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Oliver Ekman-Larsson will play in World Championships — will any other Canucks join him?

Several Canucks have already declined the invitation to play in the 2022 World Championships in Finland.
Oliver Ekman-Larsson-nearnet
Oliver Ekman-Larsson might be the only member of the Vancouver Canucks at the 2022 World Championships.

The NHL season may have ended but there’s still some hockey to be played for at least a couple of Vancouver Canucks.

There are the players who have been sent down to the AHL to play for the Abbotsford Canucks, of course, but that might not last long, as they're on the brink of elimination. That said, with Spencer Martin in net and Vasily Podkolzin up front, Abbotsford still has a chance.

Then there’s the 2022 IIHF World Championship from May 13 to May 29 in Finland, a tournament that is treated with varying degrees of seriousness by each of the participating countries. For some, the World Championships are extremely important — an opportunity to prove their hockey supremacy on the world stage. For others, particularly Canada and the U.S., the World Championships are a bit of an afterthought.

So far, one member of the Canucks has committed to playing in the World Championships: defenceman Oliver Ekman-Larsson.

Ekman-Larsson has participated in six previous World Championships, one World Cup, and one Olympics for Sweden. He’s become somewhat of a staple for Sweden at the World Championships, even serving as captain in 2019. Of course, part of the reason he’s made so many appearances at the World Championships is because he has missed the NHL playoffs in 10 of his 12 seasons.

Will any other Canucks be joining Ekman-Larsson at the World Championships? 

Vasily Podkolzin and Danila Klimovich definitely won’t be. Even if the Abbotsford Canucks are knocked out of the AHL playoffs, Russia and Belarus have been suspended from international competition by the IIHF after the invasion of Ukraine.

There are some other players who could potentially take the ice in Finland. Let’s go through the possibilities by country.

Sweden

Ekman-Larsson will be joined on defence by several other NHLers, such as Rasmus Dahlin of the Buffalo Sabres, Erik Gustafsson of the Chicago Blackhawks, and Adam Larsson of the Seattle Kraken.

He won’t be joined by any current Canucks, however. 

Elias Pettersson said he was “still deciding” at Sunday’s end-of-year media availability but, according to Swedish newspaper Expressen, he has decided to decline the invitation to play for Sweden.  

Pettersson has played in two World Championships for Sweden, with a combined 13 points in 13 games. This year, however, would be his first full offseason in several years — 2020’s COVID-delayed playoffs disrupted one offseason, then recovering from his wrist injury disrupted the next. It’s understandable that he might want to get an early start on his offseason recovery and training to prepare for next season.

Meanwhile, Nils Höglander, who was a World Junior star for Sweden in 2020, was a bit of a longshot already after some struggles this season, but he’s also sidelined with a lower-body injury.

While no current Canucks will join Ekman-Larsson, he might play with a Canucks prospect. Linus Karlsson had a fantastic season for Skellefteå AIK in the SHL, finishing ninth in scoring with 26 goals and 46 points in 52 games. He’s on the radar for the national team.

“Linus is fighting for a spot for Sweden at the World Championship,” said Canucks general manager Patrik Allvin. “They still, I believe, have one tournament left here before they've got to pick the team and I think it's a great experience and good for him.”

That would be a major opportunity for Karlsson to pick up some experience playing with and against NHLers before he makes the jump to North America next season. 

Canada

Unfortunately, the players with the most potential to play for Canada are both injured. Bo Horvat is recovering from a fractured tibia and Tanner Pearson is week-to-week with a thumb fracture. 

Horvat had a big World Championship tournament in 2018, putting up 7 points in 10 games, but they were shocked in the semifinals by Switzerland, then lost to Team USA in the bronze medal game. He unfortunately won’t get the chance at a do-over.

Tyler Myers has played for Canada at the World Championships before, so he’s not out of the question. But barring an invitation for Myers or a surprise invite for someone like Alex Chiasson or Travis Dermott, Canada won’t have any Canucks.

But who knows — maybe Spencer Martin will get the call if the Abbotsford Canucks get knocked out of the playoffs given how impressive he’s been this season.

USA

The U.S. could have had plenty of Canucks content but it’s entirely possible that they’ll have none at all.

Quinn Hughes has two previous appearances at the World Championships, while Conor Garland was utterly dominant last year, leading Team USA in scoring with 13 points in 10 games and getting named to the tournament’s All-Star Team.

Both players confirmed on Sunday, however, that they will not be playing in the World Championships. Whether they’re nursing lingering injuries or just need a break, they won’t be playing.

Thatcher Demko was playing through injury in the final month of the Canucks’ season, so his focus will be on getting healthy.

Brock Boeser is going through a difficult situation back home. He’s more likely to spend the bulk of the offseason close to his family rather than fly to Finland for the World Championship. 

That leaves J.T. Miller, who didn’t respond at all when the question of going to the World Championships was raised on Sunday. Miller has actually never played at the World Championships, though that’s partly because he’s been in the playoffs for most of his seasons in the NHL. He did, however, play for Team North America at the 2016 World Cup, though he only played one game.

Would the ultra-competitive Miller be up for putting the disappointment of the Canucks’ season behind him and play in a tournament that is seldom a priority for the U.S.? The fact he didn’t speak up at the end-of-year media availability suggests not.

Maybe Jack Rathbone could be a possibility, as his 40 points in 39 games made him second in the AHL in points-per-game among defencemen with at least 30 games played. Perhaps there’s also an outside shot that Sheldon Dries, with his fourth-in-the-AHL 35 goals, might get some attention. Otherwise, there might not be any Canucks on Team USA.

Finland

Juho Lammikko, with just 15 points in 75 games this season, might seem like a long shot to make the host country’s roster, but he has made several appearances in international tournaments for Finland, including the 2019 World Championship.

Lammikko brings a lot to the table as a fourth-line, penalty-killing forward, and he took steps to add a little bit more offence to his game as the Canucks’ season developed. He could play a depth role for Finland. 

That said, with Finland hosting the tournament, they’ll likely have more NHL players willing to play in the tournament, so Lammikko might have a hard time cracking the lineup. It likely depends on what teams are still in the playoffs.

Latvia

There's one last outside shot: Arturs Silovs. If the Abbotsford Canucks get eliminated from the playoffs, Silovs could be available for Latvia. Silovs has played for Latvia in other international competitions but has not played yet in the World Championship.

If Silovs does get the call, he won't be the number one, as Columbus Blue Jackets goaltender Elvis Merzlikins has committed to play for Latvia.