After the forthcoming weekend, World Cup teams will gather at their training camp sites and it will be time for some of the biggest stars in hockey to officially get back to work.
As we continue our look ahead to the tournament with the forward rankings, it becomes clearer just how exciting the World Cup could be. The forward groups for each team are incredibly fascinating. Obviously Canada is in a class all their own, but the star power and skill up front on each roster is going to make for exciting hockey.
Canada appears far and away the most balanced and deepest team. Russia might be the most exciting based on the scoring talent, while the others are each going to bring something a little bit different. The most intriguing group in the whole tournament is Team North America, though. They might have the fastest team in Toronto and the more you look at them, the better their chances in this tournament start to look, too.
Here’s a look at how the forward groups stack up heading into the World Cup of Hockey:
Roster: Patrice Bergeron, Jeff Carter, Logan Couture, Sidney Crosby, Matt Duchene, Ryan Getzlaf, Claude Giroux, Brad Marchand, Tyler Seguin, Steven Stamkos, John Tavares, Jonathan Toews, Joe Thornton
Breakdown: No team in the tournament can match the depth Canada will boast in this tournament. There are former regular-season and postseason MVPs, seven Olympic gold medalists, 11 Stanley Cups among them and boatload of other accolades.
The roster is also filled with natural centers, which means some players are going to have to play off positions. That’s not going to come as much of a concern due to the skill level and hockey sense that abounds in this group.
They shouldn’t have to worry about production. Ten of the 13 forwards on the final roster topped 60 points last season, led by Crosby who had 85 points. On top of their offensive capabilities, they have two of the better defensive-minded forwards in Bergeron and Toews and one of the game’s most dominant possession drivers in Thornton.
Losing Jamie Benn is the only thing that keeps this Canadian forward group from entering its own stratosphere compared to the other teams in the tournament, but they’re still heads above the field.
Roster: Artem Anisimov, Evgeny Dadanov, Pavel Datsyuk, Nikita Kucherov, Nikolay Kulemin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Evgeni Malkin, Vladislav Namestnikov, Alex Ovechkin, Artemi Panarin, Vadim Shipachyov, Ivan Telegin, Vladimir Tarasenko
Breakdown: The Russian forwards, as they typically are, are loaded on high-skill, high-scoring forwards. Gone, however, are Russia veterans like Ilya Kovalchuk and Alex Radulov, but they’re being replaced by younger, perhaps even more dynamic players (at this point) like Kucherov and Panarin.
The knock on Russia is that they’re not as great defensively, but this is the kind of forward group that can use offense as the best line of defense. The number of game-breakers in this group like Ovechkin, Malkin, Datsyuk, Kuznetsov and Tarasenko, on top of newcomers like Kucherov and Panarin, is going to give their opposition fits. Every line is going to have a player that can take over a shift.
They might not win the tournament based on some of their other flaws, but the forwards are going to make them a must-watch team.
Roster: Mikael Backlund, Nicklas Backstrom, Loui Eriksson, Filip Forsberg, Patric Hornqvist, Carl Hagelin, Marcus Kruger, Gabriel Landeskog, Daniel Sedin, Henrik Sedin, Jakob Silfverberg, Carl Soderberg, Rickard Rackell
Breakdown: Losing Henrik Zetterberg and Alexander Steen before the tournament was a pretty tough blow to the roster. The defensive capabilities both would have brought on top of offensive skills are going to be missed.
That said, this is still a group of forwards that give opposing defenses a lot to think about. Forsberg, Backstrom, Eriksson, the Sedins, Landeskog, Soderberg and Hornqvist were also all over 50 points last season. They’ve got some pop.
Additionally, Sweden’s depth is pretty good. They have a lot of solid two-way guys and their secondary scoring gives them the slight edge over USA here.
This team’s best weapon, however, and the forwards’ greatest asset is the incredible puck-moving defense. It’s going to be up to the forwards to make the most of that active defense.
Roster: Justin Abdelkader, David Backes, Brandon Dubinsky, Patrick Kane, Ryan Kesler, T.J. Oshie, Max Pacioretty, Kyle Palmieri, Zach Parise, Joe Pavelski, Derek Stepan, James van Riemsdyk, Blake Wheeler
Breakdown: The U.S. is bringing the same group of forwards it brought to Sochi with a few tweaks. Abdelkader and Dubinsky were brought in for some extra grit, while Palmieri replaced the injured Ryan Callahan. Despite the fact that the U.S. sacrificed skill for grind at the bottom of its lineup, there’s a lot of talent up top.
Kane, the reigning Art Ross and Hart Trophy winner, will be looking to bounce back from a disappointing output in Sochi. He’s the key forward, but then there’s Pavelski, Wheeler and Pacioretty all coming off big seasons as well.
A relative lack of depth at center compared to some of their opponents is one thing holding USA back. They probably have to move Pavelski to the middle due to the abundance of talent at right wing. Behind him, it’d be Stepan, Kesler and Dubinsky, with Backes likely moving to wing.
USA needs a big tournament from its top forwards to have a chance because secondary scoring – as we saw in Sochi – is not easy to come by with this mix of players.
5. Team North America
Roster: Sean Couturier, Jonathan Drouin, Jack Eichel, Johnny Gaudreau, Dylan Larkin, Nathan MacKinnon, Auston Matthews, Connor McDavid, J.T. Miller, Sean Monahan, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Brandon Saad, Mark Scheifele
Breakdown: While we look at this roster and see a bunch of young players, many of these guys are offensive leaders for their current NHL teams.
Gaudreau was seventh in league scoring last year, while others finished second or third on their team’s scoring charts last season. Six of these forwards surpassed the 50-point plateau. Gaudreau and Saad were 30-goal scorers last year, while Monahan and Scheifele came close.
One of the key skills for this team is excellent speed throughout the lineup. Some of the most explosive skaters in the league are on this roster with Larkin, McDavid and MacKinnon at the head of the class.
They’re going to need their abundance of skill and speed to offset the lack of physicality compared to what the older teams can offer in those departments.
Roster: Sebastian Aho, Aleksander Barkov, Joonas Donskoi, Valtteri Filppula, Mikael Granlund, Erik Haula, Jussi Jokinen, Mikko Koivu, Leo Komarov, Lauri Korpikoski, Patrik Laine, Jori Lehtera, Teuvo Teravainen
Breakdown: As is often the case for Finland, scoring could become a concern, but the influx of youngsters will be looking to change that. No. 2 overall pick Patrik Laine could be the cure. He was dominant in the Finnish league and World Championship last year, as was Carolina Hurricanes prospect Sebastian Aho. Throw in Barkov and Teravainen and the young guys very well could carry this team offensively.
Finland’s international success has so often been based on good team defense and strong goaltending. They have responsible two-way forwards to help fill out their depth and they’re going to make things tough for the opposition, but they need those young guys to come through in the scoring department to have a shot in Toronto.
7. Team Europe
Roster: Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, Mikkel Boedker, Leon Draisaitl, Marian Gaborik, Jannik Hansen, Marian Hossa, Anze Kopitar, Nino Niederreiter, Frans Nielsen, Tobias Rieder, Tomas Tatar, Thomas Vanek, Mats Zuccarello
Breakdown: This is definitely an interesting mix. Having Kopitar, the reigning Selke winner, at the top is a big plus. He can do everything and probably ends up playing a lot in this tournament. Hossa remains a high-end two-way forward even though his production was down last year. The dynamic Zuccarello is coming off of a career year, too.
Scoring is a moderate concern, but Kopitar (74) and Zuccarello (61) were over 60 points last season, while Draisaitl, Nielsen and Boedkker each surpassed the 50-point plateau. They have enough to put some defenses on their heels.
They’re neck-and-neck with the Czechs in the depth department, but the top end of the lineup is just a bit better.
8. Czech Republic
Roster: Radek Faksa, Michael Frolik, Martin Hanzal, Ales Hemsky, Tomas Hertl, Dmitrij Jaskin, David Krejci, Milan Michalek, Ondrej Palat, David Pastrnak, Tomas Plekanec, Vladimir Sobotka, Jakub Voracek
Breakdown: The Czechs are going to miss Jaromir Jagr, who turned down a spot, but they’ve got some exciting younger players in Hertl, Faksa, Palat and Pastrnak. Throw in more experienced producers like Krejci, Voracek and Plekanec and the Czechs might be able to put some pucks in the net.
The top-end of the lineup is somewhat lacking compared to other teams, but the Czechs remain a formidable group. It speaks to the overall forward depth of this tournament that they’re eighth on this list.
Source: CBS Sports / World Cup of Hockey forward rankings: Canada in a class its own up front