An early assessment of the eight teams in the third World Cup of Hockey, which begins on Sept. 17 in Toronto:
WORLD CUP OF HOCKEY GROUP A
The clubhouse favorites. Playing at home, depth at every position from the net out, starting with Carey Price and Braden Holtby and a septet of top-shelf centers: Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews, John Tavares, Ryan Getzlaf, Claude Giroux, Patrice Bergeron and Steven Stamkos. Corey Perry replaced Jeff Carter. Some will move to the wing. Drew Doughty, Brent Burns and Shea Weber lead the defense. Coach Mike Babcock has five assistants, all NHL head coaches. Management passed on P.K. Subban, but that shouldn’t affect this powerhouse. You could put together a quality Team Canada II with players who didn’t make the cut.
Coach John Tortorella demands passion and physical play and will push them to their limits. In goal, Jonathan Quick returns, but Cory Schneider and Ben Bishop replace former Olympians Jimmy Howard and Ryan Miller, which is a plus. Ryan McDonagh, Ryan Suter and John Carlson are the three defense carryovers. Brooks Orpik and Paul Martin, both 35, are gone, as Erik Johnson and Dustin Byfuglien step up. Ten of the 13 forwards from Sochi are back — Phil Kessel and Ryan Callahan are recovering from surgery. Brandon Dubinsky, Kyle Palmieri and Dustin Abdelkader were added.
TEAM CZECH REPUBLIC
Veterans Jaromir Jagr and Patrik Elias won’t be around on this team in transition, and there aren’t many difference-makers on the roster. Captain Thomas Plekanec, Martin Hanzal, Ondrej Palat, and Jakub Voracek provide a solid core for coach Josef Jandac. But David Krejci (hip) had to bow out. It appears Petr Mrazek and Ondrej Pavelec will share goaltending duties. A couple young players to watch? KHL defenseman Michal Kempny, who joins the Blackhawks, and Bruins winger David Pastrnak.
With players from eight countries, will be there any sense of national pride? Three veterans in this collection will have to bring their A-games: Marian Hossa, Anze Kopitar and Marian Gaborik. The goaltending and defense are probably not strong enough to reach the semifinals. Coach Ralph Krueger, who played in Germany and coached in Switzerland and Austria, is chairman of Southampton FC of the Premier League. They may just be outgunned.
WORLD CUP OF HOCKEY GROUP B
Henrik Lundqvist, who had two shutouts in Sochi, may never play behind a better all-around defense than this one, with Victor Hedman, Erik Karlsson, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, et al., but is there enough scoring and size upfront? There are plenty of two-way forwards with speed, which benefits from the larger surfaces internationally, however, this tournament is in an NHL-sized rink. Coach Rickard Gronborg will need Lundqvist to shine again.
They have firepower for sure, and a new coach. Oleg Znarok, a three-time KHL coach of the year, replaced Zinetula Bilyaletdinov, who was fired after Russia lost to Finland in the quarterfinals in Sochi. Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, Pavel Datsyuk and Vladimir Tarasenko are joined by some young snipers: Evgeny Kuznetsov, Nikita Kucherov and Artemi Panarin. Only two defensemen return: Alexei Emelin and Andrei Markov, so the blueline could be an Achilles’ heel. Goaltenders Sergei Bobrovsky, Semyon Varlamov and Andrei Vasilevsky will be tested.
Won the bronze medal in Sochi, and four players have since retired: Teemu Selanne, the tournament MVP, Saku Koivu, and defensemen Sami Salo and Kimmo Timmonen. But Mikko Koivu, Valteri Filppula and goalie Pekka Rinne, who all missed the Olympics because of injuries, are back, and a crew of youngsters have moved in, including Rasmus Ristolainen, and forwards Patrik Laine, 18, a Calder Cup candidate; Joonas Donski, Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen. New coach Lauri Marjamaki, 39, has been the most successful coach in the country in the last few years.
TEAM NORTH AMERICA U23
A sleeper pick and a peek at the future of the U.S. and Canadian national teams. The squad has 12 Canadians and 11 Americans, all high draft selections. The clear question is in net: All three goalies have fewer than 100 games of NHL experience — although Matt Murray played for the Stanley Cup champ Penguins. It’s a tough draw in Group B. At the very least, a learning experience for the youngsters and a teaching moment for coach Todd McLellan and assistant Jon Cooper.