PHILADELPHIA, PA – Full rosters will not be finalized until June 1, but the Edmonton Oilers already know they’ll be well represented at the 2016 World Cup of Hockey this September in Toronto.
The participating teams released their 16-man, preliminary selections on Wednesday, with four Oilers getting the nod from their respective squads. Connor McDavid will play for the 23-and-under North American hybrid, Lauri Korpikoski has been chosen for Finland, while Leon Draisaitl and Andrej Sekera will suit up for Team Europe.
“They’re all very deserving and are going to do a real good job of representing their countries,” said Oilers Head Coach Todd McLellan, who is also the bench boss for Team North America.
McDavid highlights perhaps the most intriguing entry in the eight-team draw, which begins with the round-robin portion on Sept. 17. Team North America is comprised of the top Canadian and American players aged 23 or younger. Wednesday’s 16-man roster included many other elite up-and-comers like Jack Eichel, Aaron Ekblad and Nathan MacKinnon.
“It’s very special any time you get a chance to be named to a tournament like this, something as unique as this,” McDavid said. “It’s going to be really cool. There’s a lot of young talent in the League that’s been playing well, and even a couple guys who have been in the League a little longer that give us some experience as well.”
Just because they’re the young guns doesn’t mean they won’t have a chance to capture the championship, though. McLellan and McDavid relish the underdog mentality.
“We’re going to have a group that’s going to be a threat to some of the powerhouses,” the coach said. “It’s kind of nice to be the underdog, especially for the young guys. They won’t feel that type of pressure to win like Canada or the U.S. It’s our job to upset, and that’s what we’re going there to do.”
“We have a chance to do something special here,” McDavid added. “We could definitely surprise some teams.”
Up until this point, the young players have competed for their home countries during international competition, donning either the Maple Leaf or the Stars & Stripes. They’ll have to sacrifice national allegiances in favour of team camaraderie for the World Cup, which Coach McLellan doesn’t think will be a problem.
Photo by Andy Devlin / Edmonton Oilers Hockey Club
“When players put on the equipment, they put it on to win,” he said. “They happen to come from different countries and have been drafted by different teams, but when they get together they’re going to compete real hard.”
Another Oilers young gun, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, was absent from Wednesday’s Team North America selections. The centreman put up 30 points in 46 games before suffering a broken hand Jan. 18 against the Florida Panthers, but he’s expected to return to the lineup within the next two to three weeks.
Coach McLellan said RNH has an excellent chance to make the team when the full rosters are confirmed on June 1 and expects him to finish the season strong.
“His injury slowed him down, obviously,” said McLellan, adding he'd, naturally, love to have familiar players in his lineup. “I expect him to perform and play real well down the stretch when he gets healthy and be part of that team. That’s going to be up to him and his ability to impress the entire (coaching and management) staff.”
Oilers President & General Manager Peter Chiarelli is co-managing the Team North America squad alongside Chicago Blackhawks’ Stan Bowman.
Korpikoski’s World Cup selection is the latest in an impressive international career for the big winger, including World U-18s, World Juniors, World Championships and the 2014 Winter Olympics. Finland captured the bronze medal in Sochi, paving the way for plenty of excitement for the 29-year-old heading into his next global event.
Lauri Korpikoski plays for Finland at the 2014 Olympics. Photo by Getty Images.
“It’s obviously an exciting day to get named,” Korpikoski said. “I’m really honoured to be on the team and get to wear the jersey again. I’ve got a lot of good memories from Sochi the last time I played for Team Finland, so hopefully we can make some more in September.”
In addition to McDavid and McLellan’s North American squad, there will be another hybrid team comprised of players from various European nations, including Germany’s Draisaitl and Slovakia’s Sekera. Denmark, Switzerland, Slovenia, Austria and Norway are also represented on the all-star instalment from across the pond.
Much like Korpikoski, the veteran blueliner Sekera has an impressive international resumé. The 29-year-old has competed for Slovakia at the U-18s, World Junior, World Championships and the Olympics in 2010 (Vancouver) and 2014 (Sochi). He won’t be wearing his nation’s colours this time around, but he’s still humbled and excited.
“It’s a little bit different with Team Europe, but it’s an honour for me and I’m looking forward to it,” Sekera said. “It’s always taking pride representing your family and your country.”
Veterans like Sekera make up the bulk of Team Europe’s roster, which includes fellow Slovakians Zdeno Chara and Marian Hossa. On the flip side, 20-year-old Draisaitl is the youngest of the 16 players named on Wednesday, and he can’t wait to soak in the experience of his elder teammates.
“It’s a big honour to be on this team and be part of a great event like that,” he said. “That’s how you learn, that’s how you get better, being around those guys that have went through the same kind of thing. I’m going to have some good sources at that tournament.”
Draisaitl mentioned Slovenia native Anze Kopitar specifically as one player he’s looking forward to playing with.
“Kopitar is definitely the biggest guy I’m looking forward to meeting and being around,” he said. “He’s one of my favourite players and always has been. He’s someone I kind of model my game after, so it’ll be exciting to be around him.”