Nobody will ever forget Team North America.
Whether you think it was gimmicky or not, you can’t argue that when a group of 23-and-under NHLers from the continent was assembled to play against the best countries at the 2016 World Cup of Hockey, it was the most exciting team on the ice. Sure, Canada may have won the event, but in terms of watchability, the Red and White’s structured, defensive approach didn’t hold a candle to what the kids did.
It’s a shame we didn’t ever get to see those two teams go at it in meaningful action.
Sportsnet is re-airing the 2016 WCOH this week, so you have another opportunity to watch that electric squad. Since then, the likes of Mark Scheifele, Sean Couturier, Johnny Gaudreau and Nathan MacKinnon have graduated the age bracket and turned into NHL stars who would probably be suiting up for their home countries in a 2020 WCOH event. But that’s made room for fresh young talent to fill in.
And in fact, as amazing as that 2016 crew was, when we put together what a 2020 version of Team North America might look like we started to wonder if this group may actually be better. There’s certainly an argument to be made that, at the time of each’s roster’s construction, the depth at forward and defence is better now than it was four years ago.
But now we’re starting to nit-pick a little.
So with the WCOH front of mind these days, we put together four lines, three defence pairs and a two-goalie tandem for a 2020 version of Team North America. Here is the resulting line-by-line breakdown…
Kyle Connor – Connor McDavid – Jack Eichel
This line has just about everything you could ask for and would rival any current trio as the best in hockey. Eichel and McDavid are returning members of the 2016 team, though they weren’t regular linemates. The Jets’ Connor hadn’t played an NHL game yet when the 2016 tournament started, but has since developed into a steady and elite goal scorer, topping 30 goals in three straight years. Had this season not been interrupted, he may have hit 40 for the first time.
Connor has found easy chemistry with some of Winnipeg’s top stars and should do the same here — plus we aren’t worried about the top two picks from the 2015 draft clicking. Eichel, a natural centre who shoots right, would move to the wing on this team because the centre depth is too strong. We’d rather have him riding shotgun with McDavid than on the third line. Good luck to all other defences.
Matthew Tkachuk – Auston Matthews – Mitch Marner
Another fantastic line that houses one of the top goal scorers, top playmakers, and top offensively contributing agitators in the game today. Matthews was the only one of this trio included on the 2016 team and he played with McDavid, but that was before Matthews was a game-tested NHLer. Nowadays he’s the easy choice to complement McDavid on the second line. We have to put Matthews’ NHL teammate in Marner on the right side and can’t ignore how Tkachuk’s offensive game has exploded over the past few years to go hand in hand with the sandpaper style he had all along. This line would cause fits for many reasons.
Dylan Larkin – Mathew Barzal – Travis Konecny
We had to take an opportunity to create a crazy fast line here, so we’ve put together three skaters who’ve participated in the skills competition’s fastest skater event. In fact, both Barzal and Larkin have even won it before. All three of them would be top-six fixtures in a normal lineup, but make a quick counter to anyone else’s designed “checking” line in this spot. Larkin is the only returning player from the 2016 team of the three and if we wait much longer he wouldn’t be eligible for it since he turns 24 on July 30.
Alex DeBrincat – Anthony Cirelli – Brock Boeser
Anthony Cirelli’s Selke Trophy buzz built this season, and while it’s unlikely he would have won the award, just getting that recognition is the traditional first step down that road. There’s no shortage of offensive weapons here, but having someone like Cirelli man the fourth line is a sneaky luxury. Cirelli would be flanked by a couple of goal scorers who, if Line 3 failed to click, could easily slide a little higher in the lineup. And DeBrincat would always be a candidate to reunite with with his major junior linemate McDavid.
Quinn Hughes – Cale Makar
Yes please. We wonder, if this team was actually put together, would Hughes and Makar be split up to spread out their skills? That’s quite possible. But this is my team and these two players shoot opposite ways, so let’s just see what happens, shall we? This year’s Calder Trophy was a two-horse race between Hughes and Makar and putting them together (with that top forward line, by the way) would be incredibly exciting.
Thomas Chabot – Charlie McAvoy
McAvoy is a must-have presence on the second pair as far as I’m concerned, though whether his partner is Chabot or Werenski is a toss-up. Either way you’d have to be happy about it. We’re keeping the lefty-righty splits going on this pair as well.
Zach Werenski – Adam Fox
There’s a lot of offensive weaponry on this pair as well. Werenski was the NHL’s goal scoring leader among defencemen with 20 this season (four more than Alex Pietrangelo and Roman Josi), plus he gets a fair bit of shorthanded minutes for the Blue Jackets. And we really wanted to have Fox on this team, giving a shoutout to a season that flew a bit under the rookie radar given some of the other first-year performers we had stealing the spotlight. That means we’re leaving off some pretty good, defensively responsible players, though. But then again, Team North America should be all about the fun, right?
This could be a bit of an open competition, though we’d give the initial edge to Hart. However, Blackwood showed incredibly well behind a disappointing Devils squad this season, so if you give him a game or two he could steal the job from Hart. The Flyers goalie arrived in the NHL to much greater fanfare and has mostly lived up to that so far. With so much emphasis on scoring and creating excitement through the rest of the roster build, the goalies may be critical to advancing this edition of Team North America. This tandem may be able to pull them along. The position certainly doesn’t look like it would be a weakness.
The honourable mentions left off: Brady Tkachuk, Pierre-Luc Dubois (reserve), Ethan Bear, John Marino, Jacob Chychrun, Samuel Girard, Vince Dunn (reserve), Robert Thomas, Clayton Keller, Noah Hanifin