As preparations for the World Cup of Hockey 2016 hit high gear leading up to the start of the tournament Sept. 17 in Toronto, NHL.com looks at how the teams stand. Seven writers who will cover the two-week event at Air Canada Centre were asked to rank the teams from 1-8 in various categories. Today, we look at which team has the best group of defensemen on its roster.
The World Cup of Hockey 2016 will be a celebration of defensemen. Most of the game's top active defensemen will be showcased during the two-week tournament.
But which team has the best group? That was a difficult question for the writers, given that Team Sweden edged Team Canada 53-52.
It was the closest vote among the categories by the NHL.com panel. Team Sweden received four first-place votes, Team Canada received three.
There are slight differences in talent between the two groups.
Team Sweden features two-time Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson of the Ottawa Senators, two-way standout Victor Hedman of the Tampa Bay Lightning and point-producing Oliver Ekman-Larsson of the Arizona Coyotes, as well as Mattias Ekholm of the Nashville Predators, Niklas Hjalmarsson of the Chicago Blackhawks, Anton Stralman of the Lightning and Hampus Lindholm of the Anaheim Ducks, who was named to the Aug. 24 as an injury replacement for Niklas Kronwall of the Detroit Red Wings.
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The defense group for Team Canada consists of Brent Burns and Marc-Edouard Vlasic of the San Jose Sharks, 2016 Norris Trophy winner Drew Doughty and Jake Muzzin of the Los Angeles Kings, Alex Pietrangelo and Jay Bouwmeester of the St. Louis Blues, and Shea Weber of the Montreal Canadiens. Bouwmeester was added to the team as an injury replacement for Duncan Keith of the Chicago Blackhawks on Aug. 24.
"The Canadian defense looks like a Norris Trophy ballot," said Nick Cotsonika, NHL.com columnist. "It has the reigning winner in Doughty ... finalists in Burns and Weber, and a candidate in Pietrangelo. Vlasic showed how good he was at the  Sochi Olympics; Muzzin can do the same now."
A compelling argument, but one easily countered by Team Sweden's embarrassment of riches.
"Though it would be easy to hand this category to Team Canada, and many might, Team Sweden's blue-line corps is overwhelming, with emerging and arrived talent throughout, starting with Karlsson and Hedman and continuing on through the roster," said Amalie Benjamin, NHL.com staff writer. "It's a sign of strength that John Klingberg of the Dallas Stars couldn't crack the final 23 for Sweden."
It really does come down to personal preference when the choice is this close. But Arpon Basu, managing editor of LNH.com, the League's French-language website, likes the way Team Sweden can deploy its assets to maximum efficiency in a short tournament.
"Sweden's top four on defense could potentially be Oliver Ekman-Larsson of the Arizona Coyotes and Erik Karlsson of the Ottawa Senators on the top pair, followed by the Tampa Bay Lightning duo of Victor Hedman and Anton Stralman," Basu said. "In terms of having the ability to move the puck out of their own end and keeping it in the offensive zone, that is a very difficult group to beat. All four of them were among the top 15 possession-driving defensemen in the NHL last season."
Team North America finished third, with Team USA fourth. The North American team, a collection of players from the United States and Canada age 23 and younger, features Aaron Ekblad (Florida Panthers), Shayne Gostisbehere (Philadelphia Flyers), Seth Jones (Columbus Blue Jackets), Ryan Murray (Blue Jackets) Colton Parayko (Blues), Morgan Rielly (Toronto Maple Leafs) and Jacob Trouba (Winnipeg Jets).
Team USA has Dustin Byfuglien (Jets), John Carlson (Washington Capitals), Erik Johnson (Colorado Avalanche), Jack Johnson (Blue Jackets), Ryan McDonagh, (New York Rangers), Matt Niskanen, (Capitals) and Ryan Suter (Minnesota Wild).
TEAM SWEDEN - 53 points (4 first-place votes)
TEAM CANADA - 52 points (3 first-place votes)
TEAM NORTH AMERICA - 38 points
TEAM USA - 36 points
TEAM EUROPE - 28 points
TEAM RUSSIA - 22 points
TEAM FINLAND - 14 points
TEAM CZECH REPUBLIC - 9 points
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