Top NHL draft prospect Leon Draisaitl is left out of the Super Series due to nationality (The Canadian Press)
Starting at left out, Leon Draisaitl.
He and any other major junior standout who might bring fans to their feet from time to time, but lacks a Canadian or Russian passport. The Canadian Hockey League and its sundry partners believe Canada vs. Russia is the most salable format for the Subway Super Series, which begins Monday in Gatineau, Que., with Team QMJHL, led by Jonathan Drouin, facing the Russian selects.
It's unlikely to change any time soon. Everything — and this is not a slam, far from it — the CHL goes is geared to sponsors, especially in a period when revenue is flat. Tapping into a historic rivalry is believed to be the only way to budge the needle. Yet it's a stretch to believe fans nationwide get too emotionally staked on whether Team QMJHL, Team OHL and Team WHL can prevail in a string of two-game exhibition series against a squad of Russians who are largely unknown outside their homeland. Players might not be stoked beyond what it means for their chances of impressing Hockey Canada. Two years on, I can recall a Saginaw Spirit player referring to the "stupid series" while his team was bringing their equipment into the Ottawa Civic Centre immediately after an OHL-Russia game.
Is there a better way to put Canada's pride on the line and promote the talent within the CHL? For argument's sake, the CHL is missing an opportunity by leaving out much of its best and brightest European and U.S. talent. There is more than enough skill among league's foreign-born players to stock not just one credible roster that could face the best Team Canada-eligible talent, but probably two.
Meantime, the CHL would get a great platform outside of Canada to promote its product.
Based on some back-of-a-takeout-menu jotting, here are two player pools that could participate. One controlled variable was to divide the player pool east-west; a squad drawn from the QMJHL and OHL
Team World — East
Centre — Ivan Barbashev, Moncton (Russia), Radek Faksa, Kitchener (Czech Republic), Ryan Hartman, Plymouth (U.S.), Justin Bailey, Kitchener (U.S.), Victor Crus Rydberg, Plymouth (Sweden).
Hartman was a sandpaper player for the gold-medal-winning Team USA in 2013, while Faksa represented the Czech Republic. Barbashev is a top-10 scorer in the Q and is Central Scouting's top-ranked draft prospect out of that league.
Wing — André Burakovsky, Erie (Austria), Adam Erne, Quebec (U.S.), Nikolaj Ehlers, Halifax (Denmark), Martin Reway, Gatineau (Slovakia), Sergey Tolchinsky, Sault Ste. Marie (Russia), Cole Cassels, Oshawa (U.S.), Nikolay Goldobin, Sarnia (Russia), Nick Sorensen, Quebec (Sweden), Brady Vail, Windsor (U.S.), Valentin Zykov, Baie-Comeau (Russia).
The depth on the wing is deep, with 40-goal scorer Zykov, Anaheim Ducks high second-rounder Sorensen among those in tough for ice time on this imaginary hockey team. Ehlers, as a Dane, might never play in the top flight of the WJC, so here's a showcase.
For those wondering, Cole Cassels is a dual citizen but could compete for USA Hockey. The Vancouver Canucks fourth-rounder played for Team Ontario in the world under-17 challenge, but was in the All-America Prospects Game last season.
Defence — Nikita Zadorov, London (Russia), Anthony DeAngelo, Sarnia (U.S.), Mikko Vainonen, Kingston (Finland), Dylan Blujus, North Bay (U.S.), Jan Kostalek, Rimouski (Czech Republic), Phil Baltisberger, Guelph (Switzerland), Tim Bender, London (Germany).
Like an actual major junior club team, there is a dip beyond the top four on the blueline. Baltisberger and Bender, the presumptive sixth and seventh D-men, both played in the world junior last season. Baltisberger helped the Swiss reach the medal round.
Goalie — Oscar Dansk, Erie (Sweden), Anthony Stolarz, London (U.S.); Alex Nedeljkovic, Plymouth (U.S.).
An actual world junior 'tender, Shawinigan's Marvin Cüpper, is a tough cut in net. Dansk and Stolarz are each 19-year-old NHL second-round picks, respectively of Columbus and Philadelphia, who are among the top six in the OHL in average and save percentage. Think they wouldn't present a challenge to the Canadians?
Team World — West
Centre Henrik Samuelsson, Edmonton (U.S.), Leon Draisaitl, Prince Albert (Germany), Chase De Leo, Portland (USA), Brian Williams, Tri-City (U.S.), Ivan Nikolishin, Everett (Russia).
A chance to make a Samuelsson be a heel? See the opportunity that's falling by the wayside? The WHL player pool includes three draft-eligible dandies with De Leo, Draisaitl and Nikolishin. The former two and Williams are each in the top 25 of WHL scoring.
Wing — Oliver Bjorkstrand, Portland (Denmark), Tim Bozon, Kootenay (France), Rihards Bukarts, Brandon (Latvia), Alexander Delnov, Seattle (Russia), Roberts Lipsbergs, Seattle (Latvia), Nikita Scherbak, Saskatoon (Russia), Edgars Kulda, Edmonton (Latvia),Mads Eller, Edmonton (Denmark), Axel Blomqvist, Lethbridge (Sweden).
Bjorkstrand, a Columbus Blue Jackets third-rounder who played in the 2012 WJC, wouldn't have his regular centre, Winnipeg Jets second Nic Petan, but could still team up with another Winterhawk in De Leo. Overall, this group would highlight the contributions smaller hockey countries such as Denmark and Latvia make to major junior.
An acknowledged omission might be Brandon's Richard Nejezchleb, who has a Cy Young statline with 17 goals and three assists in 21 games. Delnov and Scherbak are already on Russia's squad for the final leg of the Super Series .
Defence — Mirco Mueller, Everett (Switzerland), Tommy Vannelli, Medicine Hat (U.S.), Julius Honka, Swift Current (Finland), Tomas Andrlik, Prince Albert (Czech Republic), Dmitry Osipov, Vancouver (Russia), Rinat Valiev, Kootenay (Russia).
A first-rounder (Mueller, taken No. 18 overall by the San Jose Sharks), second-rounder in Vannelli and projected 2014 first-rounder in Honka would make for a young top three. There is little denying its potential; who's to say there would not be a future season where there would be a good stock of seasoned non-Canadian shutdown defencemen?
Please keep in mind Seth Jones would have been on this list if the format had existed during the lead-up to the 2013 world junior. Jones is now playing 20 minutes a night for the NHL's Nashville Predators.
Goalie — Eetu Laurikainen, Swift Current (Finland), Marek Langhamer, Medicine Hat (Czech Republic), Patrik Polivka, Victoria (Czech Republic).
Each Eastern Conference division leader's top 'tender gets the nod, bumping out the Portland Winterhawks' Brendan Burke, the 6-foot-4 Arizonan who has moved into the No. 1 slot in the Rose City. The rest of the CHL-watching country would also get to see what both netminders are all about.
The phaseout of the European goalie would create a problem in years to come. In that hypothetical scenario, maybe the CHL would revisit the Euro-goalie embargo? Wishful thinking, I know.
To sum up, the Super Series format is probably set in stone. This re-imagining has its holes; speaking off the cuff, who's going to coach a team with players drawn from 10 countries? Ehlers, who has a command of six languages, cannot translate for everyone. There's also the risk of, say, a goalie getting run by a player from a league rival.
On the plus side, no one would have a visa issue, eh?
The World team would be an underdog, but that has a certain appeal. The point of the exercise is that CHL could get more run from its European and U.S. talent by putting on a big stage. Plus there would be a built-in motivation for the Canadian squads; no one would want to be the first to lose. That couldn't hurt for the purpose of picking Team Canada in December.
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet. Please address any questions, comments or concerns to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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