The World Cup's most disparate team is also its most desperate, as players from far-flung nations need to find chemistry...fast.
THN is rolling out team previews, twice a day, for each of the eight teams taking part in the World Cup.
- Saturday, Sept. 17 vs. United States
- Monday, Sept. 19 vs. Czech Republic
- Wednesday, Sept. 21 vs. Canada
IIHF World Ranking: NA
THN's Prediction: 7th
Question: What to do in the World Cup with the countries that aren’t on-ice superpowers? Answer: Form a conglomerate of the best players from those nations and call it Team Europe. Conclusion: To be determined, but we’d advise against holding your breath and expecting a happy ending.
There are doubts surrounding this mosaic, beginning with chemistry. Is a brief camp enough to gel a roster composed of players from several nations? Their only hope to make noise in the event is to work as a team, and the task of forming a cohesive unit falls to Ralph Krueger, a man who hasn’t coached at the highest level in a while.
The last time Krueger stood behind an NHL bench was 2012-13, when he helmed the Oilers. He’ll be assisted by Paul Maurice, who has a concrete NHL background, but the coaching choice is a puzzling one given how tall Krueger’s task is.
Also concerning for Europe are age and mobility. Europe’s roster is the oldest in the event at an average of 29.9 years, and that’s exacerbated on the blueline. The youngest defensemen are a pair of 26-year-olds, Roman Josi and Luca Sbisa, but as a group the rearguards average 32.6. A pair of Europe’s defensemen, Mark Streit and Zdeno Chara, are pushing 40. Foot speed on the blueline is a major issue and, more than any team, Europe may have to rely on the third forward helping defensively.
Fortunately, Europe has capable two-way forwards who can assist. Anze Kopitar is the freshly minted Selke Trophy winner, Marian Hossa’s backchecking is underrated and Frans Nielsen and Jannik Hansen are responsible in all zones. Spread those four across two lines and Europe has two units that can keep up at both ends of the ice.
There’s not much in the way of top-end scoring, however. Kopitar is expected to star, and familiarity playing with Kings teammate Marian Gaborik should help. But the offense thins as you descend the roster. Mats Zuccarello’s 26 goals in New York were the most last season for any Team Europe member, and that tied him for 42nd among NHL scorers.
In goal, a trio will share the crease. New Maple Leafs stopper Frederik Andersen was expected to get a lot of time but he's now out with an injury. Thomas Greiss’ strong performance with the Islanders could have him challenging for the starting gig. Jaroslav Halak knows how to steal the spotlight, too, so don’t be surprised if he gets time in the blue paint.
Success will only come for Europe if the roster comes together quickly under Krueger. It’s an untested recipe, one that could taste better than its ingredients but more likely to leave you wanting less.
LEON DRAISAITL is just getting his feet wet in the NHL, but he’s been fully submerged in international waters for a while. He played in his first major men’s tournament as an 18-year-old at the 2014 World Championship and finished as Germany’s third-highest scorer with one goal and four points in seven games. Draisaitl shone in Edmonton with a 19-goal, 51-point season and shapes up as a sleeper pick to be Europe’s star at the World Cup.
Team Europe needs a leader to emerge quickly, and the most likely candidate is Anze Kopitar. The lone Slovenian in the event, Kopitar is one of the most respected players in the NHL, not to mention one of its best two-way performers. The newly minted captain of the Kings will play 20-plus minutes a game, in all situations, and lead by example. In short, Europe will go as far as he takes them and might surprise some opponents.