NOTE: An earlier version of this piece incorrectly listed the cutoff/eligibility birth date as Sept. 1, 1993. It is Sept. 1, 1992. Changes have been made to reflect this new date.
COLUMBUS — Gary Bettman said they’ll be “incredibly competitive.”
Patrick Kane said ‘it’s a young man’s game.”
Well, in 19 months we’ll know for sure.
During Saturday’s official announcement of the 2016 World Cup of Hockey — which will include new entities in Team Europe (players outside of Russia, Sweden, Finland and the Czech Republic) and the North American Youngstars — there was plenty of focus on the latter.
Specifically, who’s going to be on this team? And how good will it be?
Per ESPN, Youngstars-eligible players will need to be 23 or younger by Sept. 1, 2016 — meaning the cutoff birth date is Sept. 1, 1992. What’s more, 23-and-under players can only play for the Youngstars, not the Canadian or U.S. senior national teams.
And that could make for some interesting roster decisions.
Per Bettman, World Cup teams will carry traditional 23-man rosters. To give an idea of what the North American Youngstars are currently working with, here’s a list of eligible players that’ve participated in NHL games this year.
Forwards: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Brandon Saad, Matt Nieto, Sean Couturier, J.T. Miller, Nathan MacKinnon, Sean Monahan, Mark Scheifele, Jonathan Huberdeau, Boone Jenner, Ryan Strome, Johnny Gaudreau, Alex Galchenyuk, Jonathan Drouin, Bo Horvat, Sam Reinhart, Anthony Duclair, Curtis Lazar.
Defense: Connor Murphy, Dougie Hamilton, Aaron Ekblad, Jacob Trouba, Seth Jones, Morgan Rielly, Damon Severson, Ryan Murray, Cody Ceci, Derrick Pouliot, Griffin Reinhart, Matt Dumba, Darnell Nurse.
Goalies: John Gibson.
Obviously, the above players will have matured and gained experience, and players yet to make their NHL debuts will be in the mix. Many have already speculated about the projected top two picks at the 2015 Draft — Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel — becoming Youngstars teammates; there are also those that starred at the recently-completed World Junior Championships (think Max Domi, Samuel Morin, Josh Morrissey, Nic Petan, Dylan Larkin, Sonny Milano, Anthony DeAngelo, etc.)
Goaltending will probably be the biggest issue. Rarely do netminders become NHL regulars at that young an age; as such, you’ll speculatively hear the names of Malcolm Subban, Zach Fucale and Thatcher Demko get thrown around. The goaltending position is, by far, the most difficult to handicap.
All of which begs the question: While the Youngstars idea is great in theory, will it actually work when executed? Will the Youngstars provide stiffer competition than, say, Switzerland, which sits seventh in the latest IIHF Rankings?
One guy that sounded entirely on board with the Youngstars was Kane — who, you’ll remember, made his NHL debut at 18 and went on to win the Calder.
“If you look at hockey these days it’s a young man’s game, more that ever now,” Kane said on Saturday. “Teenagers are coming into the league and playing right away now, and the skill level is better and better.
“I think we all like watching young players play the game. I know myself I like watching the World Juniors to see who are the next up and coming guys, and I think fans enjoy that too.”