So what do you do when you're a talented national team player and you got bounced out of the first round of the playoffs? Well, at least you get to go represent your country and play hockey for a little while longer.
As I posted earlier, Patrik Elias (Czech Republic), Travis Zajac (Canada) and Johnny Oduya (Sweden) were the only Devils headed to joing their respective national teams at the World Championships in Switzerland.
The U.S. had a full roster and was unable to add Zach Parise or any of the American-born Devils.
"They called and said they already have a full roster, so they didn't need my services," said Parise, who was the NHL's leading American-born goal scorer with 45 this season. "I was looking forward to going over there. I always like going over there. I have a few budies on the team, so I was hoping to, but not this year, I guess."
Too bad the US can't modify their roster! USA is in Group E in second place with 1-0-1 record Adding Parise would not only add an extra dimension to their attack, but given that he's a Devil, he can help out in backchecking. Though, with 9 goals scored and 8 goals against in their first two games, I suppose it's not offense that's the problem. On the other hand, looking at the roster on paper, Parise would be an instant upgrade to the forwards! Ah, well, we'll see him in the USA Hockey jersey in 2010. (Along with Paul Martin and maybe Jamie Langenbrunner). USA will take on Kevin Hecquefeuille and the mighty France tomorrow night.
The tournament is currently in the middle of the Qualifying Round, which will determine the final playoff tournament for the World Championships. The twelve teams are split up into two groups of 6, and after 5 games within the groups, the top 4 in group moves on to the Quarterfinals. Given the talent of the Czech Republic, Canada, and Sweden, all three Devils should make it to the playoff round. I think all three will also benefit their countries' fortunes as well.
Elias will definitely help out the Czech Republic, who just lost to Canada earlier today 5-1. The Czechs are third in Group F with a record of 1-0-2, and adding a talented forward like Elias can only help. While Petr Cajanek and Jaromir Jagr both have 6 points already, no Czech has more than 2 goals scored. Imagine Elias feeding Jagr or taking a pass from the ex-Blue Cajanek in a dangerous position. Plus, they already had their game with Canada, so if he can produce quickly against Belarus and Slovakia (the next opponents for the Czechs), it'll be even better for the Czech Republic. Not to mention better for his chances to represent in 2010, though I would have to think Elias is a lock.
Sweden is sitting in fourth place in Group E with a record of 1-0-2, the one win coming in overtime. While the Tre Kronor hasn't had problems scoring with 13 goals in 3 games, they have conceeded 14 at the same time! 5 while on the penalty kill! Clearly they could use help at defense and in goal, and Johnny Oduya can only help. He has established himself as a viable top-4 defender in the NHL and he can handle playing against the opposition's best forwards as he did with Paul Martin in this past season. With games against the host country Switzerland and France, Sweden must tighten up in their own zone or else they could very well miss the playoffs! If I'm not mistaken, Oduya was a Swedish national team member in the past, so I imagine he'll be back in yellow in 2010 regardless of what happens in the WCs.
Travis Zajac joins an already loaded Canadian team who is, unsurprisingly, in first place in Group F. They have just mopped the floor against the Czechs to the tune of 5-1 and now they will have the Devils' top center to provide additional flexibility. Canada has been scoring seemingly at will (18 goals in 3 games!), with an absolutely ridiculous power play conversion rate of 50%. 12 of the 18 goals scored by Canada have been on the power play. And they are adding talent. Oh, and Canada has not allowed much at all (5 goals against in 3 games!). Canada will probably blow out Norway in their next game, but Finland could be an interesting challenge on the Qualifying Round's last day. Still, Zajac can't just enjoy the tournament. If he wants even a shot at being considered for 2010, a fantastic performance at the WCs would go a long way at doing just that.
Congratulations to all three Devils for being selected to represent their respective nations abroad. Pay a little attention to how Zajac and Oduya does in this tournament. It could help bolster their value as they are both free agents this summer. As far as free agents go, Gulitti and Chere got a ton of words from all the potential free agents this summer; but that's a discussion best left for tomorrow.