Don’t call it a World Cup. As Daily Faceoff’s own Frank Seravalli reported this week after speaking with NHL Players’ Association executive director Marty Walsh at the NHL Global Series in Stockholm, an agreement for a 2025 international tournament involving NHL players is almost in place. But with Russian participation still a non-starter due to the nation’s invasion of Ukraine, we’re probably getting a four-team tournament featuring only Canada, the United States, Sweden and Finland.
If the NHL and NHLPA are doing away with anything remotely resembling a best-on-best affair, it would’ve been nice to see them embrace the more gimmicky elements of an international tournament to make it interesting.
That got my colleague, Daily Faceoff prospect analyst Steven Ellis, dreaming about the 2016 World Cup and, more specifically, about Team North America, which was comprised solely of players 23 and younger. That breathtakingly exciting squad included the likes of Connor McDavid, Nathan MacKinnon, Auston Matthews and Jack Eichel. It lost in the semifinal but stole the hearts of everyone taking in the tourney.
What would a Team North America look like today? Steven started mapping it out, and I decided to join in. It makes for a fun debate topic at the table on U.S. Thanksgiving, right?
We present to you our rosters, using the 2016 World Cup parameters:
– 20 skaters, three goaltenders
– Must be 23 years old or younger
FORWARDS – Matt Larkin’s picks
A lot of puck still and talent in this group. Razzle-dazzle city. So many of the candidates for this squad are natural centers, so I have several centers playing in the wings here. Connor Bedard hasn’t gotten the hang of the faceoff circle yet, so I’ve removed that pressure for him so he can focus on scoring goals from the wing. Same goes for Trevor Zegras, whom I have in a playmaking left winger role. I was tempted to load up with Bedard on the first line, but there would be a goal-scorer redundancy there with Cole Caufield, so the versatile Dawson Mercer joins his New Jersey Devils teammate Jack Hughes on line 1.
Biggest flex: I felt strange deploying the uber-talented Logan Cooley as just a 13th forward, but I already have plenty of puck-handling skill and wanted some heavier forwards with shutdown ability in my bottom six.
Toughest cut: Alexis Lafreniere and Quinton Byfield have been revelations this season, but I didn’t want to get swayed too much by small sample sizes. Even a year from now, Adam Fantilli probably makes my team, but whom would I have cut for him today from my existing group?
Also considered: Adam Fantilli, Kirby Dach, Alexis Lafreniere, Cole Perfetti, Quinton Byfield, Matthew Knies
FORWARDS – Steven Ellis’ picks
Is this forward group better than 2016? You be the judge, but consider the fact we’ve now seen prime years out of guys from that group already compared to this, where some are still fighting for the Calder Trophy. I’m happy I got to reunite the dynamic duo of Cole Caufield and Jack Hughes, one of the greatest combos I’ve ever seen in junior hockey. And beyond that, you’ve got scoring just about everywhere.
Biggest flex: The 13th forward can often be one of the most interesting players on the team. We’ve seen it so often that an unaccompanied forward finds his way up in the lineup and ends up being the best player on the ice. Bedard at the 2022 world juniors – before its cancellation – is a perfect example. I couldn’t slot Perfetti in a spot I loved, so I liked the flexibility of him playing as the 13th forward. Throw him on the power play, put him in the top six to spice things up, whatever. He’s flexible.
Toughest cut: Like it was for Matt, leaving Lafreniere off was difficult. He’s finally thriving with the Rangers, but he’s often been inconsistent. Give it another year, and Fantilli is playing a big role for this team, too.
Also considered: Alexis Lafreniere, Quinton Byfield, Adam Fantilli, Kirby Dach (if healthy), Barrett Hayton
DEFENSEMEN – Matt Larkin’s picks
Stacked. I feel great about this group. I opted for talent over positional comfort, which is why I have five lefties and two righties in this D-corps, with left-shot Owen Power sliding over to the right side. My top four will be a chore to score on, and Luke Hughes can earn a lot of his minutes on the power play for me.
Biggest flex: Am I getting too excited for Brock Faber’s start, playing him in my starting lineup over the more experienced Bowen Byram? Faber has really impressed me so far this season in Minnesota, logging more than 23 minutes a game in a meaty two-way role. Only 19 games into his career, he may already be the Wild’s most important defenseman.
Toughest cut: I originally had Mattias Samuelsson paired with Power as a Buffalo Sabres connection. Samuelsson would bring a rugged physical element. But it would’ve meant cutting someone much more talented.
Also considered: Mattias Samuelsson, Jamie Drysdale, Brandt Clarke, Kevin Korchinski, Cam York, Kaiden Guhle
DEFENSEMEN – Steven Ellis’ picks
Want size? You got it. Need offense? You got it. Someone to shut things down? You got it. What a group. Dobson is having a career year, Sanderson is emerging as one of the best young players in the game today, Power is blossoming into an excellent two-way defender and Miller has been steady for a few years now. There’s so much to love about this D-corps.
Biggest flex: I don’t think Guhle gets enough love outside of Montreal. He’s such a difficult player to play against and can absolutely level anyone he wants to. He’s an all-around defender with great skating ability, and the offense is catching up to him, too.
Toughest cut: I really wanted Brock Faber on this team. Given his hot start, and everything we saw leading up to his pro debut, none of it should be a surprise. But I didn’t want to have two rookie defenders on here, and I think Hughes can just do a bit more offensively and fit in anywhere.
Also considered: Brock Faber, Jamie Drysdale, Brandt Clarke, Mattias Samuelsson, Kevin Korchinski, Arber Xhekaj
GOALTENDERS – Matt Larkin’s picks
Goaltenders take a long time to mature, so the options 23 and younger were fairly slim. That said, I’m very happy with this trio of game-stealing talents.
Biggest flex: Devon Levi is already a full-time NHLer. Why not make him my starter? Just because Dustin Wolf isn’t a full-timer doesn’t mean he shouldn’t be. He’s probably the Calgary Flames’ best goalie right now, but he’s waivers exempt and thus blocked by Jacob Markstrom and Dan Vladar. Wolf has been named the top goalie in whatever league he has played in for the last four seasons. He’s at worst a top-three netminding prospect in the world, and you could twist my arm to bump him above Jesper Wallstedt or Yaroslav Askarov for the top spot.
Toughest cut: None. Wolf, Levi and Joel Hofer are the only 23-and-younger North American goalies to play NHL games this season, and I didn’t feel the need to reach on a Sebastian Cossa projection.
GOALTENDERS – Steven Ellis’ picks
When you’ve got a team with three goaltenders all capable of stealing games, you’re in good shape. But like Matt said, with just three eligible goaltenders having started games this year, you can’t stray from the path here.
Biggest flex: I’m going with Hofer as the No. 1. It’s a small sample size across the board, but Hofer has been the slightly better goalie this year and has four years of pro experience. Levi is still just getting his legs under him, but I have no doubt he’ll be a star one day. No AHL goaltender is as prolific as Wolf, though, so I could see him earning the No. 1 here. If it wasn’t for Calgary’s crowded pipeline, he’d be a Calder Trophy contender this year.
Hardest cut: Just read Matt’s blurb. There’s no point in galaxy braining it, even though I like Cossa and Trey Augustine. Seriously, Detroit, you’ve got it good.
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