Projecting favorites for the World Cup

In September 2016, the National Hockey League will bring back something hockey fans have been missing for more than a decade: an NHL-sanctioned international tournament. Eight teams will participate, including a 23-and-under “Young Guns” team.

In anticipation of the tournament, ESPN’s reporters put together their projected rosters. Each team will put 16 names on their roster by March 1, with the balance of the 23-man rosters to be named by June 1.

We used Tom Awad’s 2015-16 goals versus threshold (GVT) statistics and this season’s puck possession (relative Corsi) numbers to look into which predicted lineups are the favorites, contenders and long shots.

Note: Click on any of the team names to be taken to the article discussing how the projected rosters were devised.


Team Canada

Total GVT: 116.9

The Canadians have won the last two gold medals at the Olympics and rolled over the competition at the World Championships. They will enter the World Cup as the far-and-away favorites. The roster is so stacked that Canada’s fourth line could easily be the top line for almost any of the other competitors.

Canada brings back some future Hall of Famers in Sidney Crosby and Jonathan Toews, but they also have the league’s top young(ish) superstars in John Tavares, Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin. The Canadians also sport last season’s No. 1 goaltender and a defense with seven elite-level players. Good luck to the rest of the world!

Team Sweden

Total GVT: 84.9

The Swedes may not have the depth of Team Canada, but they can match up with the high-end talent, especially on the blue line. Erik Karlsson has two Norris Trophies and has established himself as one of the all-time great offensive defenseman. Tampa Bay’s Victor Hedman pushed his name to the top of the league with a terrific performance in the Stanley Cup finals last spring.

In goal, Sweden has Henrik Lundqvist, the netminder who’s currently ranked No. 1 in the NHL in GVT. Even if the Swedes are behind Canada in overall talent, a great goaltending performance could even the score.

Team USA

Total GVT: 96.8

In the 2010 Olympics, when the Americans won the silver, they put together a club with a group of two-way forwards and relied on strong defense and goaltending. They will have to do that again to compete with the Canadians and Swedes here. It’s also no small consideration that several players who will skate for the Young Guns roster could have been difference-makers for this team.

Nevertheless, the likes of Zach Parise, Joe Pavelski, Ryan Kesler and Blake Wheeler may not be considered top scorers, but they are difficult to play against and are capable of slowing down the top skill players. Team USA will also have the most under-appreciated elite goalie in the NHL in Cory Schneider.


Team Russia

Total GVT: 47.1

The Russians can match up with the best of the best at forward as they roll out the greatest goal-scorer of the generation in Alex Ovechkin, along with future Hall of Famer Evgeni Malkin, former NHL dynamo (and current KHL dynamo)Ilya Kovalchuk, and a number of quality young players.

On the other hand, their defense group is one of the weakest in the tournament. Their top defenseman will be Andrei Markov, unless Nikita Zadorov takes huge leaps forward in his progression. In goal, Sergei Bobrovsky and Semyon Varlamov have both been down this season, but both have the skill to shut down any opposing offense on any given night.

Team Europe

Total GVT: 68.3

Several emerging Europeans make this club intriguing. Top Jets youngsterNikolaj Ehlers and rising Red Wings forward Tomas Tatar give Team Europe solid depth up front to back up the likes of superstars Marian Hossa and Anze Kopitar.

Defensively and in goal, this team may not be as strong as the other top contenders, unless Zdeno Chara finds the fountain of youth. Despite Jaroslav Halak‘s solid play with the Islanders, he is not on the level of Price, Lundqvist or the two Russian goalies.

Team North America (Young Guns)

Total GVT: 61.6

What they lack in experience, the Young Guns make up for with outrageous skills. Both Jack Eichel and Connor McDavid will have a season of NHL hockey under their belts and will be paired with uber-talented wingers. Max Domi has surprised many this season by jumping into The Show and becoming a top-notch scorer, and the same could be said for Dylan Larkin.

On defense, Aaron Ekblad won the Calder Trophy last season and has followed it up with a hot start to his sophomore campaign. The biggest question mark will be in goal, but John Gibson may end up being a top NHL goaltender — and in the mix for the senior-level USA squad — in the long term.

Long Shots

Team Finland

Total GVT: 35.5

You should never sleep on the Finns. Somehow it always seems like Team Finland outperforms expectations, but they will have a serious uphill climb if they are going to make any noise in this tourney.

Finland will rely on their young star defensemen Rasmus Ristolainen and Olli Maatta, and on elite-level goaltenders Tuukka Rask and Pekka Rinne. Up front, Finland’s top center Aleksander Barkov may put his name among the best two-way centers in the NHL soon, but there isn’t much for goal scoring within their forward group.

Team Czech

Total GVT: 55.9

While they are certainly a long shot, the Czech team is filled with underappreciated players. For a long time, David Krejci has been a standout playmaking, two-way center, but he has not received much of the limelight for his work in Boston. The same goes for Martin Hanzal, plying his trade in Arizona.

However, the Czech defense is the weakest of the tournament. It will be difficult for them to keep up.

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