Top NHL Draft prospect Auston Matthews is now likely to make Team North America for the World Cup.
Auston Matthews did his part. Now let's see how Peter Chiarelli does his.
The presumptive top pick in this year's draft was all but written off as a roster possibility by the co-general manager of the under-23 Team North America squad back in March. "He's got an uphill road," Chiarelli said. And given Chiarelli's stated preference for experienced players to stack up against the elite competition at the upcoming World Cup of Hockey, it was easy to see where he was coming from.
But three months later, there's a different hue to Matthews' case. Now, he's a good bet to be named as one of the final seven members of the team.
Matthews took care of the things he could control, following up a strong season in the Swiss league (24-22-46 in 36 games) with a star turn at the World Championships. He led Team USA with six goals and nine points in 10 games.
And he might have caught a bit of a break, too. The World Cup tournament will be held from Sept. 17 to Oct. 2 in Toronto, so it didn't hurt his case when the Maple Leafs won the NHL draft lottery. Seeing as he's now the most anticipated player in franchise history, it makes good business sense to add Matthews' name to the marquee. The books might not be Chiarelli's concern, but this tournament becomes more marketable, and more compelling, if he's involved.
That's a tough break for other deserving players. Robby Fabbri of the St. Louis Blues emerged as a postseason star with his energy and scoring touch. Alex Galchenyuk scored 30 goals this season for the Montreal Canadiens. Vince Trocheck notched 25 in his first full campaign with the Florida Panthers. Max Domi tallied 52 points as a rookie, good for second on the Arizona Coyotes. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins of the Edmonton Oilers is a proven top-six center.
Any of these players would be worthy adds, but there's not enough room to take them all. That says a lot about the quality of a team that started out as a gimmick but now looks like a legitimate contender to medal.
Here's who we see completing the North American roster:
The Final 7
Auston Matthews, Zurich (Swiss league): He's Eric Lindros-lite, a mature-beyond-his-years kid who can compete against the world's best before he plays a single NHL game. He'll likely start out in a depth role, but could wind up as one of the key weapons on the North American side.
Mark Schiefele, Winnipeg Jets: Schiefele was a force at the just-completed Worlds, scoring four goals and nine points in nine games to help lead Canada to the championship. He's a strong skater with good size and great instincts, allowing him to slot effectively on any of the four lines.
Jonathan Drouin, Tampa Bay Lightning: When things have clicked this spring for the Lightning, Drouin's usually been in the middle of it. An electrifying playmaker, he and his old Halifax Mooseheads linemate Nathan MacKinnon could make magic together.
Boone Jenner, Columbus Blue Jackets: The toughest choice, but maybe the most sensible because of the versatility he brings to the group. Jenner is a 30-goal scorer who loves to get his hands dirty. He'll make an impact along the boards and in front of the net and will keep opposing forwards honest in the defensive zone.
Shayne Gostisbehere, Philadelphia Flyers: Yes, he'll have to play sheltered minutes to be effective, but that's a small price to pay considering what he can bring to offensive-zone starts and the power play. And he doesn't just score. He scores when it matters. Of his 17 goals this season, five tied the game and 10 put the Flyers in the lead. That knack for timeliness will come in handy.
Colton Parayko, St. Louis Blues: He's a right-handed shot who brings the element of size and physical menace that's missing from the original group. His composure during the playoffs suggests he's more than capable of stepping up to this level of play.
Dougie Hamilton, Calgary Flames: Experience gives Hamilton the edge over options like Jaccob Slavin, Cody Ceci, Jacob Trouba and Noah Hanifin. He's played in more than 250 NHL games and can contribute in all three zones.
Here's a look at how the lines/D pairs might work out:
Jonathan Drouin—Connor McDavid—Nathan MacKinnon
Johnny Gaudreau—Sean Monahan—Mark Schiefele
Boone Jenner—Jack Eichel—Dylan Larkin
Brandon Saad—Sean Couturier—JT Miller
Morgan Rielly—Aaron Ekblad
Ryan Murray—Seth Jones
Shayne Gostisbehere—Dougie Hamilton