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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
In the world of international hockey, there has been a steady growth in the competitiveness of every country outside of the United States and Canada. While the gape between those countries and the rest of the world isn’t as wide in the Men’s game as it is in the Women’s game, the gap is becoming more narrow on both fronts. Where the Men’s game has a “big five” in Canada, the U.S., Russia, Sweden, and Finland, there have been major strides coming from countries like Slovakia, Germany, Latvia, and Czechia to open the door to a wider-range of competition. There’s a lot to like about this hypothetical 2023 edition of Team Czechia for the World Cup of Hockey with a few returning names from the 2016 roster.
Pavel Zacha – Thomas Hertl(A) – David Pastrňák(C)
Ondřej Palát(A) – Martin Nečas – Dominik Kubalík
Filip Zadina – Filip Chytil – Jakub Vrána
David Kämpf – Radek Faksa – Tomas Nosek
Martin Kaut – Ondrej Kase
I think this top to bottom forwards group is very well-balanced. You have a lot of scoring power in the top-six with guys like Pastrňák, Hertl, Nečas, and Kubalík (on his good days), and then you pair that with a bottom-six that has scoring options in Zadina and Vrána mixed with depth defensively responsible players like Faksa and Kämpf. I think there’s very few holes that opposition could poke into this Team Czechia forwards group, and that’s good news for this team because the offensive forwards core is going to have to carry them in this World Cup of Hockey tournament.
Filip Hronek – Jan Rutta
Radko Gudas – Radim Simek
David Jiříček – Jakub Zbořil
Stanislav Svozil – Libor Hájek
Yeeesh. Not the best crop of defensemen to choose from for this hypothetical 2023 Team Czechia. Hronek is a very underrated NHL top-four defenseman who has experience eating a lot of minutes and tough responsibilities from his time playing with the Red Wings before being moved to the Canucks this past season. Rutta, a former Blackhawk, is past his best days in the NHL when he was playing a more prominent role on Cup-winning Tampa Bay teams, but is still serviceable in the NHL and, sort of by default, makes him a top-pair option for Czechia. There’s a lot to like in youngsters like Jiříček and Svozil, but that’s reaching for this defensive group.
Again, not the cream of the crop in NHL talent for Team Czechia in net. Some very good backup-quality NHL netminders here, with Vaněček feeling like the most reliable to me. This could be a spin the wheel each game and see who you land on kind of situation for the Czechs, and really no option would be wrong. They’re just isn’t one that is great.
Lukas Sedlak, Jakub Lauko, Petr Mrázek
This is a roster for the Czechs that could score well in this hypothetical 2023 World Cup of Hockey tournament and provide some highlights, but stopping the opposition and stopping the puck could prove to be their downfall. Not sure how they still would stack-up against the likes of a Team Canada or Team USA, but this could also be a team that is one hot goaltending run away from making noise beyond a group stage setting, which they did not advance beyond in the 2016 tournament.
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