Every year, the World Championships offers up some strong performances by some players you may have never heard of. Back in 2013, Antti Raanta earned himself a deal with the Chicago Blackhawks after stealing the show for Finland. Last year, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and Jori Lehterä were given their first NHL deals after gaining traction at the 2014 tournament.
This year, there will likely be a few other guys who’ll fit the mold. I won’t spare you the long intro, so let’s take a look at some of the potential options to become the next big signing thanks to a spectacular World Championship performance this May.
Note: Not all of these players are free agents for next year. HOWEVER, they all don’t have NHL contracts, which is what the list is based off of.
5. Charles Bertrand, F (France): Odds are, you’ve never heard of Charles Bertrand. To be fair, he’s been fairly inconsistent while playing in various European leagues. So, does that mean his 47 point season in the Finnish Liiga is a fluke? Well, considering his stats have been all over the place over the past few seasons, it could very well be. But after moving around between Färjestad from Sweden and TPS in Finland last year, Bertrand has re-signed with Vaasan Sport for the second straight year for next year. Some French hockey fans believe that Bertrand is finally on an uphill track for the next couple years, and if so, he could turn out to be one heck of a forward. Bertrand will most likely see top six action with France at the World Championships this year, and while he only has just two points in 14 career WC games, he’ll be counted on to play a much more prominent role this year. With a berth in the quarter-finals expected, watch for Bertrand to really shine for the French national team when the tournament begins on May 1st.
4. Dennis Endras, G (Germany): Is Dennis Endras the next Rob Zepp? Endras is no stranger to success at the international level, and at 29-years-old, there is still a lot of him to be seen. At the 2010 World Championships, which happened to be held in Germany, Endras was named the tournament’s MVP after taking the Germans to a surprising fourth place finish. He’s had his chance at a North American career, suiting up for the AHL’s Houston Aeros back in 2011-2012, but he only saw six games of action and never made it up to the top with the Minnesota Wild. Considered to be a German goaltending star, the if the team is to see any bit of success in this tournament, Endras will likely have to have a big impact. Endras helped the Germans win the Deutschland Cup earlier this year, so he may still be hungry for more. Will Germany compete for a medal? Not likely, but Endras could finally attract some more NHL attention in the near future.
3. Sami Lepistö, D (Finland): There was a lot of promise for the Finnish blue-liner, who was named top defenseman at the 2004 World Juniors, recording eight points to lead his team to a third place finish. Lepistö made his NHL debut over four years later with the Washington Captials in 2008, playing a limited role with the club in a short seven game stay with the team. It wasn’t until two years later with the Arizona Coyotes that saw him suit up in a full time role, scoring 11 points in 66 games. He had a better offensive season the following year, but after finishing the season with the Columbus Blue Jackets, his tenure as a full-time NHLer had come to an end. Lepistö only saw limited action with the Blackhawks in 2011-2012 before signing in the KHL, where he currently suits up for Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg. He’s done well in international competition, grabbing one gold and four bronze medals in various international competitions, including two third place awards at the past two Olympics. Lepistö is an offensively powerful threat on the back end, and with his prior NHL experience, you have to wonder if any teams will give him a chance as a depth option in the near future. Can a solid performance on a so-so Finnish blueline help?
2. Luka Gracnar, G (Slovenia): Gracnar may still only be the backup goaltender in Slovenia, but that wont be the case for long. Gracnar, who is expected to be the Slovenian goalie of the future, has a ton of skill, and after getting past over in the NHL Draft, the little-known goaltender has a lot to prove. It’s worth mentioning that the 21-year-old helped his country win the gold medal at the 2014 Division IA World Championships, earning the MVP award in the process. Gracnar is coming off of yet another strong campaign in the Austrian league, finishing with a 21-4-0 record as he helped EC Salzburg win the Austrian league championship. He may not exactly be ready to take over the starting role, but with his accomplishments at his age, he could end up being one of the best international goalies for some time. You don’t need to be on a top team to be a top goalie, just ask Endras about that.
1. Mathis Olimb, F (Norway): Olimb isn’t a big name entity, but he’s been pretty good in every European venture he’s taken on. A very good skater who tends to make others around him better, Olimb was the top scorer on Frolunda in the Swedish league this year with 46 points in 51 games. A tremendous scoring threat everywhere he’s played, Olimb’s eight points at the 2014 WC’s were the second best of his career, two years after posting nine in 2012. The Chicago Blackhawks signed him a to a one year contract back in 2010, but after a stint with the Rockford Icehogs of the American Hockey League, Olimb found himself back with Frölunda for the 2011-2012 season. Is it time for Olimb to get another chance at the NHL? He did just come off a season that saw him get the Champions Hockey League MVP award following a 26 point campaign, leading everybody after 13 games. He can score, so if you need a cheap, experienced option for your third line, it’s time to give Olimb a chance.
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