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USA Hockey execs excited about Youngstars team

by Mike G. Morreale / NHL.com

LAKE PLACID, N.Y. -- Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel represented different teams and different countries last season on the way to becoming the top two picks at the 2015 NHL Draft.

Imagine for a moment that they're playing on the same team and working the same power-play unit on a world stage.

It could happen when the World Cup of Hockey takes place in September 2016. The eight-team tournament, which will take place at Air Canada Centre in Toronto, will feature not only national teams from the United States, Canada, Russia, Sweden, Finland and the Czech Republic, as well as a team of top players from other European nations, but also a North American Under-23 Youngstars team that might include McDavid and Eichel.

The management team for USA Hockey, including general manager Dean Lombardi, assistant GM Paul Holmgren and assistant executive director of hockey operations Jim Johannson, on Thursday discussed what could turn out to be one of the more entertaining teams at the tournament.

Lombardi referred to it as "baptism under fire" for the young athletes.

"Because of USA Hockey's advancement and Hockey Canada's advancement around the world, the best kids get to play in international tournaments quite often," Holmgren said. "This is just another stepping stone. This will be the hardest tournament that they'll have to play.

"You could imagine a room full of 22-year-old kids knowing they'll have to play Canada or the United States with all their depth and the power of the Swedes. But it's going to be a wonderful team."

McDavid and Eichel were the main topics of discussion last season when conversation shifted to the 2015 draft. McDavid, a Canadian who starred for the Erie Otters in the Ontario Hockey League, went No. 1 to the Edmonton Oilers. Eichel, an American who won the Hobey Baker Award as college hockey's best player while at Boston University in Hockey East, went No. 2 to the Buffalo Sabres.

Players eligible to play for the North American under-23 team will not be available in the pool of players for the Canada and United States national teams. There will be a cutoff date for age eligibility to play on the under-23 team, and the management team will be comprised of representatives from USA Hockey and Hockey Canada.

"This event is about the player and the fan, so I think that part of it is really exciting for hockey and there's going to be so many great rising players on this team," Johannson said. "It's going to be a fun team to be around and a fun team to watch play, yet, individually and collectively extremely competitive.

"So I love that they're rolling the dice, so to speak, with this team. In the end, great players are going to be on the ice for all the teams and then the hockey takes over."

All North American players in the tournament are expected to be NHL players or NHL-drafted prospects. However, there is no rule that restricts federations from sending players who are not NHL players.

"I think the one thing that hopefully kind of happens is when those young players see the big boys playing, that it inspires them even more to want to upgrade their play and be a part of that group someday," Lombardi said. "The bottom line is you look at more guys playing so that's more exposure, and it has benefits."

Holmgren thinks it would be special for fans to see McDavid and Eichel play for the North American Youngstars.

"It certainly has the potential for that to be the case; they're both great young players," Holmgren said. "Are they ready for the NHL jump? I'm certainly not going to put it past them because they probably are. Certainly, they'll get every opportunity and we'll see how the year goes. It's certainly a young man's game today; maybe because I'm getting older."

The biggest question mark in Johannson's mind?

"What the heck will the jersey look like?" he said with a grin. "That's equally exciting."

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