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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
If there is anything to be said about the state of Finnish hockey is that it is so good at being unassumingly so good. There’s a ton of underrated star power on this hypothetical Finnish squad that I fail to find a hole in the roster that would be a weak spot in this tournament. Then again, I’m biased because I created the roster, but even still the Fins have a legitimate shot at not only making noise beyond the group stage at this made up World Cup of Hockey, but at reaching the final.
Teuvo Teräväinen – Aleksander Barkov(C) – Mikko Rantanen
Artturi Lehkonen – Sebastian Aho(A) – Patrik Laine
Erik Haula – Roope Hintz – Eeli Tolvanen
Mikael Granlund – Anton Lundell – Matias Maccelli
Kasperi Kapanen – Jesse Puljujärvi
Again, not a hole to be found in the forwards group. Mikko Rantanen had a real case to be made as a Hart Trophy candidate last season with the Colorado Avalanche and the slew of injuries they had to deal with. Rantanen was the go-to guy for long periods of the year for the Avalanche and he met every expectation along the way to a 55-goal, 105-point season. He’s the biggest scoring threat in this Finnish group up front that also boasts the universally underrated Aleksander Barkov at the top of the lineup and a solid separation of responsibility between the top and bottom-six forwards group.
Miro Heiskanen(A) – Henri Jokiharju
Esa Lindell – Rasmus Ristolainen
Olli Määttä – Jani Hakanpää
Juuso Välimäki – Niko Mikkola
So it might not be the best defensive group in the tournament, but the Finnish blue-line is no slouch itself. Anchored by former Blackhawks defenseman Henri Jokiharju and future-Norris Trophy winner Miro Heiskanen (he’ll get at least one before his prime is over, trust me). Jokiharju has turned into a fine top-four option in the NHL with the Buffalo Sabres and Heiskanen is, again, an underrated stud defenseman in Dallas. Another former Blackhawks defenseman helps fill out the starting group of six with Olli Määttä in a trip-pair role. The second-pair of Esa Lindell and Rasmus Ristolainen gives me a bit of pause, but they’re “fine” together.
You could make a case that one could just “take your pick” out of these three goaltending options for the Finnish squad, but to me the clear front-runner as starter is Nashville’s Juuse Saros. He’s a top-end NHL netminder that is the benchmark in the league currently for “undersized” goalies to emulate to break the stigma that you have to be a six-foot-six giant to be a successful goalie. Former Blackhawks goalie Anntti Rant also gets to suit up for hypothetical Team Finland and get a front-row seat to Saros.
Urho Vaakanainen, Joel Armia, Ville Husso
Finland has a solid squad in this hypothetical 2023 World Cup of Hockey. They have top NHL talent that all can be trusted to role-play in a best-on-best format. If Finland can have each player do their job and nothing more, you’d be talking about a well-oiled machine of a team that would “shock” people with a run deep in the tournament. Their only weakness would be if their workhorses like Barkov, Rantanen, or Heiskanen fall short of expectations.
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