Team North America, The Future is here.
Okay, as a hockey fan I am looking forward to the World Cup of hockey which starts tomorrow. One thing I was not expecting was looking forward to Team North America and how they would perform, having a U24 team in a tournament of the best players in the world sounded straight up useless to me at first. Not only are these young guys not as experienced as Team Canada or Team Finland, but North America isn't even a country, it's a continent and two countries will be represented, the sense of patriotism is missing. Canada, Sweden, US, Finland... they'll all crush North America, won't they?
No, nope, no way, Stoked is a tiny word that can't even hold a candle to what my true emotions are for this team now. Anyone who knows me well knows that I follow hockey, religiously. Every year I get excited for the new crop of guys from the juniors, European, and Collegiate ranks that get selected in The National Hockey League draft. The oldest guys on this team were drafted five years ago in 2011 and the youngest member, Auston Matthews is a generational American Talent who turns 19 tomorrow. TNA is stacked with first round picks and includes 6 of the last 7 first overall picks. There are young guys 24-27 who are in their prime and a few on the European squads that are under 24 but no team has as many players on its roster who are guaranteed to break out in the next few years as TNA does.
Connor McDavid was chosen by Head Coach Todd McLellan to be the captain of TNA and his Assistants are Sean Couturier and Aaron Ekblad. Sean is the grey beard of the group at the old age of 23, then Aaron at 20, and Connor at 19. Hockey is growing in America but Sidney Crosby remains the most notable name in the states as the best player in the world, well, just so everyone knows, Connor McDavid will be just as good, possibly better. Both Connor and Aaron gained exceptional player status at the age of 15 to play in the Ontario Hockey League, one whose rosters are dotted with 20 year old and sometimes 21 year old men, a league that does not normally allow players to be drafted until they are 16. Sean was drafted 8th overall in 2011 and is an up and coming two way forward on the Philadelphia Flyers. Connor will most likely becoming the next captain of the Edmonton Oilers before the age of 20, Aaron Ekblad will probably be a captain some day and Sean will have an increased role in Philly too. Connor accumulated above a point per game average in an injury shortened rookie season last year, impressive considering most rookies top out at around 50-60 points over 82 games, he scored 48 in just 45 games. Aaron is a two time All-Star in his first two seasons and won the Calder Memorial Trophy for rookie of the year in the 2014-2015 campaign. Sean Couturier is coming into his own and has potential to be a Selke winner (best defensive forward) in the future.
TNA's depth is undeniable, They have cup winners like winger Brandon Saad and goaltender Matt Murray. Aaron Ekblad and Johnny Gaudreau have each played two seasons in the league and made all star rosters both years, guys like Auston Matthews, Connor McDavid, and Jack Eichel will be perennial All stars possibly as soon as 2016-2017 and those are just the no brainers. Shayne Gostisbehere and Colton Parayko will join Ekblad as future Norris trophy (top defenseman) candidates. Jonathan Drouin, Nathan Mackinnon, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Morgan Rielly, Seth Jones, join Matthews, Eichel, and McDavid as top five picks in their respective draft years. The pedigree is there for this squad, and unlike other teams with pedigree, these guys are young and won't tire out as quickly as their counterparts. A guy like Dylan Larkin who made an all star team this past season as a rookie and won the fastest skater competition might spend games in the press box as a healthy scratch, which is absolutely absurd. John Gibson, a guy who has started for the Anaheim Ducks in net since 2013 when he was only 20 will serve as a back up to Matt Murray, a 22 year old netminder who backstopped the Penguins to a Stanley cup in 2016. These guys are fast, have endurance, and won't hit the prime of their careers for another season or two.
Connor McDavid started out his rookie season with 5 points in his first 12 games. Any other first year player would be fine having that kind of output but as the heir to the poster boy throne, it was quite underwhelming. Connor finished his first year with 48 points in 45 games which indicates an insane tear, putting him at 43 points over his last 33 games, something 10 year veterans would be envious of. When McDavid is on his game he is a top 5 player in the league. Connor did not put together much on the stat sheets in his pre tournament games so TNA will be looking at him to lead them and step up his play, I don't see there being any problem with that and McLellan has been mixing up his linemates, seeing who he would have chemistry with, one of his latest linemates being Auston Matthews. The best prospect to come out of America since Patrick Kane playing with the best prospect in Canada since Sidney Crosby sounds like the kind of thing I dream of on hockeyless summer nights, an explosion of talent that legitimately does not come together often in any pro sport, the closest comparison I can think of is the left side of the yankees infield in the mid to late 2000s. Some of these players could shy away from the spotlight and make vital mistakes. The trouble that TNA could have is if McDavid does not perform, I think he'll be fine.
My tame picks is for TNA to finish top four, hopefully medaling in their debut. I am going to spit some fire on this take because it is hot, my true and honest prediction is that TNA is going to win this thing, Team Europe and TNA are gimmicks but the latter actually has talent and potential. The smattering of nations put together for Team Europe is just dumb, and my theory throughout since the teams were announced is that Europe was added strictly so Anze Kopitar could play in the tournament, sorry Anze but you come from a dumb country that isn't a consistent hockey power and therefore you should not be able to participate. Are they going to play all 9 anthems after games that Europe wins? dumb just dumb, stupid, not about that. Sweden is skilled but their goal tending is suspect, their backups are not good and Lundqvist actually got pulled after getting shit on by the lowly Euros. Russia scares me but that's actually just Ivan Drago from Rocky IV, and I've seen international hockey so I know they'll most likely disappoint Putin. Team USA has nice depth and solid goalies so they will be a threat and Canada's lineup is basically a 25 and up version of TNA, just a stupid, disgusting array of talent. TNA lost to the Czechs in the pre tournament games but I'm sure they learned from that and it was just a minor setback to a major comeback.
-----TNA WINS GOLD-----