On March 2nd, the date that preliminary rosters were set to be unveiled in advance of the 2016 World Cup of Hockey, Team Canada and Team USA announced a pair of predictably star-studded lineup set to take the ice in Toronto this September. It came as little surprise to hear the names of lynchpins like Sidney Crosby and Patrick Kane called out for each country among their respective first 16 competitors announced.
But now that the first wave has been announced, things get a little trickier with the second group. Sure, there were some notable omissions that will surely be corrected when the full 23-man roster comes to light ahead of June 1st. Corey Perry is still awaiting the call from Canada, while Phil Kessel has yet to confirm his participation as part of the red, white and blue. But as each country gets closer to the cut-off line, they both boast an enviable level of depth that creates the nice problem of having tough choices to make with the final roster spots.
Thanks to the seemingly everlasting pool of hockey talent that flows out of Canada and an increasing hotbed of skilled US skaters, there are still plenty of household names available to be chosen. But this is where the task of picking the right group gets challenging. Do you pick your roster purely based on high level skill, or do you add some two-way grit that can compliment the established scorers? Do you prioritize chemistry, position, or something else entirely? Due to the unique presence of an under-24 North American roster, neither Canada nor USA will have fresh, young faces to draw upon for speed, energy and to gain experience with the national team.
To make life easier for Team Canada general manager Doug Armstrong and Team USA GM Dean Lombardi, here are the last seven guys that should get the nod for each team ahead of the June 1st deadline:
Corey Perry, RW
Ryan Getzlaf has already been named to the team as part of the original 16. Now, wouldn’t the Anaheim Ducks standout center look strange without his longtime line mate Corey Perry flanking him? Picking the linemate of a star hasn’t always worked out for Canada (Chris Kunitz, anyone?) but Perry has accomplished just about everything possible in hockey and remains a productive winger who, at 31, still has a bit of prime left in him. That the two-time Olympic gold medalist hasn’t already been named was something of a surprise, a slight that Getzlaf has admitted might be a motivator for his decorated teammate. After a solid stint with Canada over at the Worlds, Perry appears to be a solid front runner to be added.
Joe Thornton, C
Two years ago, in choosing the Canadian Olympic roster ahead of the 2014 Games in Sochi, Joe Thornton was deemed too old and slow for inclusion. Funny how things have changed. Fast forward to the 2015-16 season and Thornton, at age 36, has turned back the clock. Harnessing the power of his now-wild beard, he just enjoyed his most productive NHL campaign since 2009-10 and currently has his San Jose Sharks on the cusp of the Stanley Cup Finals. The international game can often be too fast and wide open for some of the plodding big men that succeed in the NHL, but Thornton has earned himself a spot, both for his remarkable rebirth as a top flight player and his ability to come through in the clutch.
Taylor Hall, LW
On the surface, Taylor Hall should be celebrated as one of hockey’s preeminent budding superstars. Since entering the league amid much fanfare as the No. 1 overall pick in 2010, he has evolved into a potent, dynamic scorer and steady playmaker with 328 points in 381 career games. Unfortunately, Hall remains tainted by his identity as one of the first overall picks secured by the Edmonton Oilers, a team that has still not managed to turn things around despite gaining some favorable breaks through the NHL draft lottery system. Although his NHL team hasn’t exactly benefitted from his superb speed and high-end skill, Canada surely would.
Brad Marchand, LW
Often, the question of whether to include a gifted goal scorer or a gritty, sandpaper-type player represents an either/or proposition. In Brad Marchand, you might just be getting both. Long known as a pest who Boston Bruins fans loved and fans of other clubs loved to hate, Marchand suddenly transformed into an offensive dynamo in 2015-16, setting a new career-high with 61 points including a whopping 37 goals. Marchand gets the last spot up front ahead of the likes of Matt Duchene, Patrick Sharp and injury question mark Claude Giroux for his dual ability to annoy the other team’s best players and put the pick in the net.
Alex Pietrangelo, D
You can’t entirely shrug off the strange dip in performance that Alex Pietrangelo has experienced since suiting up for Canada in Sochi. At a time when he should be beginning to approach his peak, Pietrangelo has actually seen his point totals decrease in each of the past two seasons. But beyond the offensive totals, the 26-year-old has remained a pillar for the St. Louis Blues’ blue line and has seen his average ice time increase during each of his eight NHL seasons, culminating in his current central role on a club that has reached the Western Conference Finals. In Sochi, Pietrangelo averaged more minutes than any Canadian player not already named to the World Cup roster.
PK Subban, D
It seems that whatever PK Subban does, there inevitably will be a firestorm of overblown opinions and reactions that follows him. It was true of his selection as the final defenseman on the 2014 Sochi roster and evidently will continue ahead of this fall’s World Cup event. Regardless of how you feel about the divisive Hab, you’d be hard-pressed to argue that the 2013 Norris Trophy winner hasn’t been one of the seven best Canadian defenseman over the past few years.
Brent Burns, D
Brent Seabrook, Mark Giordano and Kris Letang rank among the many deserving d-men that are undoubtedly being considered for the final spot on the Canadian blue line, but none of them led all Canadian defensemen in scoring this season. That distinction would fall to Brent Burns, whose remarkable transformation from the front end to the back end culminated in a stunning 27-goal, 75-point 2015-16 season. Burns has kept his eye-opening pace up in the postseason, ranking second among all players in playoff scoring. He may not have the most international experience to fall back on, but how much fun would it be to see the bearded one representing Canada? With his play this season, I think it’s safe to say he’s more than deserving.
Phil Kessel, RW
There wasn’t much chance that explosive winger Phil Kessel was going to be snubbed by the US World Cup team under any circumstances. However, Pittsburgh Penguins brass might owe USA GM Dean Lombardi a thank you for leaving Kessel off of the original list of 16 players, given how dynamic he has been since. Alongside Carl Hagelin and Nick Bonino, Kessel has made a case for the Conn Smythe trophy for playoff MVP with a red hot postseason for the Pens, helping his club closer to the Stanley Cup and all but guaranteeing his place on Team USA.
James van Riemsdyk, LW
Phil Kessel’s old running buddy in Toronto isn’t quite the lock that his former linemate is, but James van Riemsdyk has the skill and physical presence to fit well on the US team. With Nick Bonino unlikely to get the call, JVR could be the best candidate for instant chemistry alongside Kessel. Chemistry aside, van Riemsdyk has plenty of talent to earn a spot on his own merit. Despite an injury-marred 2015-16 campaign, the 2014 Olympian had scored 57 goals over the prior two seasons.
Bobby Ryan, RW
It’s time to adjust expectations on what Bobby Ryan is. After potting over 30 goals in each of his first four full seasons in the NHL, the 29-year-old hasn’t matched the feat in the four seasons since. That doesn’t mean Ryan hasn’t been an effective winger for the Ottawa Senators, though. He remains a reliable 20-goal scorer and 50-point man, a dangerous finisher that could fit well on a team that won’t be short on play makers with Joe Pavelski and Zach Parise in tow.
David Backes, C
Every team could use a David Backes, and the Team USA World Cup squad is no exception. With the St. Louis Blues, the versatile forward and team captain has thrived on both scoring and checking lines, serving as a reliable two-way threat and locker room leader. Although his voice may not be the foremost one in a locker room that also includes Max Pacioretty, Joe Pavelski and Ryan Kesler, he would add to the collection of character guys that have already been established.
Keith Yandle, D
For most of his 10-year NHL career, Keith Yandle has toiled in the hockey outpost that is Arizona, making his steady stream of 40- and 50-point seasons rather anonymous. As a result, the 29-year-old blue liner is short on international experience, save for a role on the 2010 American World Championship team. Here, Yandle would add some punch to a sturdy but defensive-minded corps that includes stay-at-home defensemen like Ryan McDonagh. Yandle is overdue a shot at a major international event and this might just be the one.
Torey Krug, D
Torey Krug plays bigger than his 5’9″ frame, as evidenced by his citing of Boston Bruins blue line partner Zdeno Chara as the player he models his game after. The American team could certainly use some of that physical edge and smooth skating that Krug brings to the table, particularly in an international tournament that can often be more open and free-flowing in nature. At 25, the Michigan native is also in that coveted age window in which he is young enough to be viewed as a long-term Team USA component but old enough to be eligible for the US team as opposed to the under-24 North American squad.
Kevin Shattenkirk, D
You could do worse than to snap up one of the best players from one of the best blue line corps in the NHL. As with Canada’s selection of Alex Pietrangelo, the US would do well to turn to the St. Louis Blues and select NCAA standout Kevin Shattenkirk, who has already represented the States at the World Juniors, World Championships and Olympic Games. As he’s shown in St. Louis, Shattenkirk can slot in with just about anyone, staying back in his own zone or joining the rush as each particular situation requires.
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