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World Cup

Central Scouting likes Team North America's chances

Youngest lineup in World Cup lauded for energy, balance

by Mike G. Morreale @mikemorrealeNHL / Staff Writer

TORONTO -- The scouts at NHL Central Scouting are anxious to see how the players named to Team North America for the 2016 World Cup of Hockey will fare against the more experienced teams at the tournament in September.

Win or lose, excitement was one word the scouts used to describe their feelings when they saw the first 16 players named to the roster earlier this month. Team North America is a new concept in international hockey, featuring the best players from Canada and the United States age 23 and younger as of Oct. 1.

"It definitely makes you smile because you see the future of the game and it's in pretty good hands," Central Scouting's David Gregory said. "There are some really good players [on the roster]. I'd love to see them challenge, but obviously experience counts for a lot in a short tournament and guys who have been through it are going to have an advantage. 

"But there are some real good players on this North America team that rarely get denied."

The scouts are very familiar with the 16 players initially named to the roster since it includes prospects they all have evaluated within the past five years.

"This team might be viewed as underdogs just because of their experience level," said Dan Marr, NHL Director of Central Scouting. "But the fact they're all the best of the best in their age group, they're going to bring a little bit more youthful energy to the game and that might make them a formidable opponent for teams to play against. I don't think anyone takes anyone lightly. But if teams aren't prepared with their 'A' game, then who knows."

Video: EDM@BUF: McDavid beats Lehner in the opening minute

Marr said he believes any of the games involving Team North America will be very entertaining for the fans.

"I think they're going to be a handful for a lot of teams because every line is an energy line and they've got the speed that the game is played at," Marr said. "They've got the skills and they'll bring that compete level every shift. Many of them haven't been through as many Olympic experiences or NHL All-Star experiences as the other players. But I think they'll be up for every game."

Among those picked for the team were Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid and Buffalo Sabres center Jack Eichel, the first two players picked at the 2015 NHL Draft.

"I see the energy level when looking at this roster," said Troy Dumville, who covers the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League for Central Scouting. "You look at the McDavids, the [Nathan] MacKinnons, the [Dylan] Larkins, and the foot speed immediately comes to mind. It's going to be hard to defend against these guys and it's going to be fun to watch."

Perhaps experience won't be as big a factor as some think since just about all of the players have international tournament experience and a few even have played a part in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Philadelphia Flyers center Sean Couturier has played 344 games, the most of any player on the initial roster. He's also appeared in 18 Stanley Cup Playoff games.

Video: PHI@SJS: Couturier slips puck past Jones on breakaway

"Most of these guys have played at the international level, be it the [IIHF] World Junior Championship or [IIHF] World Under-18 Championship, so they do have some of that of experience," said John Williams, who covers the Western Hockey League for Central Scouting. "I realize they're younger players, but wow; this roster is impressive."

One position that could be considered a weakness is goaltending. After Anaheim Ducks goaltender John Gibson, the expected starter, Team North America has the Winnipeg Jets' Connor Hellebuyck and the Pittsburgh Penguins' Matthew Murray as backups. They have combined for 33 NHL games, all this season. 

Al Jensen, who evaluates goaltenders for Central Scouting, said Team North America's three goalies will do just fine.

"I think they've got three excellent choices," Jensen said. "They're all calm, relaxed and composed, and not anxious. You know what you're going to get with these guys. As a coach I would like that style. They're not flashy but big in the net and they each will give themselves a chance to stop the puck. I think it's a solid three for North America."

The World Cup of Hockey 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-three final, with games played Sept. 27, Sept. 29 and, if necessary, Oct 1. All games will be played at Air Canada Centre in Toronto and will be televised on ESPN in the United States and Sportsnet and TVA Sports in Canada.

Team North America will play in Group B in the preliminary round, along with Team Finland, Team Russia and Team Sweden. Team Canada, Team Czech Republic, Team USA and Team Europe will be in Group A. 

"They have skill and you have to be able to play a little physical and with some skill if you're going to go through that tournament unscathed and I think they have good balance," said Central Scouting's Greg Rajanen, who scouts high schools and colleges in western United States.

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