World Cup of Hockey 2016: Projecting the North American Youngstars

The World Cup of Hockey 2016 includes a North American youngstars team of players 23 and younger. Who will make the cut?
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The Hockey News

The Hockey News

The dust has finally settled on the next World Cup of Hockey, set to commence Sept. 17, 2016. The rumored format came to fruition, with the eight-team field including Canada, USA, Russia, Sweden, Finland, the Czech Republic, a Euro all-star squad and the North American Youngstars team.

The latter two groups are highly polarizing, of course. Will the Euro all-stars have any motivation to succeed without playing for their nations? Is the Youngstars team a cheap gimmick? I'm fine with both entries – It's not like we know this tournament replaces the Olympics – though it's surprising to learn any players 23 and younger can only play for the Youngstars. That means a Nathan MacKinnon or Johnny Gaudreau can't even make Canada and the U.S, respectively, on merit.

After forecasting Canada, the U.S. and the Euro all-stars, it's time for the difficult task of predicting the 23-and-under group. Here goes. I'll deploy 25 players again, even though the official designation is 23, as I'm factoring in the taxi squad members. Also worth noting: the league has not yet designated an age cutoff date. In this case, we'll go with players 23 and younger on Sept. 17.

GOALTENDERS (3)

Zach Fucale

Right off the bat, we see goaltending will be a weakness for the Youngstars. Nothing against Fucale, who looks like a future star, but he hasn't played one second of NHL hockey. Still, he's such a cool customer that it wouldn't be a shock to see him step in and stand on his head for a game.

John Gibson

Meet your Youngstars No. 1. It's pretty much carved in stone. Only three goalies have suited up in the NHL this season that will even be 23 or younger in September 2016, and Gibson is the only North American of that group. He's one of the best two net minding prospects in the game, along with Tampa's Andrei Vasilevskiy, and Gibson at least has playoff experience at the sport's highest level. He also played amazingly well for the U.S. at the 2013 World Championship against many NHLers.

Malcolm Subban

Unlike Fucale, Subban has turned pro already, so he'll be that much more experienced a year from now. He's a superb athlete. He and Fucale will fight for the No. 2 job.

On the bubble: Eric Comrie, Thatcher Demko, Connor Hellebuyck, Anthony Stolarz

DEFENSEMEN (8)

Cody Ceci

Ceci slides into the bottom of this team's depth chart as a taxi squad member. He's still learning the game but has nice offensive upside.

Aaron Ekblad

The big fella made my original 2016 Team Canada before I learned he was ineligible. He's that good, and he'll be a bellcow on a blueline oddly loaded with right-shots.

Dougie Hamilton

Zdeno Chara's injury earlier this season forced Hamilton to develop a bit more in Boston. He's a do-it all type with a big reach, a-la Alex Pietrangelo.

Seth Jones

Another big, rangy, smooth-skating right shot. Expectations were so high for Jones as a rookie that it's easy to forget he's still only 20. He'll have three full seasons under his belt by the 2016 World Cup. Who knows how good he'll be by that point? I'm guessing very.

Ryan Murray

Murray isn't as beastly as some other Youngstar D-men, but he'll bring smarts and great mobility to what should be an excellent top six.

Morgan Rielly

Rielly's offensive creativity will play well if the Youngstars coaches pair him with a boomer like Ekblad on the power play.

Damon Severson

He played more minutes per game than Ekblad this season before injuring his ankle. Severson can play in all situations and also brings more of an edge to his game than some of the other Youngstars D-men.

Jacob Trouba

Trouba cracked my original U.S. roster before the official rules disqualified him. He can make big plays on offense and he's a thunderous hitter who makes forecheckers pay for every step.

On the bubble: Nathan Beaulieu, Frank Corrado, Darnell Nurse, Jamie Oleksiak, Xavier Ouellet, Griffin Reinhart

FORWARDS (14)

Sean Couturier

He just makes the age cutoff. He'll bring defensive maturity and penalty-killing acumen to the forward corps.

Jonathan Drouin

To really compete with the powerhouse nations, the Youngstars have to take some chances. Drouin isn't a complete player yet but has the creativity to explode any game. He could get hot in a short tourney with the right linemates.

Jack Eichel

Call it a hunch. Eichel underwhelmed at the world juniors, but he wasn't even drafted yet and had captain duties heaped upon him. Let's see how he does at the WJC next year. Actually, scratch that. His NHL team won't let him go. He's that good.

Alex Galchenyuk

'Chucky' could be an impact player for the Youngsters. A lot depends on how much his game progresses over the next calendar year.

Johnny Gaudreau

Gaudreau would've made my Team USA if he was allowed. Defensemen have a devil of a time figuring out his shiftiness. He can create scoring chances for himself, and he's a pure winner wherever he goes.

Bo Horvat

Will contend with Couturier for checking center duties. He impressed the Canucks enough that they deemed him indispensable and held him out of the 2015 world juniors.

Jonathan Huberdeau

He's slowly growing more confident on an improving Florida Panthers club. He'll be asked to play on a Youngstars scoring line.

Boone Jenner

The Youngstars forwards have speed to burn but lack grit. Jenner, a heart-and-soul player who can hit and score, fills that void a bit. If only there was room for Tom Wilson on this team, too. I'll squeeze a square peg into a round hole and make Jenner crash and bang from the right wing. This team has too many natural centers and left-handed shooters up front.

Nathan MacKinnon

MacKinnon should be back on the path to superstardom by next year and should be the face of the Youngstars, along with Connor McDavid. MacKinnon has the talent to make Team Canada, but he isn't eligible.

Connor McDavid

Keep in mind that this tournament is for the NHL and partially about generating revenue. I don't see McDavid being left off this team unless he doesn't make the pros next year… Yeah, right.

Sean Monahan

Monahan could captain this team. He excels at both ends of the ice, and his scoring touch has improved rapidly in Year 2.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins

With his playmaking polish, 'The Nuge' is the favorite to center the Youngstars' first line.

Brandon Saad

Saad hasn't broken out as much as expected this season. Still, he's a blossoming power forward and a virtual lock to make this team. If he's good enough for Chicago's first line…

Ryan Strome

Little brother Dylan lives in McDavid's shadow with Erie, and Ryan gets forgotten behind John Tavares on Long Island. Not for long. Ryan has tremendous scoring upside and a mean streak to boot.

On the bubble: Max Domi, Anthony Duclair, Curtis Lazar, Anthony Mantha, Sam Reinhart, Mark Scheifele, Tom Wilson

PRELIMINARY DEPTH CHART

Goaltender

Gibson

Subban

Fucale

Defense

Ekblad

Trouba

Hamilton

Murray

Jones

Rielly

Severson

Ceci

Left wing

Saad

Gaudreau

Huberdeau

Galchenyuk

Drouin

Center

Nugent-Hopkins

McDavid

Monahan

Couturier

Horvat

Right wing

MacKinnon

Strome

Jenner

Eichel

Matt Larkin is an associate editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blogFor more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazineFollow Matt Larkin on Twitter at @THNMattLarkin

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