The 2016 IIHF World Championship is set to kick off in Russia on Friday and the Buffalo Sabres will be well represented with five players in the tournament. Hudson Fasching
and Jake McCabe
will play for Team USA, Ryan O'Reilly
and Sam Reinhart
for Canada and Zemgus Girgensons
With all five of those players set to take the ice when the tournament begins with two games at 9 a.m. EST on Friday – the U.S. and Canada will square off in St. Petersburg (live on NBC Sports Network) while Latvia begins its tournament against Sweden – here's a quick look at what to watch for from a Sabres perspective.
O'Reilly admitted at Buffalo's locker cleanout day that a successful run at the World Championship could bode well for his chances at making the cut for Team Canada's final roster for the World Cup of Hockey in September. Seven spots are left up for grabs on that roster, which must be finalized by June 1.
So far, so good. O'Reilly scored a goal and was named player of the game in Canada's exhibition win over the Czech Republic on Tuesday and was then named an alternate captain – the same role he serves with the Sabres – on Thursday.
With a roster stacked with NHL talent, Canada will enter as the heavy favorites to repeat as gold medalists. O'Reilly was a part of last year's team, finishing with 11 points (2+9). If he builds on that run, there's a chance we could see him in red and white again before he dons the blue and gold next season.
It remains to be seen where Reinhart will fit into Canada's lineup. The 20-year-old forward played right wing on the top line with Taylor Hall and Derrick Brassard against the Czech Republic, but the team was without captain Corey Perry and forward Brad Marchand.
Both Perry and Marchand returned to practice on Thursday, and TSN's Ryan Rishaug reported that Reinhart was alternating reps with Mark Stone on the fourth line, which features Max Domi at left wing and Mark Scheifele at center.
If Reinhart does get the nod on that line at some point in the tournament, it will mark a reunion with Domi after the two won gold as linemates for Canada at the IIHF World Junior Championship in 2015. With Domi to his left, Reinhart tied for the team lead with 11 points (5+6).
At the very least, the tournament will serve as a chance for Reinhart and O'Reilly to continue putting in work together. Reinhart credited his post-practice routine with O'Reilly this season as a main contributor to his improvement during a 42-point (23+19) rookie campaign.
One more thing to remember: Reinhart's place in the Sabres lineup was also in question in the days leading up to the 2015-16 season. We all remember how that turned out.
When the U.S. opens against Canada on Friday, they'll feature significantly less experience than their rivals to the north. In that sense, it will be interesting to see how Fasching and McCabe – both rookies in 2015-16 – fare against a talented Canadian team.
McCabe previously participated in the World Championship in 2014, the same year he left the University of Wisconsin and played a seven-game stint with the Sabres. He's grown dramatically since then, averaging 19:07 of ice time and scoring 14 points (4+10) in 77 games for Buffalo this season. He tallied an assist in the U.S.'s 3-2 exhibition loss to Finland on Tuesday.
Fasching, meanwhile, makes the jump to the World Championship for the first time after three points (1+2) in five games at the World Junior tournament last year. Like McCabe in 2014, Fasching concluded his final collegiate season with 38 points (20+18) in 37 games this season prior to scoring two points (1+1) in a seven-game stint with the Sabres.
All of Team USA's games can be seen on NBC Sports Network.
Girgensons admitted throughout this past season that his offensive production never quite got to the level he'd like it to be at. After scoring 30 points (15+15) in 61 games and playing in the All-Star Game in 2014-15, he recorded just 18 points (7+11) in 71 games in 2015-16.
He'll have a chance to rekindle his offensive game in his third go-around in the World Championship. Girgensons scored two goals in six games for Latvia in 2014 and one goal in five games in 2013. This year, he'll be the only current NHL player on Latvia's roster.
Like O'Reilly, Girgensons also has the motivation of competing for a spot in the upcoming World Cup. Team Europe General Manager Miroslav Satan told Sabres.com in March that Girgensons would be considered to fill one of the final seven roster spots on a team comprised of European players from countries outside of Sweden, Finland, Russia and the Czech Republic.
Stayed tuned to Sabres.com throughout the month of May for coverage of Girgensons and the rest of Buffalo's players in the World Championship.