Regardless of your thoughts about the World Cup of Hockeynobody will soon forget about the phenomenon that swept a continent: Team North America.
The team wasn’t highly regarded at first. Who was going to cheer for a team made up of two of the sport’s biggest rivals., the U.S. and Canada? But that quickly changed when the team hit the ice for an opening-game victory over Finland, with over 19,000 cheering on a team without a pre-existing identity in international hockey. The idea of seeing Canadian Connor McDavid line up alongside American Auston Matthews – the No. 1 picks in 2015 and 2016, respectively – was something that would never happen again. North America missed out on making the medal round on a tiebreaker to Russia, but the sheer excitement was enough to leave a lasting memory for those that watched the otherwise subpar tournament, one many refer to as a cash grab by the NHL.
That got us thinking: what would Team North America look like if the tournament was played today? Like the 2016 team, this edition will follow the same guidelines: the players must be from Canada and the United States and aged 23 or under (in this case, relative to July 9). While keeping players to their natural position when possible, here’s what the 23-man roster could be if the tournament was to make its return this summer:
Matthew Tkachuk – Connor McDavid – Alex DeBrincat
Kyle Connor – Auston Matthews – Mitch Marner
Pierre-Luc Dubois – Brayden Point – Alex Tuch
Travis Konecny – Jack Eichel – Brock Boeser
Talk about a deep group. Every member of the forward group was a key offensive contributor for their respective clubs, starting with McDavid in Edmonton. McDavid and DeBrincat have history playing together in the OHL and were two of three players on this roster to score 40 goals this past season. On the left side, Tkachuk combines speed, strength and skill, which makes him one of the toughest players in the league to play against. If he doesn’t beat you with his shot, he’ll beat you physically.
Even though Mitch Marner plays most of the time with John Tavares in Toronto, uniting two of Toronto’s best young stars could spark some chemistry out of the gate – they’re good friends, after all. Connor and Matthews played together at the U-18 and the men’s World Championship levels – in fact, it seems like Matthews gets along with just about anyone he plays with. All three players are coming off of career years, so it would be fun.
Point is set for a big payday this summer and is more than capable of being a top center on this team – he had 92 points, for crying out loud, but look at the stout options down the middle. Dubois has grown into a star in Columbus and will be counted on more than ever after the departures of Matt Duchene and Artemi Panarin, among others. Tuch has flown under the radar in Vegas, but he’s coming off of his first 20-goal season and had a career-high 52 points playing in a middle-six role. It’s not just skill that this line brings, either – Dubois is 6-foot-3 and 207 pounds, while Tuch stands at 6-foot-4 and 222. That’s a big group.
Tenacity is the name of the game for the fourth line. Konecny can play both wings, and his electric style has made him a fan favorite in Philadelphia – expect him to hit the 50-point mark for the first time in 2019-20. Eichel is obviously too good to be on the fourth line, especially after a career-high 82 points with Buffalo. He had a solid outing in 2016 with NA, and he’s easily one of the best U-25 players on the planet, regardless of position. Boeser is destined for greatness in Vancouver, but his style fits this line perfectly and can be the go-to man for Eichel to set up. As the 13th forward, Larkin is coming off of a 32-goal, 73-point season and was fantastic with the United States at the World Championship. Larkin played in just two games at the 2016 edition of the World Cup but provides extra scoring depth at center.
Zach Werenski – Aaron Ekblad
Thomas Chabot – Charlie McAvoy
Noah Hanifin – Travis Sanheim
There’s no shortage left-handed defenseman in this age group. It won’t be long until Weresnski is battling for the Norris Trophy each year, especially on a Blue Jackets roster that needs immediate help this coming season. Thomas Chabot and Noah Hanifin are still out to prove their long-term potential but are good enough in all three zones to be minute-munchers for at least the next decade.
On the right side, Ekblad returns better than ever. He played just one game in the 2016 tournament due to an upper-body injury but is Florida’s top blueliner and has played top-pairing minutes for most of his career. McAvoy has yet to play a full 82-game season in the NHL, but the strong blueliner fits nicely alongside Zdeno Chara in Boston and was one of Boston’s better players when healthy this past season.
To finalize the defense group, Sanheim showed good progression throughout the year, spending time on the top pairing with Ivan Provorov. A left-handed shot on the right side, Sanheim is only starting to find his potential, and while the World Cup is not a development tournament, his raw talents are worthy of a spot. Same goes for Carlo, a large defenseman who doesn’t have much flash, but is mobile and is a strong shutdown option.
Carter Hart – Mackenzie Blackwood – Thatcher Demko
Just like in 2016, goaltending is a tougher position to fill. Only five goalies who met the criteria played in at least 10 games in 2018-19, with rookie sensation Hart stealing the spotlight in the eight-headed monster that was Philadelphia’s crease. Hart will be 21 when this coming season gets underway and is ready to take the reins full-time this coming season. Blackwood is in a similar situation in New Jersey and will become one of the NHL’s youngest starters at 22. Demko will get the full-time bump in Vancouver, but unlike the other two, he’ll start the season as the backup. Compared to 2016 when the roster featured Matt Murray, John Gibson and Connor Hellebuyck, there’s a lack of experience between the pipes, but there is intrigue and the opportunity to surprise.
On paper, this team is stacked, but the incredible talent that was left over is also very noticeable. With the team being so deep down the middle, it was hard to keep Mathew Barzal off the team, even if his offense did take a 23-point dip this past season (85 to 62). On the wings, Clayton Keller and Brady Tkachuk both deserve consideration, while Cale Makar could just have easily been included, but was left off for the sole reason of his inexperience – we all know he’s going to be fantastic. Brothers Jack (center) and Quinn Hughes (left-handed defenseman) are both good enough to challenge for spots, but their inexperience in the NHL was what left them off.
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