The World Cup of Hockey is well on its way. In the pre-tournament fans have been treated to watching the strong rivalries of Canada and USA defeating each other. Team North America, also known as “the young guns,” have also showed off their talent. The tournament goes into full swing on September 17th and teams Finland, Sweden, Russia, Europe and Czech Republic will also be there to battle it out, showing fans a little taste of the best hockey players in the world. This tournament will be contested at the Air Canada Centre (ACC), the home of the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Toronto Maple Leafs That Will Shine in the World Cup of Hockey
Out of these finalized rosters, eight Maple Leafs were chosen to represent their country. Some Leafs to look out for are Auston Matthews, Morgan Rielly, Nikita Zaitsev, James van Riemsdyk and Leo Komarov.
Drafted first overall, Matthews will make his debut in the NHL this year and is expected to quickly be a star. Before playing the first game of his NHL career, Matthews will already have a taste of what it is like to play on his home ice in front of a crowd.
This tournament will be the ultimate test for Matthews. Not only will this be his first time in an NHL atmosphere, he is also being placed against the best of the NHL right off the bat.
In his first games with the young guns, he only played an average of 13:13. In this limited time he was able to get two shots in as well as being on the ice for one out of four of his teams goals.
In his second exhibition game against Europe, he has set up a perfect pass to Aaron Ekblad resulting in a goal to earn his first assist of the tournament. With Matthews’ skill, he could play comfortably alongside any of the young guns and create opportunities. In this tournament, he can show that he has what it takes. So far he is doing just that.
Rielly will join Matthews on the “young guns” team. This gives them the opportunity to play together before starting the season with the Leafs. Since being drafted in the first round, fifth overall by the Leafs in 2012, Rielly has been a leading scorer among Leafs defencemen. Since his rookie year he has continuously recorded over 27 points. His impressive nine goals and 27 assists in the 2015-16 season places him third in the league at his young age of 22.
The Leafs signing him to a six-year, $30 million contract shows he’s got something worth building around. His successful seasons so far surely prove that he fits into a young team of talented NHLers quite nicely. Rielly will be back with some fellow teammates from the Canadian IIHF World Junior gold-medal winning team, so we will see if they can create the magic once again.
In his first few exhibition games on the young guns team, we have seen his star power as he ripped a bullet in the back of the net, contributing to his team’s 7-4 win over Europe on Sunday night.
Zaitsev also has some adapting to do as he heads from the KHL playing for CKSA Moscow to the NHL. Just as it will for Matthews, this tournament will give Zaitsev a little taste of what he is in for this season. If he keeps up his stellar performances and can live up to the pressures of the NHL, he will be exactly what the Leafs could need this year, as they could always use a strong defenseman to add to the few core ones they have now including Rielly and Jake Gardiner.
He has quite the impressive record, as in his last two seasons in the KHL he has recorded 58 points in the regular season and 21 points in the playoffs. Zaitsev has also led CSKA Moscow defenseman for his last four seasons showing his strength as a core defenseman.
He will be a strong asset to pair with any of the left-wing defensemen. We could see a pairing of him and Andrei Markov who is an older, seasoned veteran who has had a lot of success as a Montreal Canadien. The 24-year-old would be a perfect fit for Markov who, at the age of 37, may be slowing down compared to some of the young fast players in this tournament. Many are hoping whatever success he may find in this tournament will transpire into the Leaf’s season.
Better known as “JVR,” it is not hard to see why he was chosen for Team USA. JVR has been a staple for the Leafs offensive end for quite some time now. He recorded 61 points in the 2013-14 season and 56 points in the 2014-15 season. He became one of the very few Leafs in the struggling season last year to pound the puck into the net without a problem. JVR had 29 points in the 40 games he played in the 2015-16 season and he was well on his way to another successful run.
Unfortunately, when February rolled around he was set to be out 18-25 games with a non-displaced fracture in his left foot. The Leafs felt the sting of his absence, losing five straight games after his departure, scoring only seven goals in those five games. It only got worse for the Leafs, showing the major role JVR has on a team.
Having him as a forward alongside other powerful players on Team USA like Patrick Kane, Ryan Kesler, and Joe Pavelski, JVR is bound to be a star with his scoring ability. JVR sat out the September 9th game against Canada but was back for Saturday night’s game. This was JVR’s first game in eight months following his injury. Although he didn’t score any points, he hopes to pick up where he left off.
If Komarov steps up for Team Finland like he did for the Leafs in his past season, this is going to be a successful tournament for him. Every passing year, Komarov has continued to improve his play. He has done this despite bouncing between the KHL for Dynamo Moscow, the AHL for the Toronto Marlies and the Leafs.
Last season for the Leafs he had an impressive 19 goals and 17 assists for 36 points. He also showed how hard-hitting and physical of a player he can be despite his small size. He was invited to play in the NHL-All star game this year in Nashville, proving that he is really making a name for himself. If he keeps up his all around play of being hard-hitting, physical and being there to score when needed, it will be exciting to see what he can bring to both the World Cup and this season for the Leafs.
Canada and Europe are the only teams in the tournament who will not feature a Leaf player. Europe was expected to have Frederik Andersen until he went down with injury. Canada will contain a huge Leafs presence on the team, as Mike Babcock will lead them. These Leafs will disperse for the duration of this tournament. They come together again on October 12, for their first regular season game. At that point Leaf fans will see the rebuild come into play and hope for success.
Other Leafs Competing
Jhonas Enroth: Team Sweden
Milan Michalek: Team Czech Republic
Roman Polak: Team Czech Republic