2017 Men’s World Championship: Blackhawks preview

Everything you need to know about the annual international tournament.

The 2017 Men’s World Championship begins Friday in Cologne, Germany and Paris France. It’s a chance for NHL players to continue playing before summer hits and top talented players overseas to get scouted by NHL teams. The tournament is the highest profile international team tournament outside of the tournament at the Winter Olympics. Since the NHL has stated it will no longer send its players to the Games, an increase in NHL player participation is expected at this year’s Worlds.

Tournament format

The 16-team tournament field is separated into two pools for the preliminary round, which is based on the previous year’s world rankings at the end of that year’s Worlds.

Here’s how the field shakes out:

Group A (Cologne)

Russia (2)
U.S. (4)
Sweden (5)
Slovakia (8)
*Germany (10)
Latvia (12)
Denmark (13)
*Italy (16)

Group B (Paris)

Canada (1)
Finland (3)
Czech Republic (6)
Switzerland (7)
Belarus (9)
Norway (11)
*France (14)
Slovenia (15)

*Germany and France automatically qualified as co-host of the tournament while Italy claimed its spot through promotion by winning the 2016 Division I Worlds.

Group A games will be played in Cologne at Lanxess Arena (18,500 capacity) while Group B will be at AccorHotels Arena (15,000).

After the preliminary round, the top four teams in each pool advance to the quarterfinals. It’s a traditional bracket format, which will be played May 19-21. Cologne and Paris will each host two quarterfinal games then Cologne will host the semifinal and medal-round games. The losers from the semifinal will meet in the bronze-medal game while the winners advance to play for Gold.

What Blackhawks are playing?

For the Blackhawks, this tournament normally serves as an event to watch how their biggest prospects perform on the international stage and to scout international talent. However, this year is different after a second consecutive first-round exit.

Chicago was expected to be one of, if not, the most represented NHL team in the tournament, but a number of its stars turned down the opportunity to play.

Duncan Keith, Jonathan Toews and Brent Seabrook all opted to stay home instead of playing for Canada while Patrick Kane contemplated suiting up for the U.S., but ultimately decided not to. Marian Hossa said he’s too old for the tournament and wants younger players to compete for Slovakia. Richard Panik won’t play for Slovakia because he doesn’t want to get injured while he’s still a pending restricted free agent. Niklas Hjalmarsson thought about playing for Sweden because it’s probably the last time he could with the NHL’s decision on the Olympics, but he decided to stay home with his newborn baby, who was born during the playoffs.

All five players representing the Hawks logged significant playing time in Chicago: Michal Kempny (Czech Republic), Marcus Kruger (Sweden), Artemi Panarin (Russia) and Nick Schmaltz and Trevor van Riemsdyk (United States).

Czech Republic (Kempny)

The 26-year-old scored eight points (two goals, six assists) in 50 games during his first NHL season. It’s the second straight Worlds appearance for the defenseman, who had two assists in eight games at last year’s tournament. He also played for the Czechs at the World Cup of Hockey last summer.

The Czechs haven’t had the same level success since their three-year run at the start of the decade. They won the 2010 tournament in Cologne then took bronze the next two years. The Czechs have won Worlds six times, including three straight from 1999-2001.

The team’s first game is at 1:15 p.m. CST Friday against two-time defending champions Canada.

Russia (Panarin)

The 25-year-old star winger amassed his second straight 70-plus point season with 74 points (31 goals, 43 assists) in all 82 games. However, he was largely absent in four playoff games with only one assist. It’ll be the third straight Worlds appearance for Panarin, who has won silver and bronze the last two years. He’s tallied 25 points in his two Worlds showings, including 15 (six goals, nine assists) last year.

The Russians have won Worlds five times since the Russia Federation was established. They won back-to-back in 2008 and 09 before falling to the Czechs in the 2010 gold-medal game. They also won the 2012 and 2014 Words before Panarin joined the senior ranks.

The Russians’ first game is against Sweden at 9:15 a.m. CST Friday.

Sweden (Kruger)

The 26-year-old tallied five goals and 17 points in 70 games this season. He also had an assist in the playoffs. The forward is no stranger to representing Sweden at the international level. He has won four medals at the senior level, including silver twice at the 2011 Worlds and 2014 Olympics.

Kruger hasn’t played at Worlds since 2012 when the Swedes took sixth. The Swedes have found success while Kruger has been busy playing with Chicago in the playoffs. They won the 2013 Worlds and took bronze in 2014.

United States (Schmaltz, van Riemsdyk)

Schmaltz and van Riemsdyk will both make their international debuts at the senior level for the U.S. The 21-year-old Schmaltz has represented Team USA at the junior level while the 25-year-old van Riemsdyk has never dressed for the Americans before.

Schmaltz scored six goals and 28 points in 61 games during his rookie season with Chicago. He also had nine points (six goals, three assists) in 12 games with the Rockford IceHogs of the American Hockey League during a brief stint in December. The 6-foot, 176 pounder played at the 2015 and 2016 World Junior Championships, where he had eight points (two goals, six assists) in seven games as Team USA won bronze.

Van Riemsdyk recorded five goals and 16 points in 58 games for Chicago this past season. The blue liner is scheduled to play the final year of his two-year, one-way contract with a $825,000 salary cap hit next season. He’s the most likely candidate to be picked up by the Vegas Golden Knights in the expansion draft this summer.

The U.S., who has won bronze twice since 2013, hasn’t reached the gold-medal game since 1960 when it defeated Canada for its second world championship. Team USA opens the tournament against host Germany at 1:15 p.m. CST Friday.

Team USA’s schedule

Germany1:15 p.m.May 5NHLN
Denmark9:15 a.m.May 7NHLN
Sweden1:15 p.m.May 8NHLN
Italy9:15 a.m.May 10NBCSN
Lativa5:15 a.m.May 13NHLN
Slovakia9:15 a.m.May 14NHLN
Russia9:15 a.m.May 16NBCSN