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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
Previous teams: Team Europe
Ah yes, the dream lives on that the best Under-23 players in North America get to have their own space to play the best of the rest in the world in this next hypothetical edition of the World Cup of Hockey. In 2016, hockey fans got to see Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews play on a team together with the likes of Nathan MacKinnon, Jack Eichel, Aaron Ekblad, and many others. In 2023, a handful of the last No. 1 overall draft picks get to play together on a squad that could once again make serious noise in this style of tournament.
Trevor Zegras – Jack Hughes(C) – Cole Caufield(A)
Adam Fantilli – Matty Beniers – Connor Bedard(A)
Matt Boldy – Dylan Cozens – Dawson Mercer
Barrett Hayton – Mason McTavish – Wyatt Johnston
Logan Cooley – Kent Johnson
I had to wipe my laptop keep board after typing out this lineup from all the drool coming out of my mouth thinking about the absolutely insane amount of skill and creativity this forwards group could have. Get your mind out of the gutter!
The top line of Zegras, Hughes, and Caufield are all top performers from the U.S. Development Program and have become young studs in the NHL already. Plus, the trio seem to be best buddies if you look at all the time they spend together from their Instagram accounts. Then on the second-line you have the latest Calder Trophy winner and two of the top three picks in the 2023 NHL draft with Bedard and Fantilli. It’s an insane forwards group that would be must-see hockey TV.
K’Andre Miller – Noah Dobson
Owen Power – Bowen Byram
Jake Sanderson – Luke Hughes
Cam York – Braden Schneider
I love this group, too. There’s a ton of balance in the group with guys who can play effectively at both ends. There’s not a huge need for the defensive group to play big offensive roles, but players like Byram, Hughes, and Hutson could drive offense from the blue-line if they wanted to. But with the forwards group put together, focusing on the defensive part of the game would be the bigger need from this group.
**NOTE: I left out Quinn Hughes because he is going to turn 24 years old just days after the NHL regular season begins. Plus, you’ll see Quinn Hughes later this week.
Now here’s a big question-mark for this group. The three D’s of Dustin, Devon, and Drew are all young up-and-coming goaltenders with a ton of promise to their games, but none have had big opportunities to prove it at the NHL level yet. If I were to pick a starter out of these three, I’m going with the guy who has done the most at the professional level in Dustin Wolf. He’s a two-time AHL goaltender of the year award winner at the ripe-old age of 22. This could be the make or break for Team North America in the 2023 edition of the World Cup of Hockey.
**NOTE: I left out Spencer Knight because of his current up-in-the air status in the NHL while being in the Player Assistance Program.
Cole Sillinger, Alexis Lafrenière, Quinton Byfield
Of course the age difference and relative inexperience when it comes to playing against top professional-level competition comes into play with Team North America here. But like the 2016 edition of the team, I’d be shocked if this hypothetical 2023 World Cup of Hockey edition didn’t make a run outside of the group stage and deep into the knockout round. Seeing Connor Bedard playing alongside guys like Zegras, Caufield, the Hughes brothers, and Boldy would be awesome to see before he eventually gets to dominate against them once everyone involved graduates to playing for Team USA and Team Canada respectfully.
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