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2017 Worlds Preview: Storylines, schedule and how to watch

by Jourdon LaBarber @jourdonlabarber / Sabres.com

Want to see Ryan O'Reilly face off against Jack Eichel? You just might have the chance this month, should O'Reilly's Team Canada and Eichel's Team USA meet beyond the preliminary round at the IIHF World Championship in Paris, France and Cologne, Germany. 

The tournament kicks off on Friday, and the Sabres will have four players join in on the fun: Eichel, O'Reilly, Zemgus Girgensons (Latvia) and goaltending prospect Cal Petersen (USA). 

When should you watch? Where should you watch? What should you watch for? We'll get into all of that, starting with a few of the storylines we'll be paying attention to. 

 

Will Canada three-peat?

Ryan O'Reilly has represented Team Canada at each of the last two world championships, and he's gone home with a gold medal both times. He played the same role for Canada last year as he does in Buffalo, an all-purpose player who was relied upon both shorthanded and with the extra man.

To paint a picture of how much O'Reilly was counted up, consider this: It was O'Reilly who was called to take a defensive-zone draw with Canada looking to protect its 1-0 lead with eight seconds to play in the gold medal game against Finland a year ago. 

O'Reilly looks primed to take on another top role this season. In Canada's exhibition win over Switzerland on Tuesday, he started on the top line alongside Carolina's Jeff Skinner and Winnipeg's Mark Scheifele. Claude Giroux, Nathan MacKinnon, Wayne Simmonds and Tyson Barrie also stand out on a Canada roster that is deep with NHL talent. 

If Canada does win gold again, it will be the first time a country has won the tournament three years in a row since the Czech Republic did so from 1999 to 2001. 

 

How far can Eichel take Team USA?

Last time Eichel played at a world championship, in 2015, he scored seven points (2+5) in 10 games en route to winning a bronze medal. That was when Eichel had yet to play in an NHL game; now he's coming off of a season in which he established himself as one of the premier scorers in the League. 

So, what can we expect from Eichel? He wasted little time making an impact in the team's exhibition win over Italy on Tuesday, scoring this goal on the power play 1:24 into the contest:

Tweet from @A_Kalnins: Jack Eichel of the Buffalo Sabres opens up the scoring with a wicked shot on the powerplay. pic.twitter.com/lqT8o4A5ax

Expect Eichel to be counted on heavily in this tournament, especially if he continues to center the top line between New York's Anders Lee and Calgary's Johnny Gaudreau, as he did against Italy. The U.S. features more young NHL talent behind them, including Detroit's Dylan Larkin, Florida's Nick Bjugstad and New York's Brock Nelson. 

Petersen, meanwhile, will serve as the third goaltender behind Detroit's Jimmy Howard and Winnipeg's Connor Hellebuyck. 

After back-to-back appearances in the bronze medal game for Team USA, you can bet that young core has its sights set higher this time around. 

 

Girgensons' fourth go-around 

This will be Girgensons' fourth time competing at worlds, and he'll be the only current NHL player features on Latvia's roster. He's played 18 career games at the tournament and scored four goals. 

Of the eight teams in their group, Latvia ranks seventh in the pre-championship world ranking, with Italy being the only team ranked lower. Latvia shares a group with Russia, USA, Sweden and Slovakia, meaning it'll take an upset for them to crack the top four in group play and advance beyond the preliminary round. 

 

Schedules (all times EST): 

Team USA (Eichel and Petersen) 
Friday, May 5 vs. Germany - 2:15 p.m. (Live on NHL Network; tape delay on NBCSN at 12:30 a.m.)
Sunday, May 7 vs. Denmark - 10:15 a.m. (Live on NHL Network; tape delay on NBCSN at 9:30 p.m.)
Monday, May 8 vs. Sweden - 2:15 p.m. (Live on NHL Network; tape delay on NBCSN at 11 p.m.)
Wednesday, May 10 vs. Italy - 10:15 a.m. (Live on NBCSN)
Saturday, May 13 vs. Latvia - 6:15 a.m. (Live on NHL Network; tape delay on NBCSN at 10:30 p.m.)
Sunday, May 14 vs. Slovakia - 10:15 a.m. (Live on NHL Network; tape delay on NBCSN at 12 a.m.)
Tuesday, May 16 vs. Russia - 10:15 a.m. (Live on NBCSN)

*All of Team USA's games, as well as all knockout-round games, can be seen live on NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports App.

Team Canada (O'Reilly)
Friday, May 5 vs. Czech Republic - 2:15 p.m. (Tape delay on NHL Network at 8 p.m.)
Sunday, May 7 vs. Slovenia - 6:15 a.m. (Live on NHL Network)
Monday, May 8 vs. Belarus - 10:15 a.m. (Live on NHL Network)
Thursday, May 11 vs. France - 2:15 p.m. (Live on NHL Network)
Saturday, May 13 vs. Switzerland - 2:15 p.m. (Live on NHL Network)
Monday, May 15 vs. Norway - 10:15 a.m. (Live on NHL Network)
Tuesday, May 16 vs. Finland - 2:15 p.m. (Live on NHL Network)

Team Latvia (Girgensons)
Saturday, May 6 vs. Denmark - 6:15 a.m.
Sunday, May 7 vs. Slovakia - 2:15 p.m. (Live on NHL Network)
Tuesday, May 9 vs. Italy - 10:15 a.m.
Thursday, May 11 vs. Sweden - 2:15 p.m.
Saturday, May 13 vs. USA - 10:15 a.m. (Live on NHL Network)
Monday, May 15 vs. Russia - 2:15 p.m. (Live on NHL Network)
Tuesday, May 16 vs. Germany - 2:15 p.m. 

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