NHL Announces 2016 World Cup of Hockey: Which Pens Will Get the Call?


Amid the excitement of the 2015 All-Star weekend came the NHL’s announcement that the World Cup of Hockey will return in 2016.

The international tournament has taken place twice before, once in 1996 and once in 2004. Next year will mark the third iteration as the world’s best will suit up against one another in Toronto.

Commissioner Gary Bettman announced the tournament’s new format which will consist of eight teams. The first six will be comprised of the traditional international powerhouses – Canada, USA, Russia, Sweden, Finland, and the Czech Republic.

The last two teams will be ‘Team Europe’ – a group of international players from European countries other than the previously mentioned six – and a North American Young Stars team including the top Canadian and American players under the age of 23.

It’s certainly an exciting announcement for hockey fans as international competition lends itself to a whole host of interesting player combinations once the NHL’s best align with their countrymen.

For a team like the Pittsburgh Penguins, the tournament will likely be a significant one, as the Pens are no strangers to watching their players excel on the international stage.

First among them will be captain Sidney Crosby, who already has two gold medals to his name with Team Canada. Just as he did during the 2014 Sochi Olympics, Crosby will almost certainly be Canada’s captain when the 2016 World Cup rolls around, despite the absurd depth of the Canadian squad.

While his NHL accomplishments are highly respected, Crosby is certainly well-known for his international achievements as well. His overtime winner during the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, dubbed the “Golden Goal”, went down in history as one of the most significant tallies in Canadian hockey history as it sealed the gold medal for the red and white.

Crosby followed up that performance last year in Sochi when he scored a beautiful breakaway tally in the gold medal game against Sweden, helping cement Canada’s 3-0 gold medal victory. Teammates Chris Kunitz and Jonathan Toews tallied the other two skillful goals.

Despite Crosby’s international acumen, it is the Pens’ Evgeni Malkin who has had the most extensive international career, as the Russian superstar has already suited up for four Olympic games, six World Championships, and three World Junior Championship tournaments.

While the Russian squad has been unsuccessful at the Olympic level as of late, Malkin and his countrymen have taken the gold medal in two of the last three World Championship tournaments (the two that Malkin suited up for), and will thus remain one of the favourites heading into next year’s competition.

Crosby could very well see teammates Marc-Andre Fleury and Chris Kunitz alongside him once he dons the red maple leaf once again, as both have participated for Team Canada in the past as well.

While Kunitz may be a longshot for a number of reasons (Team Canada will be fitting in players like Steven Stamkos and Tyler Seguin this time around, plus the Kunitz-Crosby pairing wasn’t as unstoppable during the 2014 Olympics as some had thought it would be), Fleury will have a much stronger chance at making the Canadian team.

The Pens’ netminder has been selected previously for one Olympic tournament (2010), and two World Junior Championship tournaments, including the 2003 iteration that saw Fleury get the nod as the tournament’s Top Goaltender and MVP.

Veteran defenseman Paul Martin could also get the call after suiting up for the American Olympic team last year. Martin was also selected by Team USA for Olympic action in 2006 and 2010, though he saw no ice-time in 2006 and was unable to participate in 2010 due to injury.

Fellow Pens defender Kris Letang could also be in line for a World Cup selection. The former Norris trophy nominee has never participated for Team Canada in the Olympic games or World Championships, but does have two World Juniors gold medals to his name.

He’ll have plenty of competition as Canada boasts the deepest and most talented group of defenseman on the international level, but if Letang continues on his current pace and posts a career season in Pittsburgh, he could very well find his name among those international elite.

Young defenseman Olli Maatta should figure to play a key role with Team Finland once again after helping guide the team to a surprising Bronze medal finish in Sochi. Despite being one of the youngest members of that Finnish Olympic team, Maatta emerged as one of their best as he posted 3 goals and 2 assists in 6 games, alongside a +1 rating.

A couple members of the Penguins could make some surprise additions to their country’s squads this year. One of those names could be Patric Hornqvist.

The Swedish winger has never participated for his country internationally, but after starting the season strong alongside Crosby, Hornqvist has been given the opportunity to showcase the full extent of his elite skillset. Provided he returns healthy and continues to put up great numbers, he could very well bring his hard-nosed style to the World Cup come 2016.

Christian Ehrhoff may also see World Cup ice-time, though it’s unclear at the moment how the make-up of Team Europe will be decided. Ehrhoff has extensive international experience with the German team (including three Olympic games, five World Championships, and two World Junior Championships), but seeing as Germany will not be included itself in the eight-team tournament, Ehrhoff will be competing against all European defenseman from countries other than Russia, Sweden, Finland, and the Czech Republic for a roster spot.

That being said, a strong season in Pittsburgh could very well give him the edge he needs to crack the Europe roster.

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