2016 World Cup Of Hockey Team Preview: Team North America
By: Matt Giusti
Team North America
Head Coach: Todd McLellan
Goalies: John Gibson Anaheim Ducks, Connor Hellebuyck Winnipeg Jets, Matt Murray Pittsburgh Penguins
Goaltending Overview: Going into the 2016 World Cup Hockey, Team North America can say that they boast the Stanley Cup winning goalie in Penguins goalie Matt Murray. The 22-year old Murray burst onto the scene late in the season filling in for injured starting goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, finishing 9-2, with a 2.00 GAA and a .930 SV% down the stretch. Murray continued that stellar play in the playoffs, going 15-6, with 2.08 GAA and .923 SV% during the run to the Cup. If Murray were to falter, head coach Todd McClellan will have an interesting choice of who to go to next. Ducks goalie John Gibson was solid in the 40 games he appeared in ( 21-13-4, 2.07 GAA, .920 SV % ) but faltered a little bit in the playoffs in 2016. Regardless of that, the 23-year Gibson has proven that he is more than capable of filling in if needed. The third option is Winnipeg Jets goalie Connor Hellebuyck, who was solid in the 26 games he appeared in for the Jets. In my opinion I think Murray will have a carryover effect from the playoffs, but even if he doesn’t, Gibson will be the backup for McLellan.
Defensemen: 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
Defensemen Overview: There is some serious talent on this Team North America blue line and in my opinion it all starts with 2014 1st overall pick Aaron Ekblad. The 20-year old Ekblad capped a stellar rookie season in 2014-15 ( 81 GP-12 G-27 A-+12 ) by winning the Calder Memorial Trophy as the NHL Rookie of the Year. Ekblad followed up his rookie season with another great campaign and is quickly developing into not only of the leagues best defensemen, but also a tremendous leader as well. Philadelphia Flyers defensemen Shayne Gostisbehere exploded onto the NHL scene in 2016 finishing with 17 goals and 29 assists, in 64 games played. The 15 straight games with a point by Gostisbehere broke the previous point streak record of 11 games set by Barry Beck for a rookie defensemen. The man Flyers fans call “Ghost” or “Ghost Bear”, has proven already in his short time in the NHL, that he is lethal on the power play. Speaking of lethal players on the power play, Blues defensemen Colton Parayko has an absolute rocket of a shot from the point and proved in his first year in the NHL that he also is a force when playing on the man advantage. 7 of the 33 points that the 23-year old Parayko put up came on the man advantage ( 3 G-4 A). Toronto Maple Leafs defensemen Morgan Rielly has continued to get better year after year since being taken 5th overall in the 2012 NHL Draft. The 22-year old Rielly seemed to earn the trust of his head coach Mike Babcock, as he averaged a career high 23:14 of ice time. Throw in Jets defensemen Jacob Trouba as well as a pair of Columbus Blue Jackets in Seth Jones and Ryan Murray and you got one very good defensive unit. This unit will make its share of mistakes but they have the potential to cause other teams fits with the size and speed they possess.
Forwards: Sean Couturier Philadelphia Flyers, Jonathan Drouin Tampa Bay Lightning, Jack Eichel Buffalo Sabres, Johnny Gaudreau Calgary Flames, Dylan Larkin Detroit Red Wings, Auston Matthews Toronto Maple Leafs, Nathan MacKinnon Colorado Avalanche, Connor McDavid Edmonton Oilers, J.T. Miller New York Rangers, Sean Monahan Calgary Flames (replaced by Vincent Trocheck Florida Panthers), Ryan Nugent-Hopkins Edmonton Oilers, Brandon Saad Columbus Blue Jackets, Mark Scheifele Winnipeg Jets
Forwards Overview: The whole year leading up to the 2015 NHL Draft, the talk that dominated the hockey world was Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel for #1 pick. McDavid would go #1, while Eichel went #2 and now they will be playing on the same team in the World Cup. McDavid suffered through an injury plagued season but managed to play in 45 games, tallying 16 goals and 32 assists in that span. Eichel had great rookie year as well, putting up 24 goals and 32 assists, in 81 games. A player that was kind of lost in the shuffle because of the McDavid-Eichel talk, was Detroit Red Wings forward Dylan Larkin. Though the production of the 20-year old Larkin slowed down the stretch, he still finished his rookie campaign 23 goals and 22 assists and showing that he is an absolute burner on skates. Many fans were looking forward to seeing the ultra effective duo of Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan play together in this tournament but Monahan was replaced by Florida Panthers forward Vincent Trocheck due to an injury. Despite some controversy during the regular season, Lightning forward Jonathan Drouin busted out during the Stanley Cup playoffs. The former #3 overall pick in 2013 finished with 5 goals and 9 assists, in 17 playoff games. A lot of fans will be getting there first look at this years #1 overall pick Auston Matthews. Chosen by the Toronto Maple Leafs with that pick, Matthews played for Zürich SC of the Swiss-A league and finished with 24 goals and 22 assists, in 36 games played. A pair of former #1 picks in Avalanche forward Nathan MacKinnon and Oilers forward Ryan-Nugent Hopkins will be a huge key to the teams success going forward. These two have struggled at times with injuries and consistency in the NHL so far in their careers. Filling out the forward unit are guys like Sean Couturier and J.T. Miller who are players you trust to defend the other teams best player.This forward unit has their star power, secondary scoring and forwards who are willing to defend. Sounds good to me.
Team Overview: Everything for Team North America on paper looks great going into the tournament. Some experts question whether they can be disciplined and limit their mistakes. Regardless of that, this team is fast and seems to already have a great chemistry together. They are a confident bunch and they believe they can win this tournament. And to tell you what, I won’t put it past them to win it all.