Leon-Draisaitl (Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images)
Los Angeles' Anze Kopitar will be the best player on the squad, but a youngster with similar attributes will also be there. Can Edmonton's Leon Draisaitl make the most of his time with the big Slovenian?
Team Europe may be the misfits of this year's World Cup tournament, drawing a roster from a number of nations deemed too small for their own squad, but there will be some great intrigue on the team.
First and foremost, there is the potential mentorship of young Oilers center Leon Draisaitl by big pivot Anze Kopitar of the Kings. Kopitar will be the best player on the team and a potential captain, but he also plays a dominating two-way style that scouts believed Draisaitl could emulate when he was up for the draft in 2014.
As it turns out, Edmonton nabbed the big German kid third overall and two seasons later, he has already become a potent force for the Oilers. Though he started the campaign in the AHL, Draisaitl caught fire once he was called up at the end of October, scoring 17 points in his first 10 games.
"Before the season he was probably a long shot," said Team Europe GM Miroslav Satan. "But he caught everyone's attention. He has been one of Edmonton's best players and hopefully he can be one of our best players as well."
Chemistry will obviously be Europe's biggest obstacle, since the players will be coming from a number of national programs. Satan estimated that around half the team will end up being from Slovakia and Switzerland, but he noted that coach Ralph Krueger is an expert on leadership and that will be important. Especially because the players for Team Europe also have Olympic qualification games to play this summer, before World Cup camp. The Slovakians and Swiss don't have to worry about those games, but everyone else does and the possibility of injury from those ranks is real.
In the end, Kopitar will be the key up front. He has already helped tiny Slovenia to a surprise Olympic showing in Sochi and now he'll have a much better cast around him. As for a quick mentorship of Draisaitl, Satan likes the concept.
"I hope so," he said. "We also have Frans Nielsen at center, who I know from the New York Islanders, so we have three solid centers who hopefully can be our core."
As a GM, Satan certainly has the hardest job in this tournament and the former NHLer said that he has watched more hockey this year than he ever had in his life, mostly taking in Rangers and Islanders games and waiting for key players to come to New York as the visitors.
"I'd love if there was someone I could call for advice," he said. "But no one has ever done this before."
On the back end, Europe will have one of the top emerging defenders in the game in Nashville's Roman Josi, who can rely on grizzled vets Zdeno Chara and Mark Streit for pointers - though he probably doesn't need much guidance at this point. It's going to be a hard road for Europe, but it will be interesting to see how they come together.
And worst-case scenario, Draisaitl will get a chance to play on a big stage and do so with a player he could rival in a few years, Anze Kopitar.