TORONTO -- Aaron Ekblad said members of Team North America will not be intimidated by their older and more experienced opponents at the 2016 World Cup of Hockey.
The Florida Panthers defenseman believes his team, made up of North American players 23 and under, will be just fine.
"These are all guys we have played against in the NHL," Ekblad said. "Some of the guys on the Under-23 team have experience, whether it's one, two or three years in the NHL playing against all these guys. We understand the kind of players they are (and) the skill and danger they possess."
Team North America will have plenty of top-end skill with forwards Connor McDavid, Jack Eichel, Dylan Larkin, Nathan McKinnon and Johnny Gaudreau. Ekblad said teams that take North America for granted will be making a mistake.
"Our biggest challenge will be gaining respect," Ekblad said. "We're a young team and we don't have a lot of expectations going into it, but we do have a chance to win it. You look at some of the names on our team and we have some players who can do some damage. You see them doing it in the NHL. We are definitely a team you don't want to take lightly."
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Ekblad said he is looking forward to playing with McDavid, the No. 1 pick of the Edmonton Oilers in the 2015 NHL Draft who has 12 goals and 31 points in 28 games.
"He's a guy you see every single night making a play happen - every single shift," Ekblad said.
McDavid said limiting mistakes is key for North America, but believes it would be a mistake for the other teams to not respect his young team.
"I think the vets look at the young guys, the rookies and think they can't lose to us," McDavid said. "There's not a whole lot for us to lose in this situation. A lot of people looking in don't really expect too much from us, but we definitely have the talent to surprise some people."