By now, you’ve likely heard that the NHL will be hosting their own international tournament again, the World Cup of Hockey. Among the teams will be a roster comprised of the best European players that don’t have teams in the tournament, known simply now as the European All-Star Select team. Team Europe has some interesting options to work with, and while there is always the chance some key players could say no out of respect for their country down the road, it’s never too early to take a look at who could participate when the puck drops in October of 2016.
Like last time, the team will is based on if the team was picked today. The 14 forwards listed below may all be decent choices today, but down the road, it could be totally different. But that’s just part of the fun.
Check out the first part of Team Europe’s preview here.
Michael Grabner (AUS) – Anze Kopitar (SLO) – Thomas Vanek (AUS)
Analysis: This line, featuring three players from two non-traditional hockey markets, could prove to be one of the most talented. Both Vanek and Grabner have played together before in international events, with the 2014 Olympics being the most recent example. The pair are longtime staples of the Austrian team, and likely the two best hockey players to come out of Austria all-time. Vanek, a scoring superstar who recently joined the Minnesota Wild, is a natural scoring winger that can almost guarantee at least 50 points a season. Yes, Vanek was almost non-existent during the Olympics, but with nearly 600 career points in the NHL and over a point-per-game in World Championship competition, Vanek has the ability to be a big offensive leader on this team.
Grabner is quite the underrated goal scorer. A former first rounder, Grabner had five goals at the 2014 Olympics, finishing the tournament with the most in that category. This year, however, has been a tough one for the New York Islanders scoring star. The team has had an incredible season, and once Grabner, who had sports hernia surgery just before the start of the season, gets back into his rhythm, the Islanders will get a huge boost from the speedy scoring winger.
Everybody knows that Kopitar is the greatest player to come from
Kopenia Slovenia. That’s not a major accomplishment, considering Jan Mursak and Greg Kuznik, the other two Slovenians, have just four points combined (all from Mursak), but his pure skill is good enough to make him one of the NHL’s top players. Pair them with two of Slovenia’s biggest rivals from Austria and you should have a very skilled line with the ability to put up big numbers. The biggest question: can they stay consistent?
Tomas Tatar (SVK) – Marián Gáborík (SVK) – Marián Hossa (SVK)
Analysis: This trio of Slovakian stars represent the present and future of hockey in the country. For Hossa, the 36-year-old winger has a ton of skill and has the ability to put many pucks in the net. However, his production has declined ever since his 77 point campaign back in 2011–12. One of just five players included in my prediction that played in the 2004 World Cup, Hossa has never won any international hockey tournaments during his career, but has two Stanley Cup’s to his credit.
Standing beside Hossa is his good old pal Marian Gaborik. These two know a thing or two about playing together, having done so at various World Championship and Olympic events. Like Hossa, Gaborik’s best days are surely behind him, but that doesn’t mean he still doesn’t have a lot left to offer. His health is always a question mark, but when he’s good to go, he’s easily one of the best players on the ice every single night. A two time bronze medalist in international competition, Gaborik has over 40 points in men’s tournaments and his explosive speed makes him a lethal threat every shift. If he can hold up, expect him to be a valuable scoring option for the Europeans.
And then there’s Tatar. You’ve probably heard of him, right? He’s kind of a big deal right now. Currently in his second NHL season, Tatar could grab 60 points by the time the season concludes. Named one of the NHL’s three stars twice this season, Tatar has scored pretty much everywhere he’s gone. At the recent World Championships, Tatar finished the tournament as Slovakia’s second-leading scorer, recording four goals and four assists in seven games. The 2012-13 AHL playoff MVP should continue to be a great goal scorer at the NHL level and once Pavel Datyuk and Henrik Zetterberg finally call it quits, it will be time for Tatar to take over and become a true star.
Mikkel Boedker (DEN) – Zemgus Girgensons (LAT) – Mats Zuccarello (NOR)
Analysis: At 25 years of age, Boedker, a seven-year NHL pro, is the most experienced player on this line. Boedker’s career started off very slow after getting rushed into the NHL at the age of 18, and after splitting two seasons between the NHL and AHL, it looked as though his career may not be what the Coyotes were looking for. Fortunately, the Danish star’s career is definitely on the upswing, as the speedy winger could come close to matching his personal-high 51 points last year. However, a spleen issue in mid-January means that the Arizona forward is going to be on the shelf for a considerable amount of time, making it tough for him to achieve that success. Boedker does have the traits to become a very valuable player at some point, and if he can stay healthy, expect him to explode offensively soon enough.
If you didn’t know who the heck Girgensons was before this season, you do now. A well-rounded two-way center, Girgensons was voted in the NHL All-Star game despite not being anywhere the near the top of the scoring charts. Currently tied for second in scoring on a terrible Buffalo squad, Girgensons has already surpassed his rookie season effort of 22 points with very little talent surrounding him. It will be interesting to see what he can do with other talented youngsters, and with two solid options like Zuccarello and Boedker surrounding him, he could be a solid underrated option for the European squad.
Speaking of Zuccarello, talk about a player who doesn’t get enough credit around the league. Another small, speedy winger (which this team has a lot of), the New York Rangers winger put up 59 points last year in his first full NHL season and could very well beat that this time around. He scores everywhere he plays, so, being one of the greatest players from Norway of all time, he’ll be the only representative on the squad. Will his career continue to rise like it has over the past two years, making him a very talented bottom scoring option for Europe?
Nino Niederreiter (SUI) – Frans Nielsen (DEN) – Nikolaj Ehlers (DEN) (Extras: Jannik Hansen (DEN) Tomas Jurco (SVK))
Analysis: Niederreiter is famous for helping the Swiss team to an upset of the Russians by scoring two goals in a 3–2 victory over the Russians at the 2010 World Juniors. It took him a while to make an impact at the NHL level but after a less-than-stellar stint with the New York Islanders, Niederreiter has really come into his own with the Minnesota Wild. He’s shooting a lot, he’s scoring and he does that all in a third line role. His ability to win faceoffs (if needed), throw hits and score on the same play makes him a valuable option to move around on the roster. He’s one of the few power forwards on this squad, so if he does indeed make it, he’ll be key when the game are close and need some help all over the ice.
It took Nielsen a while to really shine with the New York Islanders, but Niederreiter’s former teammate is becoming a very good hockey player these days. After a 58 point effort last year, Nielsen could get close to that this year while acting as a third line centre for the strong Long Island club. The skilled two-way center seems to always make his linemates better in the offensive zone, and playing with a familiar winger like El Nino should add to that point.
Yes, Nikolaj Ehlers hasn’t exactly cracked the NHL just yet, but it’s hard to leave off one of the top prospects in the league right now. Ehlers, a ninth overall selection by the Winnipeg Jets last year, was an absolute stud at the World Junior A Challenge in early December, leading the tournament in points after helping Denmark to the silver medal. He followed that up by a great performance at the 2015 World Juniors as the Danes earned a spot in the quarter-finals for the first time ever at the top division of the tournament. Ehlers is an elite player that should crack the Jets in due time, but for now, he’ll continue to a dominant force in the QMJHL with the Halifax Mooseheads.
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