With news that the NHL is "cautiously optimistic" that current CBA talks might lead to a World Cup in February 2021, we've decided to predict what each team's roster could look like should the tournament take place.
We adopted the NHL's format for the 2016 World Cup. Canada, the United States, Sweden, Finland, Russia, and the Czech Republic all send teams, while Team North America (players aged 23 and under from Canada and the U.S.) and Team Europe (players from other European countries) round out the field.
Teams are comprised of any combination of 20 skaters and three goalies. Any Canadian or American player under 24 years old on Feb. 1, 2021, is automatically assigned to Team North America. However, we've added our own caveat: If a player suited up for Team North America in 2016, he is eligible to represent Canada or the U.S. this time around, even if he's still under 24.
In this edition, we project Team North America's and Team Europe's rosters:
Head coach: Jon Cooper
In 2016, Cooper was an assistant coach on Team North America's staff. With Mike Babcock projected to run Team Canada again in 2021, the Tampa Bay Lightning bench boss is the ideal candidate to lead "The Young Guns."
|Matthew Tkachuk||Pierre-Luc Dubois||Mitch Marner|
|Brady Tkachuk||Mathew Barzal||Brock Boeser|
|Clayton Keller||Dylan Strome||Alex DeBrincat|
|Alexis Lafreniere||Jack Hughes||Travis Konecny|
Notable omissions: Nolan Patrick, Anthony Beauvillier, Robert Thomas, Casey Mittelstadt, Mathieu Joseph, Ryan Poehling, Tyson Jost, Cody Glass, Oliver Wahlstrom, Barrett Hayton, Kirby Dach, Cole Perfetti, Quinton Byfield
Of all the teams in this theoretical tournament, North America's roster was the toughest to pick since it's hard to project the development of teenagers and players in their early 20s.
One thing is clear, though: This squad is loaded up front. Marner likely would've made Team Canada if he was old enough, while the Tkachuks, DeBrincat, and Boeser would've been strong candidates to crack the United States' roster.
Lafreniere, the projected first overall pick in 2020, is the youngest player on this team. Fellow 2020 draft prospects Byfield and Perfetti could join him, but a numbers game prevented them from making the squad.
Cirelli may be the least talented forward to crack the group, but the speedy Lightning center would bring some valuable penalty-killing experience to the table.
|Zach Werenski||Charlie McAvoy|
|Samuel Girard||Cale Makar|
|Quinn Hughes||Dante Fabbro|
Notable omissions: Evan Bouchard, Bowen Byram, Dennis Cholowski, Noah Dobson, Victor Mete, Adam Fox
This is an extremely skilled and offensive-minded blue line. Werenski and McAvoy would probably be on the United States' roster if they weren't younger than 24. Meanwhile, Makar and Girard will likely have created plenty of chemistry by playing together with the Colorado Avalanche by the time 2021 rolls around.
Byram, the fourth overall pick in 2019 by the Avs, would be an intriguing pick, but with enough gunslingers already in place, we opted to take Chychrun and Fabbro as steadying presences.
Notable omissions: Cayden Primeau, Ian Scott, Joseph Woll, Spencer Knight
Thank goodness for Hart. Without the Philadelphia Flyers' phenom goaltender, Team North America would have a major question mark between the pipes.
Head coach: Ralph Krueger
Krueger did a tremendous job with Team Europe in 2016, taking the group on an unlikely run to the finals against Canada. He should gain more knowledge and experience by 2021 after being hired as Buffalo Sabres head coach this summer.
|Timo Meier||Anze Kopitar||Nino Niederreiter|
|Nikolaj Ehlers||Leon Draisaitl||Mats Zuccarello|
|Kevin Fiala||Nico Hischier||Oliver Bjorkstrand|
|Tomas Tatar||Lars Eller||Dominik Kahun|
Notable omissions: Alexandre Texier, Mikkel Boedker, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, Zemgus Girgensons, Teddy Blueger, Denis Malgin, Sven Baertschi, Frans Nielsen
Team Europe is deep down the middle of the ice and boasts a lethal top-six forward group. If extra offensive punch is needed late in a game, Draisaitl could jump onto Kopitar's wing, which would move Hischier into the top six.
The 19-year-old Texier impressed while scoring two goals for the Columbus Blue Jackets during the NHL playoffs, but he was the last cut for this team. Balcers, a promising youngster for the Ottawa Senators who was part of the Erik Karlsson trade, got the nod instead.
|Roman Josi||Erik Cernak|
|Dean Kukan||Moritz Seider|
|Jonas Siegenthaler||Yannick Weber|
Notable omissions: Zdeno Chara
Will Chara still be playing in 2021? We're predicting that 2019-20 will be his final NHL season, but nothing can fully be ruled out with Big Z.
Josi will need to log big minutes for this club to have a chance of returning to the finals. Cernak had a breakout season in 2018-19, and should be an effective blue-line partner for the Nashville Predators captain.
The rest of the defense is very unproven, especially Seider, though he may have the most upside of those the bottom five. The German was the sixth overall pick by the Detroit Red Wings in the 2019 draft.
Notable omissions: Thomas Greiss
Andersen was penciled in to be Team Europe's starter in 2016, but an injury kept him out of the tournament. Grubauer seems to be coming into his own and makes for a stellar backup.
Others in this series: