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World Cup

Prospects say World Cup 'awesome for the NHL'

Players discuss tournament at NHLPA Rookie Showcase

by Mike G. Morreale @mikemorrealeNHL / Staff Writer

TORONTO -- Vancouver Canucks goaltender prospect Thatcher Demko is excited that the World Cup of Hockey 2016 will give players competing an opportunity to earn the spotlight.

"Team Europe will be able to reach out to places where hockey might not be well known and where people might not be that familiar with the sport, so you'll be getting that exposure for those areas and that's a good thing," Demko said at the NHL Players' Association Rookie Showcase at Mattamy Athletic Centre on Monday.

Team Europe is made up of players from European countries excluding Finland, Russia, Sweden and the Czech Republic, each of which has its own team entered in the eight-team tournament, which runs Sept. 17 to Oct. 1 at Air Canada Centre in Toronto.

"I love the concept," Demko said. "Any time there's international play I get excited. I'm very proud to be a U.S. citizen and an American, and I've been fortunate enough to be in tournaments where I've represented my country and I don't take that for granted. Any time this type of tournament comes up I'm excited and I think it's awesome for the NHL.

"The big countries in the Olympics have been so dominant in the sport of hockey, but [the World Cup of Hockey] has Team Europe so players are coming from farther out than the regular Olympics, in my opinion."

Several players were asked for their predictions, including Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman prospect Zach Werenski.

"I'm excited to watch and I think Team North America will be pretty good," Werenski said. "I think they'll have a lot of fast guys and speed. They are all unbelievable teams, so who knows who'll come out on top, but that North America team is going to be exciting. Being a young guy myself, I know some guys on the team like Auston Matthews (Toronto Maple Leafs) and Dylan Larkin (Detroit Red Wings), so it's exciting for me."

Team North America features the best players age 23 years old and younger as of Oct. 1 from Canada and the United States.

Although New Jersey Devils forward prospect Pavel Zacha would like to see his country, Czech Republic, finish strong, he'll also be rooting for some of his Devils teammates.

"Every hockey fan wants to watch their country and their players, just like the Olympics, and the fact it will be in Toronto makes it even better," Zacha said. "It's great for the players to have this type of tournament before the season starts. Back home in the Czech Republic, there was so much news about the World Cup and even if the games are on at 2 a.m., everyone is still going to watch.

"But I'm also looking forward to watching the guys from New Jersey like (Team USA goalie) Cory Schneider and (Team USA forward) Kyle Palmieri."

Video: McDonagh, Pavelski, Schneider on WCH 2016 excitement

New York Islanders forward prospect Mathew Barzal is curious to see how Team North America will fare. 

"I think it is going to be fun but I'm really excited to see how the young guys will do," Barzal said. "That team is really skilled and talented so it's going to be fun to watch. Those young guys are going to come out hot. They have Connor McDavid and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, some really good players."

Center Pierre-Luc Dubois, the No. 3 pick in the 2016 NHL Draft by the Blue Jackets, was excited to learn that Team Canada will play against Team USA in a pretournament exhibition at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio, on Sept. 9.

"I think the NHL and NHLPA did a really good job organizing this," Dubois said. "I'm going to go watch that game on Sept. 9. I really like the idea of the 23-and-under team because they have really good players on that roster. I think that team and Team Europe will be good. It's going to be really competitive and anybody has a chance to win."

Demko was asked for his rooting interest if Team USA played Team North America at some point in the tournament. The 20-year-old is a San Diego, California native.

"Oh my gosh, don't even go there," he said. "Team North America does have some Canadians on the roster. You know, I'd just root for a 1-0 game, hoping that the goaltenders come up big."

Two of the three goaltenders representing Team North America (John Gibson, Anaheim Ducks; Connor Hellebuyck, Winnipeg Jets) were born in the United States.

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