2016 World Cup of Hockey Preview: Group B Preview

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So much is unknown in this version of the World Cup as it has not been played since 2004 and the top players have not been available since the Sochi Olympics.

The entire point of the World Cup is to bring the best players together to play against each other and truly prove who the better team is in international hockey.

The fact is that the World Championship doesn’t do that as the best players in the world are often still playing in the NHL when the World Championships start.

The Olympics are the only true test of the best teams in the world but it is only every four years and it is at risk of losing the best players with negotiations ongoing for the 2018 Olympics.

The World Cup is a chance to see the top players in the world playing for their countries for the first time since Sochi.

It could also become the last time for a long time that fans get to see the best players in the world play for their countries.

The fact that two years have passed since these players took the ice with and against each other means there have been plenty of changes.

Young stars have made their way to the league while older players have retired and some have simply dropped off.

That makes the World Cup a very interesting tournament as players have continued to develop and teams have gotten better over the year.

For this year the organisers have also decided to create two new teams in order to truly showcase the biggest talent in the NHL.

Team North America and Team Europe are unique teams and teams that have caused the most controversy this year.hockey-sidebar

North America will look to get through the noise and eventually find their way to the top of the first World Cup in over a decade.

They will have plenty of teams to get through though as Group B has the most unpredictable of the groups, this time, around.

There is Finland who has been having some of the best years of their program’s life as they have seen their flag raised more than ever before.

Their long-time rivals will join them in the group as Sweden is hoping to get back to the top this year after always being a top team but struggling to get championships in recent years.

The big team that everyone will be watching in Group B is the Russians who will enter the tournament as an early favourite.

They will look to meet expectations, something they have struggled to do in big tournaments, and finish on top of the group.

Then there is the North American Team made of the best young talent in USA and Canada.

They are many people’s dark horse team this year as the talent level is amazing on this team but they are all very inexperienced in major tournaments and in dealing with this level of talent.

The group has a clear stand-out in terms of teams but here is so much that is unknown about everyone else.

Finland has been great but not great in senior tournaments, Sweden has struggled recently and North America is just entirely unknown because they have never played before.

Group B will be an interesting one as the fight to get through the group stage will be a tough one for every team in the group.

finland

There is no doubt that the Finnish hockey program is on a major hot streak right now earning a silver in the World Championship and Gold at the World Juniors. They have been on a great run recently and they hope to take that to the return of the World Cup. The Finns will have a tough run though as they will need to get past some very good teams to get to the medal rounds. They will lean on their youth in a big way as the offence is full of young talent all who have been through tournaments before. They may not have seen time on the senior team as much but they still have some experience. The top line will likely include some of the more promising players in Aleksander Barkov, top draft pick Patrik Laine, and a rare veteran in Jussi Jokinen. The rest of the offence is full of young talent with veterans like Jokinen, Mikko Koivu and Valtteri Filppula thrown in to provide some stability. On the defence, the Finns are a little more unknown but mainly because they are just as young as the offence and young defenceman take more time to develop. Olli Maata has proven to be one of the best in the NHL while Rasmus Ristolainen continues to prove himself. The rest of the group is much the same as none have really stepped forward as one of the best in the NHL. Almost all of them could be the best and might come through in the World Cup but they might falter with inexperience. In net the Finns have a tough decision and one that won’t be made quickly as Tuukka Rask and Pekka Rinne will both likely get some time. One will be used as the top but there is not much of a bad decision as they both count among the best in the NHL right now. The Finns are going young for the World Cup in almost every position with plenty of great prospects throughout the roster. It is a risk but the fact is that the Finns have been the most successful in the Juniors and a lot of those successful Juniors are now playing in the NHL and will be in the World Cup. They are certainly a team with a lot of talent but the fact is they are inexperienced in international play and that could hurt against some of the bigger teams in the group.

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north-america

This is one of the most interesting teams in the entire tournament as nobody knows how they are going to perform. Team North America is a collection fo the best players under the age of 23 and for this era in hockey that is a big deal. The NHL is no longer a veteran’s league as the young guns are taking over with more stars being created as teenagers. These players are having a bigger impact on the game than ever before and now everyone will get to see just how good they are. The NHL decided to put all of these young stars on the same team, largely due to the lack of NHL talent on other international teams. For many, they are a team that everyone needs to pay attention to because the talent level is simply so high. On offence, the team is full of the top picks in the draft including a number of picks that were considered can’t miss prospect. Connor McDavid leads the way as team captain and is considered the next best hockey player in the world. He is joined by the second overall pick in the same draft in Jack Eichel while Nathan MacKinnon and newest top prospect, Auston Mathews, joins the group as well. The talent is pretty astounding throughout the group of forwards as they are sure to give a lot of teams problems up front. On the blue line, it could be a different story though as much like the Finns they have young defencemen who develop slower. Seth Jones and Ryan Murray will benefit from already playing with each other as the chemistry will make them a top pairing. Aaron Ekblad has already proven to be one of the best defencemen in the league even at his young age. In goal, there is an even bigger mystery as Matt Murray had a very limited time in Pittsburgh, although it was during the most stressful time in the season, while John Gibson hasn’t yet had a full season by himself as a starter. The North American team has a lot of talent throughout the roster but it is mainly potential and nobody knows if that potential can shine through. Will the moment be too big for them? Can they find chemistry in a short time? And Can they meet their potential? These are some of the questions for Team North America but there is still an idea that they might surprise a lot of people with just how good they are.

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russia

Group B has a clear favourite and that favourite is Team Russia as they have always been one of the biggest hockey producing countries in the world. They are constantly in the argument for best in the world and they have always had some of the top talents in the league. They have had some issues though as they have always had a reputation of coming up short on the big stage. It is a bit of a mystery as the Russians have the talent to compete with the best in the world and yet they struggle to win big tournaments. The Russians are hoping that ends and they look to avenge the embarrassing showing from over a decade ago when they couldn’t get out of the quarter-finals. The Russians will enter the tournament with plenty of talent up and down the roster as they have one of the most complete rosters in the tournament. Up front is a mix of veterans and young talent with players like Pavel Datsyuk, Alex Ovechkin, and Evgeni Malkin alongside the future of the sport in Russia in Vladimir Tarasenko and Artemi Panarin. On the blue line, the Russians have gotten better over the past few years with some good young players making an impact. The group this year will be led by elder statesman Andrei Markov alongside younger stars like Alexei Emelin and Alexei Marchenko. They are much like the forwards in that they have a mix of great veterans and top young talent to provide balance. The goaltending position is a tough one but only because there are plenty of great options. Semyon Varlamov, Sergei Bobrovsky, and Andrei Vasilevskiy have all proven to be great starters in the NHL. Bobrovsky will likely get the start but if he ever falters there is little drop-off to the next goalie. The Russians are a deep team with all of their best players finally together for the first time since the Olympics. They just need to avoid whatever it is that seems to make them underperform on a regular basis. Whether it is a lack of motivation to win big tournaments or just crumbling under the pressure they need to overcome these issues if they hope to make an impact in the World Cup. That could happen as they are clearly the class of the group with the deepest team out of every team in Group B. If they can get past what usually sinks them they will win the group and have a chance at the medals.

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sweden

The Swedes have been one of the top teams in the world and they have been for a very long time. The Swedes have had a few up and down years as they won the World Championship I 2012 and took two silvers in the years after that tournament. More recently their senior team has not shown up but it could simply be the NHL playoff factor. More of the Swedes are playing a bigger role on good teams and they are starting to experience what Russia, USA, and Canada have been experiencing for years in that tournament with their best players staying in North America. That is not a factor in the World Cup though as fans will get to see the full compliment of Swedish players in this tournament. For the Swedes, they hope to show just how good they are as they enter the tournament looking to be a medal-winning team. To get that medal they will be looking to their blue line which boasts some of the top defenceman in the NHL. Two-time Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson leads the way alongside other NHL stars like Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Victor Hedman, and Niklas Hjalmarsson. This group is one of the best in the tournament and great defence makes it a lot easier to win games. A good defence can change everything for a team and as the saying goes “defence wins championships. Behind them is a good group as well with Henrik Lundqvist in net and still one of the best in the world. Behind him, Jhonas Enroth and Jacob Markstrom are good back-ups but Lundqvist will start any game that they need to win. The good group behind them takes some of the pressure off of the offence which might be a good thing for the Swedes. The group up front is a good group but they aren’t as good or as deep as other teams in the tournament. The Sedin twins will lead the way but neither are as dominant as they used to be while young stars like Gabriel Landeskog, Filip Forsberg, and Jakob Silfverberg have been good but not consistent. The offence won’t be able to keep up with the deep teams throughout the tournament but they might not need to if their defence is as strong as it looks. They are a talented team though and they will fight for a spot in the playoffs with a chance at a medal but only if their offence can come through.

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Prediction:
With only two teams making it to the playoffs the battle is going to be a tough one as two good teams will not be moving on. The Russians are the best team in the group and will likely take first place in the group. They have the deepest team in Group B and could go undefeated in the round robin stage to earn their top spot. The surprise might be the North Americans as they are a big unknown but they are also one of the most talented in the tournament. They will show everyone that the young group of NHL players is just as good as everyone thinks and they will take the second and final playoff spot. The great run of the Finns will come to an end at the World Cup as the group is good but their blue-line is not good enough. They will come up just short and miss the playoffs after a few years where they seemed to be coming into their own. The Swedes will wind up last as their defence is great but their offence won’t be able to keep up. Eventually teams will get through that great defence and their offence won’t be able to score when necessary. Group B will be an interesting one with plenty of great teams but only North America and Russia will come through.

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