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Team North America has big appeal to 2016 draft picks

Prospects believe young group will jell, challenge veteran teams

by Mike G. Morreale @mikemorrealeNHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

There will be an interesting dynamic to Team North America at the World Cup of Hockey 2016.

Team North America, a new concept in international hockey, consists of the best players age 23 and younger as of Oct. 1 from Canada and the United States. The roster has 12 players from the U.S. and 11 from Canada.

Those players will have to come together to play against their countrymen from Team Canada and Team USA.

"I was part of the World Cup in 1996 and it was country against country," said Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Lou Lamoriello, who was the GM of the U.S. when it won the 1996 World Cup. "This is something different and unique, and I'm anxious to see how it all plays out."

Many of the top prospects selected in the 2016 NHL Draft believe Team North America might be the surprise of the tournament despite the expected feeling-out process from the outset.

"Just coming from Canada, the Americans have always been that big rival. But we're talking about young professionals here," said center Tyson Jost, selected by the Colorado Avalanche at No. 10. "One of the key things is that they'll bond together quickly, and that's what you have to do to win in those tournaments. I'm sure they'll be fine. Maybe right off the bat there might be a little bit of bad blood, but I'm sure they'll figure things out.

"As a fan, I guess I'm excited to watch this group. You can see the hype with the commercials, and I think it'll be awesome to see the best young talent in the world competing."

Tom Renney, president and chief executive officer of Hockey Canada, said he feels it won't take long for players from competing nations to get on the same page.

"They'll get along great because house money is house money, and those kids got a lot of it going into this competition," he said. "All they want to do is beat everybody, any way they can."

Center Rasmus Asplund (Buffalo Sabres, No. 33) said he thinks Team North America will provide plenty of excitement and entertainment.

"Of course that's a really good team," Asplund said. "They want to show that the young guys are the future of the NHL and the hockey world. I think it's a really good idea to have, especially for the guys picked to the team. I think they'll be the most fun to watch in the World Cup.

"I think if they come together as a group … they have great talents and they come from different teams, so I think the important thing for them is to come together and play for each other."

Video: Peter Chiarelli on McDavid and Eichel on one team

Among the players who will represent Team North America are Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid and Buffalo Sabres center Jack Eichel, who were the first two picks of the 2015 draft, Detroit Red Wings forward Dylan Larkin (2014, No. 15), and Florida Panthers defenseman Aaron Ekblad (2014, No. 1).

Auston Matthews, who turns 19 on Sept. 17, is the youngest player on the roster. The 6-foot-2, 210-pound center was selected by the Maple Leafs with the No. 1 pick of the 2016 draft.

"It's obviously a huge honor to represent that team," Matthews said. "But you look at the players that have been selected, it's a pretty exciting team. So to be a part of it is going to be something special. This is definitely something you don't really see that often, so to have that dynamic [U.S.-born players with Canada-born players] definitely is getting a lot of people excited.

"I think it's definitely a team that can surprise some people, so we'll see what happens."

Defenseman Dennis Cholowski, selected by the Red Wings with the 20th pick of the 2016 draft, said he's looking forward to seeing how quickly Team North America can come together for coach Todd McLellan (Oilers).

"It looks like a pretty darn good team on paper," Cholowski said. "The young guys get to showcase their skills with other great young guys, and it'll be interesting to see what happens."

Kieffer Bellows, picked by the New York Islanders at No. 19 in 2016, said he likes the fact that younger players will have a chance to showcase their skills against older players in a huge international event.

"This really gives the younger guys a shot at the older guys and maybe guys who have played in the NHL a few years, such as Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin," Bellows said. "It gives them a chance to showcase their talent at such a very prestigious tournament like the World Cup. You see Matthews, McDavid, Eichel, and you see how much they love the game. I've talked to [Matthews] and he's really excited for it and I can't blame him."

Matthews played against older, more experienced competition last season with Zurich in National League A, the top professional league in Switzerland, and he finished second in voting for the league's most valuable player award. He led the U.S. in goals and tied for the lead in points at the 2016 IIHF World Championship.

"I think Auston is a really elite player; he did a really good job in Zurich last season and he's a good fit for that North America team," Bellows said.

Team North America is in Group B, along with Team Finland, Team Russia and Team Sweden. Its first game will be against Team Finland on Sept. 18 (8 p.m. ET; ESPN2).

The eight-team World Cup of Hockey 2016 will be played Sept. 17-Oct. 1 at Air Canada Centre in Toronto. All games will be televised by ESPN in the United States and Sportsnet and TVA Sports in Canada.

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