As the World Cup schedules, groups and various management teams were recently announced, it's time to take our first look at which players from the Avalanche could possibly represent their countries during next summer's event.
Bubble: Matt Duchene, F
Duchene loves representing Team Canada and never turns down an opportunity to put the maple leaf on his chest. He was a member of the gold medal-winning Team Canada Olympic squad in 2014 and happily won another tournament as a member of this past year's World Championship-winning Team Canada group. Duchene is an electric offensive talent but could be a victim of Canada simply being beyond loaded upfront. They're incredibly talented and the hands-down favorite entering almost any major international tournament they enter.
A return to the point-per-game pace Duchene had set during the lockout season and the 2013-14 season would go a long ways towards making his case for a return appearance on Team Canada. Anything less probably leaves him as one of the final cuts from the team.
Outside Looking In: Tyson Barrie, D
If Barrie throws up another 50-60 point season, he could be forcing his way onto the team as a bottom-pairing guy or power play specialist. The problem here isn't with Barrie but more that Canada's defense is simply stacked to the max. With players like Shea Weber, P.K. Subban, Drew Doughty, Mark Giordano, Duncan Keith, and Kris Letang sitting in front of him, it would take a multitude of injuries and/or career-worst seasons to push Barrie onto the radar.
For now, it's looking like a big longshot for Barrie to force his way onto the team.
Team Czech Republic
Outside Looking In: None
Outside Looking In: Andreas Martinsen, F
A player who is new to the Avalanche organization but not to international competition as a member of Team Norway, Martinsen is probably a longshot to make this squad but anything is possible. Having limited information on him for now, there isn't much more to say other than he could be on this team's radar. Making the Avalanche out of training camp would go a long way towards getting him on this roster, though.
Another longshot, Rendulic is the first Croatian-born player to play and score a goal in the NHL. Injuries limited his first season in North America but he showed plenty of skill in his time with the Avalanche and Lake Erie Monsters that if he makes the Avs out of camp, he could be a real sleeper pick for the Team Europe squad.
With as deep as the forward group is expected to be, though, it would take something special from either Martinsen or Rendulic to crack the roster.
Bubble: Mikko Rantanen, F
The Avs top selection in this past year's draft and their top prospect overall, the highly skilled Rantanen could force his way onto this aging roster with a great North American debut. While making the Avs out of camp would be a great boost to his chances, there still exists the possibility that Rantanen takes one of the openings on the roster as elder statesmen such as Teemu Selanne and Olli Jokinen have retired and moved on.
Rantanen is an electric talent who is set to take North America by storm this year, either as a member of the San Antonio Rampage or the Avalanche. Should he push his way onto the NHL roster, he likely would start on the lower lines but could end up playing alongside Matt Duchene by the time the rosters are selected in March, giving both players an excellent chance to make their cases for their respective countries.
Outside Looking In: None
Team North America (Under-23)
Locks: Nathan MacKinnon, F
This is a sure thing, slam dunk no-brainer. There's no realistic scenario in which MacKinnon does not make this roster. The electric MacKinnon is going to be a major competitor for making the Team Canada Olympic team in 2018 and this is a perfect opportunity to get him more high-level international competition. He was a member of Team Canada's World Championship team this past summer and will be part of this squad, no questions asked.
Outside Looking In: Chris Bigras, D
The Avs top defensive prospect, Bigras is coming off a season in which he tore the Ontario Hockey League apart, scoring 71 points in 62 games and finishing 2nd in the coaches voting for multiple defenseman awards. While this will be his first year of professional hockey, the Avalanche love the poised two-way excellence Bigras brings to the table and while he's a longshot for making the Avalanche opening night roster, doing so would send a loud message that he might be ready for more.
The NA U-23 team is going to be fun to watch and the steady play of Bigras could win over decision makers. He has an uphill battle in front of him but he's a special talent that has proven you can never count him out.
Depending on the birthday cutoff, which hasn't been announced yet, for this team, Pickard could make a case for one of the goaltender spots. While it looks like John Gibson is the likely frontrunner for the starting job right now, goalies this young are even more volatile than when they get older, which is saying something. Should Pickard wrestle the backup goaltender spot away from Reto Berra this pre-season, he will make a strong case for his inclusion on this roster.
Assuming he's eligible, he faces some tough competition in the form of Winnipeg prospect Connor Hellebuyck and Penguins prospect Matt Murray, both of whom had better AHL seasons than Pickard last year.
Locks: Semyon Varlamov, G
A member of the 2014 Olympic team, Varlamov and Sergei Bobrovsky sit head-and-shoulders ahead of the other Russian goaltenders right now. While hard-charging Andrei Vasilevskiy might eventually take one of these spots, for right now both Varlamov and Bobrokvsky are secure in their position in international competition. Another elite season by Varlamov would certainly make the question of who the starter is more interesting but barring complete disaster the Avs netminder will represent his country once again.
Bubble: Nikita Zadorov, D
The precocious Zadorov will be making his Colorado debut in just over a week when training camp begins but he's already put himself on the map for Team Russia in the future. With Andrei Markov, Evgeny Medvedev, and Ilya Nikulin already well into their 30's, the time might be right to switch to more of a youth movement along the Russian blueline. Should Zadorov have a productive season in Colorado, he could knock loudly on this door and be an excellent fit for the historically porous Russian defenses.
Outside Looking In: Mikhail Grigorenko, F
Forward is typically the one spot where Team Russia has no problems finding competent players to fill out its lineup. Grigorenko is an exceptional talent who has been nothing short of a disappointment in his NHL career up to this point. Getting back under his old junior coach in Avs Head Coach Patrick Roy could be a great help to the youngster's career and he is going to be surrounded with more talent than he ever had the chance to play with as a member of the Buffalo Sabres.
Still, the list of quality Russian forwards is a mile long. Anything short of a major breakout by Grigorenko this season will likely leave him off this roster. If he puts it all together, he should be a major contender for a roster spot for the 2018 Olympic Russian team but right now has a significant uphill climb to make the World Cup roster.
Andrei Mironov, D
Another player who is a longshot today, Mironov had an excellent season for the KHL's Dynamo Moscow and earned a spot as the youngest player on the Russian blueline at the 2015 World Championships. A rugged defender with some offensive upside, Mironov is unlikely to make this roster but, as discussed above, the blueline faces tough questions about aging players and in the cases of Nikita Nikitin and Alexei Emelin questions about effectiveness.
One additional wrinkle that might work in Mironov's favor is the case of Slava Voynov, who faces potential deportation from the United States as a result of his domestic violence case. Should he be deported, he may not be allowed to cross Canadian borders, where the World Cup will be held, due to laws restricting access to Canada for people who have been deported from the US. Voynov's absence would obviously create one more roster spot that needs to be taken.
As it stands, Mironov would need just about everything to break his way in order to make this roster...but it's still possible.
Locks: Gabriel Landeskog, F
Another surefire lock, Avalanche captain Landeskog is not only going to make the Swedish team but likely be one of its top six forwards as well. He's a monster two-way talent with goal-scoring ability and a physical edge to his game. There are very few things Landeskog can't do on the ice and he is one of the faces of the future for Swedish hockey. He's an excellent winger who will represent Sweden for a long, long time.
Bubble: Carl Soderberg, F
In case you've never looked at the roster for Team Sweden before, I can assure you it's position players are all very good. Soderberg is in the best position in his career to show he's more than the complementary player Boston asked him to be as he will start the season centering Landeskog and MacKinnon. Should he take full advantage of that situation and put up a career best season, he could be in line to push a player or two off the roster. For now, Soderberg is still just on the fringes outside but has a golden opportunity to crash the party.
Outside Looking In: None. Dennis Everberg is not a serious contender for this team.
Bubble: Erik Johnson, D
Johnson was a member of the surprising silver medal Olympic squad in 2010 but snubbed from the 2014 team despite being in the midst of a breakout season. With Johnson developing into a legitimate #1 defender for the Avalanche, his name should be in serious consideration for the roster. The World Cup is to be played in North America, which should help his chances as the larger European ice was given as a prime reason for him being excluded from the 2014 Olympic squad.
Johnson faces a bit of an uphill battle as Ryan Suter, Dustin Byfuglien, John Carlson, Nick Leddy, Kevin Shattenkirk, and Ryan McDonagh all sit ahead of him on the likely USA depth chart. Should he continue his excellent play, however, Johnson has to be given a very long look by the American management team.
Outside Looking In: None
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