U.S. leads NHL rookies into Riga
by Andrew Podnieks|30 MAY 2021
Zac Jones is one of eight players in Riga to make both his NHL debut and senior World Championship debut in 2021.
photo: Andre Ringuette / HHOF-IIHF Images
Of the more than 400 players at the World Championship in Riga, there are eight who are not only honoured to be here but who are making a dream season even dreamier. That is, these eight played their first NHL game in the last few months, and are now wearing their team colours for the first time at the senior level.

And, interestingly, these eight have something else in common – they are almost all low draft choices or were never drafted at all, making their appearances both in the NHL and at the World Championship in the same season all the more impressive.

Herewith a look at how their seasons have unfolded (ordered by country).

A native of Minsk, Yegor Sharangovich (BLR) was drafted 141st overall by New Jersey back in 2018. He played at the top-level World Juniors in both 2016 and 2018 and also the World Championship in 2017 and 2018. Sharangovich made his NHL debut with the Devils on 14 January 2021, against Boston and two nights later, also against the Bruins, scored his first goal, the game winner in overtime. 

Drafted 26th overall by Ottawa in 2018, Jacob Bernard-Docker (CAN) helped Canada win gold at the 2020 World Juniors. He then played three seasons at the University of North Dakota, and at the end of the third season he was called up by the Senators, making is NHL debut on 14 April 2021, against Winnipeg.

The 23-year-old Arttu Ruotsalainen (FIN) is a great story. Undrafted and unwanted by any NHL team, he played in the Finnish league for several years before gaining recognition. He had helped his country win silver at the 2015 U18 championship and two years later played at the World Juniors. In 2019, the Buffalo Sabres signed him, and he finally made his NHL debut with the team on 9 April 2021. Two nights later, he scored his first goal.

Despite an impressive resume around the world, Artyom Zub (ROC) didn’t garner attention in North America until he was 24 years old. By that time, he had won three medals at senior IIHF tournaments – gold at the 2018 Olympics, and two bronze at the 2017 and 2019 World Championship. He also played at the U18 back in 2013. The Ottawa Senators signed him in 2020, and he made his NHL debut on 31 January 2021, picking up an assist in an 8-5 loss to Edmonton.

If the name Philipp Kurashev (SUI) sounds Russian, well, it is. Philipp is the son of Konstantin, a Russian who ended his career in Switzerland and settled there after retiring. Philipp was drafted 120th overall by Chicago in 2018. He had played in two U18s and the 2018 World Juniors, and played the U20 again in 2019, the same year he also appeared in the senior World Championship. Kurashev made his first start with the Blackhawks on 15 January 2021.

From Huntington Beach, California comes Sasha Chmelevski (USA), a forward who was drafted 185th overall by San Jose in 2017. He played junior in Ottawa and then was assigned to the Sharks’ AHL affiliate also in San Jose, the Barracuda. He helped the U.S. win silver at the 2019 World Juniors. Chmelevski made his debut with the Sharks on 5 February 2021, earning an assist in his first game.

Zac Jones (USA) is only the sixth player from the state of Virginia to play in the NHL. He was a member of the U.S.’s 2020 World Junior team a year after being selected 68th overall by the New York Rangers. He played ten games with the Rangers in 2020-21, the first coming on 22 April 2021.
Connor Mackey (USA) is nothing if not a late bloomer. And more intriguing is that the son of a former NHLer, David Mackey, could fly under the radar for so long. He was never drafted into the NHL, but after three impressive seasons at Minnesota State University, the defenceman caught on with the Calgary Flames. He made his NHL debut on 13 February 2021. Similarly, he was never previously on any USA Hockey team of note and is making his first appearances in the red, white, and blue here in Riga.