Edmonton Oilers' Connor McDavid is congratulated by Colorado Avalanche's Nathan...

Edmonton Oilers' Connor McDavid is congratulated by Colorado Avalanche's Nathan MacKinnon, left to right, Pittsburgh Penguins' Sidney Crosby and Toronto Maple Leafs' Auston Matthews after winning the NHL All-Star hockey skills competition in Toronto, Friday, Feb. 2, 2024. Sidney Crosby, Connor McDavid and Nathan MacKinnon have never played together internationally for Canada. Same for Auston Matthews, Jack Eichel and Matthew Tkachuk with the U.S. That is finally set to change next year at the 4 Nations Face-Off, an international tournament precursor to the 2026 Milan Olympics that marks the return of NHL players to that world stage. Credit: AP/Frank Gunn

Sidney Crosby, Connor McDavid and Nathan MacKinnon have never played together for Team Canada. Same for Auston Matthews, Jack Eichel and Matthew Tkachuk for Team USA.

That will change next year at the 4 Nations Face-Off, an international tournament that will also feature Finland and Sweden. All four countries named their first six players for the NHL-run event scheduled for February in Montreal and Boston. It will be a precursor to the 2026 Milan Olympics, which will mark the return of NHL players for the first time since 2014.

“It’ll be good preparation,” said Crosby, a two-time Olympic champion with Canada. “The fact that they’re close together, I think that helps and I think with that being fresh in people’s minds and when they get to see this event and then follow it up with the Olympics, there’s a lot to be excited about.”

USA Hockey chose Matthews, Eichel, Tkachuk and defensemen Quinn Hughes, Charlie McAvoy and Adam Fox. Hockey Canada went with the obvious three — Crosby, McDavid and MacKinnon — along with Cale Makar, Brad Marchand and Brayden Point.

“These first six possess an immense amount of talent and will serve as a solid core for our team,” U.S. general manager Bill Guerin said Friday.

More announcements are ahead. Each of the four teams can have 23 NHL players, including three goaltenders.

“I think it’s going to be extremely competitive,” Matthews said. “Best on best is something that guys have really been kind of wanting for a while. I think it’s just great for the game.”

Florida Panthers defenseman Gustav Forsling kisses his wife Daniela as...

Florida Panthers defenseman Gustav Forsling kisses his wife Daniela as he places his five-month-old son Bo on the Stanley Cup trophy, Tuesday, June 25, 2024, in Sunrise, Fla. The Panthers defeated the Oilers 2-1 to win the Stanley Cup. Credit: AP/Wilfredo Lee

Guerin, who is the Minnesota Wild GM, has a good problem to have in goal choosing among Jeremy Swayman, Jake Oettinger, Thatcher Demko and Vezina Trophy winner Connor Hellebuyck.

Canada has to figure out who will stop the puck a decade after Carey Price backstopped the country to Olympic gold in Sochi.

“There's going to be tough decisions at every position, and goaltending obviously is one that’s always going to be under the microscope for any team but especially with it being Canada and with Carey having been there previously,” Crosby said. “He’s a guy that’s not easily replaceable, but I think there’s a lot of guys capable of doing that.”

Scoring should not be a problem.

Edmonton Oilers' Connor McDavid celebrates the team's win over the...

Edmonton Oilers' Connor McDavid celebrates the team's win over the Florida Panthers in Game 4 of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup Final, Saturday, June 15, 2024, in Edmonton, Alberta. Credit: AP/JASON FRANSON

"These are six world-class players and leaders on their NHL teams that we can build a strong and successful team around,” said GM Don Sweeney, who runs the NHL's Boston Bruins. “Sidney, Nathan, Cale, Brad, Connor and Brayden have been successful at various levels of their professional and international careers, and we look forward to all six being key contributors to our team as we look to win on the international stage next season.”

Finland, the defending Olympic champion from 2022 when the league canceled plans to send players because of pandemic-related scheduling issues, headlined its initial roster with Aleksander Barkov, who's fresh off captaining the Florida Panthers to the Stanley Cup. He is joined by fellow centers Mikko Rantanen and Sebastian Aho, goaltender Juuse Saros and defensemen Miro Heiskanen and Esa Lindell.

Sweden opened with forwards Mika Zibanejad, William Nylander and Filip Forsberg plus defensemen Victor Hedman, Erik Karlsson and Gustav Forsling, who also just hoisted the Cup with Barkov and Tkachuk.

“It’s a very big deal and I’m very proud of it,” Forsling said about the 4 Nations nod. “It’s very surreal to be honest. Even the last week here, it’s been very emotional and it’s an unbelievable feeling. It’s nothing I take for granted. Something I've been working very hard for over the last couple of years here. just very honored.”

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AP Hockey Writer John Wawrow in Las Vegas contributed.

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