The NHL season isn’t even over yet, and already fans are looking forward to the fall. That’s when eight teams of the best players on the planet will compete in one of the biggest tournaments this side of the Olympics: the World Cup of Hockey. The competition will take place at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, home of the Maple Leafs. The first games begin September 17, with the final set for October 1.
In late May, the final rosters for the eight squads — Team Canada, Team Czech Republic, Team Europe, and Team USA in Group A; Team Finland, Team North America, Team Russia, and Team Sweden in Group B — were announced. And, naturally, there were some high-profile snubs from every lineup. But that was especially true for Team USA.
Here are four players left off the roster that definitely have a case to be included:
Phil Kessel is probably the most notable snub of them all, as he was expected to be a big part of the team’s offense. The winger has performed exceptionally in the playoffs with the Pittsburgh Penguins, and he’s part of serious Conn Smythe Trophy conversations. Kessel has 21 points in 22 playoff games this season, and he has more points than anyone else on the Penguins roster. Kessel has played in two Olympics and has tallied 10 points with the US. Kessel could have very easily made it onto the World Cup roster over the bottom six forwards, but the US opted to leave him off. Kessel has the offensive firepower to get you a goal whenever you need it. The only reason the US might have omitted him is that he doesn’t fit the style the US wants to play. It seems Team USA is looking to go with a more physical style of hockey, and Kessel doesn’t bring that to a team. But Kessel is a valuable piece on offense, as he’s shown in the NHL and the Olympics.
Tyler Johnson is another surprise omission from the United States roster. Johnson very easily could have been the number one or two center on the roster. When Johnson is plugged into a lineup, he instantly brings speed and physicality, which every hockey coach dreams of having. Johnson also seemingly fits the United States roster perfectly, which makes his exclusion that much more surprising. Johnson was a key cog for the Tampa Bay Lightning this season, helping the team make the Eastern Conference Finals. The center had 38 points this season, but was also hit with a myriad of injuries. That could be the only possible reason that Johnson was left off. By September, he should be fully healthy.
Kyle Okposo is another forward that very easily could’ve been penciled in over the bottom six forwards for a spot on the roster. Okposo is one of the better American wingers in hockey. He can change a game with his speed, as he illustrated this season with the New York Islanders. This season, Okposo had 64 points and added eight more points during the Islander’s run in the postseason. Okposo isn’t exactly the physical player the US is looking for, but he has the speed and offensive ability to make a difference.
Justin Faulk is a defensemen that is not short on international experience. He played in the 2012 and 2013 Men’s World Championships, as well as the 2014 Winter Olympics. Faulk is arguably the best young defenseman in the NHL: he can play big minutes and is one of the best on the power play. Faulk is also a big point producer, with 155 points in five career NHL seasons. Instead of players like Jack Johnson, Faulk probably is a better fit for the US. He is a very physical defender who has international experience, and for a defenseman, he is very productive on offense.
Photos: Jamie Sabau/Getty Images (Kessel), Scott Audette/NHLI via Getty Images (Johnson), Jared Silber/NHLI via Getty Images (Okposo), Andy Marlin/NHLI via Getty Images (Faulk)