Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Team North America Needs A Captain

We're less than two weeks away from the start of the World Cup of Hockey. The players of various nationalities have taken the ice together for practice (finally), and the depth charts are starting to come together. 

For the young guns team that some people are calling Team North America, that depth chart seems to be led by a top line of Connor McDavid, Mark Scheifele, and Jonathan Drouin.

As formidable as that top trio may be, this is hockey. We don't care about the leader on the depth chart. We care about the leader in the room. We care about the captain.

And Team North America has yet to name their captain. The reasoning behind it makes sense - these are young guys from two separate countries that have never played a tournament in any sort of competition. There was always going to be a feeling out process when the team finally got together.

Team Canada always just gives their C to Sidney Crosby. He's been the head of his class for like a decade now. Everyone on and in and around Canada knows he's going to be the captain for as long as he can stand up on skates.

There is no Crosby-like figure for North America because this team has only existed for like four days. So, let's look at the candidates to see who might fit the bill of captain for this young guns squad.

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Connor McDavid

Age: 19
NHL seasons: 1
NHL games played: 45
Playoff games played: 0

We'll start with the youngest of the young guns, and also the one with the most potential to become a superstar. He's eventually probably going to take the captaincy from Crosby for Team Canada, but for now he's just too damn young. He also spent his first year in the league with perhaps the worst locker room to be in.

McDavid as a player? Hell yes. McDavid as the captain? There are some better options.

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Brandon Saad

Age: 23
NHL seasons: 5
NHL games played: 286
Playoff games played: 67

I know I just said those mean things about the Oilers locker room, and the Blue Jackets are certainly not much better. But Saad's experience in Chicago those four years certainly means he's spent time in a winning room.

Everyone knows that playoff hockey is really the only thing that matters, and Saad having 67 (!!) games worth of experience before his 24th birthday really is incredible. He's certainly a candidate, and I'm sure he leveraged that experience when he signed a contract that pays him $6 million per year.

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Aaron Ekblad

Age: 20
NHL seasons: 2
NHL games played: 159
Playoff games played: 6

Whereas Saad is reaping the benefits of having played with the best core in recent memory, Ekblad has long been the cornerstone of the Panther's presumed eventual success. It would follow that he will eventually be named captain in Florida, and that's something for which few players on this team seem to be in line.

He's already got the motivational quote thing on lockdown:
"Every player is so good," he said. "It's actually crazy how good we are."
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Mark Scheifele

Age: 23
NHL seasons: 5
NHL games played: 227
Playoff games played: 4

Listen, I'll admit that I kind of hate Scheifele because he always gets compared to Sean Couturier. But, in following Ekblad, the Jets just named him an alternate captain. The Jets stink and it's the A instead of the C, but still. It counts for something.

It just doesn't count for a lot, because Scheifele has scored one single playoff point in his whole career.

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Sean Couturier

Age: 23
NHL seasons: 5
NHL games played: 350
Playoff games played: 19

For what it's worth, Coots' five seasons mean more to me than Scheifele's or Saad's because Couturier played 77 games his rookie year (plus 11 more in the playoffs). Saad played two in the regular season and two in the playoffs. Scheifele played seven and then four, and the Jets missed the playoffs both of those years.

That matters because Couturier was essentially an NHL veteran before he could drink a beer at PBR Bar. Wayne Simmonds and Mark Streit wear the A's in Philadelphia, but there is no doubt in anyone's mind that Couturier, Michael Raffl, and Jake Voracek are all leaders of the team too.

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Johnny Gaudreau

Age: 23
NHL seasons: 3
NHL games played: 160
Playoff games played: 11

Similar to Couturier, Gaudreau's lack of sweater letters isn't an indictment as him as a leader. As I was researching for this post, I learned that he's still actually unsigned for the upcoming season. I was going to say Gaudreau's a leader for the Flames and cite him being one of the team's highest-paid players as a reason.

But how is this contract taking so long? Why has nobody hit the Flames with an offer sheet to force their hand? Do the Flames even want Johnny Gaudreau? This section is falling off a cliff rapidly, so I'll just say that one of my bold predictions is I expect Johnny Hockey to wear an A on his jersey for this tournament.

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Nathan MacKinnon

Age: 21
NHL seasons: 3
NHL games played: 218
Playoff games played: 7

Like Couturier, MacKinnon gets a bump because all of his NHL seasons were full 60+ game seasons. The knock on MacKinnon, though, is that he's coming from a mess of an organization that had a messy offseason even by their standards. (Mark Cuban voice) And for that reason, I'm out.

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Seth Jones

Age: 21
NHL seasons: 3
NHL games played: 240
Playoff games played: 6

Here's my wild card pick for the leadership role. Like the last few guys, each of the NHL seasons he has under his belt are full seasons (almost literally, in Jones' case, as he's played 240 out of a possible 246).

Like Ekblad, he's been hand-picked by Columbus to be their rock on defense for the forseeable future. There are certainly a few older guys ahead of him now, but in a few short years it will be Jones and Saad at the head of the ship.

And Jones gets an extra bump that, in PK Subban's absence, could only be had by him, Dustin Byfuglien, or Pierre-Edouard Bellemare. How great of a look would it be for hockey if the captain of a major tournament team like this was black?

The NHL will probably screw this up because they always screw everything up, but Jones has the resume and the temperament to lead a team like this Team North America. He's a defensible choice, and it's almost indefensible to leave him off the leadership group entirely.

My final prediction would be A's to Jones and Gaudreau and the C to Ekblad. Couturier, as usual, will be an afterthought. Flyers twitter will be quite mad about it, and then in a month nobody will care because this is a meaningless international hockey tournament.

We'll see you guys for the preliminary games that start on Thursday.

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