In September, THN’s Ken Campbell touched on one of the issues with having an Under-23 team in the World Cup. Where, exactly, would the club turn when looking for a starting netminder?
The NHL is filled with plenty of good, young netminders, but when it comes to those that fit within the guidelines for North America’s young-stars squad, Ducks' John Gibson, Rangers' Mackenzie Skapski, Bruins' Malcolm Subban and Jets' Connor Hellebuyck are among the only netminders who could pull duty and have some background as a professional starter. THN’s Campbell isn’t the only one who sees the club’s goaltending situation as an issue, though.
Team North America GM Peter Chiarelli told Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston that he asked about carrying a goaltender above the age-limit — all players must be born on or after Oct. 1, 1992, per NHL.com — to help boost his club. Unfortunately for Chiarelli, turns out that’s a no-can-do.
That means young goaltenders such as Blues' Jake Allen, Canadiens' Mike Condon and Jets' Michael Hutchinson, all of whom are unlikely to make either Team Canada or Team USA, can't suit up for North America at the World Cup. Chiarelli isn’t the only World Cup GM running into problems, though.
Were this a normal tournament, there are more than a few youngsters from both Canada and USA who could crack the national World Cup teams and play alongside the elder statesmen. For instance, it’d be hard to imagine Oilers rookie Connor McDavid couldn’t have a surefire shot at making Team Canada. Maybe even the Coyotes' exciting Max Domi could make a case. And for Team USA, the likes of Blue Jackets' Brandon Saad, Flames' Johnny Gaudreau, Jets' Jacob Trouba and Predators' Seth Jones could all skate for the national squad.
But there was one player in particular who Team USA GM Dean Lombardi asked about: 2015 second-overall pick Jack Eichel.
The 19-year-old Eichel more than meets the requirement to play for Team North America, but with his skill set, and depending on his progression this season, Eichel could have been a sure shot to at least challenge for a spot on the men’s national team. He played at the World Championship in 2015 and managed two goals and five points, after all. Through 15 games, the Buffalo Sabres’ rookie has six goals and nine points. So, could he also have a spot on Team USA?
"I tried to get an exception, like let us pick one or two guys, like Eichel," Lombardi told ESPN’s Pierre LeBruin and Craig Custance. According to LeBrun, the NHL gave Lombardi a, “firm No.”
When the World Cup kicks off in September 2016, don’t expect the rosters to be anything other than plain as day, because it appears the NHL isn’t prepared to make exceptions. The North American squad will have to make do with their young, potentially inexperienced netminders, and USA won’t be icing a squad that includes Eichel, Saad or Trouba.