Air Canada Centre in Toronto will host the World Cup of Hockey Sept. 17-Oct. 1, 2016, and you can consider at least two Penguins — Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin — as locks.
But who else?
eight a few more nominations, listed in order of likelihood.
F Phil Kessel, USA — If Malkin’s prediction comes true, Kessel “can score 50 goals, at least.” While I don’t know if Kessel can flirt with 50 in today’s game, an uptick in his production while playing with Crosby or Malkin is a reasonable expectation. I’m pretty sure they’re better than Tyler Bozak.
Something interesting I stumbled upon this afternoon: Only Steven Stamkos, Corey Perry, Rick Nash and Alex Ovechkin — have more five-on-five goals since 2009. Let’s also remember Kessel that (50) has as many as or more power-play goals than Malkin (50) and Crosby (49) during that same span.
For what it’s worth, NHL.com has Kessel on its team.
D Olli Maatta, Finland — If he’s healthy, I have a tough time seeing Maatta NOT producing like a top-pair defenseman. If he’s healthy. And if Maatta produces, Finland could conceivably have Maatta, Sami Vatanen (37 points w/Ducks in 2014-15) and Buffalo’s Rasmus Ristolainen on a young and superbly talented blue line.
D Kris Letang, Canada — Like Maatta, the same disclaimer applies. Few can do what Letang can do when he’s healthy. But there’s an incredible amount of talent here. Drew Doughty, Shea Weber, Duncan Keith, Mark Giordano and PK Subban have to be on there, right? NHL.com has Letang on its list.
Edit (3:48 p.m.) — I’m evidently still on vacation, at least mentally.
F Patric Hornqvist, Sweden — Thinking about his tenacity and the fact that he’s scored at least 20 goals in five of the past six seasons, I’m even more upset at myself over this omission. Just dumb. Team Sweden could have the Sedin twins, Henrik Zetterberg and Nicklas Backstrom, among others. Why wouldn’t you want someone like Hornqvist working down low? Or someone with his energy on the bench? He should elbow me in the head for missing this.
D Derrick Pouliot, North America — Joining a fictional team for an international competition should be enough to motivate Pouliot into a breakout year, no?
As much as I don’t like the idea of this or Team Europe — Say one wins, what song do they play, “Pomp and Circumstance?” — Pouliot would fit the profile, especially if he performs the way he’s shown glimpses of.
Hey, at least he could join Brandon Saad, Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel as some of the NHL’s best, young talent who are prohibited from representing their country.
G Marc-Andre Fleury, Canada — Fleury won’t exactly be young: 31 at the time of the tournament, not far away from 32. But he’s also coming off perhaps the best two regular seasons of his career: 73 wins, a .918 save percentage and 15 shutouts. He’s second among active Canadian netminders with 322 career wins, but he’s also competing with Carey Price, Roberto Luongo, Corey Crawford, Devan Dubnyk and Braden Holtby, to name a few. Tough crowd.
F Sergei Plotnikov, Russia — Based on what Plotnikov has done in the KHL? Probably not, although his play over there should not be ignored. What could likely boost Plotnikov’s stock is if his game translates to the NHL the way Penguins management thinks it can. Skating alongside Malkin could provide an interesting variable. It’ll even be reasonable to get 15 or so goals from Plotnikov if he skates on a third line with Eric Fehr and Nick Bonino.
F Dominik Simon, Czech Republic — He’s more advanced than you might think. Playing on a line with Jaromir Jagr — I feel like we as members of the media have typed that sentence, oh, about 956 times so far — couldn’t have hurt. Same for his familiarity with Jagr, who it stands to reason has at least some input in the process. Then again, maybe, like Plotnikov, we should let him play North American pro hockey before declaring anything special.
G Matt Murray, North America — Some of you have brought up Murray’s name to me via Twitter. Fair point. It’s tough to ignore his 2014-15 season. I originally did not have him on this list because of guys like Malcom Subban, Whitehall’s John Gibson and Zach Fucale. But you know what? That list doesn’t blow me away. Ken Campbell from The Hockey News examined the weakness at this position yesterday. If Murray takes another step forward in 2015-16 like he did this past one, I suppose anything is possible.
It’s Phil Fest tomorrow in Cranberry. Talk to you from there.
Be GRATEFUL to each other,