Can Europe’s hodgepodge of players from different nations band together and contend at the World Cup? Or will the NHL’s chemistry experiment fail?
Our 2016 World Cup of Hockey roster projections continue with the second of two “gimmick” teams: Europe. This squad can draw from any nation on the continent besides Finland, Sweden, Russia and the Czech Republic. It will have a healthy contingent of bodies from several nations that felt they could’ve fielded strong teams on their own, including Slovakia, Switzerland and even Denmark. Mix ’em all together, with a pinch of Slovenia, a dash of Germany and sprinklings of Norway and Austria, and what will we get? Some of the prospective participants, most notably Mark Streit, have spoken out against the concept, wishing they could play for country instead of continent. Still, the sum of many nations’ parts amounts to what looks like a talented roster on paper. Criticize the NHL all you want, but the Euros look like yet another team with a chance to be competitive. The tournament sets up for unprecedented parity. Here’s a look at my projected Team Europe roster. A reminder that players 23 and younger are eligible for this team. Only Canada and the U.S. don’t have access to their 23-and-youngers.
Frederik Andersen (Denmark) Andersen has never been able to separate himself from John Gibson in the Anaheim Ducks’ goaltending race. No shame in that. Gibson is a great young netminder. Andersen is highly capable, even if he isn’t dominant and he allows the odd softy. He’s earned the first crack at starting duty for Team Europe. His competition is steep, however, so his leash will be short.
Thomas Greiss (Germany) The easy pick would’ve been an established starter like Jonas Hiller, but it’s time to give Greiss his due. He has a sparkling .930 save percentage this season sharing the Brooklyn crease with Jaroslav Halak. Greiss doesn’t have long-term NHL starting experience but is more than good enough to earn the No. 3 gig.
Jaroslav Halak (Slovakia) Halak is the ideal goaltender for a short tournament. He’s inconsistent and injury prone, and that’s why he’s a better No. 2, but when he’s hot, he’s really hot. If Andersen falters, Halak could go on a run.
On the bubble: Reto Berra, Philipp Grubauer, Kristers Gudlevskis, Jonas Hiller
Zdeno Chara (Slovakia) The future Hall of Famer will turn 39 before the tournament and can’t be relied upon as the unstoppable mountain who punishes opposing teams’ top stars anymore. He is, however, enjoying a resurgent season in Boston offensively, showing he’s far from finished. Chara will be a fixture in Team Europe’s top four and is as strong a bet as any for the captaincy.
Christian Ehrhoff (Germany) Ehrhoff is technically an AHLer right now, but only because the Kings had to bury his contract. It’s not like he can’t play at the highest level at all. It’s just that he’s far less effective at it than he used to be. Team Europe can still make use of his mobility and maturity on the bottom pair.
Roman Josi (Switzerland) Team Europe goes as far as Mr. Josi goes. He has quietly grown into at least a top 15 blueliner on the planet. He moves the puck beautifully and has a nice shot. He’s poised under pressure and capable of logging heavy minutes as the Euros’ No. 1 defenseman.
Dennis Seidenberg (Germany) Seidenberg doesn’t bring much in the way of offense and really won’t need to, as the Euros have plenty of proficient point-getters on defense. He brings physicality and fearless shot blocking. He’s in decline as he hits his mid-30s, though.
Andrej Sekera (Slovakia) Sekera is a rich man’s Ehrhoff or a younger Ehrhoff, a left-handed shooter who can log big minutes and does a little bit of everything without doing anything amazingly well. His first season in Edmonton hasn’t gone as planned, but it’s not like the whole debacle is Sekera’s fault.
Mark Streit (Switzerland) I have to think Streit accepts an invite even after speaking out against the World Cup format. He’s in the twilight of his career but still knows how to quarterback a power play.
Yannick Weber (Switzerland) Weber gets the nod over Vancouver Canucks teammate Luca Sbisa to give Team Europe a single right-handed shooter. Weber also brings a booming shot, which makes him a power play fallback should anything happen to Chara.
On the bubble: Korbinian Holzer, Martin Marincin, Andrej Meszaros, Mirco Mueller, Luca Sbisa, Lubomir Visnovsky
Mikkel Boedker (Denmark) Boedker’s outstanding speed makes him an effective piece to deploy among the top nine forwards, even if he never scores as much as it seems like he should.
Leon Draisaitl (Germany) Draisaitl would’ve been a long shot to make this squad a year ago. Now, he projects as a vital cog, a big, strong offensive weapon with the talent to make others around him better. He’s just getting started in the NHL and will be fun to watch at the World Cup.
Nikolaj Ehlers (Denmark) This team will have speed to burn, and Ehlers is probably even faster than Boedker. Ehlers has the natural scoring ability to flourish if given a shot on one of the top two lines but is more likely to play a junior role in this team, maybe on an energy unit.
Lars Eller (Denmark) Eller will never be a high-end scorer but plays a sound two-way game. He’s a decent possession player and can take draws in a checking-line role.
Marian Gaborik (Slovakia) Gaborik can still fly, even as his body begins to break down on him, and he can produce like his old sniping self in spurts. Coach Ralph Krueger could try Gaborik with his L.A. Kings teammate Anze Kopitar, too, though Marian Hossa and Mats Zuccarello provide stiff competition for the No. 1 right wing job.
Zemgus Girgensons (Latvia) Girgensons’ progression appears to have stalled in Buffalo this season, at least offensively. He’s still an effective checker who can play center and wing, making him the perfect 13th forward.
Marian Hossa (Slovakia) What sums up how underrated Hossa is: his scoring has dipped significantly this season with the Chicago Blackhawks, but it doesn’t hurt his standing on Team Europe because he’s so effective at both ends of the ice, with and without the puck. Hossa is like Pavel Datsyuk that way, so skilled in all facets of the game that he always has something to contribute.
Anze Kopitar (Slovenia) Kopitar is absolutely crucial to the Europeans’ success. He’ll be asked to score like a front-line center and to shut down opposing teams’ best players, too. He’s done so at a championship level in Los Angeles, so there’s no reason to expect anything less in September.
Nino Niederreiter (Switzerland) He hits like a brick and can flash some nice scoring touch, though the latter tool is an inconsistent one. He’d be a dangerous addition to a checking line.
Frans Nielsen (Denmark) So overlooked and so versatile. Nielsen can play a scoring role, on the power play, on the penalty kill, as a defensive specialist…whatever Krueger wants. Nielsen is an ideal third-line pivot.
Tomas Tatar (Slovakia) Thomas Vanek may wind up playing the left wing on line 1 if Tatar’s down year with the Detroit Red Wings continues. Tatar, however, has been the better player over the last few seasons combined and deserves the first crack.
Thomas Vanek (Austria) The Euros boast many speedsters but lack pure finishers. Smooth-handed Vanek is one of the few. He’s a must for the top six.
Mats Zuccarello (Norway) ‘The Norwegian Hobbit’ has real X-factor potential in this tournament. He’s hard-nosed, competitive and creative offensively. Ideally, he finds a home as a right winger on the first or second line. This team needs him.
On the bubble: Sven Baertschi, Marko Dano, Michael Grabner, Mikhail Grabovski, Jannik Hansen, Tomas Jurco, Richard Panik, Michael Raffl, Tobias Rieder, Antoine Roussel
OTHER WORLD CUP ROSTER PROJECTIONS Feb. 17: Team Finland
http://www.thehockeynews.com/blog/projected-world-cup-2016-roster-team-finland/ Feb. 18: Team Sweden
http://www.thehockeynews.com/blog/projected-world-cup-2016-roster-team-sweden/ Feb. 19: Team North America
http://www.thehockeynews.com/blog/projected-world-cup-2016-roster-team-north-america/ Feb. 22: Team Russia
http://www.thehockeynews.com/blog/projected-world-cup-2016-roster-team-russia/ Feb. 23: Team Czech Republic
http://www.thehockeynews.com/blog/projected-world-cup-2016-roster-team-czech-republic/ Feb. 25: Team USA
Matt Larkin is an associate editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blog. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Matt Larkin on Twitter at @THNMattLarkin