Good friends Nathan MacKinnon and Seth Jones should compete together on the North American Youngstars squad. (Getty Images)
The World Cup of Hockey 2016 includes a North American youngstars team of players 23 and younger. Who will make the cut?
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Rielly's offensive creativity will play well if the Youngstars coaches pair him with a boomer like Ekblad on the power play.
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.
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
He just makes the age cutoff. He'll bring defensive maturity and penalty-killing acumen to the forward corps.
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.
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.
'Chucky' could be an impact player for the Youngsters. A lot depends on how much his game progresses over the next calendar year.
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.
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.
He's slowly growing more confident on an improving Florida Panthers club. He'll be asked to play on a Youngstars scoring line.
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.
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.
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.
Monahan could captain this team. He excels at both ends of the ice, and his scoring touch has improved rapidly in Year 2.
With his playmaking polish, 'The Nuge' is the favorite to center the Youngstars' first line.
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…
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
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Matt Larkin is an associate editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blog. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Matt Larkin on Twitter at @THNMattLarkin