The World Cup of Hockey kicks off next Saturday after several pre-tournament games that wrap up this week. With all the rosters set and ready to go, it’s time to preview this tournament. Here’s LWOH’s World Cup of Hockey Group A preview.
World Cup of Hockey Group A Preview: Canada, U.S.A. to Lead the Way
Everything. To be more specific, Canada has arguably the World Cup’s best lineup at forward, defence, and in goal. John Tavares and Steven Stamkos are elite scorers, Jonathan Toews is the best two-way centre in hockey, and Sidney Crosby is just the best player in hockey. The blueline may not be quite as deep, but it has Norris Trophy winner Drew Doughty beside his severely underrated partner Jake Muzzin, and a Hockey Canada mainstay in Shea Weber. With Carey Price in nets, it will be extremely difficult to score on this lineup.
There are very few holes in the Canadian roster. If anything, their downfall could end up being overconfidence. There are perhaps a couple of spots on defence where a better choice could’ve been made, with both P.K. Subban and Kris Letang absent, but regardless the lineup is solid almost the whole way through.
Players to Watch
Patrice Bergeron and Ryan Getzlaf are both known for turning it on while representing their country. It will also be fascinating to see how Muzzin performs, in just his second ever international appearance after the 2015 World Championships. If he’s on the top pairing with Doughty he will have an extremely crucial role. Finally, centre Ryan O’Reilly was a last-minute addition to the team with Tyler Seguin forced to pull out, so he will be forced to fit into the system quickly.
In Toronto, this tournament seems made for Canada to win gold. As always, anything less would be a disappointment. Mike Babcock‘s team has no shortage of talent and is heavily favoured on paper, so should at the very least find themselves in the final.
The Czechs have a lot of chemistry with each other, with the majority of their team having represented the country internationally several times together. This is a short tournament, so getting off to a hot start due to better communication could give them an edge.
There are also some key offensive weapons at forward on the Czech team, with Jakub Voracek and Ondrej Palat expected to lead the way in the attacking end of the ice.
The issue with the Czech team is that it could have been significantly better if some key eligible players were available. Jaromir Jagr, David Krejci, and Jiri Hudler could all bring a lot to the table and strengthen the team significantly.
The roster is also fairly inexperienced at defence, without many NHL veterans. Radko Gudas is an excellent defenceman, but beyond him the pickings are slim. Zybnek Michalek and Roman Polak are the veteran players, neither of whom are top-level NHL blueliners.
Players to Watch
Jakub Nakladal is a free agent defenceman, who will likely be using this tournament as an audition for another NHL contract. Also interesting to see will be how Vladimir Sobotka performs in his first return to action against NHL players since leaving for his brief stint in the KHL. This will be a preview of what may be to come in his return to the St. Louis Blues this season.
The Czechs would be hard-pressed to get out of group A with two heavyweights favoured to go through. A mild success for them would be topping Team Europe in the standings and finishing third.
This ragtag team made up of a handful of “minor” European countries is headlined by its veteran talent up front. Slovene Anze Kopitar, and Slovaks Marian Gaborik, and Marian Hossa are three elite NHLers who have earned a lot of respect from their peers over the years. Team Europe has a strong roster at forward, with the experienced players complemented by dynamic youngsters like German Leon Draisaitl and Slovak Tomas Tatar.
This team has relatively little to play for, not representing any specific country, and hasn’t had much time to develop the chemistry that other teams will have. The defence is also a little thin beyond Roman Josi of Switzerland, with an ageing Zdeno Chara likely the next-most effective on the roster.
Players to Watch
The pressure is on goaltender Jaroslav Halak, who will have to take on the starting job after Frederik Andersen was ruled out with an injury. The Slovakian contingent on the team is the largest, and they are likely the most significant group with any chemistry. Chara, Andrej Sekera, Hossa, and Gaborik have all played with each other internationally with Slovakia.
Team Europe has a lot more NHL experience than the Czech Republic, but will also be in tough to beat either Canada or the U.S.A.. It’s possible that they could surprise one, more likely the Americans, and advance to the semi-finals – which would be a best-case scenario for the Europeans.
The American team was picked to be versatile. They have scoring punch with Patrick Kane and Max Pacioretty, as well as a lot of toughness in players like David Backes, Dustin Byfuglien, and Ryan Suter. Goaltending is also an area of strength, as the U.S. boasts arguably the deepest pool in net of any team. Coach John Tortorella has Ben Bishop, Jonathan Quick, and Cory Schneider to choose between, all of whom are fully capable of stealing games.
The United States has a few big holes on defence, with the talent level dropping away after the first pairing or two. The team also could’ve made some better choices in filling out their forward pool, with notable absences in Phil Kessel and Bobby Ryan.
Players to Watch
Joe Pavelski shed his underrated tag during the Stanley Cup Playoffs by earning the admiration he’s always deserved from hockey fans. He’s always been a workhorse for Team U.S.A., and he’s likely to continue to lead the way here. One who is not yet rid of the same label is Blake Wheeler, who had a career year in Winnipeg last season and could come out hot to start this season.
The Americans are certainly expected to advance from Group A, although it seems more likely that they finish in second behind Canada. In the knockout stages they certainly fancy themselves contenders to win the whole thing, and there’s every chance they do just that. They may not have the heavyweight power of Canada or Sweden, but they have great goaltending and it’s a short tournament.