With World Cup training camps opening Monday, we're getting our first look at the ideas the coaches have for line combinations and defense pairings. In these best-on-best tournaments, seeing combos featuring some of the best talent the league has to offer and how they mesh with each other is among the more fascinating things to follow.
Canada coach Mike Babcock probably has the best job of anybody when it comes to putting together these fantasy combinations. When you see what Canada's fourth line looks like, your jaw might hit the floor. Meanwhile, other coaches have tougher jobs to make sure they get the mix just right, like Todd McLellan and the young Team North America (he's off to a really strong start).
It's only been one day of practice, but these teams need to come together in a hurry. There will probably be tweaks over time, but here's your first look at the line combos and defense pairings for most of the teams competing in the World Cup, which begins Sept. 17.
Note: Team Europe had a limited practice Monday as players return from Olympic qualifying tournaments overseas, so there are no line combos yet.
Forward lines via Chris Johnston of Sportsnet:
Brad Marchand - Sidney Crosby - Patrice Bergeron
Logan Couture - Jonathan Toews - Tyler Seguin
John Tavares - Ryan Getzlaf - Steven Stamkos
Matt Duchene - Claude Giroux - Joe Thornton
Defense pairings via Arpon Basu of NHL.com:
Jake Muzzin - Drew Doughty
Marc-Edouard Vlasic - Shea Weber
Alex Pietrangelo - Brent Burns
Quick analysis: Canada has 10 natural centers on their roster, which gives them a lot of flexibility in how they structure their lines. When you look at the lines as they've been devised, it's hard to see any way in which Canada doesn't steamroll this tournament. Look at their "bottom six" forwards. Not fair.
Forward lines via USA Hockey:
Max Pacioretty - Joe Pavelski - Patrick Kane
Zach Parise - Derek Stepan - Blake Wheeler
Justin Abdelkader - Ryan Kesler - T.J. Oshie
James van Riemsdyk - David Backes - Brandon Dubinsky
Defense pairings via USA Hockey:
Ryan Suter - Dustin Byfuglien
Ryan McDonagh - John Carlson
Jack Johnson - Matt Niskanen
Quick anlysis: Tortorella said the lines could change, but when you look at the disparity between USA's bottom six and Canada's bottom six, the talent gap is abundantly clear. USA is hoping their more defensive-minded forwards like Dubinsky, Kesler, Backes and Abdelkader will make it harder on Canada's forward group, but it's a big gamble. There's not a lot of flexibility if USA needs to boost scoring. On defense, the top two pairings look really strong on paper at least.
Forward lines via Mark Spector of Sportsnet:
Jonathan Drouin - Connor McDavid - Mark Sheifele
Johnny Gaudreau - Jack Eichel - Brandon Saad
Nathan MacKinnon - Ryan Nugent-Hopkins - Dylan Larkin
J.T. Miller - Sean Couturier - Auston Matthews
Defense pairings via Frank Seravalli of TSN:
Morgan Rielly - Aaron Ekblad
Shayne Gostisbehere - Jacob Trouba
Ryan Murray - Seth Jones
Quick analysis: You have to really like the way North America is structured. They have so much speed throughout their lineup and that will be one of the key assets. That top six is going to give opposing defenses fits, while MacKinnon and Larkin together gives this team two of the league's most explosive skaters on one unit. I'd expect to see some jumbling on defense just so they can find the right mix, but this is a good start.
Forward lines via Sami Hoffren of U Sanomat:
Patrik Laine - Aleksander Barkov - Olli Jokinen
Mikael Granlund - Mikko Koivu - Joonas Donskoi
Teuvo Teravainen - Valtteri Filppula - Jori Lehtera
Lauri Korpikoski - Erik Haula - Leo Komarov
Defense pairings via Hoffren:
Olli Maatta - Rasmus Ristolainen
Jyrki Jokipakka - Sami Vatanen
Esa Lindell - Ville Pokka
Quick analysis: The Finns are handing the keys over to the kids. Barkov and Laine will be looked to as the league's top scorers, while they'll have to hope their second and third lines can help with some secondary scoring. Finland's transition from the old guard to the new is most evident on defense where we're used to seeing guys like Kimmo Timonen and Sami Salo every single year. Defending as a team could be the key for this group.
Note: Russia's four KHL players did not skate in Monday's practice, so these lines are likely to be altered some.
Forward lines via Tom Gulitti of NHL.com:
Alex Ovechkin - Evgeny Kuznetsov - Nikita Kucherov
Nikolay Kulemin - Evgeni Malkin - Vladimir Tarasenko
Artemi Panarin - Artem Anisimov - Vladislav Namestnikov
Did not practice: Pavel Datsyuk, Ivan Telegin, Vadim Sipachyov and Evgeny Dadanov
Defense pairings via Gulitti:
Dmitry Orlov - Nikita Zaitsev
Alexei Emelin - Andrei Markov
Dmitry Kulikov - Alexey Marchenko
Quick Analysis: If there's one change we can probably count on, it's Kulemin sliding down the lineup. Look for Shipachyov or Datsyuk to jump in with that unit. Other than that, it's what you'd expect. Russia is going to have a dynamic scoring attack and a moderately concerning defense. Up front, they're definitely an exciting group.
Forward lines via Dan Rosen of NHL.com:
Daniel Sedin - Henrik Sedin - Loui Eriksson
Filip Forsberg - Nicklas Backstrom - Patric Hornqvist
Jakob Silfverberg - Marcus Kruger - Carl Hagelin
Gabriel Landeskog - Carl Soderberg - Rickard Rakell
Defense pairings not available
Quick analysis: Sweden's defense pairings weren't recorded today, but regardless of structure, their blue line is going to be solid led by Erik Karlsson and Victor Hedman. Forward structure is far more important at this point after losing Henrik Zetterberg and Alexander Steen. The top six still looks pretty strong, with some interesting work among the bottom six. Look for that Kruger line to see a lot of tough matchups to try and free up those more offensively-talented units.
Forward lines via Michael Langr of NHL.com:
Roman Cervenka - Tomas Plekanec - Jakub Voracek
Ondrej Palat - Martin Hanzal - David Pastrnak
Ales Hemsky - Radek Faksa - Michael Frolik
Milan Michalek - Vladimir Sobotka - Dmitrij Jaskin
Defense pairings not available
Quick analysis: The Czechs are doing the best they can with what they've got. Losing David Krejci and Tomas Hertl up front is pretty well devastating. They have some offensive talent, but not to the degree other teams boast in this tournament. On the back end, they also just lost Radko Gudas from an already thin group. There's going to be a lot of pressure on their goalies to steal games for them.