Coming off his second NHL season with 40 goals or more, the 2020 Rocket Richard Trophy winner dazzled with a goal and an assist in Czechia’s 5-1 win over Latvia. Pastrnak shone even more brightly with two goals and an assist in the 4-1 win over Norway, where his third-period penalty shot goal evoked a surgeon skilfully wielding a scalpel.
Or how about Sweden's William Nylander? Since arriving from the Toronto Maple Leafs, the 26-year-old ace was a force of nature with a goal and two assists in the 7-1 pounding of Norway and the 1-0 winner versus Latvia. Nylander is showing the skill and intensity that saw him named the 2017 Worlds MVP in Cologne.
Of course, Czech fans are hoping that “Pasta” will help veterans like Roman Cervenka and David Krejci win their country’s first IIHF gold medal since 2010 in Germany. And Swedish supporters hope the same with "Willie" and Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Rasmus Dahlin, as their nation looks to top the podium for the first time since 2018.
So in the spirit of optimism, it’s worth dissecting some other late Worlds additions that paid off.
First, though, there are plenty of cases that didn’t work out. Canada has by and large shunned airlifts since 2000. Bringing in forwards Kris Draper and Martin Lapointe and defenceman Larry Murphy from the Detroit Red Wings backfired in terms of team cohesion at the Worlds in St. Petersburg. The Canadians finished fourth under coach Tom Renney.
Coach Hardy Nilsson’s Swedes loaded up with stars like Markus Naslund of the Vancouver Canucks and Michael Nylander of the Boston Bruins at the 2002 Worlds, but settled for bronze on home ice in Gothenburg. Two years later, Tre Kronor got even more ambitious in Prague, adding two future IIHF Hall of Famers in Peter Forsberg of the Colorado Avalanche and Mats Sundin of the Toronto Maple Leafs. It didn’t work out, as they lost the final to Canada.
But let’s focus on the positive examples now.
Ten years ago, Russian fans were pleased to see Alexander Ovechkin’s late arrival pay off. The Washington Capitals ace appeared only in the 2012 medal round games in Stockholm and Helsinki, registering two goals and two assists as his nation won the gold medal for the third time in five years.
In 2013, twins Henrik and Daniel Sedin set the template for blending into the lineup when Sweden ended the 27-year “home ice curse” in Stockholm. The former NHL scoring champions from the Vancouver Canucks ignited an amazing run that saw Tre Kronor edge Canada 3-2 in a quarter-final shootout, blank Finland 3-0 in the semi-final, and beat Switzerland 5-1 in the gold medal game. Henrik was on fire with nine points in four games, cracking the tournament all-star team.
In 2017, Sweden likely wouldn’t have gone all the way without bringing in Washington’s Nicklas Backstrom and New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist. In the 2-1 win over Canada in the final, Backstrom scored the deciding goal in the shootout, while “The King” made the game-clinching stop on Canada’s Mitch Marner.
Coach Rikard Gronborg won his second straight title with the Swedes in 2018 in Copenhagen. The big contributor of reinforcements that year was the Nashville Predators. Forwards Filip Forsberg, Viktor Arvidsson and Patrick Hornqvist and defenceman Mattias Ekholm. In the 18 man-games they played, they totalled eight goals. They also outdueled their Swiss Preds colleagues in the gold medal game. Forsberg got the deciding shootout goal in the 3-2 win.
Since 2018, airlifts haven’t played a significant role in shaping World Championship gold-medal squads. Yet with the Covid-19 pandemic receding, the chances that late additions will come in and pay dividends certainly increases. Let's see what happens this year with Pastrnak and Nylander.