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A look at players to watch during the IIHF World Hockey Championship

Tuesday, 05.04.2010 / 12:38 PM / News

The Canadian Press

The IIHF World Hockey Championship takes on a different look in an Olympic year: It's when the kids come out to play.

Four years ago in Latvia, teenagers Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Anze Kopitar participated in the event while many of the older players from their country stayed home.

The same can be expected of this year's tournament in Germany, which comes just three months after the Vancouver Olympics. While there will be a handful of star players on hand, it promises to be a showcase for a few up-and-comers as well.

With the tournament set to begin this week, we've highlighted some players to watch - a couple you've seen in the NHL and few you haven't (yet).

Five you've seen in the NHL

Steven Stamkos (Canada): A year ago he was surprised to be invited to the world championship. After scoring 51 goals this season for the Tampa Bay Lightning, he's considered one of Canada's big guns and will be given a primary offensive role. Oh, and he's just 20.

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Ilya Kovalchuk (Russia): Alex Ovechkin is the biggest name in the entire tournament, but his Russian teammate made an even more intriguing decision to participate. Kovalchuk is taking a risk because he doesn't currently have a guaranteed contract and will become an unrestricted free agent on July 1. The flashy forward turned down an extension in excess of US$100 million before being traded by the Atlanta Thrashers earlier this year.

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Jaromir Jagr (Czech Republic): Now two full seasons removed from the NHL, the 38-year-old winger is still plying his trade in Europe. There have been murmurs that Jagr would like to make the move back to North America this summer - a question he's sure to get asked during the tournament. At the recent Olympics, he brought back his famous mullet in an effort to channel his younger self.

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Jack Johnson (U.S.): There are few players who are more proud to represent the red, white and blue than Johnson. In February, he chartered a flight to Vancouver to march in the Olympic opening ceremonies before returning to Los Angeles for an NHL game and coming straight back for the tournament. In Germany, he'll anchor a strong U.S. blue-line that also includes Keith Yandle, Andy Greene and Matt Greene.

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Jussi Jokinen (Finland): Jokinen has decided not to put personal pride over country. A 30-goal man for the Carolina Hurricanes, he was surprisingly left off the Olympic roster by the offensively challenged Finns - a move coach Jukka Jalonen later admitted was a mistake. Even though Jokinen was extremely disappointed with that decision, he's answered the call for the world championship.

Six you haven't seen in the NHL

Jordan Eberle (Canada): It remains to be seen whether he'll even play in a meaningful game - Eberle headed to Europe as an extra man on Mark Messier's team. However, the Edmonton Oilers draft pick has been clutch for Canada at the world junior championship and could make an impact if he's given the opportunity.

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Mikael Granlund (Finland): The top-ranked European prospect by the NHL's Central Scouting Bureau, Granlund will be a high pick at next month's NHL entry draft. The 18-year-old centre spent the season playing in the top level of Finland's professional league.

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Nino Niederreiter (Switzerland): The gifted forward won't turn 18 until the summer, but he was included on his country's preliminary roster. Niederreiter was a standout for a surprising Swiss team at the world junior championship in Saskatchewan and is also likely to be selected in the first round of the NHL draft.

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Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson (Sweden): Another player who could be wearing an Oilers jersey next season, the Swedish winger will make his debut at the senior level after participating in three world junior championships. Paajarvi-Svensson has already played three professional seasons in Sweden and is currently negotiating a contract with the Oilers, who drafted him 10th overall last June.

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Chris Kreider (U.S.): The New York Rangers draft pick celebrated his 19th birthday with an invitation to Germany. It's already been a memorable season - he won gold with the U.S. team at the world junior championship in Saskatchewan and the NCAA Championship with Boston College. The forward scored six goals at the world junior tournament.

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Roman Cervenka (Czech Republic): The 24-year-old forward has garnered some interest from NHL teams after putting up 30 goals and 73 points in the Czech league and playing on a line with Jaromir Jagr at the Olympics. In fact, there's been some talk those two players might want to come to North America as a package.

Quote of the Day

I kept refreshing the page on the NHL website after the second round and I was shocked he lasted that long. I'm sure the Coyotes were pretty happy to get him. He's such a good player and he plays big in big games.

— Arizona forward Henrik Samuelsson on prospect Edgars Kulda being drafted by the Coyotes