Florida Panthers defenceman Aaron Ekblad said it would be a mistake for the other teams in the World Cup of Hockey 2016 to take the youthful Team North America lightly.
"There is a lot of speed and a lot of talent on our team," Ekblad said. "I think it all comes down to how we jell as a team led by [coach] Todd McLellan and the rest of the coaching staff. I think we'll do fine."
Team North America adds a new wrinkle to international hockey, a group featuring the top players from the United States and Canada age 23 or younger. It will play in Group B along with Team Finland, Team Russia and Team Sweden.
The eight-team tournament will be held at Air Canada Centre in Toronto from September 17-October 1.
Although Team North America could be at a disadvantage because of its youth and relative inexperience, co-general managers Peter Chiarelli (Oilers) and Stan Bowman (Chicago Blackhawks) have selected a wealth of talent.
Among the players on the team are Ekblad, the 2015 Calder Trophy winner; defenceman Shayne Gostisbehere (Philadelphia Flyers), the runner-up for the 2016 Calder; goaltender Matt Murray, who helped the Pittsburgh Penguins win the 2016 Stanley Cup; centres Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel (Buffalo Sabres), the first two picks of the 2015 NHL Draft; and Auston Matthews (Toronto Maple Leafs), the top pick of the 2016 draft.
"It's exciting," McDavid said. "There are a lot of good young players that have a lot of speed and skill. I think we have the ability to surprise some teams."
Playing for Team North America gives some players the opportunity to skate with, instead of against, some of their peers. McDavid said he welcomes the chance to play with Matthews; McDavid (Canada) and Matthews (U.S.) were opponents at the 2015 IIHF World Junior Championship and the 2016 IIHF World Championship.
"I don't really know too much about him," McDavid said. "Obviously, he goes first overall and I heard all the hype. I have only played against him twice, and he's a very good player. I think he'll do well in the League."
McDavid said he isn't doing anything out of the ordinary to prepare for the tournament.
"I'm just training for the season," he said. "Obviously, the tournament is going to start a little bit earlier than most guys are used to, but I'm used to playing junior (where training camps start earlier than the NHL) … so to me it is basically a junior start. Nothing has really changed and I'm just preparing as if it's another year."
McDavid was third in Calder voting last season despite being limited to 45 games because of a broken left clavicle sustained November 3. He had 16 goals and 48 points, and his 1.07 point-per-game average was third among players to play in at least 40 games, behind Patrick Kane of the Blackhawks (1.29) and Jamie Benn of the Dallas Stars (1.09).
Asked how he thought Team North America would do against older competition, McDavid said there's a "quiet confidence" among the group.
"That's really up in the air right now," he said. "We haven't been all together yet. But in talking with some of the guys, I think everyone has a quiet confidence. At the same time, I think we all understand we're the young bucks, the young guys, and nobody is really expecting too much from us. We'll see how it goes, but I think everyone is excited."
Ekblad said he's very much looking forward to Team North America's first game in pool play, against Team Finland on September 18 (6 p.m. MDT).
"I am very, very pumped to be a part of this tournament," he said. "I mean, it's the World Cup of Hockey, something that hasn't been around for a long time, and the players on [Team North America] think that we have a decent opportunity to make a splash in the tournament."