The World Cup of Hockey is back, with the NHL-backed tournament scheduled for the next few weeks in lovely Toronto. Yahoo Sports will offer on-site coverage from the event; but first, here’s a look at the six nations and the two made-up teams that will battle for the funny-looking trophy.
Sunday, Sept. 18 – Group B preliminary vs. Finland 8 p.m. ET
Saturday, Sept. 19 – Group B preliminary vs. Russia, 8 p.m. ET
Wednesday, Sept. 21 – Group B preliminary vs. Sweden, 3 p.m. ET
Career NHL Games – 3,449
Career NHL Goals (Skaters) –654
Career NHL Assists (Skaters) –1,145
Career NHL Points (Skaters) –1,799
Career NHL Wins (Goaltenders) – 59
Average Age – 22.2
Average Height (Inches) – 73.6
Average Weight (Pounds) – 200.1
Stanley Cups – 3
The North American forwards are fast and seemed to come together quickly in the tournament exhibition games. Connor McDavid, who averaged over a point per-game as a rookie last year, leads the group as captain. He’s joined by Jack Eichel – who was picked one spot behind McDavid in the 2015 NHL Draft – in what could be the only time the two future stars play on the same team in meaningful competition. In two games against Team Europe, Nathan MacKinnon had four points including an incredible goal off a deke in the first exhibition contest. Forward Johnny Gaudreau ranked tied for sixth in the NHL in scoring last season with 78 points and is Team North America’s top threat on the wing.
Jonathan Drouin has a chance to build off his strong playoff run where he had 14 points in 17 games.
Despite Team North America’s speed up front, a lot of their players aren’t considered two-way threats like some of the other more experienced teams in the tournament. Sean Couturier is Team North America’s best two-way forward. Overall, North America is loaded with high-octane offensive players who can score, but may not have the type of defensive leanings to win the tournament. Also, no center on Team North America held a face-off percentage above 50 percent last season.
Defensemen Seth Jones and Ryan Murray play together with the Columbus Blue Jackets and their familiarity with one another could pay off in the short tournament where chemistry is vital. At 6-foot-4, 216 pounds, alternate captain Aaron Ekblad is physically mature enough to hang with some of the older opponents in the tournament. Shayne Gostisbehere is one of the most offensively gifted of the group and had 46 points in 64 games last year.
Colton Parayko (nine goals and 24 assists last season with a plus-28 rating) is 6-foot-6 and should provide a power play weapon with his booming shot.
Defensemen tend to develop slower than forwards and none of these players are true superstars (yet) like some of their counterparts up front. Jones is the only player who averaged over 24 minutes per-game for his team – playing 24:27 after a midseason trade to Columbus.
Matt Murray led the Pittsburgh Penguins to a Stanley Cup last season and has big game experience that should help this group. Murray won 15 games and held a 2.08 goal-against average and .923 save percentage during the 2016 postseason. One of his biggest attributes was his ability to bounce back after losses. Murray never lost in back-to-back games in the post
If Murray struggles, All-Star John Gibson could jump in and help the team. Last season, Gibson and Frederik Andersen won the Jennings Trophy with the Anaheim Ducks. Gibson has struggled in the playoffs though, with a 2.84 goal-against average and .912 save percentage in six games.
Connor Hellebuyck was one of the few bright spots for the Winnipeg Jets last season with a 2.34 goal-against average and .918 save percentage in 26 games.
Grade The Jerseys
Team North America’s jerseys are the best in the tournament. They’re different, they’re fresh and the logo along with the color scheme fits with the youthful exuberance of the team. The Roman numerals are a nice touch.
Watching this team gain the zone on the man-advantage will be a sight to behold with their speed and creativity. McDavid and Eichel on the same power play should be pure excitement and Gaudreau’s puck skills should help create even more offense. Both Parayko (nine goals) and Ekblad (15 goals) have solid shots from the point.
North America could struggle on the penalty kill. Couturier is the team’s top penalty killing forward, but North America is lean on forwards used to playing big minutes a man down for their NHL clubs.
On defense, Murray and Jones – who both averaged over two minutes of penalty killing ice-time per-game – should get a lot of the penalty killing assignments as a pair. Morgan Rielly averaged 2:21 of ice-time on the penalty kill per-game last season. Jacob Trouba averaged 2:43 of penalty killing ice-time per-game.
Coach Todd McLellan has said all the right things about pushing this team to play fast and aggressive. He has some of the top minds in hockey helping him out in Tampa Bay Lightning coach Jon Cooper, Arizona Coyotes coach Dave Tippett and San Jose Sharks coach Peter DeBoer.
McLellan’s experience coaching McDavid and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins should also help with this team.
Because of McLellan and the rest of the coaching staff, this team should be very well prepared.
They’ll Make It Out of Group Play If …
They combat older groups like Russia, Finland and Sweden with speed and creativity. Team North America is the fastest team in the tournament and they can surprise these teams early in group play.
They’ll Flop At The World Cup If …
They get caught up in a physical game with their opponents.
North America may be fast but a lot of their players aren’t as physically mature as some of the other teams. They can’t get caught up in a more physical, slower-paced game.
The Pittsburgh Penguins won the Stanley Cup with a puck pressuring speed system. Team North America has the ability to play a similar style and their quickness will lead to some exciting games, but ultimately their defensive shortcomings will do them in. They just don’t have the two-way players to win big games against Canada, Sweden or Team USA. They’ll get past group play but won’t go much further.
Previous World Cup previews
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