On Aug. 24, the NHL and NHLPA announced that they had agreed to move forward with their intentions to bring back the World Cup of Hockey in 2024, targeting a 17-day window in February to hold the tournament.
The last time it took place was six years ago in Toronto and Edmonton Oilers forward Connor McDavid captained Team North America — which featured some of the best hockey players 23 years of age and under from Canada and the United States. This time around, he will surely be suiting up for Team Canada, and the four-time Art Ross Trophy winner will more than likely center the team’s first line.
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It begs the question though, who would be the early front runners to be his linemates? Team Canada will be an early favourite to win the tournament, and its roster should resemble an All-Star team. Yet, in a short series such as this, chemistry will be important and two of McDavid’s teammates could get the call from Hockey Canada to be his wingers.
McDavid’s Wingers Should Be Players He Already Has Chemistry With
Having chemistry between players in a short tournament is extremely important. With such few games played, coaches don’t have the luxury to just “see” if players will click. Just because players are highly skilled, does not always equate to instant chemistry.
Hockey fans would love to see McDavid and Nathan MacKinnon wreak havoc on the competition, flying up and down the ice together and scoring goals at will. However, we have to take their style of play into consideration — they both like to have the puck on their stick and attack by gaining speed through the neutral zone. Yes, both are highly skilled with elite hockey IQ, but that does not necessarily mean they’d complement one another. In fact, they’d probably be better suited to drive their own lines.
That said, it wouldn’t be out of the question to have McDavid’s Oilers teammates — who already have chemistry with him — join him on the top line with Team Canada. For instance, we’ve already seen Hockey Canada select a trio of NHL teammates to play on a line. In 2010, Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, and Dany Heatley were selected to represent Canada at the Winter Olympics. They showed instant chemistry from having played together and they were nicknamed “the Shark Line.” They averaged a goal and an assist per game while helping Team Canada win gold on home soil. (from “ESP on Ice: When NHL Teammates Become Olympic Teammates,” The Atlantic, 02/12/14).
Zach Hyman Should Play On McDavid’s Right Wing
This leads us to McDavid’s teammate Zach Hyman. He registered a career-high 54 points in his first season in Edmonton and should be one of the early front runners to play on his line with Team Canada. In his first season in Alberta’s Capital, he played the most minutes (494:49) with him at 5-on-5, more than any other player on the team. In doing so, not only did he set a career-high in points, but McDavid (123 points), surpassed his career-high in points as well.
The pair’s advanced analytics together support their dominance against the competition last season. According to Natural Stat Trick, at 5-on-5, McDavid had a 56.64 Corsi (CF%) with Hyman, while having a 49.24 Corsi without him. Additionally, they registered a 55.66% Fenwick (FF%), 58.54 GF% (percentage of total goals of the combination of players), 59.42 xGF% (expected goals for percentage), 56.88 HDCF% (percentage of total high danger scoring chances), and a 69.23 HDGF% (percentage of total goals off of high danger scoring chances).
Hyman plays a much more gritty game compared to McDavid and understands his role when playing with the captain — win board battles, get the puck in his centerman’s hands and get open. Being familiar with one another is such a big advantage; ultimately, knowing other players’ tendencies can lead to more scoring chances. Hyman not only has chemistry with the reigning Art Ross Trophy winner, but he also provides the grit and sandpaper that every winning team requires.
Not only that, but Hyman would be valuable on Team Canada’s penalty-killing unit, as he led all Oilers’ forwards in short-handed minutes (136:34) last season and also tallied four short-handed points.
Evander Kane Should Play On McDavid’s Left Wing
Evander Kane joined the Oilers midway through the 2021-22 season in late January. Despite missing half the season, he still recorded 39 points in 43 regular season games. It took time for him to adjust to the speed of the game, but once he found his legs, his chemistry with McDavid was remarkable and the pair even raised their level of play in the postseason.
The combination of McDavid and Kane, so far, is a perfect fit. He played the most minutes with the Oilers’ captain (418:24) than any other player at 5-on-5 last season and their advanced analytics together also demonstrate their ability to control the play. The pair posted a 55.81 CF%, 56.69 FF%, 63.83 GF%, 57.01 xGF%, 57.36 HDCF% and a 59.26 HDGF% during the regular season. Kane understands his role as a power forward. He finishes his checks, creates space, and buries McDavid’s passes — all the while bringing an element of nasty if anyone gets in his captain’s face.
In the playoffs (much like a tournament such as the World Cup of Hockey) every game matters, and Kane showed an ability to rise to the occasion in high pressure situations. He played 173:25 with McDavid in the postseason, the most of anyone on the team, and he registered 17 points in 15 games – his 13 goals also led the entire NHL. Additionally, not only did he produce points, but his 73 hits in 16 games ranked fourth in the NHL, despite not playing the final round.
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At the same time, if Hockey Canada needs additional proof of Kane’s chemistry with McDavid, they should look no further than his work in Game 3 against the Calgary Flames in last season’s playoffs. Kane scored a natural hat trick in the second period, but his final two goals came off the stick of McDavid when the captain feathered the puck over to Kane and he buried it twice off of two 2-on-1 chances. Hockey Canada should take notice that this pair can create chances off the cycle, but proved they can score quick goals off of the rush as well, which would be a weapon in tight games.
It’s still early and there’s still an entire season that needs to be played out before any decisions are to be made for the 2024 World Cup of Hockey. But McDavid’s teammates, Hyman and Kane, have already shown that they have exceptional chemistry with the Oilers captain. If they continue to play lights out together next season, an all-Oilers top line for Team Canada at the World Cup of Hockey could come to fruition.