Team North America Projections: Top 5 Centers


The NHL has officially unveiled a slew of information about the 2016 World Cup of Hockey, including the format and schedule, which leaves us only one thing to speculate about: the rosters! As much as the focus is going to be on the national squads, the under-23 Team North America (“Young Stars” as it was originally introduced) provides the most intrigue. Over the next week I’ll be presenting the top five candidates for each forward position and in net, plus eight defensemen for Team North America..

Connor McDavid

Connor McDavid is going to explode onto the scene right away just like Sidney Crosby did ten years ago. Not to say that McDavid is going to match Crosby’s 102-point output from that year in a much lower-scoring era of the NHL, but would anyone be surprised if he was in the league’s top ten as a rookie? I certainly would not.

McDavid has won a gold medal with Team Canada at the World Juniors. He’s also the type of lead-by-example player that a team like this, only together for such a short time, often uses to rally around. When the other guys in the locker room see McDavid’s work ethic and commitment to excellence, it’ll be infectious. While Team North America may end up with a captain who has a bit more experience, it’s very likely that McDavid wears a letter and is this team’s top center.

Jack Eichel

Yes, one and two in the 2015 draft will be one and two on the depth chart. There are hockey fans who complain about the constant media attention these two receive, claiming the draft class is overhyped, etc. It’s just not. One NHL scout I spoke to pre-draft said, and I’m paraphrasing, that while Eichel would have been the best prospect since Crosby, there hasn’t been a prospect like McDavid since Lemieux…and maybe before.

Eichel was never able to capture gold at the World Juniors, but he’s already played at the World Championships at eighteen against some of the same players you’ll see at this tournament. With a team of young stars, it’s one thing to have the raw ability and it’s another to have the size and physicality needed to compete. Eichel has both. Like McDavid, the expectation is that Eichel steps into the NHL and is a high-end player immediately. Assuming he does, and I believe he will, he’ll be a standout at this tournament.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins

McDavid’s teammate in Edmonton was the first overall selection in the 2011 draft, and for good reason. Though he hasn’t quite got the attention that one might expect from a top young star, The Nuge has been highly successful to this point. Of players in his draft class that have played at least 100 games (which is only 18, by the way), Nugent-Hopkins has the second highest points-per-game average at .73, narrowly trailing only Ondrej Palat (.74). His 56 points for Edmonton this past season placed him just behind Jordan Eberle for the team lead.

Nugent-Hopkins is a proven top NHL center, with now two 50+ point seasons under his belt on a team going through a rebuild. He’ll also be one of the older players on this roster, born just six months after the age cutoff, which can only be a positive. Having worn letters for Team Canada at the Ivan Hlinka and World Junior tournaments, Nugent-Hopkins could easily take on a leadership role among the young players as well.

Sean Monahan

The Calgary Flames forward notched 31 goals and 31 assists in his breakout 2014-15 season, and has clearly established himself as a player on the rise. Monahan centering Jiri Hudlr and Johnny Gaudreau (who we’ll get to, don’t worry) carried the Calgary Flames through the regular season and into the playoffs, where they were eventually knocked out in the Conference Semi-Finals. It was a great run for the team and for this young center, whose 62 points and obvious intangibles were truly impressive.

Monahan never played in the World Juniors, but did compete with Ontario in the World Under-17 Championship and for Canada at the Ivan Hlinka. He was also one of the top forwards at the 2013 Canada-Russia Challenge, finishing tied for second on the Canadian team with four points. Despite the lack of international appearances, Monahan’s role as a young up-and-coming leader for the Calgary Flames has more than readied him for a role on Team North America.

Nathan MacKinnon

Another first overall pick, MacKinnon’s monster rookie season catapulted him to instant stardom and re-energized a fanbase in Colorado, finishing second on the team in assists and establishing himself as one of the most exciting young players in the NHL. His second season wasn’t nearly as impressive, dropping from 63 points to 38 in 18 fewer games, albeit on a team which failed to produce a single 60-point player after five eclipsed the mark in 2013-14.

MacKinnon has won gold at the 2012-13 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament and the World Championships this summer. In his only NHL playoff series, MacKinnon was tied with Paul Statsny for the team lead in points with 10. He was also awarded the Stafford Smythe Trophy in 2013 as he dominated the Memorial Cup, scoring 13 points in 4 games and leading the Halifax Mooseheads to the title. While a bounce back season helps his odds, MacKinnon is almost a sure bet to make this roster.