Team Europe is going to be an interesting one to watch at the World Cup of Hockey.
Though Frederik Andersen is out of the tournament after an injury in a Danish Olympic qualification game, Europe will still have the New York Islanders’ tandem of Jaroslav Halak and Thomas Greiss, along with Washington Capital Philipp Grubauer to turn aside the best forwards in the world. They will be backstop players who are no slouches in their own right, with the likes of Anze Kopitar, Roman Josi, Marian Gaborik, and Mats Zuccarello to make things tough on the opposition.
Through three pre-tournament games, it has been difficult to pin down exactly what kind of team they are. Eviscerated by Team North America in their first meeting, Europe turned around and soundly drubbed a strong Team Sweden.
I believe that now that they’ve had some time to combine their disparate parts into one cohesive unit, they’ll be a tough team to beat when the tournament gets officially underway.
|Thomas Greiss||Germany||NHL||New York Islanders|
|Philipp Grubauer||Germany||NHL||Washington Capitals|
|Jaroslav Halak||Slovakia||NHL||New York Islanders|
|Zdeno Chara||Slovakia||NHL||Boston Bruins|
|Christian Ehrhoff||Germany||NHL||Chicago Blackhawks|
|Roman Josi||Switzerland||NHL||Nashville Predators|
|Luca Sbisa||Switzerland||NHL||Vancouver Canucks|
|Dennis Seidenberg||Germany||NHL||Boston Bruins|
|Andrej Sekera||Slovakia||NHL||Edmonton Oilers|
|Mark Streit||Switzerland||NHL||Philadelphia Flyers|
|Pierre-Edouard Bellemare||France||NHL||Philadelphia Flyers|
|Mikkel Boedker||Denmark||NHL||San Jose Sharks|
|Leon Draisaitl||Germany||NHL||Edmonton Oilers|
|Marian Gaborik||Slovakia||NHL||Los Angeles Kings|
|Jannik Hansen||Denmark||NHL||Vancouver Canucks|
|Marian Hossa||Slovakia||NHL||Chicago Blackhawks|
|Anze Kopitar||Slovenia||NHL||Los Angeles Kings|
|Nino Niederreiter||Switzerland||NHL||Minnesota Wild|
|Frans Nielsen||Denmark||NHL||New York Islanders|
|Tobias Rieder||Germany||NHL||Arizona Coyotes|
|Tomas Tatar||Slovakia||NHL||Detroit Red Wings|
|Thomas Vanek||Austria||NHL||Minnesota Wild|
|Mats Zuccarello||Norway||NHL||New York Rangers|
Although they may lack some of the star power of a Team Canada, Team Europe has strong and experienced players on every position, and some potent scorers.
While they claim the title of oldest team in the tournament on average, that also means they are the most experienced, and theleast likely to be rattled by adversity, and that will be a big benefit in an event as short as this one. Guys like Zuccarello, Gaborik, and Kopitar aren’t going to roll over when things look dire, as we saw in their comeback effort against North America after giving up five goals in the first period.
Marian Hossa knows how to put the puck in the back of the net, and early indications are that Thomas Vanek has remembered how to do that, as well. The pieces are all beginning to fit together, and the team is improving rapidly as a result.
As Montreal Canadiens fans are well aware, Halak is more than capable of taking a mediocre team on his back and carrying it through a series. In a tournament such as this, with a team that is better than mediocre, that may be enough to put them over the edge.
There was a time when he was the most feared, most dominant defenceman in the NHL, but as the first few pre-tournament games have shown, those days are behind Zdeno Chara. He has been watching helplessly as faster forwards skate around him on the their way to the net, and that had led directly to opposition goals on several occasions thus far. He was expected to be the key piece on an otherwise underwhelming defensive unit, but his play has not been up to the task.
Chara isn’t the only one who has been exposed by speed, but luckily they won’t have to face Team North America in the preliminary round, and can probably deal with the lower speed of the Canadians, Americans, and Czechs. They’re good enough to keep up with those teams, but don’t have the talent pool to draw upon of their groupmates, and can’t really compete with the full complement of skilled players they will have to match up against.
Despite being the oldest squad, the Europeans are not without their own infusion of youth. Leon Draisaitl, the third-overal pick in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft, was a major player in helping Germany claim a spot at the 2018 Winter Olympics just days before the World Cup of Hockey began, and carried his scoring touch over to the pre-tournament matches.
Draisaitl has a breakout season with the Edmonton Oilers last year, putting up an impressive 51 points as a 20-year-old, and appears to be in the process of announcing his presence on the international stage.