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World Cup of Hockey 2016: The case for North America

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The World Cup of Hockey’s youngest team just might be its best.

Hockey: World Cup of Hockey-Pre Tournament-Team Europe vs Team North America Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

When the World Cup of Hockey was first announced, some within the hockey world were skeptical of North America’s chances in the tournament. They shouldn’t have been.

This team is one that only exists within this tournament. It’s comprised of the best under-23 players from Canada and the United States, many of whom would otherwise be playing for their country. Without entries from Olympics regulars Switzerland, Slovakia, and Norway, among others, Team Europe and North America ensure the World Cup of Hockey has an even number of eight entries.

But the North Americans are much more than an afterthought. Many have doubted this team because of their age and inexperience, but hockey is a young player’s game. Scoring rates peak at age 25, and a team in which every player is younger than that is in an incredibly advantageous position.

A team that’s younger than everybody else AND gets to pick the best young players from an entire continent? There should be no surprise that this team is absolutely loaded.

16 of 20 skaters on North America were first round picks. None of the goalies were drafted in the first round, but Matt Murray (No. 5) and Connor Hellebuyck (No. 1) both made InGoal Magazine’s top 50 goaltending prospects ahead of last season.

Beyond their draft pedigree, North America is filled with players who could have, and probably would have represented their countries at the World Cup. Connor McDavid, Aaron Ekblad, Jack Eichel, Brandon Saad, Johnny Gaudreau, Seth Jones, and Shayne Gostisbehere are better players than some of their counterparts on their respective countries’ rosters.

Others would have knocked on the door (Nathan MacKinnon, Dylan Larkin), or have previously played for their country at the senior level (Sean Couturier, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Mark Scheifele, Vincent Trocheck, Ryan Murray, Morgan Rielly, Jacob Trouba, Auston Matthews, and Connor Hellebuyck). The only two players that don’t fit that description are no slouches either: Matt Murray just back-stopped a Stanley Cup champion, while Colton Parayko was arguably the best defenseman on a Western Conference finalist.

As seen in the exhibition games, this manifests in a lethal combination of speed and puck possession. North America finished their pre-tournament slate 2-1, and outscored Europe and the Czechs 13-7, including a 7-0 pasting of Europe, the tournament’s oldest team. Group B will feature stiffer competition, but North America is better on paper than Finland and Russia, and is, at worst, just a notch below Sweden.

Should they advance out of Group B, they match up very well with the United States, and should be able to control play against a John Tortorella-coached team content to cede possession. Canada is a tough matchup for any team, but would this collection of talent beating Canada in one-game, win-or-go-home scenario surprise you?

This team, like the World Cup itself, is a bit of an oddity. An under-23 team of Canadians and Americans? It simply wouldn’t exist in any other format. Yet, the team does exist in this format.

And it’s uniquely suited to win it.