still have an uphill climb ahead.
In order to even contemplate this feat, you need extraordinary talent, maturity and stamina to earn the respect of your national federation. Your odds increase if you’re from a country with a smaller talent pool (rather than, say, Canada, the U.S., or Russia). Of course, you must also be healthy and lucky.
And while we don’t know yet which NHLers will head to Copenhagen and Herning in May, there will be plenty, and “triple dreamers” would have to beat out some of them as well. Denmark is an attractive destination as a first-time host nation, and NHLers who might have gone to PyeongChang under other circumstances may be eager to participate – especially if there’s a chance to match Sweden’s unique 2006 “double gold” (Olympic gold in Turin, World Championship gold in Riga).
Prior to the 2010 Olympics, we speculated about who from the 2010 World Juniors in Saskatchewan might show up both in Vancouver and at the 2010 Worlds in Germany. However, our top candidates – both Swiss defencemen – both settled for two out of three. (Which, as Meat Loaf once noted, ain’t bad.) Roman Josi played at the Worlds at 19, while Luca Sbisa played at the Olympics at 20.
Josi was considered for Vancouver, but coach Ralph Krueger replaced the future Nashville star and veteran Goran Bezina on the final roster with Phillippe Furrer and Patrick Von Gunten. After Sbisa played two rounds of the WHL playoffs with the Portland Winterhawks, the Anaheim Ducks, who held Sbisa’s NHL rights, did not permit him to play at the 2010 Worlds as he was nursing some injuries. It all goes to show how many factors can limit your ability to do the triple.
So right now, surveying the eight nations here who are slated to send athletes to PyeongChang, which youngsters have a shot in 2018? (Neither Denmark nor Belarus qualified for the Olympics.) Players on NHL contracts or two-way deals will not be going.
The Finns have potential triple candidates in Jokerit sniper Eeli Tolvanen and two-way HIFK defenceman Miro Heiskanen. Defenceman Olli Juolevi, playing his third World Juniors, is enjoying a bounceback season with TPS Turku.
For Sweden, Elias Pettersson will get consideration if he continues to dominate. The 19-year-old Vaxjo Lakers prodigy, drafted fifth overall by the Vancouver Canucks this year, is battling with 34-year-old Skelleftea forward Joakim Lindstrom for the SHL scoring lead.
A strong showing in Buffalo has also increased Frolunda defenceman Rasmus Dahlin’s Olympic and World Championship hopes. Still, the consensus number one overall pick for the 2018 NHL Draft will be just 17 when PyeongChang rolls around. If he does make it, it’ll bring back memories of blueliner Mark Howe’s 1972 stint at the Sapporo Olympics with silver-medal Team USA at age 16.
The Americans have a long history of using college talent at the IIHF World Championship, and nostalgia for the collegiate 1980 “Miracle on Ice” team that defeated the Soviets and won gold at the Lake Placid Olympics runs strong. They announced their 2018 Olympic roster on New Year's Day, but it did not include any active World Junior players.
Two forwards from the 2017 gold medal team made the cut: Jordan Greenway (Boston University), who also played at the 2017 Worlds, and Troy Terry (University of Denver), who notched the shootout winner in Montreal. But unless injuries or illness intrude, it's unlikely that, say, current scoring leader Casey Mittelstadt would be called in.
And Canada’s depth makes it dubious a World Junior player will be selected for either the Worlds or Olympics, especially with no wunderkind like Sidney Crosby or Connor McDavid on board. Speaking with the Montreal Gazette’s Pat Hickey, Hockey Canada president Tom Renney recently dismissed the notion that defenceman Victor Mete, who has played 27 games for the Montreal Canadiens this year, could go back to junior and suit up in PyeongChang.
Nonetheless, Olympic GM Sean Burke plans to attend the playoff round in Buffalo to see who might fit the bill. So the door is open.
This season, it’s unlikely Russian, Czech, Slovak or Swiss U20 players will contend for the triple. There just aren’t enough standouts. Even eligible higher-end talents, like Czech forwards Martin Necas and Filip Zadina, likely need more seasoning before playing in the Olympics or Worlds.
However, the great thing about hockey – and the World Juniors in particular – is that you just never know. At this tournament, magic happens.