<
>

Latest Team North America roster projections

Here's the third look at how we see Team North America shaping up in the 2016 World Cup. To be eligible for this team, players must be 23 or younger on Oct. 1, 2016.

Forwards

The return of McDavid and his immediate offensive impact on the Edmonton Oilers is a great sign for the Young Guns team. At this point, it's not a stretch to suggest he could be the best player in this tournament come September.

The speed on that top line for Team North America will be hard for the more veteran teams to contain, and the speed doesn't end there. The emergence of the blazing fast Dylan Larkin of the Detroit Red Wings as an NHL star should help solidify his spot on this roster.

One concern for the Team North America braintrust is the lack of experience in this group, so there may be a temptation to fill out the bottom part of the roster with veteran players rather than young players who may have more skill. That's why we're reserving a spot for Sean Couturier over, say, a player such as Auston Matthews. Couturier can center a shutdown line and anchor the penalty-kill unit.

Huberdeau has played his way back into consideration with a strong season on the Florida Panthers' top line and his NHL experience may give him an edge.

Defensemen

The Team North America defense hasn't changed much since the last projection in November with one notable exception: Shayne Gostisbehere of the Philadelphia Flyers.

Gostisbehere has played himself into Calder Trophy consideration and a spot on this projected roster. He has put up 28 points in 34 games for the Flyers and would provide a valuable left-handed shot on a defense loaded with righties.

He may not play the major minutes guys such as Aaron Ekblad and Seth Jones will get in this tournament, but he would get a ton of power-play ice time for Todd McLellan and be a major offensive weapon in the third pair. He has surged past Colton Parayko, who has 20 points this season, to seize a spot on this projected roster.

Depending how McLellan wants to deploy his defense, a pair of Jones and Ekblad could play with anyone in the tournament, and play a ton.

For this exercise, we're putting Jones and Ryan Murray together, because Murray has played well with Jones since the latter arrived in Columbus, and would provide immediate familiarity in a short tournament.

Goaltenders

It's hard to imagine this three looking any different when the final rosters are announced. The only question is who will be the starter, although Gibson's experience gives him the edge. He has played in nearly twice as many NHL games as Hellebuyck, including four playoff games. Gibson won a gold medal for Team USA in the 2013 World Junior Championship, so he has international tournament success on his résumé.

The case for Hellebuyck, who won a bronze with Team USA at the World Championships, is building.

He has a better save percentage this season than Gibson, sitting at .921 in 25 games since getting NHL action following an injury to Winnipeg Jets starter Ondrej Pavelec. Hellebuyck has cooled a bit lately, though, with an .852 save percentage in three February starts.

The advantage Gibson has is a likely chance at more postseason experience this season, with the Ducks now charging again. He can lock up the starting job for Team North America with a strong postseason, if he hasn't locked it up already.