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2019 World Championships: Matt Murray, Evgeni Malkin, Patric Hornqvist among Penguins’ representatives

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The tournament begins next month in Slovakia

Pittsburgh Penguins v New York Islanders - Game Two Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

In a couple weeks the 2019 IIHF World Championships will begin in Slovakia and by now we’re starting to learn which members of the Pittsburgh Penguins will and won’t be playing more competitive hockey before the summer break.

Playing at Worlds

Matt Murray (Canada)

Overall Murray was one of the best Canadian goalies in the NHL this season- his season .919 save% was second best among his countrymen (minimum 40 games) behind, perhaps surprisingly enough, Arizona’s Darcy Kuemper (.925%). They edged out players like Carey Price, Braden Holtby and Marc-Andre Fleury who made up the top-five..

Worlds are often important as proving grounds for national teams as they look to build and consider potential options for Olympics. 2022 is a ways off, but by then Team Canada mainstays like Roberto Luongo (definitely retired by then) and Fleury (37-years old by that point) will likely be aging out of national team.

Holtby is almost certainly is on the 2022 Olympic team if NHLers are allowed to be there, but his stats have fallen away from Vezina levels lately, so it remains to be seen if he would be the starter. Price (at age 34 for the tournament) figures to be in the picture too. Murray though by far at this point is the most proven young Canadian goalie around with two Stanley Cup rings to his name. Flashes in the pan Jordan Binnington and Carter Hart may or may not offer some competition, but for now one would think Murray should have an inside track to make Team Canada in 2022* with his experience of playing well and winning big games behind a strong team.

*Assuming NHL players are allowed back, of course.

So Slovakia in 2019 is a big opportunity for Murray, especially if he can play well and build up even more of a name for himself.

*

Patric Hornqvist (Sweden)

Hornqvist calmly but sternly insisted at end of season meetings that he wasn’t suffering from any effects during the end of the season of the two concussions he suffered during 2018-19. Still, his play definitely took a nose-dive for some reason considering the forward only scored three goals in his last 39 games — leading to demotions both from the Penguins’ top-two scoring lines as well as from the star-studded top power play unit.

So maybe it’s good that Hornqvist is playing, clearly if he’s well enough to accept, he is feeling well. Could be one last chance to wash away the taste of a bitter finish as his 2018-19 season comes to an end representing the Swedish team.

**

Evgeni Malkin (Russia)

Saw another tweet a week ago indicating the same, but Seth’s information also suffices. It’s no surprise, Malkin almost always answers the call of his homeland to represent Russia whenever possible. Joining Malkin on 2019 Team Russia will be Alex Ovechkin, Nikita Kucherov, Andrei Vasilievskiy, Ilya Kovalchuk and Evgeny Kuznetsov among other NHL players, expected to be on what looks like quite the loaded squad.

Dominik Simon

A perk of playing for a smaller country means more opportunity, so Simon will be with the Czechs as they play in neighboring Slovakia.

It’s fitting Simon is returning to Team Czech at the WC, by virtue of a great 2015 WC performance where Simon scored one goal and added five assists in 10 games (on a line with Penguins’ legend Jaromir Jagr). That run helped put Simon on a trajectory to get drafted in the following month’s 2015 NHL Entry draft in the 5th round as part of Pittsburgh’s vaunted over-age drafting strategy that has yielded prospects like Linus Olund (in Wilkes-Barre last year) and a top WHL scorer in Justin Almeida (who signed with Pittsburgh and is expected to be in the AHL next season).

Also fitting is that Simon racked up a lot of assists in that 2015 tournament and proved to be a good secondary option on a line with Jagr. We also have seen that translate in the NHL as Simon has excellent Assist/60 numbers and helps tilt possession significantly in the favor of the Pens.

Not going to Worlds

Sidney Crosby (Canada)

As we said for the Murray section, a lot of times players will accept national invites for the WC in the hopes to advance their reputation and standing in the eyes of their country’s respective decision makers for future tournaments like the Olympics. Sidney Crosby doesn’t have to worry about that. Crosby has captained Canada to two Olympic gold medals in 2010 and 2014, scoring the Golden Goal in overtime on Canadian soil. So, yeah, he’s no doubt a made man and would figure to be Canada’s captain in 2022 if NHL players are able to play.

At age 31, Sid scored 100 points for the first time in five seasons in 2018-19, and his 2.92 5v5 Points/60 were second best in the whole league this year (behind runaway Art Ross winner Kucherov’s eye-popping 3.37 P/60). So if anyone has deserved a breather from hockey for an extended off-season, it’s Crosby.

You don’t have to cry for Canada too much, their only two confirmed skaters as of press time as seen in the Dreger tweet in this article are John Tavares and Mark Stone. So, yeah, they’ll have plenty of talent and firepower of their own for this tournament.

Phil Kessel (USA)

It’s not confirmed, but there’s certainly no love lost between Kessel and Team USA hockey these days. Kessel was snubbed from the 2016 World Cup of Hockey, failing to get an invite to an offensively-impotent US squad that instead chose players like Justin Abdelkader and David Backes.

That US team only scored two total goals in two losses (only one of those goals coming from a forward) and meekly bowed out to a seventh place finish in an eight team tournament.

With all that bad blood, it’s a good guess that Kessel probably isn’t all that interested in playing for them, even if they would have him— which a proud and political group like USA Hockey probably wouldn’t ask anyways. Another sign is the US has already announced 17 players (in a list following the Pens’ elimination too) and Kessel wasn’t on the list and lackluster names like Frank Valtrano and Luke Glendening are on the roster.

So put the pieces together but as of now it seems a safe wager to say that Kessel’s offseason began with the Pens’ elimination from the playoffs.

Brian Dumoulin (USA)

Dumoulin’s knee injury almost certainly means his offseason has begun, and he wasn’t among the four defensemen that Team USA has named to the roster either.

Still waiting to hear

Jake Guentzel (USA)

While it’s a no-brainer that the US will ask the 40-goal scorer if he wants to and is able to play, there’s no definitive word yet if he’ll be involved. Guentzel also revealed at end of season media that he played through a rib injury during the regular season, so this could be a case of him looking to rest and train this off-season independent of traveling to Slovakia and participating in the WC.

Olli Maatta (Finland)

Like Hornqvist, Maatta also declared himself healthy at the end of the season media availability. Maatta represented the Finns in the 2014 Sochi Olympics as a 19-year old, winning a bronze medal. So it also figures that Finland would be interested if available, though a google and twitter search has not revealed him as being named to the roster yet. That doesn’t mean he’s necessarily excluded just yet, however one would think starting his offseason now might be the best course of action.

Nick Bjugstad (USA)

Bjugstad, a US National Development team product, has represented the US of A in the World Championships in 2015 and 2017. Bjugstad and his wife welcomed a newborn baby girl to the world just last week, so going to Slovakia might not be in the cards for him this spring even if no official word has yet been made. Like the rest of the Pens’ American contingent (Kessel, Dumoulin and Guentzel), Bjugstad’s name also was not among the 17 players already named to the US squad in another indication that he’s done for the year.

Jack Johnson (USA)

Johnson, another USNTDP product and veteran of 2010 Olympics as well as 2016 World Cup and five World Championships teams from 2007 and 2009-12 has also not been named to the US team of 17 announced players. It looks like he’s probably not going would be the hunch at this point considering his struggles in the 2018-19 NHL season.

Kris Letang (Canada)

Surprisingly enough, the Pens’ number one defenseman hasn’t represented Canada since he captained their World Junior team to gold way back in 2007. Letang also declared himself healthy at the end of the season media availability, but there’s been no real talk of him going to Worlds.

Letang and his wife also celebrated a birth of a daughter earlier in the season, so it remains to be seen if he would be interested in playing more hockey this spring or if his offseason has also begun.

***

That’s about the list, so as of now it appears that Murray, Malkin, Hornqvist and Simon will be the Pittsburgh representatives at the 2019 World Championships, barring some last minute additions or changes of plans.