When they ask you to generally manage a team in the 2016 World Cup of Hockey alongside one of the premier general managers in the game today, Chicago’s Stan Bowman, you really don’t think about your answer for very long.
But it’s been a couple of weeks now, and Peter Chiarelli — who will co-GM Team North America, the team of players whose birth certificates still read 23 years of age on Sept. 1, 2016 — is starting to come up with some questions.
“I’ve been thinking more and more about the various challenges, other than the obvious one, the younger players. That’s a challenge in itself,” he said of presiding over the first ever U24 team in World Cup history. “There will be some built-in synergy for the other ‘nation’ teams. A lot of them played together as a nation, either U18, U20 or even beyond that (in Olympics and world championships). The challenge that we have is, these (U24) guys have played for opposing nations. They’ve been rivals.
“I haven’t figured out how we can deal with that — if we deal with it in any way.”
So, let’s boil that question down to this: Can Canadian Aaron Ekblad play on a defensive pair with either Seth Jones or Jacob Trouba, both Americans? Or would the chemistry be better if you played Trouba with Jones, and Ekblad with Toronto native Dougie Hamilton?
What about New Jersey-born Johnny Gaudreau? Does he fits better on the wing with Jack Eichel, or Flames teammate Sean Monahan? (Certainly the latter).
Either way, Chiarelli has begun the process, and he’s confident he’ll have enough good defencemen, no matter how they pair up.
“What I can tell you, is from 30,000 feet when I look out into the pool of defencemen, there are more right shots than left shots,” he said. “Is there a Drew Doughty type? I don’t think so. What we do have is a lot of defencemen who can play on either side of the puck.”
If you were just putting together a U24 team to play against Team Canada, Team USA, Team Czech Republic, Team Sweden, Team Finland, Team Russia and Team Europe, that would be one thing. The nervousness comes when you try to stack your roster up against everyone else, and you realize it’s almost impossible, given the age constraint.
There are no 23-year-olds in the game who can be spoken of in the same breath of a Doughty, Duncan Keith or Erik Karlsson. There isn’t a single U24 goalie expected to carry the load as an NHL starter this year, leaving the likes of Boston’s Malcolm Subban, Winnipeg’s Connor Hellebuyck, Anaheim’s John Gibson, or perhaps even Flames prospect Jon Gillies as Chiarelli’s No. 1. It’s possible that foursome could have less than 20 NHL starts between them this season.
On defence, add to the aforementioned foursome a group that includes Morgan Rielly, Ryan Murray, Matthew Dumba, perhaps a Damon Severson, a Darnell Nurse, a Noah Hanifin or Cody Ceci.
With no 29-minute players like Doughty and Keith, it will be more of a six-man committee, Chiarelli concedes. But they’ll have to be able to skate.
“This will be an up tempo team,” promised Chiarelli, whose first meeting with Bowman comes next week. From there they will name three scouts (assistant GMs), and put their heads together on a head coach.
I think that man will be either Jon Cooper or Todd McLellan.
“I don’t have a template for this, but the pool of players is actually quite good,” Chiarelli allows. “I looked at 70, and there are some more who might bubble up.”
By that he means a player who has his coming out party this season. Like Auston Matthews, who will play pro in Switzerland under head coach Marc Crawford. “He’s on the list,” Chiarelli said. “It would be unlikely, but you never know.”
At forward, the first dozen or so picks are relatively easy, starting with centres Monahan, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Nathan MacKinnon and one of Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel, the other switching to wing. Gaudreau makes this team, as does Bo Horvat, Brandon Saad, Alex Galchenyuk, Mark Scheifele, Ryan Strome, Jonathan Drouin, Jaden Schwartz and Tyler Toffoli.
“I think we’ll have better, younger legs,” the GM said. “And we’re a bit of the unknown. The lineup’s pretty good, except for the goaltending is a bit unknown. No offence to the goalies, it’s just the nature of the beast.
“I’m even curious what our jerseys will look like.”