As preparations for the World Cup of Hockey 2016 hit high gear leading up to the start of the tournament on 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 power-play unit.
In a tournament featuring so much talent, the ability to take advantage of power-play situations may be the difference between winning and losing.
So, who has the best man-advantage in the World Cup of Hockey 2016?
It appears to be a three-team race, according to a poll of NHL.com writers.
Sweden was voted the top unit in the tournament, receiving 52 points and three first-place votes; Canada finished second with 50 points and three first-place votes; and Russia was third with 44 points and one first-place vote.
Team Canada has four players who finished among the top 12 in the NHL in power-play scoring last season: San Jose Sharks defenseman Brent Burns (30 points), Sharks center Joe Thornton (29), Philadelphia Flyers center Claude Giroux (27) and Montreal Canadiens defenseman Shea Weber (26). Logan Couture, who has replaced Jamie Benn on the Team Canada roster, was tied for first in power-play points (11) in the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Team Sweden boasts three of the top 12 point-producers on the power play in the NHL last season, which would seem to be impressive until it's noticed that Team Canada has five in that top 12. That all adds up to talent that can produce on the power play.
But Arpon Basu, managing editor of LNH.com, said not to write off Team Sweden, led by Washington Capitals forward Nicklas Backstrom (30 power-play points last season), Arizona Coyotes defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson (27) and Ottawa Senators defenseman Erik Karlsson (26).
Basu points out a deadly power play was among the reasons Sweden won a silver medal at the 2014 Sochi Olympics.
"Sweden had the top power play at the Sochi Olympics, scoring seven goals on 21 opportunities, and it should be no different at the World Cup," he said. "Primarily powered by the firepower on the blue line with Karlsson, Ekman-Larsson and the Tampa Bay Lightning's Victor Hedman and Anton Stralman, Sweden complements the defensemen with Backstrom and Daniel Sedin and Henrik Sedin of the Vancouver Canucks. No one in the NHL has more than Backstrom's 125 power-play points during the past four seasons."
NHL.com staff writer Tom Gulitti said Team Russia could be a dark horse in this battle for power-play supremacy.
"Any power play with Alex Ovechkin of the Capitals, Evgeni Malkin of the Pittsburgh Penguins, former Detroit Red Wings great Pavel Datsyuk, Evgeny Kuznetsov of the Capitals, Nikita Kucherov of the Lightning, Artemi Panarin of the Chicago Blackhawks and Vladimir Tarasenko of the St. Louis Blues spread out across two units is going to be difficult to stop," Gulitti said. "Ovechkin is a power-play goal machine from his spot in the left circle. His 68 power-play goals during the past three seasons are 21 more than anyone else (Sharks forward Joe Pavelski has 47) in the NHL during that span."
The World Cup of Hockey 2016 begins Sept. 17 in Toronto and runs through Oct. 1. All games will be played at Air Canada Centre and will be televised by ESPN in the United States and Sportsnet and TVA Sports in Canada.
TEAM SWEDEN - 52 points (3 first-place votes)
TEAM CANADA - 50 points (3 first-place votes)
TEAM RUSSIA - 44 points (1 first-place vote)
TEAM NORTH AMERICA - 32 points
TEAM USA - 29 points
TEAM EUROPE - 20 points
TEAM FINLAND - 16 points
TEAM CZECH REPUBLIC - 7 points