NHL·Analysis

World Cup of Hockey: 8 dark horse players worth watching

The World Cup of Hockey, which begins Saturday in Toronto, is littered with the NHL's top performers, but expect to see mid-level talents that have only shown glimpses of their untapped potential step up and make an impact.

Pre-season tournament could be coming-out party for some NHLers

The World Cup of Hockey is where several NHL stars will shine. But there's also opportunity for mid-level talents to contribute and gain notoriety, including clockwise from top: American Brandon Dubinsky, Canadian defenceman Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Finnish forward Teuvo Teravainen. (Associated Press/Getty Images/CBC Sports)

The World Cup of Hockey, which begins Saturday in Toronto, is littered with the NHL's top performers.

But sprinkled amongst the likes of Sidney Crosby, Anze Kopitar, Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin are mid-level talents that have only shown glimpses of their untapped potential and could be on the cusp of a breakout season.

Here are eight players, one from each team, who could play beyond their role/expectations at the two-week tournament.

Brandon Dubinsky, United States

  • Position: Centre
  • NHL team: Columbus
  • NHL seasons: 9
  • 2015-16 statistics: 75 games: 17 goals, 31 assists, 48 points

The Blue Jackets' best defensive centre and top faceoff man, Dubinsky probably will continue his career-long spat with Sidney Crosby when the Americans play Canada. Crosby has a goal and minus-7 rating in their past 10 games vs. each other. A strong penalty killer, Dubinsky can also come up big offensively and was a solid in a top centre role last season after the Ryan Johansen trade under John Tortorella, who doubles as the U.S. coach.


Milan Michalek, Czech Republic

  • Position: Left wing
  • NHL team: Toronto
  • NHL seasons: 11
  • 2015-16 statistics: 45 games: 7 goals, 9 assists, 16 points

The 31-year-old former Ottawa Senator will be counted on to show a young Czech outfit the way. Michalek, who has been dogged by injuries the past two years, is only three seasons removed from a 17-goal, 39-point campaign, so he's capable of providing secondary scoring. The six-foot-two, 227-pounder has played in four world championships and two Olympics.

Nino Niederreiter, Team Europe

  • Position: Right wing
  • NHL team: Minnesota
  • NHL seasons: 4
  • 2015-16 statistics: 82 games: 20 goals, 23 assists, 43 points, plus-9

After failing to break into the NHL with the New York Islanders, who drafted him fifth overall in 2010, Niederreiter had point totals of 36, 37 and 43 in his first three seasons in Minnesota. The 24-year-old native of Chur, Switzerland had 12 goals in 33 games after last year's all-star break, so he could be an offensive standout at this tournament.


Dmitry Orlov, Russia

  • Position: Defence
  • NHL team: Washington
  • NHL seasons: 3
  • 2015-16 statistics: 82 games: 8 goals, 21 assists, 29 points, plus-8

The Capitals have yet to re-sign the restricted free agent who wound up a key cog in an oft-injured defence last season, despite some inconsistent play. Orlov, 25, has the ability to play a top-four role after scoring eight goals and 29 points last season and the World Cup of Hockey might be his training ground.

Colton Parayko, Team North America

  • Position: Defence
  • NHL team: St. Louis
  • NHL seasons: 1
  • 2015-16 statistics: 79 games: 9 goals, 24 assists, 33 points, plus-28

Parayko, 23, arrived at the Blues' camp last September apparently targeted for the minors but made the team, played a key role and his plus-28 rating was fifth-best in the NHL. At six-foot-five, 220 pounds, the St. Albert, Alta., native can outmuscle opponents and is a potential game-changer with a booming shot from the point.


Jakob Silfverberg, Sweden

  • Position: Left wing
  • NHL team: Anaheim
  • NHL seasons: 4
  • 2015-16 statistics: 82 games: 20 goals, 19 assists, 39 points, plus-8

Silfverberg doesn't want to be viewed as a checker who's just a defensive specialist and by the end of this tournament he might not be. One of six Ducks playing in the World Cup, the one-time Ottawa Senators prospect is coming off his first 20-goal NHL season, 14 of which came in the 25-year-old's final 35 games.

Teuvo Teravainen, Finland

  • Position: Left wing
  • NHL team: Carolina Hurricanes
  • NHL seasons: 2
  • 2015-16 statistics: 78 games: 13 goals, 22 assists, 35 points

Ready for a "new start" in Carolina, the former Chicago Blackhawks top prospect might choose the World Cup to make an impact. The versatile 22-year-old, who planned to add size and strength in the off-season, was instrumental in Chicago winning the 2015 Stanley Cup, recording four goals and 10 points in 18 playoff games, so the offensive skills are there.


Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Team Canada

  • Position: Defence
  • NHL team: San Jose
  • NHL seasons: 10
  • 2015-16 statistics: 67 games: 8 goals, 31 assists, 39 points, plus-15

Vlasic is on this list because he's probably one of the more least-known, in terms of name recognition, on a stacked Canadian roster, due partly to the fact he plays more than half his games on the West Coast. But he's a steady, shot-blocking machine (he topped the 2016 playoffs among D-men with 68) that could make a huge impact playing alongside the equally impressive Shea Weber.

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