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Mailbag: Team Canada defense, World Cup underdog

NHL.com's Dan Rosen answers weekly questions

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / NHL.com Senior Writer

Here is the Sept. 7 edition of Dan Rosen's weekly mailbag, which will run through the course of the World Cup of Hockey 2016 into NHL training camps and the regular season. If you have a question, tweet it to @drosennhl and use #OvertheBoards.

Let's get to it:

There was a report that Team Canada may go with four right-handed defensemen. With that in mind, why are Kris Letang and P.K. Subban not on that roster? -- @PPensfan101

It's true, and we've reported it as well that St. Louis Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo, a right-handed shooter, has been playing on the left side in Team Canada practices. It took me by surprise too at first, with coach Mike Babcock making such a big deal about his desire for a lefty-righty balance, but it makes more and more sense as I've thought about it.

Team Canada's other lefty is Jay Bouwmeester, Pietrangelo's teammate in St. Louis. Bouwmeester wasn't named to the initial 23-man roster; he was a replacement for injured Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith, a lefty. If Bouwmeester wasn't among the original seven defensemen, he's not going to be considered top six on the depth chart now. If Keith were healthy, my guess is the balance wouldn't be an issue and either Pietrangelo or Brent Burns, another righty, would be the seventh defenseman. Keith can't be there, so Pietrangelo, even though he's a righty, moves to the left side, giving Babcock the six defensemen he feels are the best for this tournament.

That's important, because I think that's why Letang and Subban didn't make Team Canada, even after it needed a replacement for Keith.

Babcock wants safe defensemen because he feels safer is better in a short tournament. He's not interested in blowing out the opposition or trying to score five goals; he's interested in consistently hanging onto the puck, creating chances off possession, and limiting risks to avoid turnovers. Bouwmeester was the safe pick as Keith's replacement because he plays a safe game. Subban and Letang are dynamic in a take-you-out-of-your-seat kind of way and are vastly underrated for how good they are defensively (they have the puck a lot, which means they're playing offense, which means they don't have to play defense). But Babcock doesn't want the risk part of their game when he doesn't have to have it. In the NHL, there are so few defensemen like them and that makes them unique and special and great. When picking for Team Canada, the pool is huge, and if you don't want risk you can go safe, and safe can still be really good.

It's hard to argue with Babcock on this because of his overwhelming success on the international level. He coached Canada to a gold medal in the 2010 Vancouver Olympics and the 2014 Sochi Olympics keeping it safe and winning by whatever means necessary. It might work again.

Video: SJS@STL: Bouwmeester scores on a slap shot

Which player do you think is going to be the most productive for Team Canada? -- @Belmo10

Tough question, because the obvious answer, Sidney Crosby, is never the right answer in this type of tournament. He faces the best forechecking forwards and top defense pair the opposition has to offer and it makes it hard on him to be productive, but he manages to find a way to be important. I really like Team Canada's second line with John Tavares, Ryan Getzlaf and Steven Stamkos. I could see Stamkos or Tavares being the most productive players because they're going to get better matchups than Crosby, Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand (if these lines stick) and they are elite scorers and playmakers. I also like Logan Couture and Tyler Seguin on the wings with Jonathan Toews, but my guess is Toews' line and Crosby's line are going to get the majority of the defensive-zone starts, even though Team Canada might not have that many of those. So I'm going with Stamkos or Tavares. And wouldn't it be fitting considering Stamkos was injured and couldn't play in the Sochi Olympics and Tavares got injured and couldn't finish that tournament.

Who is your underdog pick for the World Cup and why? -- @dmiceli16

The easy and obvious choice is Team North America, but that's not where I'm going with this. They're a fascinating team and legitimately good, but I wrestle with the concept of it actually winning the tournament. So my pick here is Team Sweden, an underdog only because Team Canada is the overwhelming favorite, but a truly elite team nonetheless. Team Sweden has no weakness. Its goaltending is comparable to Team Canada with Henrik Lundqvist matching up against Carey Price. Its defense is arguably the best in the tournament with Erik Karlsson, Victor Hedman, Anton Stralman, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Hampus Lindholm and Mattias Ekholm. It's deep up front with forwards who are fantastic with the puck and are, for the most part, experienced. I'd match its power-play units against Team Canada and make it 50-50 that it outscores it on the power play. Team Sweden is for real and knows it. It would be the favorite if it wasn't for Team Canada.

Video: Team Sweden on expectations ahead of WCH 2016

With the defense they have, will Team Russia reach the top three? -- @njs0610

Defense is a big issue, and I'm not sold it will make it to the semifinals because of that defense. As I was saying with the answer on the Team Canada defense, the key in this tournament is to get the puck and keep it, limit chances against, and find ways to win at all costs. You can have all the flash you want up front, but if the defensemen can't get the forwards the puck, it doesn't matter. The Team Russia defensemen may struggle to get the forwards the puck with elite opponents hounding them on the forecheck. That could be a real big problem. It is in the tougher group with Team Sweden, Team Finland and Team North America. Team Russia might be in some trouble despite having one of the deepest forward groups.

Video: Alex Ovechkin looks ahead to the World Cup of Hockey

Do you think a player like Tobias Rieder has trouble making the opening-night roster by missing camp for the World Cup? -- @NelsonYotes

For starters, Rieder has to sign a contract or he won't have the opportunity to make an NHL opening-night lineup. But provided the restricted free agent does sign in time, he shouldn't have any issues making a lineup regardless when he arrives in camp. At 23, he's one of the Arizona Coyotes' bright young forwards, and Arizona is going with the young guys. It wants to build with them, and Rieder is entering his third full season, so he's definitely in the mix. And don't forget that if Team Europe doesn't make it out of Group A as one of the top two teams, its stay in the World Cup will be over after it plays Sept. 21, two days before the veterans are scheduled to arrive at Arizona training camp. It's possible Rieder doesn't miss any of NHL training camp provided he signs and Team Europe doesn't finish as one of the top two teams in a group that includes Team Canada, Team USA and Team Czech Republic.

Video: EDM@ARI: Rieder beats Talbot on the power play

If the plan for the World Cup is long-term, will the next one involve all real teams (use IIHF World Championship result/rankings to pick the best eight)? -- @talisker66

Provided this is the success the NHL and NHL Players' Association expect it to be, the World Cup will return. However, it's way too early to predict what the next one will look like, when it will be played, where it will be played, and what countries will be involved. That said, the plan for this tournament was to get as many of the top NHL players as possible, which led to the creation of Team North America and Team Europe. The goal is to create the best possible competition. It's led some to believe this could be the best hockey tournament ever because it has more of the best players than any prior tournament. If, for example, Switzerland and Slovakia, Nos. 7 and 8 in the 2016 IIHF rankings, were included instead of Team North America and Team Europe, there would be fewer NHL players. Those countries don't have as many NHL players as the big six (Canada, United States, Russia, Sweden, Finland, Czech Republic). However, it's possible that if the World Cup is back in another four years that there are changes based on the number of NHL players available to a country and where the tournament is being played. Basically what I'm saying is, it's still wide open and too soon to know the answer to that question. Let's let this one play out first.

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