The World Cup of Hockey’s first rosters are going to be announced on March 2, which means a full day of arguing over snubs and – undoubtedly – debating the merits of the new adidas jerseys.
For example, people are already cheesed-off about the Team North American jerseys, which were teased by the NHL this week. Seriously, they’re going to be black sweaters for an insurgent team of young bad-asses. We have a feeling they’re going to be the best of the lot.
Next up: Getting cheesed-off about the roster for that 23-and-under team, which has the second-largest player pool from which to choose. (Let’s not forget “Team Europe” has basically the rest of the world as its oyster outside of North American, Russia, Sweden, Finland and the Czech Republic.
What is this roster going to look like?
Here’s our latest guess. And by latest we mean “first,” because we’re not a rights holder and thus beholden to produce “World Cup of Hockey Roster Projections” on the hour.
Please keep in mind that players on Team North American have to be 23 years old or younger before Oct. 1, 2016, and any player that fits that criteria is ineligible to join either Team USA or Team Canada – they have to be a part of the Young Guns.
Here ... we ... go:
This group of 12 players, we think, is the best you could hope for, with a few wild cards acknowledged.
McDavid would have made Team Canada, so it’s hard to conceive how he doesn’t earn the top center spot here. We like Saad better on the left side, and MacKinnon has played on the right. Both can convert the golden opportunities provided to them by a once-in-a-generation playmaker.
We’ve seen a number of roster projections that have Gaudreau playing up with McDavid, but one of the basic tenets of roster building to do it by pairings. So there’s little logic in not having the Calgary Flames’ best young players on the same line, and then add Larkin, and watch them skate other teams out of the building. Provided, of course, that Monahan makes the team. And if he doesn't, we can't wait for the epic Boring Sean Monahan tweet that follows...
Eichel was the tough one to figure, because ideally you want him in the middle. But Nugent-Hopkins is better in his own end than is Eichel at this point. Pair them with Galchenyuk, and you’ll have two playmakers looking to set up Eichel’s howitzer of a shot.
Assuming they play "defense" in this exhibition tournament, Couturier is an essential checking center, and Boone Jenner adds a physicality the rest of the roster lacks. They do the dirty work in their own zone, and then Domi takes it the other way for offensive chances.
We think the extra forward spot could go to Jonathan Huberdeau of the Florida Panthers, with an experienced Mark Scheifele in the running as well as Ryan Strome.
But the real wild card is Auston Matthews, the projected No. 1 overall pick in the draft this summer. Dollars-to-donuts, he’s forward No. 13.
Rielly and Ekblad have been cemented as the top pairing in pretty much every projection for Team North America since the tournament was announced. Can Ekblad play 28 minutes a game?
Jones and Hamilton aren’t an ideal pairing, but we felt it necessary to reunite Gostisbehere and Trouba, who were a solid pairing for the national team.
We’re thinking Colton Parayko of the St. Louis Blues as No. 7 for his size, but it’ll probably end up being Ryan Murray of the Columbus Blue Jackets, who plays with Jones.
Again, pretty easy call here, although nobody would be surprised to see Hellebuyck eventually be the man between the pipes after prelims. Matt Murray of the Pittsburgh Penguins organization is reaching can’t-miss levels of hype while playing in the AHL.
So how good can this team be in the World Cup?
We’re been sorta fascinated by its potential ever since hearing a few of the potential players liken it to the “freshmen vs. the seniors,” wherein the freshmen give the veterans a hell of a competition out of determination and spite. On paper, maybe they don’t win this thing; in reality, they have every chance to.
“I look at the young guns, and they're going to probably be playing pressure-free, and they're going to have a ball. It's going to be a dangerous team. It's going to be a really good team, talent-wise, but just the youth of it and basically the inexperience of it all, they're going to be flying. It's going to be a really good hockey club.”
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