Friday, March 5, 2021

Who wins today, 2016’s Team North America or Team Everyone Else?

Five years ago this week, hockey fans got their first look at the roster for what would become one of the most unique teams in international sports history. In organizing the 2016 World Cup tournament, the NHL went off the board with their decision to include a Team North America, an unprecedented combo platter of Canadian and American stars who were 23 or under.

Did it make sense to have two counties combining for an entry in an international tournament, let alone when those two nations were rivals? Not really. Was it fair to weaken those countries’ main rosters by ruling out some of the game’s best young stars? Probably not. Was the whole thing a good idea? It’s fair to say that the initial reaction was mixed.

But then we got a look at the first draft of the roster, and even a traditionalist had to be intrigued. That initial March 2016 list featured 16 names, including established stars like Nathan MacKinnon, Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel. They’d eventually be joined by a group that included Auston Matthews (who’d yet to play an NHL game) and Mark Scheifele.

We weren’t sure if they’d be all that good, but we knew they’d be fun. It turned out they were both, stealing the show at the tournament with a run-and-gun style and all sorts of skill. They failed to medal, but beat Finland and Sweden. In terms of NHL star power, the future looked bright.

Five years later, the future is here. So today, I want to tackle a question sent in by Puck Soup listener Manny: Could a reunited Team North America beat an all-star squad made up of everyone else in a series played right now?

It’s a big ask. We’ve got a huge swath of the league to choose from, including stars who were too old for Team North America consideration, guys who hadn’t entered the league yet, and a handful of snubs. And we’ve got the benefit of hindsight, because while most of the 2016 team holds up well, a few haven’t seen their pro careers pan out as well as we all expected. Team Everyone Else should have a big advantage. But Team North America has Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews, so let’s do this.

One caveat: We’re doing North American players only. I originally thought about making it the kids against the world, but throwing names like Victor Hedman, David Pastrnak and Nikita Kucherov into the mix just tilts the scales too far in one direction. It’s Canadian and American stars only, and if you show up in the comments going “Uh, Leon Draisaitl?” then you have to do ten pushups and we all get to make fun of you. Let’s see where this takes us.

Forwards

Let’s start with the main course, because the Team North America forwards are ridiculous. McDavid, Matthews and MacKinnon may be the three best players in the league right now, so we’re absolutely loaded with top-end star power. But we’re not completely top heavy, with some excellent options for all four lines. Some of the names aren’t exactly Hart candidates, like Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. J.T. Miller or Vincent Trochek, but they’ve developed into very good players.

In fact, among the names on the final 2016 roster, there isn’t a single one that you’d describe as a bust five years down the road. And the only ones who’ve struggled to establish themselves as legitimate top-end players are Brandon Saad and maybe Jonathan Drouin.

Here’s how my Team North America lines would look in 2021:

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

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