So just how good is the consensus No. 1 overall pick in the NHL draft, Auston Matthews? Well, he’s so good that apparently he can skate uphill.
When Peter Chiarelli and Stan Bowman, the two men most responsible for putting the North American roster for the World Cup of Hockey together, announced their initial selections for the 23-and-under team less than three months ago, Chiarelli declared that Matthews had an “uphill road” in his attempts to be on the roster. But with an impressive World Championship to his credit where he was one of the best players in the tournament, Matthews bucked the odds and will find himself part of what will easily be the most intriguing team in the tournament.
It would be naïve to suggest that money has nothing to do with this. After all, it’s the World Cash Grab of Hockey™. And there is little doubt that Matthews, who is expected to be taken first overall by the Toronto Maple Leafs in the draft, would spur on ticket sales for the games involving the North American team. But there’s also a pretty good chance neither Chiarelli nor Bowman cares how many people are watching their team’s games. And Matthews made the decision much easier for him by excelling in competition against men, both in the Swiss League – a league that is chock full of former NHL players – and in the World Championship.
It is not unprecedented for a player who hasn’t yet played in the NHL to get to a best-on-best tournament. Twenty-five years ago, Eric Lindros played for Team Canada in the Canada Cup, just months after being drafted first overall. But the big difference is he was on a roster filled with established NHL stars whereas Matthews will be among a group of kids who are not much older or more experienced than he is.
On the blueline, the North American team added Shayne Gostisbehere, giving the team two of the three finalists for rookie of the year, along with Colton Parayko of the St. Louis Blues and Jacob Trouba of the Winnipeg Jets. All solid and worthy choices.
Trouba’s teammate on the Jets, Mark Scheifele, parlayed a strong finish into a spot on the roster, but the biggest and potentially most dynamic addition was that of Jonathan Drouin, whose rise from the ashes was nothing short of remarkable. A couple of months ago, he was exiled to the minors, then pulled himself off the map entirely when he decided to take his stick and puck and go home after his trade demand. But his play in the playoffs made him an easy choice for this team. His speed and skill with the puck should make him one of a number of dangerous players on this roster. Does his defensive game need work? Absolutely, but if you subscribe to the best defense being a good offense…well, you get the picture.
The one addition that is bound to cause some consternation is that of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, a player who was left off the original roster by his own GM in Chiarelli. Nine days later, he returned to the Oilers lineup after missing almost two months with a broken hand. He went on to score four points in nine games, all of them goals, and missed another three down the stretch with a concussion. Combine that with a 34-point season and you have a player who is very, very lucky to be a part of this roster. Nugent-Hopkins will likely start the tournament as the team’s 13th forward and will be moved to the wing. So it’s not a stretch to suggest that Nugent-Hopkins was chosen over Arizona Coyotes rookie Max Domi, who played sparingly for Canada’s World Championship team and scored an impressive 52 points in his rookie season, tops among all Coyote forwards.
Another surprising omission was that of Jonathan Huberdeau, who has put up back-to-back 50-plus point seasons for the Florida Panthers. In fact, of the 13 forwards on the North American team, only three of them – Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan and Scheifele – scored more points in the NHL than the 59 Huberdeau did this season.
Here is the North American roster in its entirety, with the seven additions in bold type:
Aaron Ekblad, Florida Panthers
Shayne Gostisbehere, Philadelphia Flyers
Seth Jones, Columbus Blue Jackets
Ryan Murray, Columbus Blue Jackets
Colton Parayko, St. Louis Blues
Morgan Rielly, Toronto Maple Leafs
Jacob Trouba, Winnipeg Jets
Sean Couturier, Philadelphia Flyers
Jonathan Drouin, Tampa Bay Lightning
Jack Eichel, Buffalo Sabres
Johnny Gaudreau, Calgary Flames
Dylan Larkin, Detroit Red Wings
Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche
Auston Matthews, Zurich SC Lions (Swiss NLA)
Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers
J.T. Miller, New York Rangers
Sean Monahan, Calgary Flames
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Edmonton Oilers
Brandon Saad, Columbus Blue Jackets
Mark Scheifele, Winnipeg Jets