Representing the future of hockey, Team North America may be one of the most exciting teams on the ice during September’s 2016 World Cup of Hockey (WCH). The team comprises current and future star players from Canada and the USA who are under 23 years old. While these players possess tremendous talent, they are frequently overshadowed by more mature hockey brethren.
What’s most exciting about this team of “young guns” is that they are hungry; hungry to make it; hungry to win and eager to “school” hockey’s international elite. Remember when being a teen and taking on Dad in a 1 v. 1 game of driveway basketball? Well that’s what we can expect from Team North America, only in the WCH scenario, the teen is Connor McDavid (48 points in 45 games) and Dad is Alex Ovechkin (5th Fastest in the NHL to reach 500 goals).
Forward Lines with Lightning Quick Speed
What Team North America lacks in experience it makes up for in speed. Its forwards are healthy – unmarred by years of heavy NHL play – unphased by a shorter than usual off-season and lightning quick speed. The forward lines on this team are impressive and driven to excel. Who should we watch? Well, all of them – it’s impossible to pick just one when there’s a lineup that includes Jack Eichel (Buffalo Sabres), Dylan Larkin, (Detroit Red Wings); Nathan MacKinnon, (Colorado Avalanche); Auston Matthews, (Toronto Maple Leafs); Connor McDavid, (Edmonton Oilers); and two-time Stanley Cup winner Brandon Saad, (Columbus Blue Jackets).
Larkin, McDavid, and Matthews bring exceptional speed that will foil veteran defenders on the Big Six teams and put up points for Team North America. Not only did rookie forward Larkin destroy Mike Garner’s 1996 fastest skater record in the 2016 All-Star games, he used this speed to put up 23 goals and 45 points; he also led the Red Wings in scoring game-winning-goals.
McDavid, sidelined for the first three months of the 2016 season, returned to play with a vengeance, putting up 48 points in 44 games including 12 multipoint games and a five-point game (two goals, three assists).
Much hyped, top 2016 draft pick Matthews makes his NHL debut at the Air Canada Centre for the WCH. At just 19 years of age, Matthews, renowned for his speed and agility is no stranger to competitive hockey on an international stage. In fact, he put up 46 points in 36 games last season in Switzerland’s top professional league and was named one of the IIHF tournament’s most valuable players after scoring nine points in 10 games for Team USA.
With two Stanley Cup championships under his belt, left-winger Brandon Saad is perhaps the most seasoned player on Team North America. Saad has logged 52 goals and 126 points in 208 games and in the 2016 playoffs scored eight goals in 23 games. He made his biggest impact last season when he scored eight goals in 23 playoff games. His experience and skill are two great assets in Team North America’s offensive arsenal.
Team North America’s Offensive Roster: Sean Couturier (Philadelphia Flyers); Jonathan Drouin (Tampa Bay Lightning); Jack Eichel (Buffalo Sabres); Johnny Gaudreau (Calgary Flames); Dylan Larkin (Detroit Red Wings); Nathan MacKinnon (Colorado Avalanche); Auston Matthews (Toronto Maple Leafs); Connor McDavid (Edmonton Oilers); J.T. Miller (NY Rangers); Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (Edmonston Oilers); Brandon Saad (Columbus Blue Jackets); Mark Scheifele (Winnipeg Jets); and Vincent Trocheck (Florida Panthers).
Talented Blue Line Threatens the Big Six
While Team North America’s blue line may be inexperienced the talent runs deep upping the competitiveness factor of this young guns team. Runner up for the Calder Trophy, Shayne Gostisbehere aka “Ghost Bear” (Philadelphia Flyers) will likely lead the team’s defense. Gostisbehere led rookie defensemen this season in goals, assists (29), points (46), power-play goals (eight) and power-play points (22) in 64 games. He is lethal during the power play – a significant factor that helped to carry the Flyers into the 2016 playoffs.
With two seasons and 27 goals under his belt, 2015 Calder Trophy winner Aaron Ekblad (Florida Panthers) is tied for ninth among NHL defenseman and a formidable force through which the Big Six forwards must pass. Additionally, Colton Parayko (St. Louis Blues) was a standout for the Blues in 2016 with great possession stats and is a huge threat on the power play.
The d-line rounds out with Seth Jones and Ryan Murray (Blue Jackets), Morgan Rielly (Toronto Maple Leafs) and Jacob Trouba (Winnipeg Jets) making this a very balanced group that may be able to hold their own against the more experienced forwards on the Big Six.
And It’s Murray Between the Pipes
Of all the strengths on Team North America goaltending is among its finest. Matt Murray, runner up for the Conn Smythe trophy who led the Penguins to their Stanley Cup victory will stand between the pipes for Team North America. Murray, with only 13 regular season games may be more inexperienced than the backup goalie but he finished the playoffs with a 15-6 record, 2.08 GAA, .923 save percentage and one shutout. John Gibson (Anaheim Ducks), Team North America’s most experienced net minder will be Murray’s backup with Connor Hellebuyck (AHL) standing in the wings.
Overall, Team North America is hot and eager to prove they are world-class hockey players in their own rights. While their odds to medal are low, do expect Team North America to log some upsets and provide us with a whole lot of exciting hockey when they take the ice at the WCH.
By Stephanie Judge