Overview

Of all the teams in the World Cup of Hockey tournament, none represents “wild card” quite like Team North America. The roster, comprised of the best North American-born players under the age of 23, has the potential to upset the apple cart for the more established national teams in the tournament. Boasting such young phenoms as Connor McDavid and Johnny Gaudreau, the squad will certainly bring offensive talent and dynamic skills. In addition, the inclusion of 2016 #1 overall pick Auston Matthews will give hockey fans in North America their first real glimpse at his talents before he even plays an NHL game.



Though listed as a 16-1 underdog in the tournament, Team North America’s youthful exuberance and high-end talent makes them a force not to be taken lightly. The roster features five first-overall picks (Matthews, McDavid, Aaron Ekblad, Nathan Mackinnon, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins) along with a number of emerging NHL stars. The term “breakout campaign” is applied to a young player that has a star-making season; this entire squad could be a “breakout team” in the making. The stars of tomorrow are looking to make a big impact today, and this tournament will give many of them the opportunity to rub shoulders with some of the game’s greatest players and truly learn what steps may be necessary for them to reach higher levels in their play.

Team North America will face off against Finland, Russia, and Sweden in the preliminary round. These are three powerhouses of international hockey, and their respective rosters in the World Cup are intimidating. Russia (9-2) and Sweden (5-1) are considered among the favourites in the tournament, and to make it through the preliminary rounds Team North America will need to defeat at least one of them. Can they pull off the upset(s) that will be necessary for success?




Roster

Forwards: 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, New York Rangers; Sean Monahan, Calgary Flames; Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Edmonton Oilers; Brandon Saad, Columbus Blue Jackets; Mark Scheifele, Winnipeg Jets, Vincent Trocheck, Florida Panthers

Defence: Aaron Ekblad, Florida Panthers; Shayne Gostisbehere, Philadelphia Flyers; Seth Jones, Columbus Blue Jackets; Ryan Murray, Columbus Blue Jackets; Colton Parayko, St. Louis Blues; Morgan Rielly, Toronto Maple Leafs; Jacob Trouba, Winnipeg Jets

Goalie: John Gibson, Anaheim Ducks; Connor Hellebuyck, Winnipeg Jets; Matt Murray, Pittsburgh Penguins


Analysis

This forward group has speed, skill, and desire to burn. In future years, many of these young stars will be the superstars of the NHL and many will be representing their respective national teams in tournaments. There is the generational talent of Connor McDavid to be the lightning rod and possible catalyst for much of the offence, but the supporting cast will also give opposing defences fits and may frustrate more than a couple goalies. The prospect of a trio featuring McDavid alongside Jack Eichel and Johnny Gaudreau will be dazzling and enticing for the fans watching them play the games. How will they stack up with their defensive responsibilities, though, can be a question mark. The team does have some very good young two-way players such as Mark Scheifele, but expect to see the pedal to metal offensively from Team North America if they want to have much hope to knock off their national team rivals.
This Ad will be removed when you a member of sportscardforum.com



While the forwards on Team North America are a fantasy pooler’s dream, there are question marks on defence and in goal, and this could be the area where the kids will struggle against their opponents. Though players such as Ekblad and Shayne Gostisbehere are emerging talents, they will be tasked with stopping (or at least slowing down) some tremendously talented players in order to make it through the preliminary round. Can a group of defenders under the age of 23 realistically expect to contain high-octane offences like those who will be brought on by Sweden and Russia? This is the biggest area of concern facing the team, and they will have an unenviable task ahead of them against some strong opponents.

Goaltending was thought to be another potential problem for Team North America. When you look at those three names there is a grand total of 105 games of NHL regular season experience. Then Matt Murray went out and had an amazing Stanley Cup playoffs in which he stole the #1 job from Marc-Andre Fleury and was instrumental taking the Pittsburgh Penguins to the Cup. So Murray is tested on the biggest of stages. He outdid Henrik Lundqvist in the first round of the playoffs, can he do it against “King Henrik” one more time? If so, that would put his young team in a great position to potentially escape the preliminary round of the tournament.



Outlook

Expect Team North America to be a lot of fun to watch at the World Cup. The young stars will certainly rise to the challenge of their opponents, and they have the potential to knock off at least one favoured team from the tournament. They will need everything to click to have success, particularly their forwards as they may have to take a page from the 1980’s Edmonton Oilers and just score a lot of goals to win games. Sweden’s defence is arguably as good as Team Canada’s, so breaking through against that squad will be a severe test. The Russian attack will put a lot of strain on the young blueliners, and they will need help from the forwards in those situations. Finland, while solid all around, may present Team North America with their best opportunity for victory, though any team that has Tuukka Rask or Pekka Rinne in goal remains formidable. While many fans will be cheering hard for this young group of exceptional talents, their tournament may be short-lived...or they could really shock everybody.