The World Cup of Hockey rosters are set. Each of the eight teams taking part in the tournament in Toronto this September revealed its final seven players on Friday, completing the full 23-man World Cup rosters. Barring injury — or, in the case of Russian defenseman Slava Voynov, possible league intervention — these players will be entrusted with reviving the once-dormant event.
Were there surprises among the final roster announcements? Controversy? Of course. We wouldn’t have it any other way.
Here’s a look at the final decisions for each team — and their implications.
Team USA general manager Dean Lombardi didn’t leave much doubt about the kind of team he wants in Toronto to take on the world’s best — a through-the-boards, in-your-face, beat-’em-in-the alley kind of squad. Lombardi added hard-nosed forwards Ryan Callahan (a two-time Olympian), Brandon Dubinsky (who was perhaps brought on board just to antagonize Canada’s Sidney Crosby) and David Backes (another two-time Olympian). No Phil Kessel. No Kyle Palmieri, one of the top-scoring U.S. forwards this season. And — in perhaps the biggest surprise — no Tyler Johnson, who I would have penciled in as the No. 1 or 2 center on the American squad. Johnson was an integral part of the Tampa Bay Lightning team that took the Pittsburgh Penguins to seven games in the Eastern Conference finals.
If Team USA is going to win, it will have to score about 90 percent of its goals from 2 feet out or less. Lombardi also went off the grid with his final defensive selections. Lombardi turned back the clock to 2010 in naming Jack Johnson and Erik Johnson to the defensive corps along with Matt Niskanen (another surprise addition). Both Johnsons were key parts of the U.S. team that lost to Canada in the gold-medal game at the Vancouver Games, but both were left off the ’14 Olympic team that emphasized mobility and offensive strength from its defensive corps. That leaves top offensive defensemen Kevin Shattenkirk and Justin Faulk, who combined for 30 goals and 81 points during the regular season, off the roster. Cam Fowler, another smooth-skating defenseman from the Sochi team, was also left off. This heavier, more-defensive blue line puts an awful lot of pressure on guys like Ryan Suter and Dustin Byfuglien to produce offense from the back end. It might not matter, given the staunch defense that the Americans believe they will ice in this tournament.
There was much debate over how GM Doug Armstrong would assemble his blue-line corps, given the many strong options available to him. Clearly determined to keep an even split between right- and left-handed shots, Armstrong selected Alex Pietrangelo and Brent Burns — who is headed to his first Stanley Cup Finals with San Jose — over Kris Letang, P.K. Subban, Brent Seabrook and other talented right-handed shooting defenders.
Jake Muzzin was added as the final left-handed-shot defenseman ahead of Mark Giordano and Jay Bouwmeester, who won gold in Sochi. Up front, Matt Duchene and Brad Marchand, who won a gold with Canada at the world championship last week, were named to the World Cup team — proving that it does pay to answer the bell when Hockey Canada calls.
It’s not a surprise that Joe Thornton was named to the team, given his beast-like performance with San Jose this spring, or that Claude Giroux found his way onto the roster after being shut out for Sochi. The plethora of talent up front for Canada left no room for two-time gold-medal winner Corey Perry, who had an up-and-down season for Anaheim. Taylor Hall, Ryan O’Reilly and Brendan Gallagher are other prominent players who didn’t make the grade.
Team North America
So, what kind of reception do you think consensus No. 1 overall draft prospect Auston Matthews will get when he skates onto the ice for the Young Guns’ squad at the Air Canada Center? Big. Yes, the young man who is expected to be selected first in June by the Toronto Maple Leafs should get a rousing reception.
The fact that he was included on the roster is still a bit of a surprise. But it isn’t as big of a shock as the fact that Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, who plays for Team North America GM Peter Chiarelli’s Edmonton Oilers, was selected ahead of Robby Fabbri, who is coming off a dynamite playoff year for the St. Louis Blues, and Boone Jenner, a tough-as-nails winger who would have added a layer of grit to the skilled, youthful squad. Another interesting selection was Jonathan Drouin, who has put a turmoil-filled regular season behind him to mount an outstanding playoff run with the Lightning. It’s no surprise, however, that rookie of the year nominee Shayne Gostisbehere is among the defenders added to this team.
The Russians have already created controversy by adding Voynov, the former Los Angeles Kings defenseman who was suspended for most of the 2014-15 season after domestic abuse charges. It is unlikely that he will be allowed to play. Team Russia also did not open up roster spots for two former NHL players, Ilya Kovalchuk and Alexander Radulov. Radulov is looking to return to the NHL next season, while Kovalchuk is a former national team captain, and his exclusion speaks to the rift that has grown between the former NHL star and Russia’s hockey brass.
In spite of an injury-plagued season in Los Angeles, veteran sniper Marian Gaborik found himself named to Team Europe. It was a bit of a surprise that he was chosen over a young speedster like Nikolaj Ehlers, who plays for European squad assistant coach Paul Maurice in Winnipeg. Team Euro appears to be big on veteran presence but not so big on durability.
Pittsburgh Penguins teammates Patric Hornqvist and Carl Hagelin are having productive postseasons, and this clearly contributed to their selection to a powerful Swedish roster. Hornqvist is an in-the-trenches player who has meshed well with Pittsburgh captain Sidney Crosby, while Hagelin, one of the fastest players in the game, has been dynamic playing alongside Kessel and Nick Bonino. The one minor surprise, perhaps, was the addition of big Mattias Ekholm of the Nashville Predators, who is one of the most underappreciated defensemen in the NHL. He was taken ahead of Dallas’ offensively gifted John Klingberg, who had a mostly disappointing playoff run, with four points in 13 games and a minus-5 rating.