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World Cup

Graves hopes youth will reign at World Cup

Two-time champ helps assemble Team North America roster

by Mike G. Morreale @MikeMorrealeNHL / Staff Writer

NEW YORK -- Two-time Stanley Cup champion Adam Graves is hoping youth will be served at the 2016 World Cup of Hockey.

Graves, a special assistant to the general manager for Team North America, is looking forward to witnessing the speed and creativity the players will provide at this year's event. Team North America is a new concept in international hockey, featuring the best players age 23 years and younger as of Oct. 1, from Canada and the United States.

"It's going to be a fantastic tournament and these guys are so skilled, so talented, and being able to be a part of Team North America is a great opportunity and we're all very excited about it," Graves told "Seeing some of these kids either just out of junior, or college, and others who have actually been in the NHL a few years, it's hard to believe that they're still of age to play for the young guns. 

"It's exciting. Names like Brandon Saad, Connor McDavid, Jack Eichel and Sean Couturier are all well-rounded players."

Couturier, a Philadelphia Flyers forward, has played 331 games, the most of any player on the roster. Sixteen players were named to the team Wednesday.

Graves discussed the Team North America roster while attending an Ice Hockey In Harlem fundraiser to honor Hockey Hall of Fame member Mark Messier. Ice Hockey in Harlem is a non-profit organization dedicated to helping underprivileged children in the Harlem community by offering physical, educational and mentorship opportunities.

Messier, a six-time Stanley Cup champion and 15-time NHL All-Star, was being honored not only for his achievements on the ice, but also for his philanthropic efforts with Ice Hockey in Harlem and throughout New York.

Video: Graves on his involvement with Ice Hockey In Harlem

Graves was asked what type of excitement he feels McDavid and Eichel, the top two picks in the 2015 NHL Draft, will bring to this team. McDavid, a Canadian who starred for the Erie Otters in the Ontario Hockey League, went No. 1 to the Edmonton Oilers. Eichel, an American who won the Hobey Baker Award as college hockey's best player while at Boston University in Hockey East, went No. 2 to the Buffalo Sabres.

"When you think of last year's draft with McDavid and Eichel, and then remember their first meeting [Tuesday] night, and now to realize they'll be teammates is pretty awesome," Graves said. "They could be on the ice together at times or substituting for each over on back-to-back shifts. 

"I think about the speed this team will have with Nathan MacKinnon and Dylan Larkin as well."

All Team North America players in the tournament are expected to be NHL players or NHL-drafted prospects. That means that Auston Matthews, who plays for Zurich in Switzerland's top professional league and is No. 1 on NHL Central Scouting's midterm list of international skaters eligible for the 2016 NHL Draft, remains on the radar as a possible addition. The final roster for each of the eight teams competing in the World Cup of Hockey must be finalized by June 1.

"[Matthews] will certainly be in the mix but, where, I'm not sure," Graves said. "We know he's an outstanding hockey player and it's not surprising that he might be taken first overall this year. He's one of those special players, as well, and it's a privilege to watch him play."

Graves feels the biggest challenge for Team North America will be how quickly the group can come together under coach Todd McLellan in a round-robin format.

"You have to get up to speed, not only as an individual, but as a team," Graves said. "But these guys work hard and they'll be ready to go. We have an excellent coaching staff and the team will be well prepared. That team that takes advantage of their speed the quickest is usually the one having success."

The format will feature eight teams separated into two groups for a preliminary round from Sept. 17-22. The top two finishers in each group will advance to the semifinals Sept. 24-25. The winners meet in a best-of-3 Final with games played on Sept. 27, Sept. 29 and, if necessary, Oct 1.

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