World Cup organizers would like to assemble a Euro all-star team from the non-“big six” nations for 2016. What would that lineup look like? Could it contend?
Nothing beats the best-on-best excitement of the Olympics. But, hey, World Cup organizers for 2016 deserve credit for tabling something interesting. The new tournament would be self-serving for the NHL, as it would collect the revenue it doesn’t receive from the IIHF’s Winter Games. But it’s more than that. The proposed format creates an intriguing fantasy-draft scenario that would be fun for the fans. The World Cup would give us the six staple nations: Canada, USA, Russia, Sweden, Finland and the Czech Republic. Rounding out an eight-team pool would be two All-Star squads. One would draw from the remaining pool of nations, including Slovakia, Germany, Austria and
Kopitarville Slovenia. The other remains shrouded in mystery but could be comprised of the best young players in the game. The Toronto Sun’s
Mike Zeisberger took a brief crack at a proposed all-star roster a couple weeks ago. I tip my hat to him as I attempt to take the idea further. Let’s focus on the concrete idea: the Euro squad. How would this team look as a 25-man roster? And could it compete with the big dogs?
Frederik Andersen (Denmark) A darkhorse to start for the Euro squad. He has tremendous size and still hasn’t peaked yet. We know what we have in Halak and Hiller. It’s good, but not great.
Jaroslav Halak (Slovakia) His bravado 2010, including the Olympics and the Stanley Cup playoffs, showed us he can steal games. He struggled in Sochi last winter, however.
Jonas Hiller (Switzerland) Hiller’s best work has come while wearing his country’s colors. He’d have as strong a chance to start as the others.
Zdeno Chara (Slovakia) ‘Z’ will be cutting it close here, age wise. He’ll be 39 when the 2016 tournament rolls around. But I’ll install him as the Eurostars captain, elder statesman and all-around mascot. He’s competitive enough to find one last hurrah and log big minutes.
Christian Ehrhoff (Germany) Ehrhoff is smooth, can play in all situations and will quarterback the Eurostar power play.
Roman Josi (Switzerland) My darkhorse pick for team MVP. Josi is a well-kept secret in Nashville playing under Shea Weber’s and, soon enough, Seth Jones’ massive shadows. He’s a do it all blueliner. He gets 25 minutes a game in the World Cup.
Andrej Meszaros (Slovakia) He’s just a seventh or eighth blueliner on this squad. Hard to believe he’s just 29 years old. He hasn’t played more than 62 games since 2010-11. Injuries have aged him.
Mirco Mueller (Switzerland) By summer 2016, we’ll say Lubomir Visnovsky has aged out. Enter San Jose first-rounder Muller. The big youngster will play a depth role on this team, but maybe he’s a staple at the 2018 Olympics or the even more imaginary 2020 World Cup.
Dennis Seidenberg (Germany) Can he and Chara pair together for “one last ride,” like a couple of action stars in an unnecessary sequel? They can still be effective as a shutdown duo if the Eurostars coach caps their minutes.
Andrej Sekera (Slovakia) He cracks the starting lineup as a swingman for the Eurostars. He can play on any of the top three pairings if needed, he can chip in on the power play in a pinch and he’ll kill penalties.
Mark Streit (Switzerland) Between Streit, Chara, Josi and Ehrhoff, this team won’t hurt for offense from the back end, especially with the man advantage.
Mikkel Boedker (Denmark) When Boedker’s out there, likely on Anze Kopitar’s or Mikhail Grabovski’s wing, he’ll help the Eurostars match speed with their star-studded rival teams.
Leon Draisaitl (Germany) Here’s hoping the hellish situation in Edmonton doesn’t destroy his confidence, or that it’s at least repaired by summer 2016. The hulking, versatile pivot will essentially give this team two Kopitars if he breaks out by the end of his second NHL season.
Marian Gaborik (Slovakia) Gaborik will be long in the tooth, as he’ll be an “old 34” given his history of health woes. But in our imaginary universe, his Los Angeles Kings linemate Kopitar convinces him to suit up. Maybe we see Gaborik and Kopitar with Boedker or Thomas Vanek on the top line.
Zemgus Girgensons (Latvia) Long live the leading NHL all-star vote getter! Girgensons is maturing before our eyes and I still believe he’ll be a Bobby Holik type of player when all is said and done. How about him centering a grinding fourth line, with Nino Niederreiter and Antoine Roussel? Those guys would cause some s–t.
Mikhail Grabovski (Belarus) The perpetually underrated (except in the advanced stats community) Grabovski would be a sneaky game breaker on this team. He’d probably center the second line and play in all situations.
Marian Hossa (Slovakia) Hossa will share Chara’s situation, as Hossa will be 37 for the 2016 tourney. His skills may have diminished by then. But he can still play the power play and, because he’s so strong defensively, he might fit nicely on a shutdown third line centered by Nielsen.
Nikolaj Ehlers (Denmark) I can’t overthink the team with sexy prospects. Switzerland’s Kevin Fiala and 2015 draft-eligible Dutchman Daniel Sprong will get the glory someday, but for the 2016 tournament, Ehlers is my sleeper. Love the speed and creativity. A potential difference maker for this team.
Anze Kopitar (Slovenia) He’s ‘The Guy’ for the Eurostars, clearly. First-line center, and because he’s one of the best two-way forwards in the sport, the coach can match him up against opposing top lines if he feels like it.
Nino Niederreiter (Switzerland) ‘El Nino’ is going to blow guys up on the forecheck. It’s what he does. And we all know he’s sneaky-dangerous on a breakaway, too.
Frans Nielsen (Denmark) Nielsen will play a crucial role as the team’s third-line, shutdown pivot. He’ll need to be at his best, especially at the faceoff dot, if the Eurostars hope to upset the likes of Canada, Sweden and the U.S.
Antoine Roussel (France) I almost put Lars Eller on the team instead of Roussel, but the Eurostars are already full of two-way centers. Roussel brings something different. He has a unique ability to get in opponents’ heads. He may not crack the opening lineup at the World Cup, but he’s a secret weapon the Eurostars can bring in to get opponents off their games.
Tomas Tatar (Slovakia) Tatar’s star is rising. It sure looks like he’ll be this year’s Gustav Nyquist. He’s set to play a top-six role as a scoring winger at the World Cup and, by next summer, he could be the team’s deadliest sniper.
Thomas Vanek (Austria) Home cooking in Minnesota, where Vanek attended university, hasn’t been kind to him this season. But his game hasn’t slipped that much. He’ll still be one of the Euros’ most important stars. At worst, he’s a second-liner. Top unit alongside Kopitar is more likely, though.
Mats Zuccarello (Norway) The team wouldn’t be complete without the plucky Hobbit. He’s creative with the puck and he has a nasty little edge to his game. Notice a trend with the forwards? All combine skill with physicality and defensive responsibility.
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP
Goalie Andersen Bench: Halak, Hiller
Defense Chara–Seidenberg Josi–Ehrhoff Sekera–Streit Bench: Mueller, Meszaros * Only one righthanded shot on the blueline. What can you do?
Forward Vanek–Kopitar–Gaborik Boedker–Grabovski–Tatar Zuccarello–Nielsen–Hossa Ehlers–Girgensons-Niederreiter Bench: Roussel, Draisaitl What do you think? Any glaring omissions? To me, this team immediately looks as dangerous as, say, the Czechs. Would be fun to watch.
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