The NHL is bringing back the World Cup later this year, with initial 16-man rosters to be announced for each team throughout today. They've cleverly expanded the number of teams to make virtually every single NHL player eligible for at least one team.
The NHL has changed over the years and the dominance of the red and white is giving way to a much more colourful set of origins for the players. There's guys from a lot of countries now, and the old standard six teams was not enough.
Like most teams, most of the Leafs are Canadians, but also like most teams, there's guys from all over the hockey-playing world on the team, so there's several Leafs who might be in with a chance to make a roster.
No doubts here. Leo Komarov has had a great year as a top-six forward and has the stats to back it up. He's been a stalwart of the Finnish team in world championships, the Olympics and the World Junior Championships. There was never any question he would proudly represent his country again, and he was named to the 16 man roster earlier today.
There is a question about the rest of the Finnish team though. The NHL has very few Finnish players, and they are disproportionately goalies. They don't have enough defencemen with NHL experience, and their skater pool from the NHL is very shallow.
If they need to look deeper than NHL regulars for players, I know of a guy who is really good—young and untested, but still a great guy and a proven international goal scorer too. I'm sure Kasperi Kapanen could manage to be in Toronto in August if they need him.
We'll find out the Czech team roster this morning, and there is a chance Michalek will be named. He hasn't played a game for the Leafs yet, but he's practising with the team, so his return is imminent.
He's not the star player he used to be, but he has been representing his country since he was 15 years old, including two appearances in the Olympics in Sochi and Vancouver.
There are currently 22 active Czech forwards in the NHL, and that number includes some rookies who've played very few games. It would be hard to pass a dedicated veteran like him over, and it would be sweet to see him play with his brother, Arizona Coyotes defenceman Zbynek Michalek, one more time.
Roman Polak, by the way, may make the team as well.
These two are the possibilities for the new Team Europe which is made up of of players who aren't from the Czech Republic, Russia, Sweden or Finland.
Michael Grabner has a big advantage as a forword over Marincin in making the team. The pool of forwards is less dominated by stars, although there are some: Anze Kopitar, Marian Hossa, Tomas Tatar and Mats Zuccarello. There's a few mid-tier guys like Lars Eller and rookie sensation Nikolaj Ehlers, and of course everyone's favourite Latvian, Zemgus Girgensens. Grabner might find room on the roster for his speed on the wing.
Martin Marincin on the other hand is staring up at a depth chart of very good defencemen. He's got to make a team that can choose from Zdeno Chara, Roman Josi, Mark Streit, Christian Ehrhoff, Dennis Seidenberg, Andrej Sekera and then there's veterans Luca Sbisa and Yannik Weber too. Tough group to crack for a young guy who hasn't made much of a splash in the NHL.
Jake Gardiner and James van Riemsdyk
The two top Americans on the Leafs seem like good prospects for any team, and James van Riemsdyk should make the cut, but we might not see him added until after he's recovered from his injury.
Jake Gardiner might have some trouble finding a spot. We know he's great; we are all familiar with what he can do, and we love him, but he's never had the chance to show off on a successful team and his experience at the IIHF World Championships last year was not very positive.
There are a lot of good US defenceman ahead of him too: Dustin Byfuglien, Kevin Shattenkirk, Justin Faulk and Nick Leddy. Then there's guys with high profiles like Erik Johnson, veterans like Paul Martin—it's a deep field.
If he doesn't make the first roster, there's still a chance he can be added later.
Young enough for the North American team, he is also in a deep field. This is going to be a tough call for the guys setting the roster, particularly with this year's feel-good rookie story of Shayne "Ghost Bear" Gostisbehere who you have to assume gets a long look.
Also in the mix are Seth Jones, Aaron Ekblad, Jacob Trouba and Dougie Hamilton. It won't be a huge surprise if Rielly doesn't make the first 16-man roster, but he should definitely make the expanded list in June.
And what of our own Swedish star of the future who has one whole NHL game under his belt? The Swedish roster was leaked to the Swedish press a few days ago, and Nylander isn't on it. But it's only got eight forwards so far. There's room, and it would be a beautiful sight to see the Toronto crowds cheering their Swedish favourite.
It happened once before with Borje Salming at the 1976 Canada Cup at Maple Leaf Gardens and it changed the NHL forever:
This was the first time it became obvious that NHL fans would love European players with the same passion they reserved for Canadian and American players. I confess, I want to feel that again with Nylander, but it's unlikely.