|The All WJC Team - Cage Match Style|
After picking 10 forwards from just four nations I have clearly designated my favourite nations to win the tournament and have just two forward slots remaining for a dark horse nation. In my mind, there are only two real options: the United States and Czech Republic.
The US have earned the right to be considered favourites every year given their recent success and the strength of the US National Team Development Program but last year the US bombed finishing seventh at the tournament. This year they are fielding a squad with just three returning players from last year and a ton of question marks. They do have blue chip talent in goal (John Gibson) at forward (Alex Galchenyuk) and particularly on defense (Jacob Trouba, Seth Jones) but the team has a ton of maybes after that.
It’s possible that I simply do not have a good enough feel for what role the players on team USA will be playing (particularly with the forwards where they appear to be carrying a few too many small players) or perhaps the US team itself doesn’t have entirely a good enough feel. Whatever the case, I don’t feel confident taking any player to dominate ahead of some of his peers at forward, especially not after Galchenyuk was eliminated with the captain position.
JT Miller should be a shoe-in given his tournament experience but he’s not exactly a top flight offensive player. I also like what Vincent Trocheck, Rocco Grimaldi, Riley Barber and John Gaudreau offer as scorers but I just don’t know where they will shake out in the pecking order. It’s entirely possible the US is the team to beat just as Seth Jones boasted but their forward situation is too murky for me.
On the other hand, the Czech Republic team offers a very clear hierarchy based on age, tournament experience and NHL Draft pedigree. The Czechs boast six players who played at last year’s tournament and were also drafted by NHL teams: Lukas Sedlak, Dmitrij Jaskin, Tomas Hertl, Radek Faksa, Tomas Hyka and Martin Frk.
Sedlak and Hyka didn’t provide much offense for the Czechs last year and both have low draft pedigrees so they were written off fairly easily given there are but two slots open. I really like Faksa but as an 18-year-old he doesn’t have the same age advantage as some of the others. Ultimately, it looks like a three-way tie between Jaskin, Hertl and Frk, who all boast the criteria I’m looking for but with just two spots I have to take Hertl and Frk who were the two most productive players for the Czechs last year.
Match Six: The Canadian Defense
Having taken just two Canadian forwards I’ve left open the possibility of taking two Canadian defensemen and given the makeup of the Canadian team it doesn’t look like a terrible decision. The Canadians appear to have three strong point producers on the blue line and four fairly obvious stay-at-home types. The three offensive options are Dougie Hamilton, Ryan Murphy and Morgan Rielly and I’ve got to pick two (or at least one).
Hamilton struck me as a must have. Perhaps he isn’t as adventurous as Murphy or Rielly but he is hands down Canada’s best defenseman bringing everything you could want to this tournament. I wouldn’t be shocked if he skated over 30 minutes per game for Canada, which means he can’t help but produce.
That leaves me in a battle between Rielly and Murphy and I like Rielly more. From what I saw at the pre-tournament games he has the trust of the coaching staff more so than Murphy, which was somewhat surprising given Canada head coach Steve Spott’s experience with Murphy as his club team coach. I suspect it might be something as simple as Murphy’s right-handed shot not meshing well with Hamilton’s right-handed shot. Both Murphy and Rielly are dynamos but Rielly does appear to have the upper hand.
Match Seven: The Finnish Line
Get it! There isn’t much contest here. As much as I like Rasmus Ristolainen and Ville Pokka, Olli Maatta has the same seal of approval that I gave Dougie Hamilton. He has been groomed by Finland to be their everything on the blue line and I suspect they’ll find every way to get him onto the ice.
Match Eight: What Could Have Been?
I suspect we will hear a lot of this coming from Sweden with respect to the aforementioned injuries to Klefbom and Brodin. This also took a very intriguing matchup and reduced it to smithereens. My choice, Rasmus Bengtsson based on his pre-tournament showing. This is certainly the pick I liked the least and was an opportunity for me to possibly take an American like Seth Jones just for kicks.
Match Nine: Rounding out the Defense
For my last two picks there were only two options: Tomas Pavelka and Nikita Nesterov who were the best options for the Czech Republic and Russia respectively. Nesterov was a no-brainer because he returns as Russia’s top scoring defenseman from last year. There were other enticing options but Nesterov could not be ignored.
Pavelka on the other hand was a bit of an unknown but given the offense he has shown for the PEI Rocket this season I am inclined to believe he has the best pedigree. I did consider David Musil for the same reason as Dougie Hamilton and Olli Maata but didn’t feel he had the same guarantee of points. I also considered the diminutive Petr Sidlic who is having a nice year for the Victoriaville Tigers but I favoured Pavelka given his age.
Match Ten: Goaltending
I rarely give the Blue Jackets much credit but I have to say I like what they’ve done drafting goaltenders recently. I wound up selecting Joonas Korpisalo and Oscar Dansk, both Columbus prospects and goaltenders for Finland and Sweden respectively.
One thing you have to respect is the ability of Finland and Sweden to produce goaltenders in recent years and both of these goaltenders are examples of that. They are both risky picks given they are both just 18 years old with 19-year-olds waiting for an opportunity to unseat them but I think they are undisputed top guys in a tournament where those are few and far between.
The best example of a bona fide #1 is Gibson for the Americans a team I kind of already wrote off with my previous picks. I could have selected a Canadian goalie but the whole Malcolm Subban is No.1 even though he has struggled recently was a real turnoff. Perhaps it’s over-exposure for me as a Canadian but I really wonder if Jordan Binnington will take over in a big hurry.
I suppose I could have also taken a Russian goalie but I already selected five other Russians to my roster and their situation is an even bigger crapshoot given the way both Andrei Makarov and Andrei Vasilevski split starts at last year’s tournament. I suppose Vasilevski is #1 but both guys were lights out last year and bring a load of experience for this year. Your guess is as good as mine, which is why the Russian goalies aren’t present on my roster.
This does leave me with two goalies from the same group but with any luck Finland and Sweden will finish 1-2 in Group A and then go on to face each other in the Gold Medal Game. Or maybe one of them has to settle for silver. Either way that would still nearly maximize my wins while also avoiding the conundrum of the goaltending duos for both Canada and Russia.
So this is my roster:
Nail Yakupov – Russia
Nikita Kucherov, Alexander Khokhlachev, Yaroslav Kosov – Russia
Joel Armia, Alexander Barkov, Markus Granlund – Finland
Tomas Hertl, Martin Frk – Czech Republic
Ryan Strome, Mark Scheifele – Canada
Rickard Rackell, Sebastian Collberg – Sweden
Dougie Hamilton, Morgan Rielly – Canada
Tomas Pavelka – Czech Republic
Olli Maatta – Finland
Rasmus Bengtsson – Sweden
Nikita Nesterov – Russia
Oscar Dansk – Sweden
Joonas Korpisalo – Finland
Wish me luck and merry New Year, everyone!