Written by: Tanner Henkel– Staff Writing Intern (@)
After a 12-year hiatus the World Cup of Hockey is back. The usual suspects: Canada, The United States, Sweden, and Europe, all figure to have a good showing and compete for the title. This year, there is an exciting team of under 23 year olds from North America, and a wild card Russian team that can never be counted out.
To the casual hockey fan, this will be a wildly entertaining tournament. But to you, the astute fantasy hockey owner, you’ll be using this tournament as scouting. It’s an opportunity to get a leg up on your competition.
With your fantasy team in mind, here are four things to watch for at the World Cup of Hockey:
Team USA’s Scoring:
Team U.S.A is the only real candidate to challenge Canada in Group A. General manager Dean Lombardi teamed up with Blue Jackets head coach John Tortorella to put together a team of quick, physical, two-way forwards that have the potential to give Canada fits.
The team was built around perennial fantasy stud, netminder Jonathan Quick, but with so much emphasis on defense, the bulk of Team U.S.A.’s offense has to come from two guys who aren’t necessarily used to being in the spotlight.
Patrick Kane has been one of the most exciting players in the NHL for years, but last year he broke the hundred-point threshold for the first time. Kane established himself as an elite fantasy producer last year and in some pools, he’ll be in the conversation to go first overall.
The World Cup will be a good indicator of how Kane stacks up against other potential first overall fantasy picks: Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, and Connor McDavid.
On a smaller scale than Kane, Joe Pavelski broke out last year as well. Pavelski posted a career high with 78 regular season points, but more importantly he was a leader for the Sharks, taking them to the Stanley Cup Finals and posting a point per game throughout the playoffs.
At the World Cup, Pavelski will be relied upon to carry an offensive load while playing against the NHL’s best competition.
Canada’s Comeback Kid
The Montreal Canadiens started last season strong. So strong in fact, that many pundits expected them to make a deep playoff push. Everything changed when goaltender Carey Price went down to injury on November 25th. The Canadiens collapsed and never recovered. The World Cup is Price’s chance to show he is still an elite goalie.
Without Price, The Habs limped their way through last season, missed the playoffs, and traded their number one defenseman in the offseason. With P.K. Subban gone to Nashville for Shea Weber, the Habs have more stability, size, and physicality, but the Canadiens also got older.
The World Cup will be the perfect precursor to see how solid Montreal’s revamped backend will be.
While there’s no doubt Canada’s Steven Stamkos has huge offensive upside, he is coming off an injury-plagued season. Stamkos posted modest (by his standards) regular season numbers last season, 66 points in 77 games. Sidelined with a blood clot until game seven of the Eastern Conference Final, Tampa rolled through the playoffs without Stamkos, and in his final appearance Stamkos couldn’t help put the Bolts over the edge and into the cup final.
We know he is capable of putting up 100+ points, but Tampa Bay has evolved as a team and Stamkos is no longer at the forefront. He doesn’t have to carry such a heavy load anymore, and both Team Canada and Tampa Bay can get by with Stamkos playing a lesser role. But is Stamkos satisfied with a lessor role? Or does he want to play like the superstar he is? The World Cup will tell us what kind of player Stamkos is.
Team North America:
There are a lot of question marks on Team North America. There are so many talented young players that they could upset Group B with their speed and skill, or they could play like individuals and completely fold. Think Edmonton Oilers of the last five seasons. Either way, from a fantasy perspective this is team to watch.
No matter the outcome for Team NA, this is the first chance we have to see first overall pick Auston Matthews against NHL competition.
Skating alongside Matthews will be sophomore Connor McDavid. McDavid missed most of last season with a broken clavicle, but he showed flashes of brilliance as a rookie. So much so, that he might warrant a top five pick in some drafts. The opportunity to see McDavid and Matthews skate together will tell us two very important things for fantasy drafts:
- How has McDavid progressed over the last 6 months?
- How ready is Matthews to contribute in the NHL?
Johnny Gaudreau, Jack Eichel, Mark Scheifele and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins have all auditioned to play with Matthews and McDavid, and each of these guys carries fantasy value. In short tournaments coaches often manipulate the line up, but who ever winds up on the top line will round out the most exciting line in the tournament.
Missing games hurts fantasy value. No matter how good a player is he can’t score points on IR. Tyler Seguin went down with a fractured heel in a pre-tournament game, and there is no timeline for his return. Before the seasons even started we’ve seen a top five fantasy player go down to injury.
We see players break down all the time during an 82 game season. Now add in six guaranteed games, plus semi final and final match ups, and an 82 game regular season can turn into 90+ before the playoffs get started.
Fantasy studs Alex Pietrangelo, James van Riemsdyk, Ryan O’Reilly all missed significant time last year, but are playing in the tournament. Keep an eye out for players with a history of injuries and keep in mind that ten additional games a year means there is a higher risk to sustain injury. That being said, don’t shy away from someone because they could get hurt, just be mindful.