The NHL is a growing league and the World Cup of Hockey is a great way to promote its product by having the eyes of the world watching the best players playing and competing for their country. Now, it should occur every four years since it exposes the game to a wider audience, in the hope to grasp a newer and younger generation of hockey fans across the globe, but unfortunately, it doesn’t.
As Todd Bertuzzi would say — it is what it is.
Since Sportsnet is replaying the 2016 World Cup of Hockey, which, for you mathematicians out there, was four years ago, the next one would have been this fall if the NHL followed a quadrennial cycle. Let’s play GM and see which Canucks would have made their nation’s roster for the 2020 World Cup.
Now for the sake of this exercise, the same rules apply. So, yes, there is a 23 and under “Team North America”.
Just a little recap of the 2016 World Cup: the 23 and under team stole the show and our hearts with their fast and skillful style of play, Loui Eriksson was a member of Team Sweden and had just signed with the Canucks, and Team Canada swept Team Europe in a best of three to capture the country’s second World Cup.
Since Canucks nation is divided on a few topics, one thing we can all agree on is that Quinn Hughes would be a lock to make the 23 and under team just from his Calder calibre level season.
What was initially thought to be a gimmick turned out to be the most entertaining hockey I have seen live. I will never forget the back and forth 3-on-3 overtime between Sweden and North America. Daniel Sedin had the chance to finish the game but was stopped on the breakaway and a few moments later, Nathan MacKinnon scored in thrilling fashion.
With Quinn Hughes already a lock for the team, his defensive partner could be Calder Trophy rival, Cale Maker. Imagine the pair dancing around the opposition while moving up the rink effortlessly, this would definitely be a treat to see for all fans across the world.
Upfront, even though his goal production took a hit this season, Brock Boeser cracks the lineup for the 2020 squad. Boeser on the same line as Matthew Tkachuk would be a tough pill to swallow for some Canuck fans since management passed on the opportunity to draft Tkachuk in 2016. With centers like Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews, Boeser on the right side would be a scary sight for opposing netminders. With a strong lineup across the board, there’s’ no doubt team North America would have made a serious run to dethrone Canada.
For you Loui Eriksson fans out there let’s just take the suspense out — I’m sorry he didn’t make the cut for Sweden, his play has been abysmal and he has often spent time in the press box this year.
Elias Pettersson, on the other hand, like the Last Dance documentary, is a slam dunk to be on the squad. Pettersson ranks second among Swedish players in points this season and has produced at every level when representing the yellow and blue. The usual identical suspects for Sweden won’t be there since they retired a few years back but joining Pettersson on the road for gold are Canucks’ defender Alex Edler and goalie Jacob Markstrom.
Arguably the Canucks MVP this season, Markstrom ranks either first or second among Swedish goalies in wins, save percentage, and goals-against average and with those numbers he would be a surefire lock to be the starter between the pipes in 2020.
As for Edler, even though he’s on the back nine of his career he can still provide leadership to a young Swedish team while playing in a shutdown role as a bottom pair defender. With the next Swedish wave starting to build and on its way with draft-eligible forwards Lucas Raymond and Alexander Holtz, another young forward to watch out for is Nils Hoglander who could be considered for the World Cup and other national events down the road with his skill and speed.
With no one from the Czech Republic or eligible for team Europe, we will not see a member of the Canucks representing those teams. As for Russia, Tryamkin is not making the team and team Russia for that matter. Tryamkin couldn’t even crack the 2018 Olympic team roster and that was with no NHL participation, so this time it would be rather difficult to even be considered since NHL players would be playing.
This leaves Finland. Even though he has a Finnish citizenship Jake Virtanen represents Canada on the national stage, and Olli Juolevi is not quite there at the moment to be seriously considered for the team with players like Miro Heiskanen, Rasmus Ristolainen and a few others considerably far ahead of him.
With Boeser and Hughes playing for the young stars this leaves J.T Miller who graduates from team North America and becomes the only clear cut to make team USA. Among American forwards, Miller trails Hawks forward Patrick Kane for most points over 24 of age. The versatile and feisty forward would make any line produce with his relentless attitude.
Now the only other American to consider would be Thatcher Demko, with the like of Connor Hellebuyck and Ben Bishop as your one-two punch the case for Demko has a third-string is even a stretch. Demko would have to battle with Alex Stalock and John Gibson for the final spot and most likely the job would fall to Gibson who has experience in this tournament with Team North America in 2016.
Defending champs Team Canada would be loaded upfront once again with Sidney Crosby, Nathan MacKinnon, and others just to name a few at the helm. Now since everyone 23 and under can’t play for Team Canada, there is still no guaranteed spot for a Canuck to make the roster but the case can be made for Bo Horvat, hear me out.
Horvat has represented Canada in the past at the World Juniors and World Championships where he’s had phenomenal tournaments playing in a shutdown role or being relied upon on offense. With over 1,400 faceoffs taken and wining 57.3% of them, Horvat is ranked third in the league in faceoffs taken and wins. Horvat would be a bottom-six forward in a shutdown role along with maybe guys like Ryan O’Reilly and Sean Couturier. This could be Canada’s version of the legion of doom as the best shutdown line the game has seen.
For now, we’ll have to wait and see when the next best on best National tournament featuring NHL talent will be but whenever that takes place, we’re all in for a tasty treat.