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2016 World Cup of Hockey: Team Europe preview

In their first game of pre-tournament action, it looked like Europe would be the laughing stock of the World Cup. A few matches later, it seems they may just hold their own.

Hockey: World Cup of Hockey-Pre Tournament-Team Sweden vs Team Europe Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

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.

Roster

Goaltenders
Player Country League Current Team
Thomas Greiss Germany NHL New York Islanders
Philipp Grubauer Germany NHL Washington Capitals
Jaroslav Halak Slovakia NHL New York Islanders
Defencemen
Player Country League Current Team
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
Forwards
Player Country League Current Team
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

Strengths

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.

Weaknesses

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.

X-Factor

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.