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World Cup

Team North America has 'ability to beat anybody'

Avalanche forward Nathan MacKinnon confident 23-and-younger team will do well at World Cup

by Sean Farrell / Correspondent

MONTREAL -- Team North America boasts about the skills its young players bring to the World Cup of Hockey 2016.

As one of five No. 1 picks in the NHL Draft on the team of 23-and-under players from Canada and the United States, Nathan McKinnon believes its roster matches up favorably against any other in the tournament.

"I don't think there's another more skilled team than ours," said McKinnon, who was selected first by the Colorado Avalanche in 2013. "I'll go against anybody's roster and put ours against them, and for speed and skill, you know, this isn't a full season or a playoffs, this is one-and-done, and we have the talent and ability to beat anybody, for sure."

Auston Matthews (2016), Connor McDavid (2015), Aaron Ekblad (2014) and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (2011) are the other No. 1 picks on Team North America.

McKinnon's statement followed its first practice at Bell Centre on Monday. McDavid was among the young NHL players who stood behind their teammate's claim.

"One hundred percent," McDavid said. "We have a lot of young guys, obviously. I mean, we're under 24 so we're young, but we have a lot of speed and skill, I think you noticed that out there today as well, so it's definitely our character trait or whatever, so we'll have to use that to our advantage."

Defenseman Colton Parayko agrees, though he has plenty of respect for his opponents, including Team Canada, which has a core made up of the 2010 and 2014 Olympic gold medal winners.

"Obviously, they're a good team, but at the same time, everybody in this locker room is going on with a winning attitude, and that's what you've got to do if you want to win," Parayko said. "So they're obviously going to be a great team, they've won lots, but at the same time, we're trying to win just as bad as they are, so it's going to be fun."

Team North America coach Todd McLellan had enviable options for his line combinations. McDavid centered Jonathan Drouin and Mark Scheifele. Jack Eichel lined up with Johnny Gaudreau and Brandon Saad, and Matthews practiced with Nugent-Hopkins and MacKinnon.

"It's been a great process as coaches," McLellan said. "The difficulty is we don't know the players. You really don't know, and they haven't played together as a team. Mike [Babcock] with Canada, they've had their Olympic experience, they've figured out their combinations. Whether they're still valid or not, I don't know, but it gives them a starting point. We're looking for a starting point and we put groups together based on how we feel players might play with each other."

McLellan said he and his staff had fun contemplating the various potential lines and defense pairs, before and after practice.

"We'd like to keep some consistency with lines, but we also need to experiment, so we're so early in the evolution of lines and pairs that I think you'll see changes as it goes on, and not necessarily because guys are playing poor or well, it's just we want to see," McLellan said.

McDavid felt very good about his linemates.

"Obviously, you saw what [Drouin] could do in the playoffs, I mean, he was absolutely unbelievable and he's got so much skill, and obviously a guy like [Scheifele] is one of the best centermen in the League," McDavid said. "You guys all saw what he could do at the end of the season, you know, putting up those ridiculous numbers, so it's a talented line, and if we can figure out how to play with each other, it could be dangerous."

McLellan chose a unique word to describe McDavid as a player in explaining what he looked for in determining his potential linemates.

"I call him a transporter," McLellan said. "When the puck's on his tape and he gets some speed going, he's a very effective player, so we need a distributor, somebody that can get him the puck in certain situations, and then be ready to get it back. He needs a shooter with him and he needs a distributor, puck-sense guy. And that's how we try and set our lines up in Edmonton with him, and he certainly will be a focal point with this team, I'm well aware of that, but there's a lot of other good players too that we have to build lines around."

McDavid was asked if he expected to play with a variety of linemates in the days and weeks to follow.

"Who knows? Maybe these are the lines that jell right away and we'll have the most success with these lines," McDavid said. "It's all about chemistry. I'm sure there'll be people who will kind of play with a lot of different guys and all that, but these lines are what they are to start, and I'm hoping that these are them for a long time."

J.T. Miller and Vincent Trocheck alternated rushes on a line with Dylan Larkin and Sean Couturier.

Defense pairs saw Ekblad practice with Morgan Rielly, Parayko with Shayne Gostisbehere, and Seth Jones and Jacob Trouba alternating turns with Ryan Murray.

Team North America practices in Montreal on Tuesday and Wednesday before playing Team Europe in a pretournament game in Quebec City on Thursday.

"It's definitely a different dynamic having so many high picks on the same team," Nugent-Hopkins said. "Guys are going to be playing different roles and you've got to be able to jump into that as quick as you can. Most guys on this team are top-six forwards, top-four [defensemen] on their club teams, so obviously it's not going to work out like that for everybody, so you've got to embrace it, keep a positive attitude, and just do whatever you can for the team."

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