It has been far too long since the world of men’s hockey has seen a quality “best-on-best” tournament. This week marks seven years since the beginning of the 2016 World Cup of Hockey, the last tournament that saw the best men’s players in the world representing their countries (most of them) and putting on a world-class display of talent. The tournament in 2016 was the revival of the World Cup of Hockey that was previously played in 1996 and in 2004, and took place right before NHL teams began training camp ahead of the 2016-17 season. It was the last time a tournament like it has been played for the men’s game with the NHL not participating in the 2018 or 2022 Winter Olympics. For far too long, we as hockey fans have been robbed of seeing these players play for something incredibly meaningful in a best-on-best setting and the players have been barred from representing their countries in meaningful ways.
With the rumors that the NHL would be participating again in the olympics in 2026 swirling, and the “plan” for the World Cup of Hockey to return as an in-season tournament in 2025, it got me thinking about who could play in that tournament and which Blackhawks, if any, would be representing their countries? But why wait for a hypothetical 2025 or 2026 roster? Let’s live in the here and now.
How would the rosters look, right now, if the World Cup of Hockey were to return this September?
For this exercise, I’m implementing two rules:
1) The 2016 “Nations” (USA, Canada, Russia, Sweden, Finland, Czechia, Team Europe, and Team North America) return
2) 25-player rosters to allow for expanded representation and roster rotation
Finally, we have reached the main attraction: Team USA.
WHO DO YOU PLAY FOR?!
For how much disappointment there has been for the Men’s best-on-best tournaments for the United States in their last two iterations, finishing fourth at the 2014 Winter Olympics and losing in the quarterfinals of the 2016 World Cup of Hockey, this squad feels like it is too freaking stacked to fail to place at this hypothetical 2023 edition of the tournament. In 2016, the goal was to build a team to beat Canada. In doing so, the U.S. forgot that they needed to build a team to win a short tournament format, not just one team. Hence the early exit. There is star power and depth in all areas of Team USA’s roster and damnit if they shouldn’t be the odds-on favorite in this exercise.
Jason Robertson – Auston Matthews(A) – Matthew Tkachuk(C)
Johnny Gaudreau – Dylan Larkin – Brady Tkachuk
Clayton Keller – Tage Thompson – Kyle Connor
Alex DeBrincat – Joe Pavelski – Jack Eichel
Alex Tuch – Jake Guentzel
Speed, scorers, flash, grit, dawgs. The U.S. forwards group has everything you need to win high-octane hockey games. Much like the Canadians and the Swedes, there will be star players in the NHL playing more depth roles that they are not used to doing, but they have the abilities to do. In Chicago, we saw Alex DeBrincat evolve his defensive game and play on the penalty-kill. No reason he couldn’t be a 40-goal scorer that can also play defensively in a fourth-line role for this short-style tournament. You have Mr. American hockey in Joe Pavelski right next to him too, so that helps as a guiding factor to players who are stars playing more selfless roles (cough* Jake Eichel *cough).
Clayton Keller absolutely deserves to be a key player in this lineup because if he were not playing for the Coyotes, he would be a household hockey name that everyone would know. All this before acknowledging that Auston Matthews and Matthew Tkachuk get to play together on a top-line that also is complemented by Jason Robertson, so choose who you want to try and stop, opposition, and be wrong with every choice you make.
Gah, this team would be sick!
Quinn Hughes – Adam Fox
Jaccob Slavin(A) – Charlie McAvoy
Zach Werenski – John Carlson
Jacob Trouba – Noah Hanifin
Alongside the Canadians, this is the best defensive group in the tournament. Norris Trophy winner Adam Fox and probable future-Norris Trophy winner Quinn Hughes make the top-pair for the American blue-line. Hughes, who could technically qualify for the U-23 Team North America, deserves the promotion to the full Team USA experience, and the Americans absolutely need him, frankly. Behind them, oh just two No. 1-caliber defensemen that could play a shutdown role with Carolina’s Jaccob Slavin and Boston’s Charlie McAvoy. Behind them on the American third-pair, oh just another pair of No. 1-caliber defensemen in Washington’s John Carlson and Columbus’ Zach Werenski.
Honestly, each of these three pairs could rotate as top, middle, and bottom pair and I wouldn’t be worried at all about minutes distribution or responsibility at all.
There’s some debate who could or should be the No. 2 and No. 3 goalies on the American roster, but there is absolutely no debate who the top goalie is. Connor Hellebuyck is the guy for Team USA until he is not. He finally gets his chance to backstop the U.S. in a best-on-best format and I think, because of how the United States and Canada matchup, he’s the difference-maker when it comes to who should be the favorite in the tournament. Forget everything I said at the end of my piece yesterday talking about Team Canada. Their goaltending is going to cost them the tournament and it will be Hellebuyck and the Americans taking advantage of that weak spot in their lineup!
U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A!
Patrick Kane, J.T. Miller, Justin Faulk
It hurts to not have Patrick Kane on this roster, it really does. He was originally on it as an extra forward on the first draft, but after considering that even with this being a hypothetical situation, his injury recovery and lack of being on an NHL team at the time this tournament would take place made me reconsider and eventually take him off the roster. Sorry, Patrick.
Again, as I said just a minute ago in the goaltending portion, the forwards and defensive groups are as stacked as the Canadians and the difference comes in net. That’s where this U.S. roster goes above the Canadians for me as the favorites. Am I biased by my birthplace? Sure. But I still think most objective-thinking hockey fans could and would see the same thing in the two rosters. When you compare those two nations, and then add in the Swedish, Russian, and Finnish teams as well in the “Big Five” group, Team USA should still be looked at as the slim-favorite in the whole hypothetical World Cup of Hockey.
Now if only these rosters could actually play each other…We continue to wait.