One of the strangest things to happen in international competition in recent years has to be the rumored European squad that will take part in the 2016 World Cup. International purists are not a fan, as a team with no real country of origin doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Will the excitement from the players named to the roster come anywhere close to what it would be like to play for their own country that actually exists?
Well, we can live with it. Sure, it’s a strange idea, and many European fans won’t be a fan of the idea, but make no mistake about it: this team will do much better than all the countries involved would do alone. The pride may be non-existent, but for once, we could see eight really competitive teams once the puck drops in 2016.
The tournament is still over a year to go, but why not have a little bit of fun predicting now? In this two part series about “Team Europe”, or whatever they’ll plan on being called, I’ve put together a 25-man roster of three goalies, eight defensemen and 14 forwards. In Part One, I’ll take a look at the players that will patrol the blue line and the three machines that will bail them out if all goes wrong. The combinations and what-not are all based on if the team was picked now, so who knows what will happen when the tournament begins?
Jaroslav Halak (SVK) – Jonas Hiller (SUI) – Frederik Andersen (DEN)
Analysis: With the lack of big names on the team, having three quality goaltenders that are all capable of winning is very key. All three are having very strong seasons, with Andersen helping the Anaheim Ducks to the top of the NHL standings during his first full season as Anaheim’s starting goaltender.
A stellar performance from Halak this season, however, gives me the allusion he could be the starter come tournament time. Now, there is still a lot of time before the start, so that could all change quickly, but I’m going to give the nod to the All-Star puckstopper. Not originally named to the 2015 ASG in Columbus, Halak was named as a replacement for Detroit’s Jimmy Howard, who was sidelined with a groin injury. His 23-8-0 record at the time of the announcement was a big reason why the New York Islanders are sitting at the top of the Eastern Conference standings, helping lead talks of a Vezina trophy bid for his strong play.
Joining Andersen and Halak in the crease could be Jonas Hiller, who, despite struggling in recent years with multiple injuries, seems to always shine when he plays internationally. Now, he wouldn’t technically be playing for any real country, but Hiller has proven that he can thrive against tougher competition. He may not even see any action in the event, but if there ever is a reason for him to be called upon, he should be a solid option.
Mark Streit (SUI) – Roman Josi (SUI)
Zdeno Chara (SVK) – Dennis Seidenberg (GER)
Andrej Sekera (SVK) – Christian Ehrhoff (GER)
Mirco Mueller (SUI) – Andrej Meszaros (SVK)
Analysis: The first combination would give the Europeans a very talented young stud in Josi, as well as his former Olympic partner and experienced vet Streit. The two are among the best Swiss blue liners, with both really excelling during NHL action. For Streit, the power-play specialist could be the best two way defenseman on the team, being able to play in all three ends very effectively. For Josi, the puck-moving blue liner will act as the more defensively sound option of the pair, could be a real surprise in this tournament, but after being the 2013 World Championships MVP, should he really be?
You know what you’re going to get out of the second pair. Obviously, Chara is past his prime, and at the age of 39 in 2016, it’s unlikely that he’ll be counted on as a top pairing option, but expect him to still be a valuable asset throughout the tournament. His size, his shot and his ability to shutdown the world’s best will make him a key defenseman for Europe. Plus, he’s an early favourite to become captain. Joining him would be fellow fellow Bruin defenseman Seidenberg. The 33-year-old’s career has been plagued with injuries in recent years, and with his best seasons behind him, it would almost be like a big last chance to play a significant role at the international stage. Consider it something like a final call for the two aging blue liners, who, despite having some issues over the last bit, they could be a very strong duo once again.
If there’s one thing the team is strong in, it’s knowing what to do when penalties come into play. Thanks to Sekera, the team could throw just about anyone on when there’s more ice to play with. He’ll be an underrated star for the team, as he’ll likely be able to fit into any situation while allowing the bigger names to do what they please. A potential option for Sekera at the other end of the blue line could be Ehrhoff, a former teammate of Sekera’s back in Buffalo. Usually known to be an offensive defenceman, Ehrhoff has struggled with the Pittsburgh Penguins this season after being bought out by the Sabres this past off-season. Regardless, he’s a solid defenseman that could use a bit of familiarity once again and could rotate as a final defenseman if he doesn’t end up working out.
With the tournament expected to have 25-man rosters, teams will be able to carry two extra defensemen for the tournament. For the two depth guys that may be called upon for a few games at some point, I picked Mirco Mueller from San Jose and Buffalo’s Andrej Meszaros. Mueller, a rookie with the San Jose Sharks, had a so-so performance with the ninth place Swiss team at the recent World Juniors, and while there have been some growing pains along the way, he’s still just 19. By the time the tournament rolls around, Mueller should be a very solid option for the Europeans, and while he wouldn’t be relied on much due to lack of experience, there’s a lot to like about this kid for future tournaments. For Meszaros, the hard-hitting blue liner has the experience needed to play a solid game when used. He can be inconsistent at times and wont be relied on heavily to add an offensive flair, but he’s solid all-around for the most part and at 30-years-old once the tournament rolls around, there should still be a lot left in the tank.
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