The World Cup of Hockey preliminary rosters for next fall’s tournament are just around the corner. On March 2nd, national teams from Finland, USA, Canada, Sweden, Russia, Czech Republic as well as the European and the Under-23 North American teams will all announce 16 player preliminary rosters. These announcements will come in eight separate press conferences around North America. Some Penguins are a lock to make their World Cup squads and should see their names on the 2nd, while some are up in the air. Today we’re going to talk about the locks and who else could see their names next Wednesday. We will revisit this later with some dark horse names that may be invited to camps this summer.
Crosby will play for Canada in Toronto. He will also likely wear the C as he did in the IIHF tournament in the spring of 2015 and the 2014 Olympics. The man who scored the golden goal in Vancouver in 2010 has given fits to nearly every goalie being considered for this tournament. Whether it’s Ryan Miller and Team USA having flashbacks to Vancouver or Henrik Lundqvist and Sweden wishing Sochi had never happened, Crosby knows all these goalies.
He also knows how to bring new guys into the fold. During the 2014, pre-Olympics selection camp a local college athlete was invited to fill a vacancy left when Ryan Getzlaf had to tend to an ill child. He spoke glowingly of how 87 treated him as an equal and member of the team from day one. When chemistry is so vital in a short tournament this is a big key.
If Crosby is the Penguins Batman, Evgeni Malkin is their Superman. The Russian center is big and skilled and has a medal of every color from the annual IIHF tournament. While recent Russian performance at the Olympics has left much to be desired, that’s mostly a failure of coaching. Malkin and Alexander Ovechkin had to inform their coach it was the time to pull the goalie in an elimination game in Sochi.
Malkin’s size and skill package plus his success in both North America and representing his country make him a lock. Unlike Crosby he is not a lock for a letter, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Magnitogorsk native with an A on his sweater in Toronto.
The Kessel family and Team USA go together like red, white and blue. There are plenty of young talents that would challenge the veteran Team USA member if this were an Olympics roster, but it isn’t. The age requirement keeps youngsters Gaudreau, Larkin and Saad from edging Kessel from his spot. Look for the speedy winger to revel in heading back to Toronto as well to represent Team USA. Even if he’s not reveling in reacquainting himself with their media, he still loves the town and could have a sneaky good tournament.
Olli Maatta could have represented Finland in the 2014 World Junior Championships. Instead he represented his home country in the Olympics where he was widely regarded as the most effective Penguin on his international team. He was just 19. Maatta will be just 22 when the tournament opens in Toronto, but has already been penciled in as Team Finland’s number 2 defenseman. The underrated Finn’s vision and size make him a great match against some of the bigger guys. He also plays smart and sound in all areas and strengths making him the perfect player for the structured Finnish system.
Murray may find himself as the third goalie on the North American Under-23 team, but he is a no-brainer. He owns nearly every AHL goalie, rookie or rookie goalie record. He was even recently recalled to the Penguins who have decided the future is now for Murray and may play in the NHL down the stretch. He has superb angles and rebound control and plays cool under pressure. He reads plays beautifully and would be an asset to a team looking to be a dark horse.
On the bubble
Is Kris Letang one of the eight best Canadian defensemen right now? That’s a really tough question to answer. While he started slow in 2015-16, no one has turned it around quite as wonderfully as him. He is the mascot for the team’s new system. He’s the poster boy for speed and skill while not sacrificing his position as a defender. He’s what every undersized offensive defenseman should strive to be. His speed and skill would certainly add to the Canadian blueline, but he’s been passed over in the past in favor of guys like Jay Bouwmeester. But perhaps this is Letang’s time. If so, look for him to be a difference maker for the host country.
Carl Hagelin & Patric Hornqvist
Hagelin and Horqvist are both Swedish forwards and both on the bubble. I would be highly shocked if Hornqvist is named on March 2nd, but it’s not impossible. Hagelin is much more likely with his more prototypical Swedish playing style and speed. The problem isn’t the skill of either, though. Their selection or perceived snubs will come down to just what Sweden decides they want in the tournament. I’ve seen Steen’s name on projections, but the forward is currently injured so does that open a slot for one of the Penguins’ Swedes? Who knows. Hagelin’s vastly improved play now that he’s back in the East deserves consideration and Hornqvist could bring an important element to a short tournament.
Kuhnhackl’s father is one of the greatest German athletes in history. They call him German Gretzky and his son’s first NHL goal showed flashes of hereditary prodigious skill. Though the younger Kuhnhackl is more known for his board play and hockey smarts than his hands, he’s still got them. The issue with Kuhnhackl is that this team is the “Europe” team and will include so many countries it’s hard to get a read on it. Still, he’s got the chops and could very well get the call.
Don’t let Simon’s lack of NHL playing time fool you. The Czech player has represented his country and done so quite well. In the 2015 IIHF world championships in Prague, Simon played alongside legend Jaromir Jagr. He’s known as having some of the best hands to ever grace Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and is likely only still there since he’s adjusting to the smaller ice surface. He’s definitely got a good chance to play in Toronto even if he doesn’t make the March 2nd roster.