Who will be captain for young Team North America?
MONTREAL, Quebec — The first official World Cup of Hockey practice for Team North America was done for the day. The coaches had wrapped up drills, and the group chalk talk sessions were complete.
Yet there wasn’t a player eager to leave the ice. They honed their shots on the goalies putting in more work. They chatted casually in small groups throughout the ice. A little extra ambition is to be expected on the first day of training camp, when first impressions are still being formed, especially on a team of players 23 and under.
It might also have to do with the fact that this group will be watched more closely by their coaches than any other World Cup team in training camp this week. Unlike with many of the established countries participating in the upcoming tournament, Team North America coach Todd McLellan and his staff still have a slew of decisions to make.
They tipped their hands on some of those decisions, such as who might get first crack at playing with Connor McDavid. Mark Scheifele and Jonathan Drouin joined McDavid in line rushes, and the threesome sat together in the dressing room. But McLellan offered no hints as to who would be the captain and who would form the leadership group of this high-octane All-Star team.
“It’s an evolving process. Some of the mature [countries] have their godfathers,” McLellan said. “You look at Sidney Crosby, [Henrik] Zetterberg when he was involved. Those are the godfathers. They’re at the head of the food chain.”
One of the fascinating things about this group of young players is that there is no food chain — not yet.
McDavid might have the highest profile on the team, but he is one of a number of former No. 1 picks on the roster. Brandon Saad has the most playoff experience and won two Stanley Cups with the Chicago Blackhawks, which should certainly put him in the discussion.
“Every player is so good,” he said. “It’s actually crazy how good we are.”
The Philadelphia Flyers‘ Sean Couturier is a veteran of 350 NHL games. That counts for something. The Winnipeg Jets thought enough of Scheifele’s leadership skills to give him an “A” under new captain Blake Wheeler.
None of the kids wants to be the first one off after first practice. pic.twitter.com/8TShyWm5Lh
— Craig Custance (@CraigCustance) September 5, 2016
“We have an idea who should be stepping up,” McLellan said. “We need to see it throughout training camp and maybe an exhibition game or two.”
This team is run in part by Edmonton Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli. On the staff are two Oilers coaches, including the guy in charge. Oilers star McDavid is Team North America’s centerpiece and best player. He isn’t necessarily a vocal guy, but he has the makeup of a captain. He’s cut from the same cloth as Crosby and Jonathan Toews.
If Chiarelli and McLellan are comfortable putting more pressure on the shoulders of their franchise player, who is 19 years old, he might be the best option. Plus, it would be a nice trial run for a player everyone expects to wear the “C” in Edmonton one day.
“He’s an unbelievable guy. First and foremost, he’s a great person. I think great people make great captains,” Schefiele said of McDavid. “There’s no doubt he’ll be a captain for that [Oilers] team, whether this year or in the future.”
Near the end of practice, McLellan gathered his team at center ice and shared what he will ask of them this tournament.
“What we expect from you is an honest effort and commitment on both sides of the puck,” McLellan told the team.
For now, that message has to come from the coaching staff. For this group to have real success in the tournament, it’ll have to come from within the dressing room.
The players know that. They expect it to happen. It’s just going to take some time for a team that first got together at 7 p.m. ET Sunday.
“That’s why we have a training camp, and that’s why we have all this: to see who emerges,” McDavid said. “The beauty of us having a young team is everyone is going to have a voice. On the [NHL team], younger guys may not have the biggest voice in the room. In this room, everyone is going to have the opportunity to be heard.”